A Town at War - Epping in 1915

The first Christmas of the war was over. Many of Epping's young men were away fighting in France and Belgium, and later in the Dardenelles. At home, people settled down to their first full year of conflict. This is a brief look at Epping's diary for 1915, from reports printed in the West Essex Gazette at the time.


Gazette typographer Benjamin Jones, of St John's Road, has joined the 5th City of London Rifle Brigade for foreign service. The headline is Fighting Before Printing.

A football match takes place between Epping and members of the South Staffordshire Regiment who are billeted in the Town. The game, played at the Bell Field, is won 4-0 by the soldiers, and was played in a "very sportsmanlike manner and enjoyed by all". 10 shillings (50p) is raised for the Cottage Hospital from the gate receipts.

An appeal is launched to send aid to Belgian soldiers. "The poor Belgian's loved ones are in the enemy's hands; they cannot send to him". A standard package costs 10 shillings (50p) and comprises of: one shirt (flannel), one pants (thick sanitary), one vest (cotton fleece), one handkerchief, one tin meat or malted milk, one tin jam or honey, half a pound lump sugar, one candle, and one packet of plain biscuits. Staff from the Gazette have already donated twenty packages.


A public meeting is called at the Victoria Hall in the High Street to discuss the formation of a Volunteer Training Corps (VTC) in Epping. This would be for men who were unable to enlist in the regular forces, which at the time included married men. Future meetings would be held at the Drill Hall in St John's Road. No uniform was required, and rifles would be loaned to the volunteers for drill purposes.

36 year-old John Foster from Coopersale is lost at sea when HMS Formidable is sunk. Known as Jack, he had previously served on the Powerful, the Endymion and the Seylla.


Lance Corporal Bailes, of Tidys Lane, is wounded in the ankle by a shrapnel shell on the Western Front. He has been on active service since September 1914, and has considered himself fortunate to escape without serious injury so far. He is recovering in Liverpool's Stanley Hospital.

The soldiers of the South Staffordshire Regiment leave Epping on a special train. They are replaced by 1,011 officers and men of the 6th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters (Notts & Derby Regiment). They bring with them the New Mills Silver Band, the members of which enlisted en bloc at the beginning of the War. After a few days they too leave and the 5th Leicestershire Regiment move in.

An Epping man is fined 5 shillings (25p) at Epping Police Court for driving a cart without a light. The defendant was found asleep in his cart.

Thomas Bird's, of the Market Place, Epping advertise "everything essential in household linens for billeting HM Troops".


A former Epping Boy Scout Patrol Leader tells of his lucky escape during battle. Lance Corporal Bert Silwood writes from France "We are on the move at last, and when we advanced we came in for a bit of hot stuff! It was rare fun to see the Germans scoot. However, I got a bit too close to one of their officers to be pleasant for him - I was only two yards behind him - and he turned on me with his revolver. Luckily, the bullet hit my bayonet, smashing it and driving a bit of it into my hand. I was sent to a base hospital somewhere in the south of France, where I now am. I hope it won't be long before I'm in the firing line again!"

Epping born Alf Hummerston is killed in action while serving with the Wiltshire Regiment in France.


An advertisement for McMullen's Epping Brewery offers bottled Epping Ale at 3 shillings (15p) per dozen. The Brewery was situated in Lindsey Street.

A concert is held at the Church Room in St John's Road for the latest soldiers to be billeted in the Town, the North Staffordshire Regiment.


Archibald Howe of Briar Cottage, High Road, Epping is killed in action in Gallipoli, and Henry Gulliford is killed while serving with the Canadian Infantry near Ypres.

An appeal goes out from the Epping Belgian Relief Committee for gifts of baby clothes and sundries for a young Belgian refugee who is expected in the Town soon.

Mr E Harris is elected Chairman of Epping Urban District Council at a somewhat stormy meeting. There were a number of arguments between Councillors and several protests were raised before a decision was reached.

A football match between members of the 2nd/6th Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment and Epping Football Club ends in a 1-1 draw. The Red Cross Hospital benefited from the gate receipts of £4 10 shillings and sixpence (£4.52½p).


A recruiting meeting is held at the cinema in Epping. Ernest Wythes, the owner of Copped Hall, is in the chair. In his opening speech he praises the three hundred and eighty men from the Town who have enlisted so far. Another speaker is a Captain Norman. He tells the gathering that he has visited hotels where the waiters had not yet been replaced by waitresses. He would like to see all waiters swept into the ranks! He was also horrified to find numerous able-bodied railway porters at Liverpool Street Station. There were enough there to raise half a battalion!


Those wishing to enlist are now able to report to the Recruiting Sergeant at Sunnyside Villa. They will be inspected and attested between 9am and 10am any morning, and sent straight away to their regiment without delay.

A patriotic example has been set by the staff of Messrs. Hawthorn & Co. of the Epping Stores. Six of them have already enlisted, and the manager, Mr N.E. Dolphin, expects shortly to go to France to assist in the Expeditionary Force canteens. When he has gone, only the lady clerk will remain of the original staff. All the positions are being kept open for the men on their return.

Two more Epping men have been killed in action; Trooper Hugh Miller, serving with the Essex Yeomanry in Belgium, and Ernest Cracknell while with the Middlesex Regiment in France.


Former Epping Scoutmaster G. Baggallay, now a Second Lieutenant in the Army, has been wounded near Ypres. He was hit by a bullet in the neck after just two weeks at the front. There are now over forty ex-Epping Scouts on active service.

Charles Taylor, the landlord of the Spotted Dog in Ivy Chimneys has been gassed "somewhere in France". He is making good progress towards recovery in Boulogne.

A conference of Chief Fire Officers is held in Epping. The local Fire Brigade say that they are quite ready to deal with any emergency that may arise from an air raid. Meanwhile Epping's new fire engine is inspected by members of the EUDC.

A cricket match between the Ox & Bucks Light Infantry and the Cheshire Regiment takes place at Bury Lane. Private Sturgess scores 101 not out as the Ox & Bucks reach 172 for 4. The Cheshires are bowled out for 79 with Lieutenant Simpson-Hayward taking 7 wickets for just 9 runs.

A letter published in the West Essex Gazette from a local woman:


Just a line to relieve a lot of people of their troubles. You can take it from me that the present war will be over in a fortnight. My old man joined the Army today. We have been married twenty years and he has never stuck a job more than a fortnight!


A meeting of the Epping Board of Guardians report an alleged German woman at the Union Workhouse (now St Margaret's Hospital). Her previous employers had decided not to keep her due to her nationality. She is shortly to be deported.

Sandbags are being made in the Church Room in St John's Road. Each bag costs 4d (2p) to make. They will eventually be sent to the front.

The South Midland Infantry Brigade hold their sports day at the Army camp at Wintry Park. One race was for bandsmen, who had to run 120 yards while playing their instruments. The big drum players were given a head start.

Calves are being sold on Epping Market for £3 7 shillings (£3.35).



The annual outing of the inmates of the Union Workhouse - the merry party went for a "long ride" by way of Potter Street, Parndon, Epping Green and Thornwood. Two stops were made along the way where refreshments were handed out. Tobacco was given to the men, and sweets to the women and children.

Another cricket match at Bury Lane - and quite a remarkable one. The 2nd/6th Battalion of the Warwickshire Regiment played the 2nd/8th Battalion. The 2nd/6th batted first, scoring a respectable 140. In reply the 2nd/8th are bowled out for 6 runs. Private Webster took 4 wickets for 6 runs. His bowling partner Private Price took 6 for 0, all of which were clean bowled, hitting the off stump!

A tragic accident has claimed the life of 19 year-old Samuel Williams. Private Williams, stationed at the Army camp at Wintry Park with the Warwickshire Regiment, was killed when the mule he was riding ran into some wire which was guarding a tent. The unfortunate soldier was thrown from his saddle, but his foot was caught in the stirrup. He was dragged for 300 yards, being kicked by the mule in the process. Bombardier William Stamp of the Royal Field Artillery witnessed the incident, and managed to cut him free. Lieutenant Archibald Graydon of the Royal Army Medical Corps told the inquest that death was caused by a number of kicks to the head. The jury returned a verdict of accidental death. Private Williams was accorded full military honours at a funeral in Epping.

Pte Williams is buried in a Commonwealth War Grave in Epping Cemetery.

Epping Urban District Council have decided that due to the possibility of air raids only three lamps will be lit in the Town. They are in Station Road, near the Post Office and near the Old Bank.

Corporal E Jenkins from Epping had a narrow escape while in action in Flanders. A bullet landed intact on the ground right next to him. He picked it up and put it in his pocket.

Three Epping men lose their lives during August; Edward Fowler and Ernest Love were killed on the same day during the Suvla bay landings in Gallipoli, and Colin Simmons is also killed in Gallipoli a few days later.

Corporal Charles Jarvis, the first man to win a Victoria Cross in the Great War, gives a recruiting speech from the balcony of the Victoria Buildings. He asked all those in Epping who were not clothed in khaki to "put on the fashionable cloth". The Rev. Allwork called for three cheers for the hero, which were given with gusto. [Image]

Four platoons of soldiers of the Worcestershire Regiment are hit by a car near Highfield Place while marching from Epping Camp to Bell Common for night operations. One officer and nine men are injured, none seriously.

An apology appears in the Gazette after it was reported last month that Trooper C. Avila had been killed in action. It now transpires that he was not, nor indeed was he even wounded.

Epping is becoming extremely law abiding. The Police Court sits as usual and has no cases to hear.

The Parish Church has been insured against bomb damage.

Four Epping men are killed within three days of each other during the Battle of Loos in France. Private George Doe (Royal West Surrey Regiment) and Second Lieutenant Colin Frost (Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders) are killed on the 25th, the first day of the Battle; Ernest Rowland (Lincolnshire Regiment) on the 26th, and Frederick West (Northamptonshire Regiment) on the 27th.


At a meeting of Epping Urban District Council it is decided that Epping's shops should close earlier. This would mean closing at 6.30 or 7pm in the week and 9pm on Saturdays.

The 183rd Infantry Division sports day is held at the ground of Epping Cricket Club ground in Bury Lane. The Division comprises two battalions of the Worcestershire Regiment and two of the Gloucestershire Regiment.


A committee is formed to organise the sending of parcels to all local soldiers and sailors on active service. Donations may be sent to the Secretary of the Committee, Mr W.W. Nicholls, JP at Hawthorn Lodge, to Barclays Bank or to the Editor of the West Essex Gazette. Relatives and friends are invited to send full name, regiment number, address, and name and number of battalion. Donations already amount to over £100.

Private Laurence Green, a former Epping postman and Boy Scout, dies of wounds in Gallipoli while serving with the Essex Regiment.

[Image] Sergeant George Crabb (pictured with wife Ada) dies on the Hospital Ship Neuralia as it docks in Southampton having returned from the Dardenelles. Born in Hastingwood Common, he later moved to Hemnall Street. Before the War he had worked at Cottis' Foundry, and was a member of Epping Fire Brigade, Epping Town Band and the Epping Ramblers Football Club. He had served for thirteen years as a volunteer and a Territorial before joining the Essex Regiment when war was declared in August 1914. George married Ada Butcher at the Congregational Church in Lindsey Street in May 1915. He was sent to the Dardenelles and landed at Suvla Bay on 12th August 1915. After eight weeks there he was taken ill with Enteric Fever and was taken to the military hospital in Alexandria.

His condition worsened and he was sent back to England. As he died in England, his wife was entitled to claim his body. He is buried in a private grave in Epping Cemetery.


From Manger to Cross, the moving picture life story of Jesus of Nazareth, is being shown at Epping Cinema. The film, lasting 1½ hours, is run twice nightly for a week.

The Epping & District Co-Operative Society are stocking items for Christmas. Handbags are available from 2/11 (15p), dolls and teddy bears from 1/- (5p), Christmas Crackers from 4½d (2p), fancy tins of biscuits from 6½d (3p), Christmas Cards from 1d , and Christmas stockings from 1d.

Epping Fire Brigade give an air raid demonstration. Tribute is paid to Fire Chief Harry Woore.

Alfred Betts, son of Mr and Mrs R. Betts of Allnuts Estate, Epping, is lost at sea when the trawler Specton hits a mine off Lowestoft, Suffolk. Alfred, a Deck Hand, was just 17 years old.

Rifleman Edward Furlong is killed while serving with the King's Royal Rifle Corps. His wife Gertrude lives in Fiddlers Hamlet.

For a direct link tothe author of this article, email John Duffell

Copyright © John Duffell, October, 2003.

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