SPIES IN OUR MIDST
On the afternoon of 7th May 1915 a single torpedo from a German submarine sank the Lusitania off the coast of Ireland killing 1198 men, women and children. It sparked national anti-German riots across the UK and many German sounding businesses were targeted. Animosity against German Aliens living in Britain had been growing for weeks fuelled by newspapers but also by parliament.
One of the leading voices calling for the interment of all Germans living in Britain was Sir Edwin Cornwall, son of a Lapford family. During the period of rioting he addressed a large gathering of London Women petitioning parliament explaining his belief that there was a regular system of espionage.
“Germans dine with Admirals. Germans even dine with Prime Ministers”.
He had a particular concern of Germans in positions of authority. In parliament he called for a law against people in authority having German connections.
24th May was Empire Day, held on Queen Victoria birthday. Children of Lapford Day School were one of numerous schools to collect pennies to support the Overseas Fund—3 million pennies were collected across the country. The fund provided cigarettes and other home comforts to soldiers and the schoolchildren were delighted to receive two postcards directly from the trenches thanking them for their thoughts. In June the day school children collected a further £20 for the Mayoress of Exeter’s Patriotic fund to go with the half guinea raised in April.
Children Ivy Littlejohns and Beattie Vodden spent some of the summer making artificial flowers, raising 3s9d.
9 year old Arthur Challice, son of Samuel the village blacksmith, collected money from friends. 11 year old Bessie Cooke of Kelland Cross Cottage Lapford sent 2 shillings to the fund with a letter “… I realise what it means to the poor soldiers who are in the trains so long without refreshment”. Bessie sadly lost her elder John in the war. He is commemorated on the village war memorial.
Fund-raising for the Belgium refugees staying in Lapford had reached £58 (£6000 today). Fortunately some men had found employment but the three refugees still under the care of the Lapford Committee were reported to be “absolutely destitute”.
CEASE FIRE AT LAPFORD SHOOTING CLUB
The number of Lapford men to voluntarily sign up had increased significantly during the year. In July, the Lapford and District Rifle Club announced that it would have to temporarily close as so many of its members were now in service.
The club, with Lapford clergymen amongst its benefactors, had been a thriving organisation pre-war with regular competitions held on the indoor range at the Malt Scoop skittle alley and on the 100 yards outdoor range next to the timber yard close to the Parish Church. Amongst those to see action was club secretary Frederick Ley whose father farmed Court Barton. Fred served in the war as a Corporal.
With the club closed the Legion of Frontiersmen organised some shooting competitions if the village. This paramilitary organisation had a number of members in and around Lapford. In uniforms based on those of the American ’frontier’ this somewhat curious organisation was set up in 1905 to co-ordinate local information of a foreign attack.
When Frederick Ley returned to Lapford in 1918 he sat on the war memorial committee and was involved with the reopening of the Rifle club in 1921. He remained a prominent in village life. Amongst his roles was that of village lamp-lighter during the winter months.
As more and more men left farming communities for the war and with U-boat attacks preventing imports, many food goods, became scarce or expensive. There was an urgent need to improve the efficiency of food supply . In July an egg and poultry demonstration train arrived at Lapford station and attracted over 100 visitors who “were very interested and had plenty of questions”.New methods for grading and testing eggs, were demonstrated. Villagers also watched the killing and plucking of fowl. This novel way of training was just one of several schemes trying to address a serious problem.
EVERY HEN ON ACTIVE SERVICE
Another scheme—The National Egg Collection- had been launched by Poultry World magazine to help improve soldiers’ nutrition. The scheme asked British civilians to collect eggs to send to soldiers recovering from their injuries in hospital. ‘Every British hen should be on active service,’ the magazine proclaimed.
Lapford Academy School was one of over 2000 depots opening its doors for egg deposits on Mondays and Tuesdays. The scheme allowed villagers to contribute to the War Effort in a small, simple way. Free transport was provided from Lapford station to the central London warehouse provided by Harrods.
At the height of its popularity in August 1915 the over million eggs a week were contributed nationally. Many more than the Summer 1915 saw the peak. In total hospitalised soldiers received around 32 million eggs during the war.Some people wrote their name and address in pencil on the egg they donated, and soldiers wrote to their donors to thank them initiating some friendships that lasted well beyond the war years.
Devon and other meat producing counties could no longer supply pre-war meat quantities and the price of meat began to rise quickly. It was Sir Edwin Cornwall (son of a Lapford family) who alerted parliament to the consequential hardship faced by ordinary people. He pushed for law change to allow foreign animals to be imported for slaughter at ports.When meat prices rose in Lapford local dealer Albert Arscott was quick to seize on a business opportunity sourcing wild rabbit to sell at a profit..
CART v. CAR
In 1915 the number of cars on Devon’s country roads was still low compared to horse drawn vehicles. The car was regarded as a plaything of the rich and was not altogether welcomed by slower road users. A court case 100 years ago involving two Lapford men highlights the disdain that existed between motor and non-motor users at the time.
The case was against James Vicary, farmer at Kelland Barton, Lapford, whose cart had been involved in an accident with a Daimler car being driven by a William Packer of Exeter. The cart was being driven by James’ young farmhand, John Crooke, between Copplestone and Lapford when John stopped for a chat with another farmer over a hedge. Unfortunately he stopped on the wrong side of the road and failed to hear the Daimler hooting as it prepared to overtake. As John finished his chat he attempted to move back to the left of the road directly into the path of the overtaking car.
In court John was questioned:
Judge: “Why didn’t you look up before starting your horse?”
John: “I only stopped for a minute and a half and there was nothing coming when I stopped “. (Court laughter).
The defence lawyer then criticised the 20mph overtaking manoeuvre saying it was “going in for a lot of fancy driving”.
The questioning of the defence witness, an elderly farmer, proved even more amusing:
Witness: “The car passed as fast as a flying machine.”
Judge: “Have you ever seen a flying machine?”
Witness: “No” (Court laughter)
Judge: “…. and did you actually see the car?”
Witness: “No” (Loud court laughter)
…..”I looked over the hedge a moment before the smash and there was no car so the car must have been going fast”
Judge: “And how long was this moment between seeing no car on the road and the smash.”
Witness: “3 minutes” (Loud court laughter)
Young John Crook is named as a casualty on Lapford War Memorial. He was missing for 8 months, presumed dead.
THE PRESSURE TO JOIN INCREASES
The first anniversary of the outbreak of war came and went. The village had suffered a single casualty. War on the western front was at stalemate and the bloodiest battles aimed at unlocking the deadlock were still many months away. In the first year of the war around 70 Lapford men had been eligible for military service but the majority chose not to enlist. Despite the best efforts of the War Office to attract rural workers, it was accepted that maintaining farm production was also a necessary part of the war effort. But which roles were essential?
Concerns grew nationally that some men were using farm work as a means of avoiding military service. It was claimed that some men who chose to stay at home were profiteering—demanding higher wages as volunteers left the country and available labour diminished. One correspondent to the Exeter Gazette wrote:
“Of course, the farmers say if we let somebody go, we are short of labour…. I feel sure the scarcity of labour is not as bad as represented. Among all the trade in the country districts none is reaping so rich an harvest through the war as the farming interest, and none sending so few sons.”
Feelings ran high that some young single men were happily allowing family men in similar roles to volunteer first.
Towards the end of 1915 men came under significant pressure to enlist. Lord Derby introduced a scheme that allowed men to commit to future military service with a promise that they would be called up in order according to marital status (single men first) and age (youngest first). Men who signed under the scheme could proudly wear an armband: those who did not were visited at their workplace and asked to publically declare that they didn’t wish to join. Peer pressure!