Friday, April 25, 2014

All and everyone: The Town Hall in the Great War

The scent of thyme carried on the wind/ Stings my face into remembering/ Cruel nature has won again. Cruel nature has won again.
On Battleship Hill's caved in trenches/ A hateful feeling still lingers/ Even now, eighty years later.
Cruel nature. Cruel, cruel nature.
P.J Harvey: On Battleship Hill (From Let England Shake)

The lyrics of On Battleship Hill and the voice of PJ Harvey make everyone realise how recent and contemporary the Great War is. The scent of thyme on Battleship Hill and the smell of lavender on Lavender Hill…
So far away, so close…
Our Town Hall had a vital and versatile role during the First World War, a tribunal for conscientious objectors, a recruitment centre, a meeting place for the Women’s Social and Political Union, an air raid shelter. 
After the outbreak of the war the Town Hall began flying the Union Flag to show their support for the troops fighting in the western front, while John Burns, the first working class man to gain a seat in the Cabinet, resigned from his duties in the borough in protest against the war.

On 12th December 1915 DH Lawrence - in order to get a passport - had to stand in line to "attest": that is, to enrol him as ready for military service when called up, something in which he absolutely did not believe. None the less, he came down to Battersea Town Hall, but he hated it so much, after waiting nearly two hours, that he stormed out. And yet, waiting there in the queue, he felt the men were very decent, and that the slumbering lion was going to wake up in them: not against the Germans either, but against the great lie of this life ...

During the First World War a series of fundraising events took place at the Town Hall to support soldiers and their wives, as well as to raise money for hospitals and schools. At the same time Charlotte Despard and the Suffragettes were organising anti-war meetings, demonstrations and talks titled ‘What the war means to the workers’ across the street at Shakespeare’s theatre.

The 10th (Battersea) Battalion, The Queen's Royal Regiment (West Surrey) was raised at Battersea on the 3rd of June 1915 by the Mayor and Borough of Battersea, they joined 124th Brigade, 41st Division and trained at Aldershot. They proceeded to France in the first week of May 1916 and disbanded in 1917, with the remaining troops transferring to other units.
When Charlotte Despard first addressed a peace rally at the Town Hall, angry hecklers tried to shout her down. But this left-leaning community already felt at war with the upper class and appreciated underdogs, and the general anti-war sentiment was not long in growing. Soon there was even a street renamed after Piet Joubert, a Boer commander whose soldiers fought several battles with the troops of Despard’s brother.

In the Waiting Room of the Main Foyer you can find our exhibition about how the local area of Battersea endured the Great War. It is a snapshot of our history and the people who have passed through these doors.

Open Monday to Saturday 10am until 11pm, alongside our Scratch Bar, serving fresh local food and drinks, come and explore the exhibition before or after a show, or relax in our welcoming spaces.

This display has been made possible through the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, Arts Council England and Wandsworth Council, and thanks are also due to Wandsworth Heritage Services and Wandsworth Museum.