Question in the House of Commons

By kind permission of John King, Author

In the winter of 1915-16 it was not just the pressure from ASC personnel that created problems.The damp weather compounded them and it became very unpleasant for those under canvas. As Captain Le Sueur des Fresnes of the ASC was to write after the war, the troops were put to a great deal of discomfort in October and November due to the weather and a constant state of overcrowding. The pressure on the camp was reflected in that one day in November, the number of troops increased by over 800. But other people were becoming aware of the difficulties and on 22 November 1915, West Ham Labour M.P. Will Thorne asked a question in the House of Commons. Addressing himself to the Under Secretary of State for War, he asked how many men in the army were sleeping under canvas and if he was aware that the troops at Pennington Camp were sleeping under very bad conditions; also how many men had been down with sickness in the past four weeks. Another M.P., Mr Goldstone, chimed in, asking if the accommodation at Grove Park was so strained that the recruits who passed through it were not receiving that reasonable treatment to which they were entitled. The Under-Secretary, Harold Tennant, replied that steps had been taken to relieve the situation at Grove Park by sending men on furlough who could not be comfortably accommodated in the camp; congestion was due to a sudden and unexpected influx of recruits; and the number of men in the past four weeks down with sickness was 128. This did not satisfy Mr Goldstone who then asked how many deaths had occurred at Grove Park from pneumonia since the war began. The answer was one.

Will Thorne appeared to obtain an unexpected ally in December when the weekly John Bull launched an attack on the government about conditions. Edited by the colourful adventurer Horatio Bottomley, who was described by one writer as the most influential man in Britain after Kitchener, the regular column ‘A Weekly Tribune to the Trenches and the Camp’ in the 18 December issue was pleased to admit that on several occasions, its remarks about unsanitary conditions had had the desired effect. ‘The various camps around Grove Park are not exactly of the Ritz Hotel type, but the Defence of the Realm Act prevents us giving vent to our feelings. However if the War Office authorities have any regard whatever for our men, they should send an officer to inquire and report.

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