By kind permission of John King, Author
It was, of course, the arrival of the military rather than the Belgians that was to place such a strain on Grove Park. This was simply by virtue of the sheer number of the recruits. The need to place some of them under canvas has already been mentioned. For all the soldiers there was the problem of relaxation and recreation in Grove Park which was simply not equipped to cater for them and nor was anywhere else in the immediate vicinity. The problem was, however, greatly eased by the local people in Grove Park and Lee who, acting together, provided various clubs and refreshment rooms to ease the plight of the soldiers. In many cases this was done under the auspices of one of the churches, while Soldiers’ Clubs were formed in church halls.
One such club was formed by members of the Baptist Church at the South Lee Tabernacle. In October, they set aside a room for the soldiers at Grove Park where refreshments could be taken, games played and letters written. The Baptists were followed closely by the Anglicans at St Augustine’s who formed a committee to manage another house no longer used by the owner. This was Maresfield in Baring Road just to the south side of the station and beyond Mayfair House School. At the outbreak of the war, the house which was owned by the Earl of Northbrook was empty. Following the decision of the owner, a meeting of residents was held in October in the Iron Room of St Augustine’s. The result was the opening of a Soldiers’ Institute on 11 November. It contained nine rooms on three floors of which two were for billiards. Another room was for NCOs, having been furnished by Sir George Pragnell, while two were for reading and letter writing. There were three for games while one provided refreshments. Several residents and businesses provided furniture and other equipment. At the opening ceremony, the CO. CoI. Fisher, emphasised how much the facilities would be appreciated.
The management committee included the Earl of Northbrook (President), Samuel Luffman (Chairman), John Worters (Treasurer), Charles Shortt (Secretary) and fifteen ordinary members including the grocer Mr Ford, Howard Jones, Sir George Pragnell and the retired railway officer William Thomson.
It was the Secretary, Charles Shortt, who lived in Grove Park Road (close to the Grove Park end) and the Treasurer who had done more than anybody to get the Institute launched. Its success was soon evident from the large numbers who subsequently attended. The Lee Journal reported at the beginning of December that accommodation Was for 100, but on one occasion there were 170. The writing room was keenly used with the sixty blotting pads always in use. One soldier who had been in the army some years was quoted as saying that the Institute was the best he had ever encountered. It was available, free of charge to all soldiers and sailors in uniform from 18 00 to 2115— they had to be back in the barracks by 21 30, although late passes were obtainable when the hours were extended to 22.30.
Other churches in Lee were to take similar action. The Methodists at the Burnt Ash Hill church were also active in helping the soldiers. When Frederick Wilson’s new house in Amblecote Road was ready, he made his first house available as a soldiers’ club. A committee of Methodists was formed to manage the club which similarly provided refreshments and somewhere to relax. Another Methodist. Ernest Cottell, who lived at Luptonvitle which lay just to the south of Mayfair House, on occasions allowed soldiers’ wives from the provinces to see their loved ones in the comfort of his house.
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