Ossett: January 1915
By the middle of the month the Volunteer League, the district’s new home defence force, had 162 members in its Ossett and Horbury detachment. Among them was Mark Senior, the Ossett artist. The regular training the men undertook was obviously to good effect: when they were inspected by Colonel Hind he expressed himself well pleased with their appearance and he advised them to give special attention to marching, shooting and digging. His stress on the latter reflected the emergence of trench warfare on the Western Front.
Local industries continued to benefit from the war. At the A.G.M. of the Ossett Chamber of Commerce its secretary, Mr. R. Tonge, reported that the town was experiencing the greatest boom it had ever known. There were, however, continuing problems with the supply of dyes for the textile industry. In the discussion following Tonge’s remarks it was suggested that the British dyestuff industry should be encouraged by tariff protection, while the importation of German aniline dyes should be banned for ten years after the war.
The Ossett and Horbury Trades and Labour Club held its A.G.M. at Woburn House in Ossett. The increase of prices because of the war was debated and William France noted that "the capitalist would always take advantage of the poorer classes, and it was always the very poor who suffered first."
One of the Belgium refugees, Madame Van Giel, who with her little girl was lodging with Mrs. Hutchinson, received news that her soldier husband had been killed in October. Two other refugees, young men living at the Primitive Methodist Sunday School, were sent to the War Refugees’ H.Q. in London because of their 'insubordination': they had refused to either do any paid work or to help at the Primitive Methodist School where they were housed. However, the "Wakefield Express" reassured its readers that generally the refugees had conducted themselves in "a manner worthy of their nationality."
Three Belgian refugees who were staying in Horbury took part in a social event at St Ignatius Roman Catholic Institute. Lucian Lame with Robert and John Tant, sang a Belgium song and their national anthem. Among the other performers was George Murray who sang "It’s a long, long way to Tipperary."
Like the other local churches, St. Ignatius took part in the National Day of Intercession on the first Sunday of the year. At Ossett Green Congregational Church the minister, J. Gomer Williams, expressed the view that the war might bring some good. "Although we hated war", he said, "still if it was the means of arousing within the heart of the nation a trustful reliance on God it would have brought its blessing." His view was not shared by all. Speaking at the Congregational Brotherhood on the Green, Mr. Joseph Taylor said that the previous week a man had told him that he was losing his faith as the war seemed show that Christianity had made very little progress during the centuries. Taylor, nevertheless, still maintained his faith in the ultimate accomplishment of Christ’s purposes. There had been dark times before, he noted, and the country had come through them.
Ossett: February 1915
One theme of British propaganda was the destruction wreaked by the Germans in Belgium. When the German navy shelled east coast ports in December 1914 this reinforced the propaganda image of the Germans as ruthless vandals. An Ossett audience was given an opportunity to see some of the damage when Miss Thwistlewaite of Whitby gave an illustrated lecture on German handiwork in Belgium and Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool to some of the town’s Conservatives. Another view of the Germans was given to the "Ossett Observer" by Mrs. Lilian Marsden, wife of Sam Marsden, a native of Ossett, when she visited the town. Sam, who had been working in a Berlin textile mill when war broke out, had been interned, but she had been able to leave. She told the "Observer" that although German food prices had risen, morale in Berlin was high, and work was plentiful. The Germans, she said, hated the British and did not believe the stories about their army’s atrocities in Belgium.
From exile in France, the Belgian government continued its struggle against the Germans. Its decision to mobilise all single, unattached men of military age led to the departure for London of six of the refugees living in the town. It was expected that they would either enlist in their army or enter the service of their government. Meanwhile fears that excessive drinking by British workers was harming the war effort led to restrictions on pub and club opening hours. Using new powers under the Intoxicating Liquor (Temporary Restriction) Act of 1915, the Ossett’s licensing justices prohibited the sale of alcohol in Ossett and Horbury from nine at night to the usual opening hour of six the next morning. The businesses affected in Ossett were 23 licensed victuallers, 11 beerhouse keepers and eight clubs. Ossett’s Mayor, Councillor S. B. Stead, said somewhat apologetically that there was no need for restrictions on drinking hours in Ossett, but they had to impose them because others had done so. Any hopes that the restrictions would only be halfheartedly enforced were dispelled by Councillor Henry Westwood. Westwood, a supporter of the Temperance Movement, warned at the Brewster Sessions that any infringements of the regulations would be severely dealt with. Naturally, Ossett’s licensed victuallers protested, but they were ignored.
Another effect of the war was the postponement of some of the borough council’s planned improvements to the town. Although the town had been provided with sewers in the 1870s and 1880s, numerous privies still existed and Councillor W. M. Oddie claimed that some places in the town were "wallowing in filth" because of their middens. Plans to get rid of them were cancelled on the grounds that the war meant that the work would cost too much.
Increased costs, in this case the rising cost of food, worried the Ossett and Horbury Trades and Labour Council. At its monthly meeting a resolution was passed condemning high food prices and calling on the government to reduce them. Speaking about responsibility for high prices one member of the council, C. Dews, claimed that "some capitalists were bigger enemies to the working-class of this country than were the Germans."
At St. Mary’s Church Sunday School prize-giving, solidarity with Britain’s allies was shown by the singing of their national anthems. There were also renderings of "It’s a long, long way to Tipperary", "Boys in Khaki, Boys in Blue", "Soldiers of the King" and "Little Grey Home in the West", all of which had been popularised by the war.
Ossett: March 1915
As Ossett men continued to volunteer for the forces, the "Observer" published its third supplementary roll of honour. Nevertheless, not all residents were satisfied with the response of the town’s young men. In an attempt to persuade more of them to join up, "Recruiter" wrote to the " Ossett Observer" quoting Oliver Wendell Holmes’ 1861 poem "A Voice of the Loyal North", which had been intended to shame men into joining the Union army during the American Civil War.
Some of the men who had volunteered left the town with the Ossett detachment of the reserve 2nd/4th battalion of the K.O.Y.L.I., raised by Lieutenant-Colonel Hind. Large crowds gathered at both the Drill Hall and the railway station to see the men off to join the rest of the battalion at Wakefield. From there they went to Bulwell near Nottingham for further training.
Although the Volunteer League had been created to provide home defence, not all of the men willing to do home defence duties wanted to sign the League’s official forms. To cater for them a Defence League was set up in the town to provide military training. Six of the eight young Belgians who had gone to London returned to Ossett. They said they had been told they could remain in the town if they could find work and maintain themselves. They therefore found jobs and lodgings in the borough independently of the local relief committee. The Belgians expressed resentment at the pressure put on them to join up, but the "Observer" had no sympathy for them. It commented "there is difficulty in resisting the argument that able-bodied, single young men owe a duty to their own country which should not require pressure to impress upon them."
Henry Westwood’s threat that the new opening hours for pubs and clubs would be strictly enforced was soon carried out as two officials of the Ossett Central Working Men’s Club were summoned for supplying beer in prohibited hours on a Sunday. However, Ossett Borough Court adjourned the prosecution for a month to wait for a High Court ruling on a similar case.
The growing role of women in the war time economy was discussed by the Chamber of Commerce. Mr. J. H. Gibson argued that a change of opinion would take place regarding the usefulness of women. He pointed out that many lower middle class women were taking paid work and predicted that at the end of the war there would be new employment opportunities for women, particularly as clerks, book keepers, cashiers, shop assistants and hotel waiters, because of casualties among men. Women workers were also discussed by the Trades and Labour Club. Although it was recognised that during the war women would have to do men’s work, fears were expressed that they would undercut men’s wages. Mr. C. Dews argued for equal pay: if women were employed to do men’s work they should have men’s wages. The meeting passed a resolution protesting against the Bristol branch of the Co-operative Wholesale Society employing women typists in its general office in the place of men at considerably less pay.
Ossett: April 1915
A recruiting display in the Market Place by the K.O.Y.L.I. attracted a large number of people and the following morning five recruits enlisted at the Drill Hall. However, the system of voluntary recruitment was coming under strain. Returning from a meeting attended by the officer in charge of the Northern Command, the Mayor, Councillor W.B. Stead, had grim news for the council. He said that he "was deeply sorry, but things seemed in a terrible state." One solution to the problem of military manpower was conscription. This had been debated before the war, but was rejected by many as contrary to Britain’s liberal traditions. When the issue was raised at the Chamber of Commerce the general feeling seemed to be in favour of keeping voluntary recruitment. It was pointed out that Lord Kitchener thought conscription was unnecessary.
Attacks on England by Zeppelins led to restrictions on lighting in some parts of the country. At Morley the streets were left entirely without lighting. The "Ossett Observer" suggested that this was because the Morley gas plant frequently failed to produce sufficient gas. In Ossett the restrictions were less severe: the lighting of the streets and of tram cars was reduced. Yet when the restrictions came into force in the town they were criticised by some residents. The "Observer" thought the critics’ objections answered when soon afterwards there were Zeppelin raids on the East Coast. In the newspaper’s opinion the judgment of the authorities was to be preferred to that of armchair critics.
Above: A Zeppelin airship raid on London during WW1. The first Zeppelin attack took place on January 15th 1915 when Britain suffered its first casualties from an air attack after two German Zeppelins dropped bombs on Great Yarmouth and King's Lynn on the eastern coast of England. Germany employed three Zeppelins, the L.3, the L.4, and the L.6, in a two-day bombing mission against Britain. The L.6 turned back after encountering mechanical problems, but the other two Zeppelins succeeded in dropping their bombs on English coastal towns.
The increasing demand for munitions prompted an attempt to organise the local engineering trades to help the war effort. At a conference held in Wakefield attended by representatives from the Ossett firms of J. Halstead and Son, J. Redgwick and Sons and Moses and Naylor, a committee of engineers under the chairmanship of Percy Greaves of Old Roundwood Colliery was elected to consider a shell making scheme. The participants in the conference left with the impression that a very successful group of firms could be formed from businesses in Wakefield, Horbury and Ossett.
Rising prices, which had been causing concern for several months, resulted in wage increases for some local workers. At the beginning of the month A. Metcalfe and Co. of Hope Mill, Ossett Spa, announced their intention of paying a war bonus of 2s or 2s 3d a week depending on earnings and soon afterwards the Town Council resolved to pay an extra 2s a week to all of its employees receiving less than £2 a week. By the end of the month all shoddy workers had won a war bonus after negotiations between the General Union of Textile Workers and the Shoddy Manufacturers’ Association. Workers whose real wages were falling because of inflation could bargain for wage increases. Old age pensioners were in a weaker position when it came to preserving their purchasing power. The Trades and Labour Club therefore voted in favour of increasing pensions state pensions.
At the beginning of the month the Palladium showed "The Call of the Drum", a war time drama set in London. At the month’s end another war film, "A Patriot for France", was shown. The "Ossett Observer" described it as showing "German brutality and French patriotism."
In its correspondence column the same newspaper referred to the censorship of the press. "There are many military subjects which newspapers are not allowed to refer to, and this will explain to 'One of the victims', and to other correspondents who have written to us in a similar strain, why no further allusion can be made to their letters."
Ossett: May 1915
Prompted by the risk of Zeppelin attacks, Ossett Council issued advice on behaviour during an air raid. People were urged not to gather in crowds in the streets, but to take shelter in a lower room or a cellar, to turn off gas taps if the supply was cut off and not to touch unexploded bombs. However, the military authorities must have believed that the threat of a raid on the town had lessened as they removed the lighting restrictions imposed on Ossett, Batley and Morley, although not those on Dewsbury and Wakefield.
Above: RMS "Lusitania" was briefly the world’s biggest ship. On the 7th May 1915, she was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat, causing the deaths of 1,198 passengers and crew. The "Lusitania", which had left New York bound for Liverpool six days earlier with almost 2,000 passengers and crew on board, had been known to be carrying small-arms ammunition to supply the British Army. Today, the ship lies 300ft down, 12 miles off the south coast of Ireland near the port of Cobh.
Another novel form of warfare, Germany’s use of submarines, aroused a furious reaction in Britain following the sinking of the liner the "Lusitania" off the Irish coast. In Ossett the Volunteer Training Corps exploited the wave of revulsion in a recruiting advertisement:
|"LUSITANIA" VICTIMS CRY TO YOU|
|SHOULD THE GERMANS COME|
|Are you prepared?|
|Could you protect – may be avenge – the women and children?|
|Are you trained?|
|Can you shoot?|
|IF NOT, WHY NOT?|
The increasing toll of military casualties led to appeals for more women to take up nursing. The 48 women who passed their nursing exam at the end of Dr. Gray’s course in Ossett were reminded that there was an urgent need for their services as probationer nurses both at home and abroad.
Women workers were also discussed at the Chamber of Commerce’s meeting. It was pointed out that female labour was so scarce in Ossett that the only way to increase the supply was to recruit from among women who had never been regularly employed. A new opportunity for women in Ossett was created when the council gave the manager of the gas works permission to employ them as meter readers. The same manager also had to find a replacement for Geoff Van Wourver, one of the Belgian refugees, when he resigned from his post at the works. Van Wourver, who had been separated from his family when they fled from Antwerp, left Ossett to be reunited with them in Toulouse.
At the Chamber of Commerce’s meeting Mr Halstead reported that the scheme for Ossett and Wakefield engineering firms to make shells had "fizzled out" because of lack of official interest. This reflected Lord Kitchener’s views on munitions supply. He preferred to place orders with the army’s traditional suppliers because he thought they would produce shells of a higher quality than other firms. One consequence of his policy was a shortage of shells. The shortage was taken up by the national press and helped to discredit the Liberal government. Shortly after the Chamber of Commerce’s meeting a coalition government of Liberals, Conservatives and Labour was formed. Asquith remained as prime minister, but Lloyd George was placed in charge of a new ministry of munitions.
Ossett: June 1915
At the beginning of the month Ossett celebrated the Old Feast. Writing to his father who lived on South Parade, Private Harvey Grace asked "did you enjoy yourself at the feast? I hope you did. Lads good enough to come out here would be throwing at the dollies when we were mounting the parapet last Monday. They ought to be doing their bit out here." His feelings were echoed by Private Albert Duncan of Cross Ryecroft Street. In a letter to his wife he criticised the "shirkers" who preferred to go "to picture palaces, theatres and cricket matches" rather than do their duty. Both letters were widely read in the town as they were forwarded to the "Ossett Observer" which promptly published them.
Not all of the men who volunteered found it easy to adjust to army life. The Ossett magistrates dealt with at least three cases of local soldiers who were absent without leave: Walter Norton, Sam Rothery and Alfred Slater. Another Ossett man unsuccessfully attempted to exploit the sympathy felt for wounded soldiers. He was William Jones, a "fireman", who appeared before magistrates at Barnsley charged with "begging by exposing wounds" at Mapplewell. Jones had falsely claimed that he been hurt while fighting in France.
Thanks to the fund raising work of Mr. R. P. Shaw, President of the Ossett St John Ambulance Association, six two wheeled ambulances had been sent earlier in the year to France and by June they were in service with the K. O. Y. L. I. and the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment. Shaw’s efforts now resulted in orders being placed with a Batley firm for three additional ambulances, one donated by Ossett Grammar School. The organisers of the Belgian Relief Fund were also eager to raise money. They reported that they had £160 left, enough to last until August, and they appealed for more subscriptions to support the 50 refugees remaining under their care. They were no longer responsible for the young men as they had moved into lodgings while waiting for their call up papers from the Belgian army.
The German attacks by sea and by air on Britain, which cost lives and destroyed property, raised the question of insurance against enemy action. The Chamber of Commerce’s answer was to request the government to take the entire liability for loss of or injury to life or property a result of German bombardments.
To encourage more women to take up paid work, the borough council granted the request of the Chamber of Commerce and opened a register of women who were looking for employment. Among the women who started new jobs during the month were the two "lady postmen" recruited by Ossett Post Office.
Rising prices continued to cause concern. Among those badly affected were old age pensioners and the Trades and Labour Council called on the local Distress Committee to help them. Many of those in work were being paid war bonuses. The borough’s education committee decided to pay bonuses to its caretaking and administrative staff. Having waited until a similar case was decided in a higher court, Ossett’s magistrates finally dealt with a case brought against the Working Men’s Club under the new drinking regulations. The secretary and barman of the club pleaded guilty to selling beer in prohibited hours and were fined £10 which was paid by the club.
Ossett: July 1915
As part of the recruitment campaign Ossett was visited by two war heroes. One had won the Victoria Cross and the other had been awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. The soldier with the V.C. was Corporal Frederick Holmes of the K.O.Y.L.I. who had won the Victoria Cross for his part in the battle of Le Cateau in the opening stages of the war. He spoke at a well attended meeting at the Palladium Cinema and perhaps inspired by Holmes’ words three men enlisted afterwards.
The local press continued to publish extracts from the letters of Ossett servicemen. Part of a letter from Gunner J. Elliott to his family appeared in the ‘Wakefield Express’. He wrote , ‘I do not expect there are many men left at the South Ossett [Baptist] Church now, as they will be doing their little for King and Country, so everyone of military age, who is medically fit, ought to do. But I fancy there are a lot of fellows who are cowards in Ossett, who won’t join until they are forced to go.’
The government met the mounting cost of the war partly by increasing taxation and partly by borrowing. Subscribing to government loans became a patriotic duty and Ossett Corporation set an example by investing £1,500 in the new war bond. Several individuals also loaned large amounts, while the flow of smaller sums through the Post Office was described by the ‘Ossett Observer’ as ‘highly satisfactory.’ Local businesses also contributed to the loan. The Extract Wool and Merino Company subscribed £10,000 and brought forward its dividend payments so its shareholders could invest. At Old Roundwood Colliery, Terry, Greaves and Company made arrangements to enable their miners to buy bonds easily.
One Ossett firm found that its attempts to aid the war effort were rebuffed. At the monthly meeting of the Chamber of Commerce it was reported that Riley and Sons, firework manufacturers, had practically closed because of the ban on firework displays during war. An Inspector of Fireworks who had visited their works had been astonished that they were practically idle rather than working overtime. Yet a letter on the firm’s behalf from the Chamber of Commerce to Lloyd George, the Minister of Munitions, had received no reply. In desperation the firm’s owners had offered to hand over the whole plant to the government if they were not awarded a contract.
The Belgian refugees living in the Primitive Methodist Sunday School were re-housed in cottages in various parts of the town. This move was welcomed by the refugees as it provided them with real homes and it benefited the local Belgian Relief Fund by reducing its costs. The Fund paid the rents of the cottages as well as the rates and water rents. Most of the Belgians were working for what the ‘Ossett Observer’ called ‘fairly good wages’. Four young Belgians who were living in lodgings left the town during the month to join their country’s armed forces, although two were rejected as physically unfit for military service and returned to Ossett.
Ossett: August 1915:
As the first anniversary of the war approached there was a growing feeling that the numbers of men the army demanded could only be met by conscription. In the meantime the recruitment of volunteers continued. Ossett’s campaign focused on war anniversary week – the week ending August 7 - when it was hoped Ossett and Horbury would raise two platoons totalling 128 men. Among the week’s activities were military manoeuvres in Gedham Field in Ossett by members of the 11th K.O.Y.L.I. which were witnessed by over 2,000 people. There were also mass meetings at some of the works in Ossett and at Roundwood Colliery, although at the colliery the emphasis was on raising coal production rather than recruiting soldiers. Overall the outcome of the recruiting week was disappointing. Only 40 or 50 men volunteered in Horbury and Ossett and of those only 12 or 15 were accepted as the remainder were rejected on medical grounds. However, the Dewsbury recruiting office did take 10 Ossett men in the following week.
Later in the month Ossett Corporation was involved in the creation of the National Register. This census of the nation’s labour reserves involved listing every person between 15 and 65, except members of the armed forces, and included information about each respondent’s profession or occupation, marital status, children and other dependents. In Ossett about 9,000 forms were distributed for completion on Sunday 15th August.
When some of the National Register’s statistics for the town were published in the ‘Ossett Observer’ they disappointed some residents. It had been supposed that Ossett had contributed its fair share of men to the armed forces, but the 500 men actually serving were far less than the 630 - 965 it was estimated the town should have raised. The Mayor of Ossett tried to involve the Trades and Labour Council in the war loan campaign, but it declined his invitation to send representatives to a meeting. The feeling among the Trades and Labour Council’s members was workers in general earned too little to buy bonds. If they did buy them, they might sell them later because they needed cash. As a result, one man said, ‘The war loan would eventually return to the capitalist.’
At his war loan meeting, which was attended mainly by women, the Mayor spoke about the importance of economy in private and public life. Without this there would be insufficient savings to purchase bonds. Stressing the need for wiser spending by Ossett people, he expressed his shock at the waste he saw in their homes. The Mayor also appealed for eggs. His call was part of a national effort to collect one million eggs for wounded servicemen. In a week Ossett 800 were sent to the Town Hall.
The substitution of women for men in the workplace continued to attract attention. Six women tram conductors were appointed to take the place of men on the service from Dewsbury to Ossett. At South Ossett Church a chain of continuous prayer for the success of the country’s arms and the welfare all those involved in the war effort was kept up by the clergy and a number of communicants from 7am to 8 pm.
Ossett: September 1915
At the beginning of the month a staff of recruiting officers set up an office in the Town Hall with the intention securing men for the third 4th K.O.Y.L.I. They were joined by recruiting officers from the Royal Engineers who were trying to raise a battalion of skilled men from the district. Later in September two platoons of the West Riding Divisional Cyclists’ Company halted for an hour in the Market Place and invited ‘likely’ young men to enlist.
Above: British cyclist troops advance through Brie, Somme in 1917
The Ossett and Horbury detachment of the V.T.C. had decided in August to join the organisation’s Wakefield battalion. Unlike the local company, the Wakefield men had bought themselves uniforms. The feeling among the Ossett and Horbury volunteers was that they should follow Wakefield’s example.
As part of its economy drive the Borough Council appointed a sub-committee to look at ways of reducing its expenditure. At the same time it raised the salaries of the teachers at the Grammar School. Opponents of the increase pointed out the need for savings. Henry Westwood pointed out that unless the town paid the market price for teachers the school would lose staff.
Westwood’s argument certainly applied to the town’s elementary schools. It was difficult to attract good teachers to them because they paid relatively low salaries following the Borough Council’s decision in 1907 to scrap its pay scale. Not surprisingly, the National Union of Teachers had blacklisted Ossett.
The Wakefield and Dewsbury Poor Law Unions also introduced economy measures. Among them was the substitution of margarine for butter in their workhouses. This change was condemned by the Ossett and Horbury Trades and Labour Council. ‘Underlying the guardians’ actions’, said Councillor Lake, ‘was an insidious attempt to lower the standards of living of the working class, and they were not going to have that, in times of either war or peace’.
The Chamber of Commerce’s lobbying on behalf the fireworks manufacturers, Riley and Sons, met with success. At its monthly meeting a letter was read from the company thanking the chamber for its help in obtaining a government contract to fill grenades. Under the contract 75,000 grenades were being produced a week at the firm’s Wakefield Road works.
Among the many private initiatives to assist the war effort was Miss Burlingham’s sandbag fund. Writing to the ‘Ossett Observer’ from Holy Trinity vicarage, she thanked all those who had given the money or material which had enabled her volunteers to send 2,000 sandbags to the army. The members of the Methodist Church in Wesley Street also made a contribution to the war effort by raising £25 for soldiers’ comforts by performing ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in the Town Hall. Mr R. P. Shaw despatched more two wheeled ambulances to the army together with flash lamps for the first 4th K.O.Y.L.I.
Ossett: October 1915
Divisions within Asquith’s government over whether or not conscription should be introduced led to a compromise – the Derby scheme. Named after Lord Derby, who was in charge of military recruitment, the scheme involved eligible men ‘attesting’ that they would enlist when called upon by the army. It was made clear that bachelors would be called up before married men. It was also made clear that if the scheme failed to raise enough soldiers, conscription would be inevitable.
At the end of the month the ‘Ossett Observer’ reported that nearly 1,400 men in the town were to receive letters from Lord Derby inviting them to attest at a recruiting office. According to the paper there were about another 600 men of military age in the town, but they were exempted from service because of the importance of their occupations to the war effort.
When Walter White deserted from the army his wife Harriet’s separation allowance was cancelled. She moved in with her unmarried sister in Park Square and there she tried to gas herself. Charged at Ossett Police Court with attempted suicide, Harriet was turned over to the care of her relatives.
The war had increased the responsibilities of the Mayor of Ossett and it was perhaps not surprising that Councillor Stead declined the unanimous invitation of the Corporation to serve another term. His deputy, Alderman G. F. Wilson, was elected Mayor without dissent. Among the new Mayor’s responsibilities was implementing the findings of the Borough Council’s economy committee. Its recommendations included saving of £150 a year by cutting one post, making readjustments to the remaining staff and ending some of the free services to the customers of the Corporation’s gas works. In another economy measure, the two women assistants at the gas showrooms were also to be employed as meter readers.
At the same time as the Borough Council was making war time savings, it was undoing a past false economy: it adopted a new salary scale for its elementary schools. The town’s elementary schools experienced a rise in absenteeism among their pupils. Soldiers’ children were being taken away from their lessons to visit their fathers at distant army camps.
For one Horbury girl attending the Grammar School the war meant the end of her education. Her father withdrew the school as ‘she had undertaken to work on the railway owing to the shortage of male labour.’ The increasing number of women in the workforce was discussed by the Ossett and Horbury Trades and Labour Council. It approved a resolution calling on male trade unionists to encourage women workers to join trade unions so that at the end of war they would be better able to withstand ‘probable capitalist pressure’ - presumably wage cuts and sackings.
Women workers also attracted the attention of the secretary of the Ossett Temperance Society, Mr J. Stansfield. He condemned the rise of drunkenness among women and claimed that the remedy for the problem of drink in general was not to restrict pub opening hours but to close pubs completely.
Ossett: November 1915
Major Smith, the officer in charge of recruiting in the Pontefract district, explained to representatives various local organisations meeting in the Town Hall what the Derby scheme meant for Ossett. The committee appointed at the meeting to organise the scheme in Ossett wanted to canvas all the eligible males in the town. It gave up this plan when only 13 men volunteered to be canvassers rather than the 70 or 80 needed. The committee instead decided to invite men to attest at the Town Hall. Later in the month, however, a canvas was organised.
The ‘Ossett Observer’ reported on the 27th November that 587 men without exemptions had reported to the Town Hall. Men who had volunteered for deferred rather than immediate service were entitled to wear khaki armlets, but these had not arrived in the town by the end of the month. For those men who wanted some preliminary training, the V.T.C. offered to provide drill.
The Ossett and Horbury Trades and Labour Council did not welcome the prospect of military conscription if the Derby scheme failed. At its monthly meeting it appointed representatives to attend an anti-conscription conference in Bradford.
Opposition to conscription was also expressed by Bert Killip in a talk at the Trades and Labour Club. However, he also urged workers to support the government in what he characterised as a war between democracy and bureaucracy and claimed that Britain could not have remained neutral in 1914 even if she had wanted to. He predicted that ‘things would have to be different when the war was over’ as the conflict was broadening the outlook of soldiers.
Although Britain was a democracy for Bert Killip, the war had resulted in the postponement of the general and local elections. As a result when W.M. Oddie resigned from the Borough Council because of pressure of business the Council co-opted his successor. The price of coal had risen since the start of the war and the Borough Council, at the prompting of the Board of Trade, approached local coal merchants with a view to limiting their profits. The cost of milk also caught the public’s attention. ‘A consumer’ complained to the ‘Ossett Observer’ when the local Milk Dealers’ Association made an ‘unjustified’ increase of ½d a quart in its prices. ‘Consumer’s’ letter prompted a reply from Frederick Brook of Sowood Farm. He pointed out that the increased price of milk reflected a rise in the cost of livestock feed. The Corporation lost the services of its health visitor, Miss Wray, when it granted her request for leave of absence for ‘military duties’. Her position was kept open and she was given the Corporation’s volunteer’s allowance of 7s 6d a week. The damage excessive drinking was alleged to be inflicting on the war effort led to new restrictions on pub opening hours. During weekdays they were to be 12 noon-2.30 pm and 6.30-9.30pm and on Sundays they were set at 12.30pm-2.30pm and 6pm-9pm. Not everyone was convinced the restrictions would be effective. Among the sceptics was Ben Wilde. Writing to the ‘Ossett Observer’, he claimed drunkenness and absenteeism were as prevalent in areas where opening hours restricted as elsewhere.
Ossett: December 1915
A rush of last minute attestations brought Lord Derby’s scheme came to a close in Ossett. The ‘Ossett Observer’ attributed this to exempted men coming forward after Major Smith said they should attest. Alderman Robinson and Mr E. Land visited every farm and firm in Ossett and Horbury, as well as the homes of exempted men living in the town but working outside it, to ensure that the Major’s message was understood.
Most of the Ossett men who attested under the Derby scheme wanted to defer their military service, but before the end of the month about 100 were called up. As they were entitled to do, some lodged appeals against this.
Christmas gifts for the Ossett men already on active service were organised by the Mayor, G. H. F. Wilson, and the local Red Cross. Over £60 was raised for parcels for 200 men. Each parcel included a cake, a pipe, tobacco, cigarettes, coffee, milk, raisins and almonds.
At its monthly meeting the Chamber of Commerce discussed whether or not there was a need in the town for classes to train ‘lady clerks’. The general opinion was that such classes were unnecessary in Ossett. Most of the male cashiers and bookkeepers in local firms were said to be above military age and there were already such classes in Wakefield and Dewsbury.
The Chamber also discussed the prospects for post-war British economy. Mr J. H. Gibson predicted that trade would be good because of pent up war time demand. He warned, however, against complacency. German competition would be severe: the Germans made goods the world wanted while the British made goods they felt the world ought to want. British industry would need protection and the education system reform. More emphasis was needed on modern languages in schools, particularly French and German, and less stress on Greek and Latin.
In its annual review of the local economy the ‘Ossett Observer’ described 1915 as a year of ‘unexampled prosperity’. All of the town’s industries had been working to full capacity. Textile businesses had prospered and overtime had been the rule in the mills making cloth and blankets for the armed forces. There had also been an increase in the price of raw materials for the textile industry, some dyestuffs had become unobtainable and enlistment had led to a shortage of labour.
The local collieries had been exceptionally busy, but they had also suffered from labour shortages and had been hindered by a lack of railway wagons and congestion on the railways. Several local firms were making shells, while one was filling hand grenades. Overall, wages had risen over the year and miners had never been so well paid.
The "Ossett Observer" had this letter from Ossett soldier Private W. Hubert Taylor, of the Honorable Artillery Company describing how he and his colleagues spent Christmas in 1915 on the Western Front:
"We spent Xmas in a new fashioned way, in the trenches. As soon as soon as it struck midnight we all sang 'Christians Awake,' and did not fire a single shot for the next 24 hours, or at least not until after dark again. Some men on our left heard the Germans sing 'Stille Nacht,' as their trenches were only 80 odd yards away, and they sang quite well.
For breakfast we had cafe au lait, tea, bloaters, ham and tongue paste, sardines and brown bread. Being cook, I set to for dinner and we had the following menu - hors d'oeuvres: sardines on biscuit; entree: hot stewed steak; roast: hot roast chicken; vegetables: hot potatoes, carrots, leeks, haricot beans; mince pies, Cheddar cheese; dessert: apples, almonds and raisins, figs and dates; sweets: mints, chocolates, cream, coffee, cigars and liqueurs. All very nice, and, in fact, I never enjoyed my Xmas tuck so much in my life before. Of course, an armchair would have been more acceptable than the cold ground; still, we did not grumble as it was freezing hard and so we had not the pleasant accompaniment of having our boots up to our ankles in mud all the time.
Boxing Day was a charming day, but rotten for us as we had two men killed and one injured, and of course we were not so lively. At night we spent four enjoyable hours in digging a special trench for machine-guns, thinking most of all of the lucky folks at home, drinking their port and smoking their cigars! The only thing that spoiled it was that we had a 9 mile march to some billets afterwards, and to crown all it started to thunder and perform various feats in the raining line, and the roof of our barn began to vanish, so that we were as wet indoors as out. Still, it is an ideal frosty morning and so we are very happy and thankful, and not grousing. You would be amused to see the original smart soldiers now. At present we are on a three-day rest after our Xmas spell in the trenches, and so of course go about in any dress. Numbers of men have not shaved for weeks, so with the mud on our clothes we look to the world like a crack regiment.
One thing has bucked us up tremendously and that is the way the Regulars have greeted us. We are, of course, Regulars ourselves out here in every sense of the word and do exactly as them, and they have told us that when going to the trenches with them that they would as soon go with us as any. We are expecting a big draft from our second battalion as our fighting strength is now no more than 400. A Liverpool regiment of Territorials who came a month after us, with 150 more men than us, are now under our fighting strength."