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World War 1 on the Home Front


This series of articles will look at the Hartley area in World War 1, based on a number of sources. This conflict is rapidly receding into the pages of history. Recently it was announced that the last combat veteran had died in Australia, and in the UK little more than 10,000 people can remember anything about the war

The sources used include local newspapers, archive material and also Charles Ellerby's excellent book "Hartley 1912-1974" which may be obtained from Hartley Library.

A cricket match in the twilight of peace

Hartley was a very different place from today. It was much smaller, about 400 people lived here, but it was growing rapidly as Small Owners Limited split the ancient farms into smallholdings for new settlers. One visitor did say "In looking over the estate as its stands at present, the visitor must be prepared to shut the aesthetic eye to some extent, and be content with the utilitarian aspect."[1]

In July 1914 Hartley's cricket team paid a visit to Southfleet. It was an archetypal scene of peace, and few, if any, playing would have any idea that war was only a month away. The subsequent fate of Hartley's team is a microcosm of the war. Of the eleven three were above or below military age, three were given exemptions because of their occupations, while the other five went to war. And of that five, two, Ernest Holness and Charlie Haygreen, did not return. 1914 was not a good year for Hartley's cricket team, they had already lost heavily to Northfleet and Imperial Paper Mills, and that day they were trounced by 97 runs, thanks largely to Southfleet's star player, Edward Stoneham, who worked at Red Cow Farm. He scored 77 runs and dismissed Hartley's first three batsmen. He volunteered in 1915 but was wounded by shrapnel which left him with only limited use of his left hand.

War is declared

Events moved rapidly after the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand on 28 July 1914, people prayed for peace in local churches on Sunday 2nd. On Tuesday 4th August 1914 Britain sent Germany an ultimatum to respect Belgian neutrality. This was rejected and at 11pm that day we were at war. At Gravesend the news was telephoned to the North Kent Club, to be passed on to the awaiting crowd at the clocktower. On hearing the news they sang the national anthem and Rule Britannia "with patriotic fervour". It would prove to be the most destructive war ever known, but on this summer's day few would have predicted that. Those who thought the war would last 3 years were criticised as "sensationist".[2]

Local residents soon noticed things happening. The Dublin Fusiliers were seen marching out of Milton Barracks, some heading off by train to East Kent, the others to defend Tilbury Docks where at nearby Purfleet, anti-aircraft guns were hastily installed. Fleets of London buses passed through Dartford and Gravesend, while closer to home it was reported "Gun teams have been passing almost daily through Green Street Green and Longfield, their destination being evidently Maidstone and Canterbury. Drivers and men fully accoutred, their horses stretching at full stride..."[3]

The previous Sunday, 600 German reservists had boarded the SS Oswiga at Gravesend to return to Germany. Some were glad to go, one told the paper he'd given up a good job to fight for Germany. Others were not so, one told the Gravesend Magazine he only went because he was afraid he'd never see his aged mother otherwise, and he hated the thought of having to fight his adopted country.

There was an outpouring of enthusiasm but actually little for people to do immediately. A parish meeting held in Hartley on 14th August got 14 volunteers to be Special Constables, five of whom had bicycles which were invaluable for communication. First Aid classes were arranged in Fairby Club Room, while in large numbers of women knitted useful articles for the troops.

Many became special constables, within little more than a month 40 specials had joined in both Longfield and Hartley. The army was recruiting too. On 15 September the Gravesend recruiting committee held a public meeting in the Longfield Working Men's Club "to stir up the right spirit in the villages". This involved speeches from Military men and clergy. A lady spoke "from a woman to women" to urge them to get their menfolk to enlist. The meeting was also regaled with patriotic songs by professional singer Winifred Firth of Gravesend.

The darker side of this enthusiasm could be seen when Thomas Schulz, a shopkeeper in Milton Road, Gravesend had to write to say he was not German, just had a German name [4]. However a Dartford organist refused calls not to play German music, saying that Beethoven belonged to the world.[5]

A German Spy?

The keenness of the special constables was shown when a Longfield special apprehended a 56 year old Hungarian tramp, whom he found at Haven Hill, Ash on the evening of 1 September. On the face of it, this seems over zealous, until you read the account of I T T Lincoln. He wrote in 1916 (Revelations of an International Spy) that the man had a very large sum of money, a notebook in code and drawings of a Zeppelin. As Lincoln was from Hungary and worked as a censor at the Post Office, he was asked to contrive a meeting while the prisoner was being taken to Dartford police station. Lincoln was convinced he was a spy, because he said he had lived in England for 24 years, but couldn't remember where he had been or speak a word of English. Apparently the authorities were worried that the Germans were tapping the telephone lines, and Longfield special constables were guarding telegraph lines at night. However Lincoln said the evidence was not strong enough, so they had him imprisoned on a vagrancy charge to allow them to make further enquiries, he said "It is likely that the man had wandered about in England for a great many years - he looked it, but that he was no "tramp" was equally certain. His intelligent, shrewd face and his correct, select Hungarian, belied all his statements. He was without doubt only another impenetrable link in the marvelous organization of the German Secret Service.".

Treibitsch Lincoln wanted to be a spy, so when he was turned down by the British he promptly went to Holland to offer his services to the Germans.

I T T Lincoln in 1915 (Library of Congress)

Belgian Refugees come to Kent

The horrors of war were soon to be brought home to Kent, for as the Germans pushed through Belgium more and more refugees arrived in England. About 200,000 are thought to have passed through Kent and many were housed in our area, initially for a short while at the Dartford Workhouse at West Hill. George Day of North Ash Farm housed 7 refugees, another family found a home in Essex Road Longfield [6]. Pease Hill Cottage in Ash was also lent by its owner Mrs E J Tubb to the Dartford Relief Committee. Another house lent to the committee at 1 The Brent, was turned into a cafe where they could meet.

Pease Hill, Ash about the time of WW1

Belgian refugees also came to Hartley, where Miss Davies-Cooke was able to employ 2 Belgian priests to run the RC Church she had founded in 1913. There were also Austrian and Hungarian children staying at Fairby. People from Hartley collected toys for the Belgian children.

No longer an island

A portent of things to come occurred on Christmas Day 1914, when people in North Kent saw a German plane - "The worshippers on leaving Longfield Church on Christmas Day were startled in seeing the German aircraft gliding above the Thames. The Taube was soon seen to turn back followed by a British plane..."[7] It retreated and dropped 2 bombs near Cliffe.


Within days of the outbreak of war the government passed the Defence of the Realm Act 1914. This law gave the government (not Parliament) the power to make regulations "for securing public safety and the defence of the realm". DORA would affect everyone's lives, as well as the expected ban on loitering on railway lines or discussing military matters in public, you could not buy binoculars or postcards of Royal Navy ships[8]. You weren't allowed to use invisible ink writing abroad. And in the days when radio was in its infancy, you needed a licence to own pigeons, something three men from Crayford found to their cost. Non-Britons could not own pigeons, but there was nothing to stop someone selling the birds to them![9] And for those with short arms and long pockets, pubgoers were forbidden to buy drinks for anyone else! This even included husbands buying drinks for wives, although Dartford magistrates threw out one such case in 1915.[10]

Censorship was another aspect of DORA. The press was extremely restricted in what they could say. Although the censors weren't always consistent. Papers weren't allowed to say Gravesend had been bombed but could freely mention the munitions works in Longfield, which information would have been of equal value to the enemy.

In some cases DORA prevailed long after the end of the war. In 1915 pub opening hours were shortened by having a closed period in the middle of the day, something that was not restored until 1988. Lloyd-George once said "we are fighting the Germans, Austrians and drink, and by far the greatest enemy is drink!"

A related act, where the effects are still with us is the Summer Time Act of 1916. Ever since then we have moved the clocks forward in summer. It's introduction caused some amusement, Gravesend's clock winder was asked by his friends why he was prowling round the streets at 2am! It was not universally liked, Peter Goodwin said his Aunt Amy Russell would have nothing to do with it, and turned up to Ash Chapel an hour late on the day of its introduction!.

Young man, you ought to be a soldier

Many local men joined up in the first few months, but they were in minority. Many were already members of the territorials, 238 were called up from Gravesend's six biggest employers within the first week. Local footballers quickly joined up, the 13 teams of the Gravesend league had supplied 169 men in the first two months, including 13 from Longfield FC.

Government advertising was supplemented by local efforts. The latter appear to have had only limited effect. The local paper reported that a recruitment day in Dartford got just 8 volunteers "despite martial music and soul-stirring speeches", adding that most men of military age were conspicuous by their absence.[11]

The propaganda offensive to get men to enlist was intense. Even today we readily recognise the poster of Kitchener pointing at the bye-stander, or the "Women of Britain say go" poster. Local papers were full of calls to enlist, often letters from those serving at the front. Letters were sent to people at home. If you went to church in Longfield you would have to pass the roll of honour pinned to the church door.

Milton Barracks, Gravesend, where many local people joined up

Anyone out of uniform faced a hard time. One man who'd been rejected by an army medical called for badges so that people would stop harassing him.[12]. A Meopham schoolteacher wrote via the paper to the anonymous person who posted him a white feather, to remind them he was over military age.

While we remember the poetry of Brooke, Sassoon and Owen, local papers published many patriotic poems of dubious quality, such as this example:

Young man, you ought to be a soldier
And wear a khaki coat
Your king is calling!
Can you that call dispute
? (etc for another 8 verses)[13]

Or this by a lady from Paddock Wood:

Now war has broken o'er us
And the cry for men is great
Will you stand by idly watching
Leaving England to her fate
British men I now implore you
Enlist ere it be too late
(etc. for another 8 verses)[14]

Such poems are probaby what one local writer called "the doggerel effusions of old maids (both sexes)". He also wrote of the coercion put on people to enlist - door to door campaigns by self appointed busy-bodies. One gardener told by his employer to enlist or be sacked, however his employer's patriotism did not extend to his pocket book when asked to make up army pay to support his employee's widowed mother who depended on his wages.[15]

Voluntarism turns to conscription

In 1915 Gravesend was said to have 5,000 men of military age who had not enlisted, which was well over half the potential number of recruits. A recruiting meeting held at the clocktower got just one volunteer who turned out to be too old. The local paper urged local women to remember the women of Belgium and encourage their men to enlist.[16] A survey by the Church of England in 1916 found 40% of married men and 60% of single men in the towns of Gravesend and Northfleet were in the services.[17]

The government ordered a census in August 1915 called the National Register, which found over 5 million single men of military age not in the forces, although many were exempt for one reason or another. They then introduced a scheme of "attestation" where men were encouraged to volunteer on the understanding they would be called up when needed and that single men would be called up first. Very many did and the Milton Barracks recruiting centre had hundreds of volunteers on the last few days of the scheme in December. They would get a khaki armband to show they had volunteered.[18] Once again local machinery cranked into action to pressure men to join up. A committee was formed in Longfield and "every effort" was made to ensure enlistment. In Southfleet and Swanscombe every effort involved a door to door canvass. Only 1 man from Hartley is known to have attested but records are very incomplete.

Certificate card of registration under the act, 1915

Even so calls for conscription would not go away, but one local writer noted that those keenest on conscription were over fighting age themselves...[19] Conscription for single men aged 18-41 began in January 1916 to be followed by married men in May of that year. By 1918 the conscription age had risen to 50, and had the war not ended, those aged up to 56 would have found themselves in the army.

Local tribunals were set up to deal with applications for exemption, mostly on occupation or personal grounds. Many Hartley men applied to the Dartford Rural Tribunal, who accepted the reasons in over half of cases.

How many men from Hartley served?

It is difficult to know exactly what proportion from Hartley served due to migration into and out of the village, in particular the big influx of people after Smallowners sold plots after 1913. At the beginning of 1915 the local press reported that 14 men from Hartley and 52 from Longfield had joined up. Hartley's 14 probably represented about 1 in 5 of those eligible at the time. In May of that year Dartford Chronicle felt that 500 single men in the Dartford Rural District had not enlisted, but exempted Longfield from criticism. Most Longfield recruits joined up in the first 2 months, including the rector's son, who sailed back from Brazil so he could join up.

Putting together the roll of honour in the Church, military and newspaper records with the 1918 Electoral Register which listed servicemen separately, Hartley supplied about 55 men for the services. Nationally it is reckoned about half of men aged 18 to 50 ended up in the armed forces.

Those too old to serve did other kinds of work. 66 year old Mr Kirk of Longfield rejoined the civil service as his indexing skills would be much in demand, but also with a view to allowing a younger man to be released for the front.

Standing out against the crowd

Although in hindsight we see the First World War as a tragic waste, most people at the time did not see it so. Even when local papers were full of casualty lists, it just made people determined that the sacrfice should not be in vain.

Hartley had two people who refused to fight on grounds of conscience. One was John Rich, whose son John is commemorated on the war memorial. He was a bricklayer who told the local tribunal that as a socialist he thought society was wrong and should not live by killing. He also believed that it was not a just war. He also told them that he believed it was impossible to be a Christian and a socialist, which irritated one panel member, the Reverend Stanley Morgan (Labour)! The tribunal refused him on conscientious grounds but exempted him anyway because he worked at a munitions factory.

Conscientious objectors suffered badly in the war. Many lost their jobs or liberty. Gravesend Council sacked a librarian CO in 1916.[21] Some were forcibly drafted and then court martialled when they refused orders. This was the fate of two Quakers at Milton Barracks in 1917.[22] It was difficult to be accepted as a CO, the Gravesend tribunal refused the application of a cinema projectionist, because he showed "warlike" films; and another because he went to football matches and somehow hadn't therefore suffered enough for conscience, even though he belonged to a local Christian sect called "The Peculiar People", who were well known for their pacifism.

But not everyone felt this way. Many COs came to Fairby Grange to convalesce after harsh prison treatment, which had been made available by its Christian Socialist owner Alfred Salter. One of those helped was George Dutch (1894-1983) who came here suffering from TB and other ailments. He wrote: "It was a glorious Spring and Summer and I remained there until October, working for the last few weeks in the gardens, orchards and hayfields. Thanks to good food and care and the fine Kentish air, I was completely cured....It is good to know that our world still produces good and clever men like Alfred Salter."

Charles Ellerby says that there was never any animosity towards COs by the people living in Hartley at the time. The chairman of Dartford Rural District Council said most COs were "the salt of the earth", and roadmen employed by the council refused to work with someone whose mother had abused a CO colleague.

German Nationals

German and Austrian nationals were sent to internment camps early in the war. This included George Zimmer (1866-1941), a gardener who lived near Red Cow Farm. Even though he was imprisoned the authorities still conscripted his son in 1916. One such camp was in Dartford near the old Darenth hospital. In May 1915 the mayor of Gravesend assured residents that all enemy aliens had been "sent away" about 6 months before.[24]

This did not stop public hysteria about spies in their midst. Locally people with German sounding names were attacked after the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915. In Dartford there were reports that names had been circulated round the town, but police managed to protect those affected.

In Gravesend they were not able to prevent the shop of Schulz & Son being ransacked and eventually the Military had to be called out with fixed bayonets. Mr CP Marshall, one of the local volunteer corps bravely stood in front of the shop to try to stop the mob "under a torrent of an unmerciful downpour and a torrent of abuse that would daunt most men..." The Reporter noted that many of those involved were women.

Many felt the attacks brought shame on the towns; the mayor of Gravesend said they had "hurt the good name of Gravesend". The local press was highly critical, it was pointed out that Thomas Schulz was not only born in England, but so were his parents, and he had been a former town councillor. Offenders were caught and heavy penalties imposed by the local bench. Mr Schulz himself wrote to the Kent Messenger to thank the many expressions of support he had received.[25]

People were horrified when 19 year old Mary Yungk was jailed for visiting her parents in Gravesend in 1915. She was English but had married a German tailor who was interned at Holloway Prison. She became destitute and could not get a job because of her German surname, so she turned to her parents, but as the wife of a German she was not permitted to visit Gravesend. The case led to questions in Parliament and the Home Secretary ordered her release from Maidstone Prison and she also received several offers of help.[26]

Because of the anti-German hysteria, those with German sounding surnames often changed their name. As with the low so with the high, for the Royal Family were forced to Anglicise their name to Windsor. To people who called him uninspiring and alien, George V famously replied "I may be uninspiring, but I'll be damned if I'm alien!".

Munitions of war

The war saw a massive increase in munitions production. Indeed Britain was very much the workshop of the Allies. New factories sprang up, including two at Longfield. The first was the EC Powder works at Longfield Siding by Hartley Bottom Road. Construction started in July 1915, with the 50 construction workers living initially in a marquee, but the local medical officer was assured that 14 wooden huts would replace this. EC Powder already had a local presence since 1885 at Bean, their factory was where the Beacon Wood Country Park is now. In 1917 the workers won a tribunal decision for better pay.

The other local munitions firm was Fairby Construction Company Limited. They were incorporated in 1914 and had a factory at Longfield [20], but I do not know where. According to Flight Magazine of 19 November 1915 they made steel construction factory buildings suitable for aircraft hangars and works that incorporated "a new idea in doors". Its director Geroge H Humphrey and office manager George S Mainprize, both lived in Castle Hill. The company's unique selling point was that it was prepared to sign contracts with heavy penalty clauses for overruns, but had never had to pay yet.

Air Raids

The reality of total war was soon brought home to the people of Kent when the Germans started the aerial campaign against Britain in 1915. At 12.25 am on the morning of 5th June 1915, Gravesend was bombed by Zeppelin L10. Eight bombs fell, injuring 6 people and killing 4 horses in the stables at the Yacht Club VAD hospital. The papers were not allowed to report any of this, even though everyone must have known. That week the Kent Messenger wrote "This is not the ideal time for the journalist. There is so much he knows he may not say".

Zeppelin in Searchlights, WW1

However it had its effect, new ARP arrangements were set up in Gravesend, while the police started prosecuting those breaking blackout regulations. In Hartley the first person to be caught was none other than the Rector himself, Rev Bancks. Police Sergeant Binfield said he had seen a light at the Rectory at the bottom of Hoselands Hill on 18th July, and claimed that he had previously warned the defendant. At the same court a lady frorm Station Road in Longfield was fined for showing a halfpenny candle in her window. Hartley Social Club [27] was also summonsed for having 6 acetelyne lights in their billiard room and only a linen blind, but the case was dismissed by the magistrates because the police had never told them that was insufficient first.[28] The Chronicle said the regulations were confusing and depended on the opinion of individual police officers.

Anti-aircraft defences consisted of searchlights, AA guns and fighter patrols. Locally there was a belt of searchlights along the top of the North Downs which swung north at Trottiscliffe to include lights at Hartley (to east of Hartley Bottom Road, or at Manor Field according to a 1918 map) and Ifield. Behind them were AA guns at Fawkham Green, Southfleet and Dartford. Air patrols from Biggin Hill and Hainhault covered the south eastern suburbs of London. There was an airfield at Joyce Green, but its main role was for pilot training.

Ellerby says that a single AA gun was placed on Manor Field, and the house later built there was called "The Gun Station". Unfortunately none of the air defence maps and records in the National Archive record this, so it may have been a mobile rather than fixed gun. Traditionally the Hartley gun was never fired in anger, on one occasion when aircraft flew over the crew were said to be away playing cricket! In general ground fire did not shoot down many hostile aircraft, but did make them fly higher and reduce their effectiveness.

The Zeppelins returned again on the night of 3 September 1916. At 1.09 am one was spotted by the Hartley searchlight who opened up on her, followed by the Southfleet light. By 1.15 it had crossed the railway line to the west of Longfield Station and dropped 6 incendiary bombs on the fields near Canada Farm Road. It carried on towards Gravesend dropping more incendiaries and high explosives, the Kent Messenger carried an eyewitness account from someone who probably lived in Longfield or Southfleet. It shows that there was no system of air raid warnings for the villages, and a scepticism about official communiques from the government (reflected in Ellerby's book too). The Zeppelin that was shot down was not the one that bombed Longfield, but like this correspondent, people in Hartley saw it fall to earth.

The whistling of shells, the weird playing of numerous searchlights, and then such a crash! The Zepps were here. Kent Messenger 9.9.1916

"About 1.20 am on Sunday, writes a village correspondent, the inhabitants of our quiet district were immediately aware of the booming of aircraft guns, the whistling of shells, the weird playing of numerous searchlights, and then such a crash! The Zepps were here. Looking up one could be seen splendidly 'held' by the nearest searchlight, and being attacked by an adjacent aircraft battery. The airship changed her course like a turned hare and scurried away. The craft had entered the parish from the south, making for London. On being discovered by the searchlight, she made suddenly for the east. 4 explosive bombs were dropped in the district and incendiary bombs fell in some fields, setting fire to a wheat stack. Fire brigades, police and special constables hurried to the scene, and then what cheering! The sky was illuminated to the north-east, and an airship was seen falling in flames. Nearer home the biggest effect was theat of an explosive bomb which made a hole in a field nearly 30 feet in circumference. The spot was discovered before daylight, and many eager searchers carried away souvenirs. About 300 yards further on a bomb weighing 2 cwt fell in a field, exploding underground. This was unearthed by the military on Sunday. A hundred yards beyond, a farmer and his family had a narrow escape. The farmer was watching the airship approaching - she looked[28] about 12 yards long at the distance - and shortly afterwards whe dropped a bomb which smashed outbuildings, meal house, coal shed etc. But spared the farm house and stables. It was almost pathetic to see a faithful horse pick its way out from the debris at dawn of day. Windows were broken in 2 streets, but the cause for deep gratitude is that not a single life was lost. The few casualties officially reported are sometimes received with scepticism, but here in a line of about 2 miles, 17 incendiary and 3 explosive bombs fell without even an animal being hurt. The Zeppelin possibly was unloading her stock of explosives to enable her the better to escape, and dropped them right and left promisuously." [29]

Raid eyewitnesses

By 1917 the defenders had got the measure of Zeppelins, so the Germans replaced them by Gotha aircraft. A Gravesend man wrote a diary of a raid week (23 - 30 September) for the Reporter. He said people used to bless the new moon but now it meant only one thing - light enough for a raid. He was honest enough to admit how worried people were:

Arrived home to the humming of aeroplanes. Everybody in their burrows like rabbits. Sociable people. We seek ours. Turn off gas as precaution and open doors; take up stand in middle of hall, close to party wall and wait results. Fine view through open doors of Verey Lights, a real Brock's benefit. Guns are ripping it pretty well. Curious sinking feeling at pit of chest. Knees not very stable, and my voice shakes when speaking. However, for sake of wife and family must be brave. Encourage them with jokes at Hun's expense. No retribution from them at present. What's whistling noise - the shrapnel or the shells make. Wonder if it is anything like this at the front. Glad I'm not there, and that age is the bar. Not much better living here. ....There's a big explosion; must be a bomb dropped. Second thought - doubt whether it was. Probably only a gun speaking above a whisper. Guns getting fainter. Drone of aeroplanes cease. Probably they have gone. Disquieting reflection - will they return. Venture to the front door. Verey lights long distance away, gone very faint. Ah, London must be catching it. Sorry for London. Congratulate my locality - which has passed unscathed. Mustn't crow too loudly. Must adopt Asquithian pose, and wait and see. Walk boldly into the open. Discuss raids and war with neighbours..... All quiet. Wonder whether lights will soon go on. Very tired. Strain is rather exhausting. Will have supper and go to bed and chance it. Have supper, ascend to dormitory. Ah! What a relief. Lights are on. Go to bed and soon in the arms of Morpheus...

This area was hit by a raid on the night of 1 November 1917, with incendiary bombs being dropped on Longfield (9), Ash (6) and Ridley (1). No damage was caused by any and 4 of the 6 dropped on Ash failed to ignite. Longfield would be bombed one more time, on the night of 19 May 1918, when an incendiary bomb dropped about where the Secondary School is today by a Gotha bomber failed to ignite. This was to be the last raid by aircraft on England, as the Germans lost 7 of the 38 planes used that night, and shortly after their airfields in Belgium were overrun by the Allies.

There were of course several other occasions when Zeppelins and planes were spotted overhead, heading to or from their main target of London. Our area was lucky not to be badly affected, for overall 1,500 people died in the first blitz.

Boots, boots, boots

Hartley hit the national news [31] just once during the war, it was a crime story and like some the best crime stories, it involved a man in a pub!

At Milton Barracks in Gravesend, an army battalion was about to be disbanded and their stores should have been returned to the Pimlico depot. On 16 June 1916, the Quartermaster seized the opportunity to help himself to 300 pairs of boots worth £300. Telling the captain they were going to an army camp at Longfield, he got an accomplice to drive them to the Pelham Arms, where he met John, brother of Charles English, the owner of the Black Lion and Mr Swift, landlord of a pub in Gravesend. Swift and English got onto the army truck and unloaded the boots at the Black Lion.

On July 1st, the Chief Constable of Gravesend [32] paid a 6am visit to the Black Lion and found 2 bedrooms full of boxes of boots. English said he was just looking after them for a friend. But unfortunately for him, he had left a paper trail for the police to discover, because he had written a cheque for £100 to Swift. Initially Swift denied to the police that he even knew English. In his defence Swift said he was simply cashing a cheque for English, and had no idea what was in the boxes he unloaded at the Black Lion, nor did he have any curiosity as to why army stores were being taken to a pub.

Needless to say the judge took a dim view of stealing from the army in wartime, and he threw the book at them, giving them all 18 months hard labour. Sadly John's innocent family suffered as a result. It is said they were the talk of the village and the family was jeered at in public. John's brother Charles lost his rag with one of his tormentors and was summonsed for assault [33], the nominal fine suggests the magistrates thought he was the one more sinned against. On release, John joined the army in November 1917, where his old trade as a train driver was put to good use in the base at Alexandria.

In the case, one witness described the Black Lion as a "miniature Whiteleys", referring to the famous London department store, suggesting that it offered a wide range of goods. Left to run the business on his own during the war, Charles had to work from morning to midnight on weekdays, and do all his bookkeeping on Sundays, probably the origin of his nickname "the midnight grocer".

Civil Defence

The first war had its own version of the Home Guard, called the Kent Volunteer Fencibles. Dartford and Gravesend both had volunteer corps. At Gravesend the Corps began in October 1914 and had 400 volunteers within a month. Like the later Home Guard they were short of equipment, months later they still had no uniform nor rifles and had to attend the Gravesend riots armed with nothing more threatening than walking sticks. The effect of the Sunday route marches on the general health of some of its members was noted in the local press, but they did cause amusement too.

The possibliity of invasion was taken seriously. A Sunday walker at Longfield in July 1915 [34] came across the Gravesend Volunteer Training Corps on an exercise to repel an invasion.

The Dartford Local Emergency Committee had drawn up confidential instructions in 1916. The area was divided into 11 districts, Hartley and Longfield were district 6, represented by the Rector of Longfield, Rev Edward Smith. On an emergency being declared Superintendent Fowle of Dartford police would contact each parish's head special constable, in Hartley's case this was Robert Emmett of Fairby House. The Head SC would inform his section leaders who would arrange for each inhabitant to be told personally and discouraged from moving except in cases of heavy bombardment.

They were to keep 5 key roads clear for military use only, one of which was the B262 from Dartford to Longfield and onto Meopham. They were told not to destroy bridges, telephone and electricty wires etc. without a direct order from the military. All cars, bicycles, horses, carts etc. were to be taken to Dartford Heath. In addition they had drawn up a list of spades, pick axes and other tools which could be requisitioned in an emergency.

The Role of Women

The war increasingly saw women taking on roles hitherto reserved for men. But in August 1914 in an article "What Women Can Do" the Dartford Chronicle said their role was to urge menfolk to join up, and "unrecorded acts of womanly sympathy and devotion" [35]. But later on the paper became a supporter of women in the workforce. As more and more men were called up the authorities had no choice but to call on women. However the number of female employees nationally rose from 4.9 million to 6.2 million. Many women got work in munitions, including local dignitary Lady Hart-Dyke and her daughter.

The local papers record the gradual advances made. Women became post ladies, tram conductors and of course munitionettes, and more than before served in shops. Local farmer and county councillor George Day was a strong supporter of women in agriculture, while Longfield parish formed a committee in 1916 to encourage volunteering for the Women's Land Army.

Some got more senior roles - Mrs Branston of Greenhithe became the first female relieving officer for the Dartford Poor Law Union. While criticised by some, she had the support of the Dartford Chronicle, who reminded readers how successful female poor law guardians have already been. But old attitudes died hard, disgruntled minority members boycotted Gravesend Union meetings, because they had elected a lady chairman.

Thousands thronged the streets of Dartford for Women's Day on 1 September 1918. It included representatives from the Land Army, women's organisation and major local employers, including the EC Powder Works, led by Mrs Crouch. Everard Hesketh, the managing director of JE Halls said his firm had not employed women before the war but now have hundreds. He praised their excellent work in often physically demanding roles and said they had made a real contribution to victory. Lord Burnham, proprietor of the Daily Telegraph, who owned paper mills in Dartford, agreed. Women he said had been a revelation, and "the war could not have been carried on but for women's work".

Some of the gains turned out to be temporary wartime ones, but the 1918 electoral register shows one permanent advance - women's suffrage. Of Kent's 16 MPs, eight voted in favour including Hartley's MP, James Rowlands (Liberal - Dartford).

Food and Farming

Britain's weakness in both world wars has been our reliance on food imports. At the start of the war Britain imported 40% of food. The dependence was especially great for wheat, sugar and maize.

Generally there wasn't a problem with food supply until 1916. Until then there had been reasonable home harvests and merchant shipping was able to import food from abroad. The main problem was sugar, which before the war had mostly come from Germany.

Contemporary graphic showing reliance on imports

Things changed in 1916. That year there was a poor harvest [37] in most countries, and from 1 February 1917 the Germans started unrestricted submarine warfare which initially led to huge losses of merchant shipping. Ultimately it would cost Germany the war, because it caused America to enter on the Allies' side. The Government made available troops and Women's Land Army volunteers to work on the farms including those in Hartley.

The government tried to reduce the amount of wheat consumed by increasing the extraction rate of flour in bread from 70% to 81% (wholemeal bread is 100%) and bread was not allowed to be sold until 12 hours old. Longfield and Ash bakers both fell foul of this particular regulation.

However for most of the war the government relied on voluntary restraint. The first steps towards rationing came in 1917 when sugar cards were issued to each household to buy sugar from their selected retailer. However the situation deteriorated at the end of 1917, "food shops were besieged and the police frequently had to regulate the crowds and form them into queues to prevent the shops being rushed". Mr Burt, the Dartford food controller, had to grapple with dwindling food supplies, and huge crowds for food, many from outside the district (Dartford was known to have relatively plentiful stocks of margarine as they had a branch of the Maypole company there). The crowds were so bad on Saturday 19 January 1918 he instructed shops only to serve people who lived in the town or Dartford rural district. After another weekend of chaos he was able to persuade the councillors on 28 January 1918 to introduce rationing the following day. Throughout the night his staff worked on getting the scheme up and running, while printers were producing the ration cards. Local schemes such as these were superseded by the later national scheme. Gravesend was proud to be the first town to introduce a rationing schme that was the template for the national scheme.

Ration Book 1918, showing front cover and butter coupons inside

WW1 saw the emergence of the term profiteer. Many local people felt they were being overcharged for food. The Reporter found in July 1917 that producers were being offered less than ½d per lettuce when they were being sold for 2-3d each, the facts they said spoke for themselves. A writer to the paper in 1917 claimed many local butchers had new cars, adding "It is a horrible thing to be a housewife today; your money supply melts like butter in the sun, and you have nothing to show for it. When the revolution comes it will come from those like me, who am a distracted housewife" [37a]

Locally farmers did their bit to grow more food. In the four parishes of Hartley, Longfield, Ash and Fawkham, the amount of land devoted to grain crops grew from 900 acres in 1914 to 1,650 acres in 1918. Farmers had to struggle with workers leaving to join the army or better paid munitions work. it was claimed 40% of farm workers had left.[38] George Day of North Ash Farm (now New Ash Green) is quoted more than once saying that labour was hard to come by.

However in Hartley cereal production fell from 200 acres to 50 acres over that time. This was because Smallowners Ltd was gradually breaking up Hartley's larger farms into smallholdings. At the end of the war only 2 farms in Hartley were over 20 acres, with 57 small farms. It did mean that Hartley grew a lot more orchards and soft fruit, but overall the amount of cultivated land in Hartley appears to have fallen. Hartley got into the news for the wrong reasons when it was reported "acres of land ... were uncultivated and covered in weeds," and the council was powerless to compulsorily acquire it. [39] Later, the County Agriculture Committee requisitioned the 55 acres of land at Wellfield and grew corn and potatoes on it. [40]

Food shortages were everywhere and Hartley was no exception, Charles Ellerby said "we did get down in time to maize-meal puddings, dried milk, porridge, potatoes, saccharine, and cuts of meat which came from unrecognisable parts of dubious animals." Nationally average fresh meat consumption fell during the war from 2.4 lb to 1.5 lb per person.

Casualties of War

During the course of the war over Britain had over 1.6 million wounded and many of them were sent back to the UK for treatment. Charles Ellerby recalled that the walking wounded were everywhere to be seen, but there were many too ill to leave hospital. Soldiers were given a gold stripe on their uniform for each wound sustained.

Dartford had 2 large war hospitals at the Lower Southern Hospital (formerly called Gore Farm, for 48 officers, 1,034 other ranks and also German POWs) and the Orchard Hospital for Australian wounded, which specialised in shell-shock cases and convalescence (1,200 beds). The Southern was handed over to the American military in June 1918 and was visited by the King and Queen in October 1918.

Lower Southern Hospital about the time of WW1

Often the wounded would come by train to Longfield station before being conveyed to hospital. Charles Ellerby recalls it was a grim sight. Suffering was a great leveller and people felt for all the wounded, friend and enemy alike. One account appeared in the Reporter in 1915 of wounded going from Longfield to Gore Farm Hospital:. "The Red Cross trains arrived shortly after 5 o'clock, and there being a large body of VAD and St John Ambulance helpers, the 96 men were speedily transferred to motor cars and conveyed to their destination." Some were on stretchers, "The majority, whose wounds were not very serious, appeared cheerful and thankful that they had escaped for the present from the tragedies of war". There was a military escort.

German Prisoners of War at Lower Southern Hospital, Dartford (Red Cross postcards publicising ICRC work in WW1). German WW1 prisoners at Lower Southern Hospital

Many were treated at voluntary hospitals including local hospitals and those run by the Red Cross and the Voluntary Aid Detachment. Gravesend had VAD hospitals at the Rosherville Hotel, the Yacht Club, others included Ingress Abbey at Greenhithe, Kemsing Village Hall and Shorham Vicarage. Kent treated more of the wounded than any other county. 114,000 were treated in Kent's auxiliary hospitals in 1918. Local women volunteered in great numbers.[41]

These voluntary hospitals did get government grants, but also relied to some extent on local donations. Longfield held a variety show in 1916 where 50 gramophone records were collected for wounded soldiers in Dartford and Gravesend hospitals. Later that yeat the Chronicle complained that a ban on local people using military vehicles had stopped many going to entertain the patients or to bring flowers.

Paying for the war

People were encouraged to buy war savings. The most infamous was the 5% War Loan issued in 1917 which raised £2 billion for the government. This was the one case where the UK government has effectively defaulted on sovereign debt. It was meant to be bought back at the issue price of £100 by 1 June 1947, but in 1932 the Government ran a propaganda campaign which encouraged most holders to convert to the undated War Loan 3½% stock which is still quoted in the papers and is unlikely ever to be repaid.[43]

Like the last war there were many local savings campaigns. One run in 1917 raised £180,000 from Dartford alone (equivalent to over £7 million today). A poem in the Dartford Chronicle joked that War Bonds were the only thing that wasn't in short supply![44]


Today there are few people living that can remember the war, but on Hartley Green stands the silent witness of the War Memorial. On it are inscribed the names of the eight who gave their lives, some of whose families still live in the area. They are commemorated every year in November.

Hartley War Memorial at the junction of Church Road and Ash Road

The war made people less militaristic. While today the policy of appeasement in the 1930s is criticised, people who had lived through the war did not see it that way. Hartley was no different: in 1934 the League of Nations Union ran a poll which found 90% of villagers wanted all round disarmament and 85% wanted the abolition of military aircraft (about 1/3 of people participated).

George Santayana once said "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Have we learned the lessons of the First World War? Certainly the mistakes made on the home front in 1914-18 were learned and the government were able to run matters in the second world war more efficiently because of it. Certainly it never was the war to end all wars.


1 Kent Messenger 6.2.1915

2 Kent Messenger 14.11.1914

3 Gravesend Standard 4.8.1914

4 Gravesend Reporter (7.11.1914)

5 Dartford Chronicle 16.10.1914

6 Gravesend Reporter 17.10.1914 and 13.2.1915

7 Kent Messenger 2.1.1915

8 Gravesend Reporter 2.10.1915

9 Dartford Chronicle 29.3.1918, a Belgian refugee was fined £25 for this.

10 Kent Messenger 11.9.1915

11 Dartford Chronicle 2.10.1914 "Wake up Dartford - Dartford's Poor Response to King's Appeal."

12 Kent Messenger 30.1.1915

13 Gravesend Reporter 13.11.1915

14 Kent Messenger 17.10.1914

15 Gravesend Magazine Aug 1915; Mar 1915

16 Gravesend Reporter 19.6 1915. The number of military age males in Gravesend and Northfleet at the time was probably about 8,500.

17 Gravesend Reporter 23.9.1916 "The noble 4,000"

18 Gravesend Reporter 18.12.1915 "Brisk Local Recuiting".

19 Gravesend Magazine, September 1915

20 Dartford Chronicle 6.4.1917

21 Gravesend Reporter 19.2.1916

22 Gravesend Reporter 1.12.1917


24 Gravesend Reporter 29.5.1915

25 Kent Messenger 22.5.1915

26 Kent Messenger 31.7.1915; Hansard (House of Commons) 26.7.1915

27 This is not same organisation; the current Social Club was founded in 1934

28 Gravesend Reporter 7.8.1915, Chronicle 15.8.1915

29 Kent Messenger 9.9.1916.

30 Dartford Chronicle 27.12.1918

31 Times 11.7.1916

32 At the time Gravesend Borough had its own police force, separate from Kent County Constabulary. Hartley was part of the Dartford area.

33 Dartford Chronicle 19.1.1917

34 Gravesend Reporter 24.7.1915. This may be the one of July 4th described in the Gravesend Magazine where 3 columns marched from Gravesend to Meopham by different routes with the plan to arrive at the same time, keeping in touch by bicycle messengers. One column went via New Barn, Longfield Siding and Hartley Bottom Road.

35 Dartford Chronicle 14.8.1914 "What women can do".

36 Gravesend Reporter 18.12.1915; Dartford Chronicle 28.1.1916.

37 Hansard (HC) 30.11.1916 - England and Wales Wheat harvest was 7.3 million quarters in 1914, 8.5 m in 1915 and only 6.9 m in 1916. In 1917 it was 7.2 million (Times 8.11.1917), but 1918 was a bumper 10.5 million (Times 13.11.1918)

37a Reporter 15.9.1917 38 W Corbett Barker of Kent War Agricultural Committee quoted in Dartford Chronicle 9.2.1917. The Rural Development Company in Hartley complained that the council were enticing their workers away with higher wages to repair roads (Reporter 11.8.1917)

39 Dartford Chronicle 23.3.1917

40 Times 3.8.1920

41 In 1916 it was said so many had volunteered that no recruits would be needed for 3 months - Dartford Chronicle 22.9.1916.

42 Dartford Chronicle 1.4.1916, 7.7.1916

43 Times 12.1.1917, 1.7.1932 and 18.7.1932

44 Dartford Chronicle 4.1.1918