Lights Go Out

By kind permission of John King, Author

When Germany invaded Belgium on 4 August, it was too late. Britain was allied with France and Russia, but it was her desire to see the Low Countries neutral and not under the influence of a rival power that led to a declaration of war on Germany. At first there was an extraordinary expression of patriotic emotion in London although there were some earnest conferences among the elders at Grove Park. On 7 August the Prince of Wales launched a National Relief Fund. William Le May responded by becoming chairman of the South Lee Ward committee, holding an inaugural meeting at St Mildred’s Hall on 8 August. On 15 August there was a conference on “British Red Cross Society work and How to Avoid Overlapping Efforts”, at the Ravensbourne Club in Eltham Road, Lee, a Grove Park resident, Sir George Pragnell presiding. Sir George was the managing partner of a wholesale draper’s business, Cook, Son & Company, in the City, where he was also the chairman of the Employers’ Territorial Association. Sir George, who lived in one of the big houses in The Avenue, was obviously determined to play his part in the war effort. He was too old to join the forces but he did form the National Patriotic Association from his office in St Paul’s Churchyard. He also offered part of the Ravensbourne Club which had just been completed for his staff, to the Red Cross. (The building still stands.) Before the end of August he was also formulating a scheme to raise a National Training Corps of men who in the course of their work could help the army and police. He believed that one million men could easily be raised. Not surprisingly Sir George was obliged to reduce some of his other voluntary work and the following month resigned his seat on the Lord Mayor’s Relief Committee. Sir George’s son who was secretary of the Grove Park Dramatic Society, responded by joining up.

Meanwhile there was an emergency meeting on 17 August of Coates’ Habitation of the Primrose League at the Conservative Club in Lewisham when the ladies resolved that they would make suitable garments for the troops. Le May’s daughter was elected Dame President of the organisation. On the same day as the meeting, a recruitment office for the military was opened at the employment exchange in Lewisham High Street.

Before the war the ordinary British and German people felt they had much in common while there was considerable antipathy between the British and French. All this now changed and it was unfortunate for descendants of German people living in this country. Thus, before the end of August, the Lee Journal reported that a Lee firm was being victimised by a damaging rumour. As a result Mr & Mrs Andrews, bakers of 20 Burnt Ash Road, were offering a reward of £100 to any person who could prove they were German or of German descent and £10 to discover the originator of the rumour. At the same time, another baker, John Wallis Ltd of Riverdale Mills, Lewisham was emphasising that it was an old British firm. Sadly the anti-German sentiment extended to some of the younger Grove Park residents and Mrs Beyer of Heather Road, whose German husband had only died at the beginning of the year, was not to enjoy the happiest of her days, although she continued to attend St Mildred’s. One German in the parish of St Mildred’s, the 25-year-old Bertha Schultz, a governess at 135 Burnt Ash Hill, found herself before Greenwich Police Court after travelling by train to London Bridge on 31 August without a permit to go beyond a five mile radius of her residence. Meanwhile the Mayor of Lewisham, Alderman Jackson, arrived back from Germany where he had been on holiday when the war started.

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