Belper in 1914

The following paragraphs were taken from
the Belper News in 1914.

Despite all military band engagements being cancelled for the foreseeable future, the Yorkshire Dragoons turned up on the Bank Holiday Monday (August 3) to perform in the River Gardens.

35 men from Belper enlisted in the first three days of war.

On Tuesday August 4th, Royal Proclamations went up across the town, summoning the Yeomanry and Territorials to mobilise. Men were told to report to the Drill Hall on the Clusters early on Wednesday morning. Later orders came through for other regiments to prepare for departure.

The Territorials had only just returned from camp near Scarborough, and some who lived outside Belper stayed overnight in the Drill Hall on the Tuesday so they could report in the following morning. 97 Territorials assembled in Belper for training, marching under the command of Captain AB Naylor to headquarters at Derby on Thursday 6 August, leaving at 1.30pm and accompanied by two military wagons of kit. On the Wednesday evening, before they left, the Territorials attended a service in St Peter’s Church, taken by the Rev JA Cooper. Members of the local company of the Sherwood Foresters also attended.

On the morning of Wednesday 5th August, hundreds of people turned out at Belper Station to see off the 22 members of the Derbyshire Yeomanry from the Belper District, under the command of Sgt H Gillett, who had volunteered for field duty. They left for Chesterfield on the 11.12, where they were to obtain horses and proceed to Ipswich. The roll call was Sgt H Gillett (Belper);  Cpl Marriott (Holbrook); Lance-Cpl Knifton (Milford); Trumpeter-Corporal Payne (Farnah Green); Privates B Banks, IC Mackard, H Blount, WC Bott, M Gillett, T Hardy, C Harrison, H Hastie, C Hodgkinson, W Horner, S Hunt, G Litchfield, H Needham, J Nightingale, G Ratcliffe, A Ryde, W Watson, W Ford (all Belper).

People were warned that Derby was likely to be a centre for training large bodies of Territorials – about 10,000 – in the first weeks of the war, and many were likely to be marching through Belper . 4,000 soldiers from the north came to Belper in the first weekend of the war, and quartered for the night in the River Gardens, Public Hall, schools and other suitable places. People in the town were asked to provide suitable accommodation for the officers.

In the first week, Belper Post Office decided to operate day and night, for all services except money orders. Official war news was posted up at the Post office every Sunday morning.

Information was issued by the Red Cross to women in the second week of the war, on how they could help. This was supported by Queen Mary. Sewing classes were requested to be formed, producing large quantities of pyjamas and dressing gowns. For 1s 3d women could send away for the appropriate paper patterns. Ladies were asked to seek out existing groups first, and if none, then to start their own. Requests were also made for a collection of old sheets, linen and calico for bandages, and women with good recipes were asked to make them available to the public.

Chief dyer at Milford Mills Mr Zibolt was arrested as although French he had served in the German army in his younger days. He was later released with conditions. He said he had been treated well during his confinement, but had objected to having to wear convict’s apparel.

George Herbert Strutt returned early from his holiday in Scotland to put Bridge Hill House at the disposal of Army officers for their accommodation and entertainment. His heir George Ashton Strutt, left Derby with the Derbyshire Yeomanry on Wednesday 12th August.  Mr and Mrs A V Kochs of The Cedars on Field Lane also accommodated officers. All available accommodation at the workhouse was made available for the lower ranks.

Work began on converting Green Hall and the Gables to medical centres in the second week of war. The Voluntary Aid Detachment at the Gables was paid for in full by Herbert Strutt, and work began on converting Green Hall into a convalescent home, again at the expense of the Strutts. Mrs Strutt provided uniforms for nurses at both establishments. The first patients were expected soon in a November report.

Mr Bridges of Moscow Farm gave out drinks of milk to soldiers as they passed on the march to Derby in the first week.

Belper Conservative Club on Campbell Street and the Derwent Club on King Street gave free use of facilities to officers staying in Belper. All ranks were given free access to the Gibfield Lane Baths and the Matlock Road River Baths.

Some of the best horses in the district left Belper on Sunday 9th August, after being compulsory purchased over the previous three days. They were taken down to the Goods Station and left by rail.

About 50 old servicemen and others met at the Drill Hall on Saturday 8th August to form a Belper Branch of the National Reserve.

In the August 21 edition of the Belper News, a member of the 5th Lincolnshire Territorial Force sent in a letter praising the people of Belper for all their kindness and cheerfulness while they had been garrisoned in the town. ‘Every consideration has been shown, and although our stay has been very brief, we shall always look upon our visit to Belper with pleasant memories and the happiest of recollections’. A name was not given.

In September, English Sewing Cotton Company offered the following to male employees who joined up – the position would be kept open for them, they would still receive half-pay, and their contributions to the Pension Fund would continue to be paid.

Belgian refugees began arriving in the autumn. Some of the younger women were taken on as domestic servants to help provide them with an income. Miss Emily Smith of Rose Villa, Belper, collected 350 items of clothing for distribution to the refugees. The Gables was converted again to provide accommodation for the refugees, with medical facilities being moved to Green Hall. The old Grammar School was rented by GH Strutt to provide accommodation for 29 refugees, with Holden’s providing furniture.

Belper District was assigned with knitting two hundred mens’ mittens for the winter campaign in October, having just completed an order for knitted socks in September. All women able to knit were asked to help support the work, coordinated by Mrs Gill.

Lancashire Mills were struggling to stay open by October, but the Belper Mills were continuing, almost as normal. Hosiery companies in the town were very busy, producing under-apparel for the army and navy, with some employees working 12-hour shifts.

On the afternoon of Tuesday 1st December, a train arrived with a considerable number of wounded. They were expected and a large number of vehicles had been requisitioned, as temporary ambulances, and there were doctors in attendance. However, nearly all the 30 men arriving in Belper were fit enough to walk unaided and many of the 30 vehicles and the doctors were not needed. They were met by GH Strutt, then all taken to Green Hall as its first patients. There were 40 beds, so the Hall was not full. Matron had four trained nurses working under her. The Strutts had donated a large number of magazines for the men to read. The men were delighted with their treatment, some saying they had never been so well looked after in their lives, with five meals a day. Visitors were allowed in by ticket only on Wednesdays and Sundays. Mrs Strutt headed a team of 47 female helpers at Green Hall. The 30 men were all named in the December 11 edition of the Belper News.


Belper in 1914

Belper in 1915

Gunner Stone

Letter to George Plant

© Belper in Wartime