On active service

HMS Implacable
HMS Implacable

by Dr Jack Binns

The alphabetical list of the men from Scarborough actively serving in the army or navy, first published by the Evening News on Tuesday, September 1, 1914, ran to 165 names. Subsequently, another 36 were added by the Mercury of September 11. The list was provisional, far from complete and contained many inaccurate details, but it still provides an interesting summary of Scarborough’s immediate and direct contribution to the war effort. That nearly all of these service men were given a rank, a regiment or ship, and a home address adds much to the list’s historical value.

In 1914, Scarborough town covered a much smaller area than today’s sprawling urban borough, even though its population then, according to the most recent census of 1911, was more than 37,000. Apart from the “better sort”, who resided on the south side, particularly South Cliff and Weaponness, most of the townspeople occupied rows of Victorian and Edwardian terraces. Housing estates, both council and private, mostly of semi-detached properties, such as Victoria Park, Edgehill, Barrowcliff, Northstead, Newby and Eastfield, were not yet built, whereas the oldest homes, in streets such as Dumple and Cross and in the maze of yards at “the Bottom-End”, were not yet demolished. Scarborough was therefore a much more closely-knit community than it has become today.

Conspicuously, the overwhelming majority of Scarborough’s active servicemen in 1914 came from some of the town’s poorest homes, their houses long since swept away by the so-called slum clearances of the 1930s and 1950s. For instance, one of the most deprived addresses in Scarborough, which became a municipal car park, William Street, had active servicemen from nos 17, 28, 39, 46, 66, 83 and 111. The last was the home of Samuel Dixon, here described only as a member of the British Expeditionary Force; and the Birley brothers, one in the 3rd East Yorks and the other in the 5th Yorks, came from number 83.

Noticeably absent from this preliminary list of regular soldiers and sailors were men from the more affluent parts of Scarborough. This was to be expected. Britain’s small professional army of full-time regulars and reservists was recruited largely from urban manual labourers and rural peasantry. Three square meals every day, a bed under a roof, free clothing and guaranteed camaraderie were irresistible attractions to young men in search of adventure, travel and excitement, when at home they lived in a narrow world of low wages for repetitive, arduous work. Even the obligatory seven-year apprenticeship could be tedious and demeaning. In Victorian times, service was for life, disablement or forcible discharge, whichever the earlier, but these young men did about seven years in the Colours, usually abroad, and then returned to civilian occupation at home as reservists, liable to mobilisation in time of war. On the other hand, to take the king’s shilling was often an act of a desperate man pursued by the police, debt-collector or wronged woman.

Some Scarborough families contributed more than the fair share. Three Hunter brothers of 35 Stepney Avenue were serving in the 1st Royal Dragoons, the 6th Inniskillings and on HMS Hampshire. Three Megginsons, George, a Lance Corporal, and Reuben were both in the 18th Hussars and Jack, who was in the 3rd Yorkshires, were all from 83 Trafalgar Road. There were three Pollards serving in the military from 70 Newborough and three Percys, Robert, James and Allen, the first on HMS Implacable, the second a Corporal in the Royal Army Medical Corps and the third in the 5th Wiltshires, whose parents lived at 72 Murchison Street.

From 1 Brook Street, there were four Smiths, one a stoker in the Naval Reserve, one in the Border Regiment, one in the 17th Lancers and a fourth in the East Yorks. But the record so far was held by the five Spinks of 109 Westborough who were serving in the 3rd Hussars, the Norfolks, the King’s Royal Rifles, the 5th Yorks and the Mechanical Transport Division.

Mrs Crabtree of Eldersdale in Vernon Place had four sons on duty. Arthur was a Sergeant in the Royal Field Artillery, Joseph, a drummer in the Northumberland Fusiliers, and Tom a Private in the Durham Light Infantry. The fourth had fought in the Boer War, but had now emigrated to Australia.

Scarborough’s young men were to be found in every branch of the country’s armed services: front-line infantry and elite cavalry, field artillery and transport in the army and on board many first-class ships in the Royal Navy. Of the last, a random list included Irresistible, George V, Implacable, Invincible, Vanguard and Inflexible. Marshall Fletcher, whose home address was 19 Union Street, was a submariner in HMS Dolphin. Dicky Wood from 1 Candler Street was in the Royal Flying Corps.

Though this range of fighting arms was quite extraordinary, it was Yorkshire’s regiments that were most favoured by Scarborough men, particularly the infantry 5th Yorks whose Territorial headquarters were in North Street and the 18th Hussars (Queen Mary’s Own) which had a base at Burniston Barracks.

By early September, news began to filter through of the fate of some of the men who had been in the first wave of the BEF. Lance Corporal Reginald Whittaker of the 1st Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifles, whose home was 23 Ramshill Road, had written to his mother there. He had been buried in a trench and suffered a slight wound to his left shoulder and severe pain in his back.

Private Albert Tissiman was also in hospital. He was in the 2nd Yorkshires and his wife at 13 Oxford Street had received a letter from him. The letter was written by his nurse. Either his head wound was too bad or he was illiterate.

Several of the casualties amongst the 18th Hussars were Scarborough men. Sergeant Curtis had been left wounded on the battlefield; Sergeant Hawker had been hit in the back and left for dead; Trooper Foolitt, a local footballer and a medic in the RAMC was missing and so was Sergeant Glover; Lance Corporal Melia, a reservist, was wounded; and Trooper Aldworth had been taken to a general hospital in London. It was clear that the Hussars had been in the thick of the fighting.