By the end of September 1914, 1,500 members of the 5th Cavalry Reserve were sleeping in the Racecourse Grandstand at York, and it was not long before the Knavesmire became a tented village of military personnel. Men were also billeted and accommodated all over the city.
While soldiers got a bed of sorts, they had precious little space to pursue recreational activities. Many organisations and private individuals offered to help out, and what we now know as Southlands Methodist Church provided soldiers’ rest rooms in their commodious building, which had been built in the late 1880’s.
The needs of the servicemen were filled with provision for writing, reading, smoking, games, refreshment and banking. One of the pleasures that was most appreciated was relaxing over a bright and cheerful fire. They were even able to have access to baths – what a luxury that would have been! The writing room was most popular and 21, 959 letters were posted there in the first year. Approximately 10,000 letters and 2,000 parcels were dealt with in the period that the rest room was open.
A letter written by Trooper Archibald to express the gratitude of the men said “Your generous action in placing at our disposal every evening your rooms is a boon which we treasure beyond measure.”
The arduous task of providing refreshments was the work of the ladies, with the help of stewards to serve them. A small charge was made on weekdays but refreshments were given free on Sunday nights. Mrs. Elders and Mrs. Daykin were particularly thanked, as it was their efficiency that ensured the smooth organisation of the provisions.
Mrs. Martha Daykin lived at 51 Wentworth Road with her husband Arthur Daykin. Before her marriage she was Martha Ellen Haughton and according to the 1891 census was living as a boarder at 29 Millfield Road and working as a schoolteacher. In 1901 she was boarding at 28 Bishopsgate St and still working as a schoolteacher. In the 1911 census she appears to be looking after her mother in Euxton, Lancashire. She became Mrs. Daykin in 1914, in a service at Anlaby Road Methodist Church in Hull, East Yorkshire.
Emily Elders was a widow from 1897 when her husband, a master mariner, died at the age of 43. Mrs. Elders started a confectioner’s shop at 7 Scarcroft Road (now Melton’s Restaurant). The 1911 census shows that at the age of 52 she was running the business with her three daughters – Gertrude, Bertha and Lilian. She also had her 86 year old mother living with her. Her son John Francis (Frank) was in Hammersmith, learning to be a civil service clerk.
It is interesting that in the 1911 census Emily described her daughters as business assistants rather than shop assistants.
Frank became a second lieutenant in the 16th Battalion, London Regiment (Queen’s Westminster Rifles) serving in France. He was killed on 28 October 1917 aged 24, and buried in a small cemetery one mile east of Noreuil. Mrs. Elders must have been upset and dismayed to learn that his body had to be disinterred later. The policy of the French and Belgian governments was to remove scattered graves and small cemeteries containing less than forty graves and to exhume the bodies and bury them in larger cemeteries. A letter of explanation from Major Stepford was sent on 26 February 1920 stating that 2nd Lieutenant Frank Elder’s body had been removed and re-buried in Queant Road British Cemetery, Buissy, north east of Bapaume. He wrote “I am to add that the necessity for the removal is much regretted, but was unavoidable…..You may rest assured that the work of re-burial has been carried out carefully and reverently, special arrangements having been made for the appropriate religious services to be held”.
The Medal Awards card for Frank records two addresses for Mrs. Elders, his mother, the second is 250 Munition Cottages, Holbrook Lane, Coventry. Mrs Elders must have been working at the Munitions Factory in the national armaments factory on Holbrook Lane, Coventry, which had some wooden cottages built nearby. Her daughter Gertrude was probably working with her – she died in Coventry and must have stayed there after the War. Mrs Elders returned to York in 1918/19.
Mary Lilian Whitworth was living at 42 Scarcroft Hill and with her husband William hosted evenings at home for soldiers at least once per week, where Mrs. Whitworth provided food and entertainment on the piano. Southlands Methodist Church has a collection of letters that some of their ‘boys’ wrote from the front line. Mr and Mrs Whitworth’s nephew recently found some letters written by the couple to many of these men, and they also sent parcels to the front. The letters show that some parcels arrived quickly, others took three weeks and some never arrived, probably because the soldiers had moved on. They hoped that someone else would enjoy their contents. The parcels contained cakes, chocolate, and Grey’s cigarettes (very welcome, as ‘proper’ English cigarettes were not available at the front) and other comforts.
The Southlands Messenger of February 1915 described a concert on 29 December 1914, a huge success. Over 300 soldiers gathered on the Wednesday evening for a full entertainment programme. Miss Blanche Humble, described as ‘always a pleasing singer to listen to’ sang Allitsen’s There is a Land, Where my Caravan has Rested and Annie Laurie. She was a member of Miss Guy’s Ladies Orchestra which entertained injured troops.
There were special guest performers, courtesy of York Opera House: Mr and Mrs Drew who gave recitations, Mlle Laura Novea and Messr Deschampt, Mlle Novea (soprano) of the Winter Gardens, Brussels sang the Belgian National Anthem. Messr Deschampt of the Antwerp Conservatoire of Music contributed pianoforte solos. About 260 soldiers sat down to supper in the Gallery, and expressions of gratitude from the soldiers were heard at every hand.
The ladies at Southlands were an example of many who gave generously of their spare time to befriend and offer help to soldiers, many of whom must have been away from home for the first time in their lives.
Titley, Chris ( 2014); 32 eye-opening facts about York at the start of th First World War; YorkMix website at https://www.yorkmix.com/life/history/32-eye-opening-facts-about-york-at-the-start-of-the-first-world-war/ accessed 29 March 2017
Southlands Messenger Feb 2015
OTC Artist’s Rifles Hare Hall camp is from The Artists Rifles as a Training school for Officers, Country Life 30 October 1915.
Cheerfulness opposed to frightfulness advert from Yorkshire Gazette and Herald 24 July 1915