Local Defences

By kind permission of John King, Author

It was probably after the first air raids by Zeppelin airships in January that the first defences from aerial attack appeared in Grove Park. London was always the strategic objective of the Germans but the first raids affected only East Anglia. More raids followed in April but it was not until May that London’s East End received the capital’s first baptism of fire when seven deaths were recorded. The defences in Grove Park included a large gun known affectionately as ‘Big Bertha’ in Baring Road and opposite the junction with Heather Road. When it went off, houses literally shook.

The other defence was a smaller gun. “Little Lizzie’ with a Searchlight Station alongside. The latter was situated beyond The Rise in Baring Road in the direction of Bromley and on the western side of the main road. It included a small bungalow style building to house the military who manned it. Big Bertha was also permanently manned by the military.

One reason for the large number of recruits to the ASC was the comparatively high rate of pay at 6/- per day. This was in order to bring the recruits into line with those who had entered the special reserve prior to mobilisation and in order to attract men with the necessary skill. The fact that unsuitable men were being enlisted not surprisingly caused discontent among those receiving lower rates. In particular, clerks in the regular ASC were paid only is. 2d. for a long working day and resented the fact that clerks enlisted specially for the duration of the war were receiving 4s. Od. a day.

Action to check the unqualified recruits had been reviewed in February and on 1 July 1915 a Recruits & Testing Company was formed at Grove Park from one of the Bus Companies under Major W S Oakley. The object was to give a systematic test to every driver and tradesman entering Grove Park; but with increasing pressure the Company became so unduly congested that it could not cope with the volume. As a result qualified officers were sent to recruiting offices to give potential recruits a verbal test. The task at Grove Park was not made easier by a shortage of equipment — for some eighteen months there were only to be two workshop lorries, a store lorry and one Packard lorry, the whole being covered in tarpaulins.

One Scottish recruit did not have the support of his mistress. Both were from Scotland and both were married to other parties. They were living together in Peckham when John McD… enrolled in April. She pursued him to the Barracks and obtained an interview with him in the Orderly Room. They left the room together whereupon Catherine L…. dashed some carbolic acid into his face. Subsequently charged, the woman was sentenced to ten months hard labour.

The censor was still allowing some discretion on the gloomier aspects of the war. Thus the Lee Journal on 7 May reported the arrival at Lewisham Military Hospital — the Lewisham Union’s former workhouse hospital — of the first draft of wounded soldiers. There was certainly no restriction on detailing the deaths of ‘locals’ at the front, although the first local death to be reported — Private Conrad Kruse of the 2nd Sportsman’s Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers and from Grove Park Road — was from an attack of meningitis. He died on 25 April and after a funeral service at St Augustine’s, was buried at Plaistow Cemetery, Sundridge Park with military honours.

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