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YOUR WAR STORIES GO ON ONLINE MAP ; A new interactive map and smartphone app will tell you over 100 stories about Bristol in the First World War -...

July 29, 2014

YOUR WAR STORIES GO ON ONLINE MAP ; A new interactive map and smartphone app will tell you over 100 stories about Bristol in the First World War - and some of them have come from Post readers. Eugene Byrne, who worked on the project, explains how it works and tells us some of the tales. Bristol's War 1914/2014

BRISTOL has an impressive range of activities commemorating the start of the First World War. In the coming months there will be exhibitions, lectures, publications, plays and musicals, film screenings and more, from the big autumn Moved by Conflict exhibition at M shed all the way down to small communityorganised events.

Many of the commemorations locally are being co-ordinated by Bristol 2014, a group of various organisations which has just launched Great War Stories.

This is an interactive map, which is also available free of charge as a smartphone app for both Apple and Android devices. It's been put together by local app development firm Calvium with help from the Know Your Place Bristol project.

The stories have been compiled by your correspondent and are the result of several years' research by myself and others.

The stories come from books, old local newspapers and magazines and archive documents. Some came about as a direct result of all the family stories that readers have been sending to us here at Bristol Times over the last year or so.

The project does not stop there, though. Bristol 2014 wants your family stories to add to the map.

Bristol 2014 Director Andrew Kelly said: "At the heart of the Bristol 2014 programme are stories - about the city at war; political and social change; those who went to the front and those who did 'national service' ' at home; those who refused to fight; what it was like to live and work in the city from 1914 to 1918; how the city changed physically; what the long-term impact has been and more - even urban myths.

"Our Great War Stories online map and free app contain over 100 fantastic stories already but we want many more. We all have a connection to the war through our families, communities and neighbourhoods. Please tell us your stories. We'll put them on the map and share them with the city."

To see the map, and find details of how to download the app, and add your own family stories, just go to www.bristol2014.com and click on 'Great War Stories Map and App'.

S4 E01-Here are just a few of those stories: The longest queue in Bristol's history Corn Street, by St Nicholas Market? By the later stages of the war, shortages of manpower, disruption to the normal economy and attacks on shipping by German U-Boats, led to serious food shortages.

Bread and "scrape" - thinly spread margarine - was the staple diet for many, and there were frequent queues outside shops when supplies were known to be in.

Here, in February 1918, people lined up in what was claimed to be the largest queue in Bristol's history. Around 4,000 people, mostly women, waited for supplies of margarine which the local Food Control Committee had obtained in large quantities and was now selling in half-pound (226g) packages.

Some people found a way of getting to the front of the queue. In Bristol, and elsewhere in the country, devious shoppers noticed that women with babies were often served first by the shopkeeper, or were invited by the others in the queue to go to the front.

So apparently it was common for unscrupulous women to borrow or even hire other women's babies to get to the front of the queue ... The Dug Out Colston Street? The Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) had purchased this site just before war broke out, and was planning a major new building here.

Building work was now put on hold and the YMCA decided to build a temporary structure for soldiers' welfare. It was fronted with sandbags and cement to give it a suitably military air and was officially opened by the Lord Mayor on May 17 1917.

The 'Dug Out' (below), as it was known, was very popular. It had a canteen and recreation room and a reading room in which soldiers could write letters - YMCA centres had free notepaper for soldiers. There were baths, kitchens and dormitory facilities for soldiers passing through on their way to or from the Front. The sleeping accommodation soon had to be extended.

The Dug Out hosted teas and entertainment for wounded soldiers, including outings to places of interest and to cricket and even baseball matches between British and American military teams from nearby camps. Every Sunday there was religious "song service" and other social events for all.

The Dug Out was open 24 hours a day and run by up to 400 volunteers. It was easily the most popular of the many facilities the YMCA had across the city during the war, and during its relatively brief existence its visitors used over a million sheets of notepaper. The Bristol YMCA was receiving letters of praise and appreciation for the Dug Out from around the world for many years after the war ended.

Proof of Britishness Avon Gorge Hotel, Clifton? In the early months of the war, most German nationals still living in Britain were sent to internment camps. This did not stop people being suspicious of anyone they believed might be German (or Austrian). As the war went on people elsewhere in the country who were German, or had German-sounding names found their homes and businesses were wrecked by angry mobs.

This does not seem to have happened in Bristol, but some were treated with suspicion.

In October 1914, Gabriel Eugene Kopp, the owner of what was then called the Clifton Down Hotel, faced rumours that he was in fact German. He wrote to the local press: "I was born in London, of French parents, in 1871. My mother is alive in Paris, and my brother is an officer in the French Dargoons. Under the circumstances it is somewhat galling that, owing to having a German surname, there should be the slightest suspicion of my being German."

Kopp went on to add that his wife was "a thorough Englishwoman". He also took out advertising space in the local papers in which he published copies of both his birth certificate and his British passport.

Fined - for letting a customer buy around Castle Park? The First World War saw the government bring in severe restrictions on the sale and consumption of alcohol.

Under the Defence of the Realm Act - "DORA" - pub opening hours were restricted and the strength of beer greatly reduced.

While older people will remember the restrictive opening hours continuing into the 1980s, what has long been forgotten is that during the war it became illegal to buy someone else a drink in a pub.

"Treating" as it was known, was outlawed for several reasons. One of them was that soldiers returning home on leave, or with wounds, were often bought vast amounts of drink in their local pubs.

In some cases elsewhere in Britain there were reports that some had even died of alcohol poisoning.

The first prosecution in Bristol under the new law was brought against Frederick Charles Eagles, landlord of the Cat and Wheel pub (right), which stood on this site until it was destroyed by German bombing in the Second World War.

In November 1915 Eagles was before the magistrates, accused of allowing a customer to buy five drinks for five people.

Eagles' defence was that the customer did not buy the drinks for the others; everyone in the round had paid for their own drink and the customer had simply collected their money and come to the bar to fetch the drinks.

Eagles' not guilty plea was rejected and he was fined Pounds 5. The law was widely disliked and regarded as absurd.

According to local legend, which may or may not be true, an army officer in Bristol was prosecuted for buying a drink in a pub for his own wife.

River tragedy Beese's Tea Gardens, Conham? Pearson's Fresh Air Fund was a local charity which took children from poorer districts of Bristol on outings.

On Wednesday August 11 1915 they took 130 children to Conham on the steamer 'Emily' where they spent the day playing in countryside and visiting Beese's Tea Gardens.

At around 5.30pm the children had boarded the boat for the journey home when there was an escape of steam from a safety valve on the boat's engine. It caused the children to panic and as it was only a couple of feet from the riverbank, many of them scrambled to get off and fell into the water.

In the ensuing panic and confusion, most of the children were saved, but four drowned. They were Frederick Taynton (aged 10), Florence Bray (9), Blanche Joliffe (9), all from Baptist Street, Baptist Mills and Frederick Stagg (7) from Ham Lane, Stapleton.

At the inquest at Bristol Coroner's Court representatives of the Fresh Air Fund said that they had taken over 70,000 children on similar trips in the past, with no mishaps. On this occasion they had 19 adults supervising the outing, and they always made a point of having at least one strong swimmer among their helpers in case any children fell in the water. In this case, though, the children had fallen into the gap between the steamer and the riverbank. Had they fallen into the open water on the other side, all would have been saved.

The court returned a verdict of death from drowning and said there was no evidence of negligence.

The fathers of each of the children attended the inquest. All four were in army uniform.

Fire Welsh Back? By the spring of 1917, German U-Boats were taking a very heavy toll on British merchant shipping, and many things were in short supply. It was probably the shortage of sugar which people found most bothersome.

To make matters worse, a consignment of it was lost in a spectacular fire at a dockyard transit shed here on April 7 1917.

The Glasgow Shed, as it was called, was packed to the roof with sugar, wax, whisky, twine and roof felting. Something caused it to catch fire. "It was a splendid fire, to the uninvolved onlooker" wrote one witness. "Not one of those unsatisfactory affairs with smoke sauntering out of a building and firemen with hosepipes bustling in. Burning whisky and wax flowed over the edge of the narrow quayside and began to float until halfway across the Floating Harbour in a wall of flame higher than the height of a man ... As a fire, though it only raged in full flower for less than an hour, it was a collector's piece."

At that stage in the war, it would have been difficult to feel uninvolved when seeing the loss of all that sugar and whisky.

Unfit for duty Hippodrome? In 1916 the government brought in conscription, and now every able-bodied man of military age was liable for service, unless he was in an occupation that was vital to the war effort.

Some men, however, kept being rejected by the army, even though they were desperate to join.

In 1918 the Bristol Military Service Tribunal heard the bizarre case of a man - we do not know his name - who was appearing with his wife in an acrobatic act at the Hippodrome.

The tribunal wanted to know why on earth a man who was fit enough to be a stage acrobat wasn't in uniform.

The man's solicitor told the tribunal that his client was keen, to serve. Desperate, in fact. He had made four attempts to join the army, but had been rejected as unfit. In desperation, the man, who spoke both French and German fluently from his time as a travelling performer, had offered to join the army as a physical training instructor. This offer, too, had been turned down.

The solicitor explained that although his client was an accomplished stage gymnast, the army refused him because: "He has a fractured skull, due to falling 75 feet whilst performing, a fractured ankle, a loose cartilage, flat feet, and is blind in one eye.

"His father was a gymnast, his grandfather was a gymnast and his brother, who was one of the few cases of a man continuing alive with a broken neck, was also a gymnast."


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Source: Bristol Evening Post (England)


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