Locations of military significance in Hertfordshire in the Great War
Where the troops came to and their effect on Policing and the Population
I put together this document as part of my work with Bishop’s Stortford Museum and Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies (HALS but you would recognise them as the County Records Office) into policing Hertfordshire in the Great War. Concentrations of troops, internees or prisoners of war had a marked impact on the delivery of policing to communities in the various localities across Hertfordshire but between us we were not sure where those concentrations were. So I began a little research and then Jonty Wild kindly lent me a book on Hemel Hempstead and asked some of his friends to assist. I am indebted to Jonty for his invaluable assistance. This document is only loosely structured but for this I make no apology.
Should you have information on other localities within Hertfordshire of military significance during the Great War or how the County was policed at that time please do e-mail it to me at HertsGreatWar@aol.com and I shall be delighted to update the document.
Terry Cox April 2014
The main troop concentrations in Hertfordshire during the Great War were around St Albans, Watford, Berkhamsted and Bishop’s Stortford.
The police had to accompany army billeting officers as they gave local residents the glad news they would have to receive one, two, three or more soldiers into their homes. The army paid only for the bed. For 2/11d a week meals, candles, washing, coal were not included although many middle class recipients of billeted soldiers provided all these at no cost out of a spirit of public duty. Albeit not paid for many soldiers came to take meals and washing as a right. Sadly the poorer classes could not afford to treat the soldiers and indeed for many the meagre billeting allowance was a welcome source of much needed income. At any one time approximately 25,000 troops were billeted across the county mainly at St Albans, Watford, Berkhamsted and Bishop’s Stortford and with them came their carts, wagons, limbers and horses and of course their bands.
To help place this into context, the London Division was based on and around St Albans, a City with a population of 19,000 in 1914, the number of troops in a Division is approximately 30,000. This large influx of men and horses was to a limited extent offset by the loss of both men and horses to the various fronts.
Shortly after the outbreak of War, 3,000 Northumberland Fusiliers arrived in Berkhamsted. However their stay only lasted a few weeks before they were relocated to nearby Halton (still an RAF base today). On 28 September 1914 the Inns of Court Regiment, Officer Training Corp arrived at Berkhamsted and remained there for the duration of the war. 12000 officers were trained at Berkhamsted and a memorial on Berkhamsted Common commemorates the 2,000 who did not return.
They centred their camp on the north side of the railway station which ensured they suffered no transportation problems. Lord Brownlow placed his personal waiting room at the station at their disposal and they understandably posted their Quartermaster there.
They established the Orderly Room in Berkhamsted Court House, stabled their horses at the brewery and constructed 13,000 yards of training trenches on the Common. Lady Brownlow graciously gave permission for the army to make use of her own hospital in the town.
In August 1914 the 2nd London Division of Territorial Force moved to war stations and established its Headquarters in the Peahen Hotel, St Albans (a striking old building originally a coaching inn and still standing on the cross roads of the original A5 and A6 today. It was for many years the busiest cross roads in the country outside London and had a St Albans policeman permanently on point duty to control the traffic).
Various units were billeted in the City and the surrounding area and their artillery was based at Hemel Hempstead.
It was necessary for the councils of St Albans, Luton and Hemel Hempstead to lay on fresh water, refuse collections, toilets and baths just for the troops.
In March 1915 when the 2nd London Division of Territorial Force departed for France their place was taken by 2nd London (Reserve) Division of Territorial Force with forces posted in St Albans, Hemel Hempstead and Watford. Divisional HQ was established in Donnington House, St Peters Street, St Albans. Things were a little tricky for them as the 2nd Division understandably had priority for instructors, uniform, horses, guns and equipment. Their artillery had to train with men pretending to be horses !
After two months the artillery were relocated to Much Hadham whilst the infantry was relocated to Essex.
No sooner had the Londons gone than the East Anglian (54th) Division arrived. The Norfolk, Suffolk and Hampshire infantry arrived in Watford on 20th May 1915 whilst once again Donnington House was used as Divisional HQ.
The Hertfordshire County Prison was built in 1866 as a model prison at a cost of £14,000, standing in Grimston Road, St Albans adjacent to the railway station. It could accommodate 85 men and 14 women in single cells, each with its own window, hammock, heating and toilet. The tread wheel was used to raise water to the water tower for use within the prison.
During its time as a civilian prison it saw four executions by hanging, the most notorious that of a young servant girl Mary Ansell convicted of supplying a poisoned cake to a lady inmate at a local mental institution. Sadly for her shortly following her death a man admitted responsibility for administering the deadly cake. The last execution, with black flag flying from the flag staff, took place in 1914.
In August 1914 the prison was taken over as a military detention centre. There is little information on the prison during the Great War. After the war the premises were taken over by St Albans City Corporation and used as their highways depot well into the 1970s. The building is famous for being Slade prison in the BBC series Porridge.
Built in 1898 the Middlesex Lunatic Asylum at Napsbury was a sizeable complex covering 412 acres, designed to accommodate 1,205 patients, complete with staff quarters and its own farm complete with glass houses. It had its own station connected to the adjacent LMS mainline.
In 1908 the asylum was expanded to provide a further 600 beds. In those days you did not really need to be insane to end up in the asylum, many patients were nothing more than a source of nuisance or inconvenience to their families and it is well documented large numbers of girls who fell pregnant outside wedlock found themselves held in this secure accommodation. It had barred windows and locked doors, secure grounds with substantial wall and fences and the staff were called warders and wore uniforms more akin to the police than nurses.
During WW1 it became a military hospital – the County of Middlesex War Hospital. Some psychiatric patients were retained to work in the wards, kitchen and workshops, and 350 of the 1,820 beds were reserved for mental patients. Entertainments were laid on for the troops, including cinema shows, and theatrical and musical performances.
In 1918 it was renamed Napsbury Mental Hospital.
Just down the road from the asylum the Royal Flying Corps established an airfield at London Colney opposite All Saints Pastoral Centre. New pilots were trained there and there was a steady string of accidents amongst the would be aviators – sadly many proving fatal.
The deaths from the RFC and the Middlesex Military Hospital meant military funerals in St Albans were a common occurrence. The corteges would travel from London Colney to the City cemetery in Hatfield Road where a large plot – now known as soldiers’ corner – was established by the Imperial War Graves Commission.
In 1914 Harpenden was considered to be just a large village. At the outbreak of war the Territorial Forces were mobilized and four battalions of the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment (totalling 4,000 men) were billeted at Harpenden while training prior to dispatch to France. Some of the larger houses in the village had as many as 12 soldiers billeted therein. The billeting allowance was viewed as a useful source of income to the local community.
A tented military hospital was established in Rothamsted Park, just inside the gates at Hatching Green. The hospital had 24 beds and cared for men until the winter when the enterprise was relocated to the warmer Golf Clubhouse on Harpenden Common.
The wonderful estate at Childwickbury was also used for military purposes. Mr J B Joel of Childwickbury, the famous race horse trainer, kindly consented to the Village Institute at Childwickbury to be transferred to the Y.M.C.A. for a period of six months, free of cost of maintenance. The Institute was formally opened for the convenience of the R.A.M.C. billeted at Shafford Farm. The room was equipped with refreshment bar, billiard table, various games and facilities for reading and writing.
Shafford Military Hospital, was situated on the Childwickbury estate beside the A5 at St Albans and was an establishment for soldiers suffering from venereal disease. It was not uncommon for soldiers seeking time out of the front line to deliberately become so infected. “Ladies of the Night” known to be infectious were actually able to charge soldiers a premium for their services. There was much correspondence between Eastern Command and the Childwickbury Estate in September/October 1919 for this field to be cleared of hutments and reinstated to former purpose as a paddock for horses.
In the House of Commons on 9 June 1915 the Under-Secretary of State for War was asked whether he was aware that of the 1st North Midland Field Ambulance, Sherwood Foresters’ Brigade, now with the Expeditionary Force in France, each company man has been called upon to contribute a half-franc and each transport man one franc towards a claim made by Mr J. B. Joel, in whose stables at Bushwood*, near St Albans, were quartered for some weeks towards the end of last year the transport section of this corps; that pressure had been exercised to compel the men to pay, although some of them were billeted as far as two miles from the stables where damage had occurred and whether he will take steps to ensure these men will not be called on to pay for damage done by horses ? The Under-Secretary had no information but would enquire into the matter.
*Bushwood paddocks and Bush Wood were part of the Childwickbury Estate and were accessed from the old A6 and Beesonend Lane, Harpenden.
The Notts and Derbys marched off for France via Harlow on 16 November 1914 and Harpenden was without troops until 5 February 1915 when several battalions of the North Staffordshire Regiment were posted there. This was a source of celebration as the village was once again seen to be doing its bit to contribute to the war and once again the money was appreciated by local businesses.
A substantial number of large houses were offered for use as auxiliary military hospitals. Often the wealthy owners not only provided the premises at no cost but also met all the running and staffing costs associated with their hospital.
The Federated Malay States established a military hospital at Blackmore End House near Kimpton. The substantial property was loaned for the duration of the war by its owner Mrs Vincent of Blackmore End and 35 Portman Square, London.
The Federated Malay States, established by the British Government in 1895 as a protectorate comprising the four states of Selangor; Perak; Pahang and Negeri provided by public subscription for the fitting out of the hospital including operating theatre and X-ray machine. The hospital opened in winter 1915 with 80 beds but was extended by the erection of further wooden wards in the gardens until it was to provide 204 beds.
Known at the F.M.S. Hospital its running costs were also met by the Federated Malay States.
Between 4 p.m. and midnight on Sunday 16 August 1914 the artillery arrived by rail at Hemel Hempstead. This created so much heavy traffic local police were required to regulate it. Indeed the London Gunners created such traffic for the narrow streets a police officer was often placed on point duty at the junction of High Street and Queensway.
Horses, wagons and carts in Hemel Hempstead were requisitioned and the bright colours and livery of the trade wagons and carts given a swift coat of government grey.
The 5th County of London Brigade of Artillery was based in Hemel Hempstead High Street. The 6th County of London Brigade of Artillery was based in Marlowes (which was not then a shopping centre) around the long since demolished Midland Railway Station with its miserable looking dark brick, low arched bridge dominating the road. The 7th was stationed at Boxmoor and the 8th at Apsley.
As part of their training the men drove their teams of heavy horses and guns around the narrow roads of the district and it was a common occurrence for the gunners to knock down lamp posts and other street furniture. The council regularly billed the commanding officer for the repairs. Indeed accidents were so common the military posted notices stating any claim for damage caused by troops would not be considered unless notified to the authorities within three days of the incident.
The Borough Surveyor at the time lived at 1 Christchurch Road, Hemel Hempstead, a pleasant Victorian detached property. He was required to billet one officer in his house with his family while the batman was billeted next door. His combined stable, hay loft and carriage house at the end of his garden was commandeered by the Royal Army Medical Corp and became a medical post.
The army promptly took over every school in the Borough except one.
A substantial hutted camp was built at Gadebridge Park and the council were obliged to replace the ford over the river Gade with a new road bridge which stands to this day bearing the date 1915.
On 15 August 1914 at a ceremony held at the Town Hall, 144 Special Constables were sworn into the Hertfordshire Constabulary. They were informed their duties would include guarding both the water works and the gas works, and preserving law and order especially in the event of food riots. The ceremony was repeated later in the year.
The glass of street lights was painted green. At this time there were only 15 telephones in the whole of Hemel Hempstead. The Borough only had a volunteer fire service and it rapidly lost most of its members to the colours. It became necessary to enrol older members to the fire brigade to enable it to continue to function.
The large hutted camp at Gadebridge placed such a demand on the local water system it became necessary to procure and install another boiler at the steam powered pumping station at the waterworks in Marlowes.
In November 1914, black outs were rigidly enforced by police in the Hemel area as part of a War Office experiment to see how effective black out curtains were. In February 1915 the public were informed air raids would be notified by a steam siren sounding three short then one long blast at fifteen second intervals for five minutes. The all clear would be the continuous sounding of the siren for two minutes. One siren would be mounted at the waterworks in Marlowes where they was an ample source of steam from the massive boilers. Where steam was not available church bells would be rung.
An example of the zeal of the Special Constabulary was the successful prosecution of Charles Norris a council boiler man who failed to failed to keep shielded the glow from the council boiler he was stoking, he was fine £1. Locals complained Superintendent Hassel was enforcing the black out more vigorously than in other parts of the county.
Kerb stones were painted white.
In September 1916 following Zeppelin raids on London police in Herts had to arrange accommodation for refugees from London. In Hemel Hempstead they lodged them in the Town Hall and Boxmoor Hall.
In 1916 the government issued a tariff of maximum prices for sugar, butter, cheese and bacon. These prices were to be enforced by the local police.
At the beginning of 1917 the government made 10,000 German prisoners available for work on the land. Just 75 were allocated to Hertfordshire.
John Dickinson’s paper mill at Apsley was converted into a munitions factory.
The Queens Westminster Rifles were based at Leverstock Green.
Schoolboys were organised to collect acorns and conkers from which was extracted acetone used in the manufacture of explosives.
Nut shells and fruit stones were saved up and then sent to Captain Rickets, The Gas Works, Southend-on-Sea, where in conditions of great secrecy they were converted into an especially absorbent form of charcoal for use in gas masks.
In late February 1915 selling and swapping army stores became a major problem at Hemel Hempstead. One High Street grocer, Alderman Adam Chennels admitted exchanging milk and butter for army supplies comprising 1,400lbs of cheese; 206lbs bacon; 72lbs of jam; 23lbs mustard; 56lbs of fat and other goods. 22 local businessmen appeared before the Magistrates with the case being brought by Superintendent Hassel charged with appropriating army stores. Senior officers of the London Gunners appeared before the Court and gave evidence that they had sanctioned the swapping of these stores for milk and butter which the army did not provide for the men. Magistrates dismissed the case against all the defendants but required them to pay costs.
There was also a lively trade in horse oats. The army making ample provision for its horses soldiers were quick to trade the surplus for items they, or their horses, needed.
In mid-September 1915 Police were busy seeking billets in Hemel Hempstead for a further influx of troops.
In September 1917 the news broke that the Gadebridge Camp was to be converted into a VD hospital. The council were unhappy with this and a letter of protest was sent, but the camp was still converted to the hospital.
Hatfield House was partially converted into an auxiliary hospital for injured soldiers. This hospital was sufficiently large to warrant its own cemetery within Hatfield Park immediately beside the Great North Road at Old Hatfield. It still exists and is accessed by a steps from the Old Great North Road but parking nearby is difficult.
Marshmoor sidings at Welham Green were used as a prisoner of war camp.
In 1936 a Reunion Service was held in Standon for former members of the 21st London Regiment who were based in Standon at some time during the Great War.
Oak Hall, Bishop’s Stortford was used for holding prisoners of war.
Established by the Schroder banking family in 1900, Libury Hall was an entirely self sufficient farm which provided refuge with work for German men who had fallen on hard times. It was an obvious choice for an internment camp and the number of inmates was increased from the normal 200 to 600. As the men there were not Prisoners of War they were guarded by armed members of the A Division Herts Special Constabulary. While on duty the Specials had use of a cottage within the grounds and it was a source of great concern to the Chief Constable that at some stage he might be charged rent for the use of the property.