Not Forgetting - Chapter 10: Bottesford around the time of the First World War
Neil Fortey, Sue Middleton & David Middleton
This brief account was written in about 2008, several years before our First World War Commemoration Project began. The outcomes from the later project can be found in the Bottesford and World War One section of this website and also in our project’s book: Lest We Forget – Bottesford and Muston in the Great War, ISBN 9780993161278, published in 2017. It hardly needs to be added that the account presented here, written in 2009, was comprehensively superseded by the later work.
The years before the outbreak of the First World War could be seen as a time of confidence and national assertiveness, when Britain ruled an empire and its industries led the world. Even so, they were difficult times for many. Pay and working conditions were hard for agricultural communities, whose populations decreased steadily as people left to find work in the towns or start a new life overseas. Many young men joined the forces. At Bottesford, some joined the part-time units of the Leicestershire Regiment while maintaining their day to day jobs.
Mr Gerald Norris described his grandfather Corporal Frank Norris, a wheelwright who served in the First Volunteer Battalion Leicestershire Regiment, 1884 – 1891, where he was a notable marksman. Corporal Norris would probably have known Lance-Sergeant John Thomas Cooper, a tailor in Bottesford, who served in the Belvoir Volunteers for 20 years and was the company bugler, before his death in 1904 aged 46. He received a funeral with military honours. Mr Don Roach, one of his descendents, recounts that the funeral was attended by Lieutenant L. Beasley, Quartermaster-Sergeant Ratcliffe, Sergeant-Inst Williams and Colonel-Sergeant Kettleborrow, along with the rank and file. John Cooper had also been a member of the church choir, and his coffin was carried by four choristers, J. Martin, F. Norris, T. Rawdin and L.H. White. He trained the buglers in the Bottesford village band, which marched and played later, during the celebrations of coronation of King George the Fifth in 1911.
Another Bottesford man was Sergeant Thomas Rawdin, who fought in the Boer War and is remembered as the Hero of Nitral’s Nek, receiving the D.C.M for his courage and determination. This was a battle near Pretoria in July 1900, in which he played a vital part in holding back the advance of the Boer forces. The Grantham Journal in 1906 reported his tragic death in an accident while working for the GNR at Colwick, and burial at Bottesford. According to the Journal, Sergeant Rawdin, of the Lincolns, remained alone manning a Maxim gun, under “venomous fire”. When the Maxim jammed, he dismantled and reassembled it then resumed his own fire. The gun was pitted with bullet marks when finally retrieved. A few days later, Sergeant Rawdin himself wrote, “ No doubt you have heard of our bit of a fight. It was a bit rough, but I pulled through all right… I thought, ‘Here goes; neck or nothing,’ …. the Boers were all around us.” The battle lasted over twelve hours. The Maxim gun, the fore-runner of the Vickers Machine Gun, was normally operated by a team of men and needed a supply of cooling water to keep it working.
Robert Baden-Powell, also a veteran of the Boer War, went on to found the Boy Scouts movement in 1907, and then the Girl Guides in 1911 with his sister Agnes. The Bottesford Boy Scouts were formed around 1912 by its leader, Charles Calcraft, who later enlisted.
The War Memorial in St Mary’s church, records the fact that 186 Bottesford men served in the forces during the First World War. The population of Bottesford was about 1174 at this time (based on the 1911 census), which implies that about 30% of the entire male population had joined up! Life must have been arduous for those who remained at home, a prolonged daily grind for four years with the constant anxiety for family and friends overseas.
Diana Pearson Vale’s account in Arthur Smith, 1872-1952, Policemen, Cricketer (published privately in 2006) of her grandfather’s years as Police Inspector in Bottesford, 1913-1921, portrays a largely self-sufficient community. In 1913 it had a clothing club, medical club, penny bank, lending library, a surgery, two schools, a cheese factory, stables, tea garden, three bakers, boot and shoe repairers, a carrier and carter with shire horses and covered wagon. Apart from the railway, transport was by horse, foot or bicycle, with few if any motor vehicles. The Inspector kept his horses and four-seater dog cart behind the police station, which was also the family home. He was on call all the time, though most offenders were minor by current standards, mostly drunks, poachers and licence offenders, but there were also deserters.
Food was short: the country was nearly out of reserves in 1917 when ration books were introduced. The villagers were described as ill-fed, under-weight, working long hours for low pay. Many infants died before they were six months old. Some people ate almost no meat at all. Condensed milk caused rickets. There were concerns about bread adulterated with potato or even chalk, tea adulterated with dye or glue, lead in children’s sweets, even arsenic in beer! Meat was rationed in April 1917, sugar in 1918. Fish and chip shops replaced pie shops: one opened opposite the Police Station.
Contingents of soldiers passed through, sometimes infantry marching between Nottingham and Grantham on their way to “fight the Hun”, sometimes a cavalry regiment with their horses. Wartime regulations were enforced. The Lighting Order was strictly carried out. The church bells were used for air raid warnings, and a Zeppelin did indeed pass over Belvoir Castle.
Civilians were kept in ignorance of the appalling conditions in the trenches. In those days news was easier to control. In Bottesford a town crier with his bell and loud alerting call of “Oh Yez, Oh Yez,” relayed vital information around the village, always finishing off with the formula “God Save Our King and Country”.
Diana Pearson Vale described Harold Hallam’s story. Harold Hallam, who worked as a carrier and in his family’s butcher’s shop, left to “do his duty”. He was wounded, and received his Honourable Discharge in October, 1917. The family, expecting to greet the big, robust Harold they remembered, had a great shock when confronted by a frail, weak man wearing hospital blues and his regimental cap, walking with the aid of two sticks. All he would say was: “It were murder, bloody murder, best forgotten.” He had been blown up and left for dead in No Man’s Land. After a day or two, during a lull in the fighting, a stretcher bearer kneeling by a supposed corpse found the body still warm and just breathing. He exclaimed, “Good Lord. It’s ‘arold ‘allam!” Miraculously Harold had survived. Left for dead on the field of battle, he actually outlived most of his compatriots, reaching the ripe old age of 87.
Bottesford School in the First World War
Led by headmaster, G.V. Collett, Bottesford School played an active part in the village’s support of the war effort, raising funds, knitting clothes and donating food especially to troops overseas, injured troops and prisoners of war. A Roll of Honour was kept in the school. Further detail is given in Chapter 6: School No.31
A message from the front in 1915
The following fragment from the Bottesford Parish Magazine for October 1915 provides insight into the ways that war touched the community and families. It is likely that Canon Vincent-Jackson edited the Parish Magazine. Perhaps the letter from the front was from his son, Montagu, a Lieutenant with the Sherwood Foresters, killed in action in 1916.
This is now my third night in the first line, and I am getting almost used to the incessant ping of rifle bullets, and the dull thud of cannon. I wish you could see me now, lying on a wooden bed in my dug out, surrounded everywhere with sandbags, shells and rifle bullets. Night is like daytime here, and all officers are on duty in turn for three hours, which are spent in continually patrolling up and down the trenches to see the sentries are on the alert. Sniping and machine-gun fire goes on all night, mostly directed against working parties, gun-fire is restricted to the daytime. Our right-half battalion was badly targeted during the day, but escaped scot-free. Our company mess-room is a cellar of a house which forms part of our line. It has been much bombarded, and the cellar is the only room with a roof to it, also having no windows, it can show no light at night. Two snipers live in the wooden framework, which is all that remains of the roof, and, as a result it attracts many shots. I had rather a thrilling time last night, when I took out a party to reconnoitre the grass between our trenches and the Germans, who are not more than 75 yards away. We crept out on our hands and knees through a tunnel, and I then spent an hour crawling over masses of barbed wire and rattling tin cans. I came back with my clothes torn and covered in mud, but without being hit. Whenever the Germans send up a flare light, one has to lie flat down and keep still for fear of snipers, and if you happen to be lying on a piece of barbed wire at the time, it is not very comfortable. There were also two unpleasant moments, when I saw a rifle pointed at me from our own trench only 20 yards away, and had to shout to stop him firing: and when I could not find the entrance of the tunnel! I saw a German aeroplane brought down by machine-gun fire three days ago, and there is nearly always an aeroplane being fired at by shrapnel.
After the Great War was over
After the Armistice in November 1918 life began to return to something like what it had been before 1914, though a lot had changed for ever. The war had been a prolonged trauma, and the country emerged weaker, never to regain the optimism of the pre-war days. Indeed, with hindsight it is clear that the next two decades were marked by political changes, industrial troubles and years of economic difficulty. The “Spanish Flu” epidemic during the winter of 1918-1919 took its toll, as has been mentioned. A captured german field gun was purchased by the parish council and placed on display by the Cross, perhaps a grim reminder of the battle field.
On a more positive note, the Royal British Legion, formed in 1919 for veterans returning from the First World War, established a branch in Bottesford. National Old Age Pensions, introduced by David Lloyd George when Chancellor of the Exchequer in Asquith’s Liberal government in 1908, had been consolidated in 1911. In 1918, the vote in General Elections was given to women over 30, and in 1928 it was extended to include women over 21.
The economic hardships of these times was also felt in the landed estates across the country. Many major land sales were held, the cause often attributed to difficulty in meeting Death Duties (the forerunner of Inheritance Tax). In 1920, the Duke of Rutland auctioned a part of his estate, including many lots of land and buildings in the parishes of Bottesford and Muston. This was arguably the largest change in land ownership in the area since the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th Century. The result to this day is a mixture of owner-occupied farms and tenanted farms. Nevertheless, the Dukes and their families remained at their traditional home of Belvoir Castle and deeply involved in the affairs of the Vale of Belvoir.
Bottesford First World War Memorial, St Mary’s
The War Memorial plaque is mounted on the wall of the south aisle of St Mary’s parish church in Bottesford. The inscription reads:
1914 – To the glory of God – 1918
And in grateful & loving memory of those who gave their lives for their King & Country of the 186 Bottesford men who served in the Great War.”
Royal Navy: G. Alfred Calcraft
Lincolnshire Yeomanry: A. Bernard Hickson
Leicestershire Regiment: Albert Asher, Charles Baines, Cyril Barrand, Frederick Darby, Frank Pacey, J. Herbert, J.H.G. Skinner, Frederick Shaw
Sherwood Foresters: Walter Hardy DCM, Montagu J. V. Jackson, Arthur Mayfield, Clifford Miller
Lincoln Regiment: T. Harold Cooper, William Edwards
Durham Light Infantry: Philip Sutton
Worcestershire Regiment: Joseph W. Matthews
Royal West Kent Regiment: E. Hugh Holmes
North Stafford Regiment: William Palmer
South Stafford Regiment: H. Walter, S. Hatton
Yorkshire Regiment: Charles Alliss
Royal Field Artillery: Robert Dolman
Machine Gun Corps: Edgar C. Raithby, J. Richard Robinson
Canadian Regiment: Charles A. Bend. M.M., Arthur Gilding, Charles Pacey, R. Turlington Page, Frank Raithby DCM
“They were a wall unto us both by night and day.”
Muston War Memorial
The first panel carries the inscription:
“Erected to the Glory of God and in Memory of Those Men connected with This Parish who Lost Their Lives in the War 1914-1918”.
The remaining five panels commemorate the following servicemen who died in the First and Second World Wars.
Private J Buckingham Lincolns, July 3rd 1916
Lance-Corporal W Bullock Leicesters, June 8th 1917
Gunner WH Coy RFA, August 8th 1917
Sergeant JR Furnival Australian Company, April 27th 1915
Private Cyril Gale Lincolns, April 27th 1918
Private I Johnson Northumberland Fusiliers, October 21st 1918
Sapper E Jones Australian Engineers, December 1st 1916
Lance-Corporal WP Kirton Notts & Derby, September 26th 1917
Private J Norman King’s Own Lancers, November 4th 1918
Private RC Pritchett Notts & Derby, August 20th 1918
Private E Wakefield Leicesters, March 8th 1916
Lieutenant DJ Hicks REME
Commander CJ Smith RN DSC
Close to the memorial there is a single serviceman’s grave whose stone commemorates:
Flight-Lieutenant VS Walker Pilot, Royal Air Force, 7th May 1947, Age 27
“Proudly Remembering Always Your Courtesy to All Men and Your Great Love”