First World War, Rowntrees and workers
Joseph Rowntree’s reaction to the outbreak of war was a fear of jingoism and a concern for the reconstruction of society to improve present conditions in order to improve the welfare of the population into the future. All of Seebohm Rowntree’s efforts in WW1 were bound up with welfare and reconstruction.
At the behest of Lloyd George in 1915 he served as Director of the newly-established Welfare Department at the Ministry of Munitions, and worked on the implementation of the principles of ‘scientific management’ in the munitions factories and in safeguarding the well-being of the factory workers. In 1916, when Asquith was forced from office to be replaced by Lloyd George, he appointed Rowntree to his Reconstruction Committee, at which Beatrice Webb described him as ‘an invaluable individual member of the Committee, eager to spend his time and money in working up special subjects…[he was] too modest and hesitating in opinion to lead a committee.’
The Rowntree factory continued operating during the war years and the Cocoa Works Magazine gives an insight into lists of employees serving (and falling) at the front, and examples of the pastoral efforts made within the changed circumstances of the war years.
Collections for Wounded Soldiers
Rowntree’s workers took a keen interest in raising money for wounded soldiers then arriving in York. Each department held weekly collections and the donated amounts were given to Miss Morgan, the Matron of the New Dining Block Hospital. Departments also made parcels of cigarettes and comforts, as well as letters, which could then be sent to the ‘lads at the front’ or given to wounded soldiers at the Military Hospital, York (Friends’ Meeting House) and the Royal County Hospital.
The CWM points out that in 1915, the wounded received no pay from the War Office, and all suppliers were kept down to the barest necessities. Fruit, cigarettes, pipes, tobacco, postage stamps, chocolate, photographs, writing paper etc., were all vey much appreciated by wounded soldiers. The following is a list of itms purchased by the Cocoa Works Wounded Soldiers Collection Fund in one month in 1915.
300 packets of Woodbines, 24 packets of Gold Flake, 80 1/2-oz packets of tobacco, 144 clay pipes, 144 boxes of matches, 14/- worth halfpenny stamps, 3 packets (69) stamped envelopes, 12 lbs. whipped creams, 12 lbs. cracknels, 16 lbs. Norway gums, 9 lbs. best wastes, 11 lbs. Venetian creams, 42 lbs. of plums, 42 lbs. of cooking apples and 14 lbs. of eating apples.
Letters from the front
Rowntree workers serving abroad frequently wrote letters to the Cocoa Works in order to let others, family and friends, know that they were missing them and that they hoped to be back in “the old Firm” [Rowntree’s]. Extracts of these letters were published in the Cocoa Works Magazine (CWM) in October 1915. As the letters were posted to the Works, they were intended for the wider Rowntree’s community to read. Each letter was given a title and any additional information was added by the magazine’s then editor.
A Taste of Gas
“I am thankful to be able to say that I feel in the best of health and condition. At present we are in one of the hottest parts of the line, and I had a taste of shell-gas during the past week. I was at a gas demonstration yesterday, and had a taste of all the different kinds of gas used by the Germans. There is nothing to fear in any of it now, as every man is provided with a helmet which is a sure protection.”
-Corporal H. Noble (Offices).
To the Front in Cattle-trucks
“We have been removed to the line as an entrenching battalion, and it took us about 12 hours to get to our destination. We only knew of the change the previous night, and reveille sounded at 4 a.m. to enable us to be ready in full marching order to move off a 6 o’clock. We had to march about 3 miles, carrying a blanket and ground sheet in addition to our ordinary equipment, so that we had a fair load to carry. We entrained about 10 a.m.- not in carriages with cushioned seats and arm rests, but in a dirty old cattle-truck with a few seats in. The French lines are all covered with grass, and if a few trains were not to be seen moving about it would be impossible to know of their presence. We arrived at our destination about 10 o’clock, after a trying time, and as we had another march of three miles we were glad to get to our billets. Unfortunately no provision had been made for our company, so we had to bivouac with our blankets as cover. Next morning found us numb and cramped with the cold, but we were soon right again after a little exercise.We are quite near to the firing line, and can hear the distant rumbling of the gums. Last night, as we marched up here, we could see quite plainly the light from the “star-shells”. These shells are sent up as a rocket, and when in the air they burst and illuminate the country for miles round. The Germans have been through the neighbouring village, and the inhabitants have told us some sorrowful tales. One poor woman made us understand that her husband had been taken out and shot, and that she had managed to escape by hiding in a water-barrel.”
-A. Sellers (Cream).
Cycling in Flanders
“I wish to write a few lines to thank you for the Magazine and post card which you sent to me a week ago. I also wish to thank the Directors for the box of chocolate * I received from them. There are one or two chaps from the old Firm with me, and I can tell you that these gifts are greatly appreciated. It also proves that we are not forgotten when we are away. At present I am a cyclist attached to our headquarters office, and have to carry messages. The roads in this part of Flanders are made of a sandy soil, and wherever there have been holes big stones have been thrown in to repair them, so you can judge what a pleasure it is cycling in this country. In bad weather the roads are totally unfit for traffic, unless you are inclined to risk a mud bath or slip into the ditches. Motor cyclists get on no better, for I came across one some time ago fixed in the mud.”
*A Service Box of chocolate has been sent by the Directors to all employees serving with the colours.
-Driver A.P. Brown (Box Mill).
A Narrow Escape
“We have been having it pretty rough, and were in a big bombardment last Sunday, when the Germans were heavily shelled. Of course, a fair number were scattered among our men, but not much damage was done. I had a narrow escape during the bombardment, for a shell which failed to explode buried itself underneath me and lifted me into the air. Luckily I received no hurt. Next day a shrapnel shell burst dangerously near to me, but I am still in the best of health.”
-W. Pinder (Gum).
“I think myself very lucky as I have had one or two narrow escapes. One time we had halted in a field to get something to eat. We had finished our meal and were getting ready to move off again when one of my section came to me and asked me to strap his mess tin on his pack. I had just started when suddenly there came a volley of shrapnel, and he was hit in the head, dying shortly afterwards. In the group there were three killed and eight wounded, I was knocked flat on my back with the explosion, but luckily escaped all hurt. Before that, in the Aisne valley, we had to drill in as we had a cross fire, the enemy rifle from the front and machine guns from the right, and bullets fell round us like hailstones. When rolling over the parapet of the trench a comrade put his hand out and stopped me a little, or I should have had one of our bayonets through my thigh. I did actually pierce the skin, but I doctored it up. I met the luckiest man I have come across at the battle of the Aisne valley. After the attack we had to retire on account of the number of the enemy. On looking for his needle case in his haversack he discovered that a shrapnel bullet had gone through his haversack and lodged in the thimble, which had stipped it from entering his left hip.”
-Corporal R. Vause (Melangeur). LISTED ON MEMORIAL TABLET.
Trading with the Germans
“We are having a rather warm time of it just now, in fact, it is warmer than being under the gymnasium shower baths. You see the Germans opposite us do a lot of trade with us, in rifle grenades, bombs, etc., and they have us rather busy at times.”
-George Clayton (Almond Paste).
The Cool 5th
“We went into the trenches for 12 days, rather a long time, being our first manning the trenches. The guns started at 5 a.m. and kept at it for about an hour, and while the guns were roaring our men kept giving them short bursts of rapid fire. It was surprising how cool the 5th West Yorks were during the bombardment.”
-William Grant (Railway).
“Here we are stationed at Hedon, in the camp which was left by our 1st Battery on their departure for France. The weather is glorious and is ideal for field work, and all branches of military training. The usual routine of parades is the following: 5:30 a.m. ‘Reveille’, 6 a.m. ‘Fall in’ for squad drill until ‘Cookhouse’ is blown at 7:15 a.m. The next parade is at 8:30 a.m., when an inspection of clothes, buttons, etc., takes place. This is followed by ‘Physical’ or, as some of our fellows call it, ‘Mystical drill’. Thanks to their training received at the Gym., I knew the exercises almost as well as the instructor, and now I take a squad of men every morning. We have a very large number of ‘Cocoa Nibs’ in our battery, in fact, I have 12 in my hut. Perhaps you will remember some of them- ‘Little’ Milner, Lawson, ‘Boxer’ Howden and Frank Ayers.”
-Fred Simpson (Architect’s Office)
Cafe Au Lait
“We came back on Thursday night, and four men and myself had a narrow escape. We were coming down the road to the trenches, about 1 ½ miles from the firing line, and a shell burst behind us. The shock of the explosion knocked four of us down, and the fifth man ran into an inn and knocked a man over who was standing with a basin of coffee in his hand. Net casualties- one basin of coffee”.
-J. Appleton (Cream)
“There are a few Belgians near us. I showed one of them the Magazine with photos of some Belgians refugees in. The said ‘Belgique refugee. Englise factory. Bon English people. Tre bon’. They are well treated by our fellows. We have a bit of a job to make the people understand us, but by the time the war is over I think I shall be able to speak French. What do you think of this for a novice? Commong allez vous, Messuier ? Oh, Tri bon- Allez vous? Oh, Bon. I don’t think.”
-John Banford (Almond). LISTED ON MEMORIAL TABLET.
“ We are at present lying just being the lines, after being in trenches. The houses and churches in every village we have passed through are in ruins, and it makes one long to get at grips with the Huns when one sees the poor little children and the old people whose homes have been wrecked by them…. All our lads seem in the best of health, and it is a pleasure to seem them play football or cricket just before they go into the trenches; anyone would think there was no danger anywhere.”
-J. Pickering (Cream)
1st Class Horse-Trucks
“Just a line or two telling you we are still on the map, but, of course, as per usual, ‘somewhere in Flanders’. We had a glorious ride down here in first class horse-trucks. I think we must have borrowed the ‘Rocket’ from Darlington- some were getting out for a walk- but at night we all slept like tops, forty of us in one truck. We are all longing for the time when we will be in York, but I don’t’ think there are many among us who want to come back before we have finished them off. Things are very quiet just now, but we are all anxiously waiting for the next bombardment. I can’t describe the last bombardment- what with the terrible din of the guns, and as we were taking the ammunition up it was awful to see the wounded walking out of the trenches going to the nearest dressing station.”
-W. Lockwood & A Vipas
“I have been sent on foreign service, so I am taking the first opportunity of giving you a few first impressions and experiences of life over here. We left our base at a few hours’ notice, and after eleven hours railway journey we embarked for France. We landed about midnight and marched to a rest camp about 2 ½ miles away, where we arrived fairly done up. We stayed there for a time and were sent to C- , where we are at present stationed. The rules prevailing here are, of course, much stricter than they were at Devonport, but everyone is agreeably surprised at the splendid way the men are being treated. We are with other troops in a large camp, and are well protected from cold and damp, and all are very well fed. We have two large Y.M.C.A. tents in the camp, both splendidly equipped for the comfort of the men during the time they are off duty. They were built with the pennies collected by the children at home, and are much valued by the men, who are able to hear a concert, or write a letter- paper etc., being provided free. We are not allowed to write about anything that refers to military matters, so I cannot very well tell you what I am doing *. One of the most striking things about Frances is the absence of young men walking about the streets except in uniform. The work is carried on by women, and by men of non-military age. We get any amount of fun trying to make ourselves understood, but we are gradually, making progress, especially with money matters.”
*The writer is in the Army Ordnance Corps.
-W. Moran (Manchester Deport).
At the Dardanelles
“ We have reached the Dardanelles at last after a long voyage, with certain stops, extending over three weeks. We arrived here last Saturday, and commenced work in the trenches on Sunday, so you see how quick we are moved about. The weather out here is hot, but the most unpleasant features are the flies and the sand. We live in dug-outs which are within easy ranges of the guns, as occasionally during the daytime shells burst overhead, and the shrapnel flies here and there, but the busiest time for us is when night sets in. The Turks keep up a continuous rifle fire all night, as they are afraid of the Allies attacking them during the night. Please remember me to the men of the Engineering Dept., and tell them I should like a line or two from any of them.”
(Driver Jone is now in hospital at Wibbersley, Flixton, Manchester)
-Driver A. Jones (Engineering)
‘Somewhere in France”
“We have just been in the trenches for nine days, and it rained during the first three days. We were over the boot tops in mud and water, as it had no chance of getting away. At present we are very close to the German trenches, for only about thirty yards separate us, and we can throw bombs into their trenches. About 9:30 p.m. on Monday one came over our trench and dropped five yards from where I stood, but luckily there was no one hurt. We are used to artillery fire now, as we can hear it all the day through. On Whit-Monday night we made a slight advance. About 8 o’clock at night they started the bombardment, and our artillery replied, and the duel continued for an hour. At the conclusion we had to get over the parapet and run about twenty yards and start digging ourselves in. The sooner we made cover for ourselves the better it was for us because the Germans were firing at us the whole of the time. By the following morning we had partly made the advanced trench, and at 10 o’clock we were relieved, to enjoy a good sleep after seven hours hard digging. On our way out we were met by the General, who complimented us on our work.”
-M. Linfoot (Saw Mill)
‘Ez Fer War, I Call it Murder
“We shall all be glad when it is all over and we can once more live as Christians and not like savages waiting and looking for the chance to rend one another to pieces… I am not sure whether it is not worse for our wives and families, who must always be worrying about us, than it is for us who have too much excitement to worry.”
-Sapper A. J. Blows (Advertising Inspector)
“We have many of the Firm’s employees with us, one of whom is at present in my Company; no other than the great C. Borman, of the Cream Packing Department. We are enjoying the best of health under, at present, somewhat trying conditions, as we have been treated this last day or two to some very violent thunderstorms, whilst the hailstones cam down as big as shrapnel bullets to-day. The Government are taking may precautions to protect us from the exposure of the coming winter weather. Of course, I am not suggesting this war will last the winter, but quite the reverse, as I venture to suggest that now we are getting the necessary ammunition we shall soon be able to polish the bounders off, and sincerely hope we are once more in sight of the Almond Block before the coming Christmas.”
-Gunner E. Daniel (Melangeur)
The Kaiser’s Orders
“We are not having a bad time out here for food. Good food- jam and bread, and bread and jam. It is a bit rough though when you have just cooked your breakfast and a ‘Jack Johnson’ comes over, and you breakfast is ‘somewhere in France’. You gently walk to the Sergt.-Major’s dug-out, and – hush!- pinch. If he catches you, he pinches you. My word, we have been out nearly 6 months, and I am still kicking yet. The Kaiser’s orders are ‘ Don’t kill Appy, I want him for the museum at Berlin.”
-Corpl. Appleton (Signalling Sect.) (Cream Dept).
‘Oh! Listen to the Band’
“Walter Lockwood (Almond Paste) is in hospital at present suffering with a kick from a horse…. Herbert Hudson (Almond) is all right; he is getting strong in the right, catching shells and throwing them back (but they are egg-shells). … We often see infantry here on their way to the trenches with tin whistles, mouth organs and biscuits tins as kettledrums.”
-A.H. Vipas (Almond Paste).
From “Warm-Close-Lane, Shrapnel Hotel”
“We have had it fairly quiet this last three weeks, a fortnight in and out of the first line; then we had our 12 bays’ rest a few miles from the trenches. I enjoyed my rest, stewing blackberries. The afternoon was free for recreation, football and boxing. We played the Rifles at Rugby; they beat us first time; we played them again, and beat them 3 nil. The boxing tournament was very exciting. Our champion challenged anyone in the brigade. It was accepted, the challenger winning in the second round. The winner was then challenged again; this time he was knocked out, and it caused a big stir in the camp.”
-W. S. Bradley (Gum)
Rowntree’s Men at the Front
“We are in the trenches next to the West Yorks. And I have seen a lot of chaps who worked at Rowntree’s. It’s a strange place to meet in!… The first chap I saw in the trenches was Davies (he is a stretcher-bearer); he looks well and he told us he had just finished carrying a chap out under shell fire, for which his name had been taken. Let’s hope he gets suitable reward. Jock Parker * and H. Pulleyn* send their kind regards to all at the Factory.”
-A. S. Pattie (Almond Paste)
Life in the Dardanelles
“I received the ‘C.W.M.’ and you may expect I was glad to get something to read, especially when it came from the old firm. It gave me a surprise when it came, and it was the only thing I got in the shape of a message from England. We are situated on an island* not far from the firing line, and, as luck came our way, not far from the sea, so we can go for a bathe twice a day, which, on account of the terrible heat, is much appreciated. The sun is burning our skin black, and I think if it was not for our helmets some of us would go light-headed. One or two have left their helmets of during the day, and they have been varied away on stretchers to the hospital the next. There was a lot of locusts on the island when we first landed, but they seem to be diminishing now since we started to live among the stuff that they eat.”
*In the Dardanelles
(George Rhodes is reported missing since August 19th)
-Geo. Rhodes (Cream). LISTED ON MEMORIAL TABLET.
All “in the Pink”
“Hope you are keeping well, as I am in the pink. Jock Judges and Frank Thompson are billeted with me, and both are, like myself, in the pink. We are having a fine time at Newcastle, plenty of fine training, plenty to eat and also plenty of fresh air.”
-Jack Kilmartin (Saw Mill)
From a Saw Mill Lad
“We left Southampton on August 3rd, and we are at present about 30 miles from the firing line. We are not having a bad time, only we haven’t seen any Germans yet. We are having fine weather out here; the language is a puzzle though.”
-Harry Barker (Saw Mill)
Helping “Lusitania” Survivors
“After having over nine months stay in Ireland, I have at last been moved to England. As you will see by my address I am connected with the Irish Division, which is at present in England finishing training before going out. During my stay in Ireland I was at the Curragh, Fermoy and Queenstown. I had the misfortune to be there when the “Lusitania” was sunk, and I don’t think that I shall forget it as long as I live. Our company were allowed out until 9:30 p.m., and we were all waiting for the boat to take us back to the little island where we lived, when a number of boats came into Queensbury loaded with dead and injured, and we were ordered to the Cunard Office to help get them out. And I can tell you it was a sight to turn the strongest man. We worked until 3:30 a.m., and then went home to dream of what we had been doing during the night. I also saw a number of boats which had been torpedoed or shelled just off the south coast of Ireland. So you see I had quite an exciting time there.”
-A. Plant (Gum)
Happy Memories of the Works
“It is four months since I joined the R.F.A., and I have had a fortnight’s training at Leeds, eight weeks at Strensall, and the remainder down South, where we are at present. I am getting on fine as a wheel driver in the gun team, but we have not such a comfortable time as I enjoyed with Mr. Eastwood in the Time Office and Mr. Sheppard in the Store Room.”
-Albert Walker (Packing)
Jim Waxes Sentimental!
“We have some very wild and untrained horses to master. We often get them wild and untamed from American prairies. Lately we have had some wounded mules from the front. We are getting duty hot, and often when I am on night-guard during the long lonely watches of the night I wish I had some ‘Elect’ to keep me company.”
-Jim Fidkin (Gum)
“We have got a musical department; it consists of six mouth organs and one biscuit tin for a drum. When tea is finished we get into our dug-outs and start to play the band. When the band stops you can hear the German snipers at work potting at the parapet.”
-J.W. Paver (Gum)
Reading Matter Wanted
“I might say there is only one thing I miss, and that is good reading matter. If I ask a pal for a book, I get either a novel by Charles Garvice, or a Heartsease Library, or a Union Jack, so you can understand what I have to put up with.”
-Tom Croft (Office).
“I am in the best of spirits and stationed in a temporary receiving hospital on the Rock. The Rock, as I imagined it, was vastly different to what it actually is. I had an idea that it was a kind of barren rock on which was only a garrison. Picture my surprise when I found a vast growth of tropical vegetation and a town. As the tobacco is duty free you can guess the good boy’s heart was gladdened. When we first arrived the gardens were lovely with geranium bloom. These plants seem to thrive wonderfully well out here, and if the allotment gardeners could grow them like these I reckon they would just about clear the board at the shows. It seems rather curious when one goes down town to hear the people chattering away and not being able to understand the ‘lingo.”
-Glen Little (Almond Paste).
Elect Cocoa Saves a Soldier’s Life
“ I am writing these few lines just to inform you what good service one of your tins of cocoa did for me. I was present at the battle of St. Julien, and no doubt you read an account of the same- a very warm corner, I can assure you. Well, I had, two days previous to this engagement, receive from home a I-lb. tin of your Rowntree’s Cocoa, as I always found it to be very strengthening, and I have made a good drink whilst in the trenches. Well, however, I placed this fresh tin in what we call the emergency rations bag, along with a tin of tea and sugar, etc. Now I will tell you what happened. We were advancing across an open field under very heavy fire, and now and again dropping flat on the ground. Well, I had just got down when a bullet entered my valise or pack as the boys call it. The next man to me said, “Are you hit, Sergeant?” I said, “No” However, we had no time to think about this at the time; as long as I wasn’t hit all was right, but imagine the surprise I got the next day when I looked into my ration bag. First of all I found the bullet had gone through the tin containing the tea and sugar, then I noticed the tin of Rowntree’s was penetrated on one side and not on the other. “What luck!” The bullet had lodged in the cocoa, thereby saving my life. If it had gone through the tin of Rowntree’s it would have penetrated my back. So I consider myself lucky, and I shall always keep the tin and the bullet, and if you care to have a look at the same I would be only too please to send it along, on condition you sent it back to me. It speaks well as to the strength of the tin, but more so for the strength of the cocoa. “Ha! Ha!”
Extract from letter from Sergt. T.J. Williams, 5th K.O. Royal Lancaster Regt. 25/05/2015
At The Rowntree Society, we get phone calls asking if we can help identify something or provide further information about a specific aspect of the Rowntree’s story. We always like to help where we can, but we are drawing a bit of a blank with this. So we hope that you can help!
A descendent of W.H. Webster is trying to find out more information about her grandfather’s life. Mr Webster was an employee of Rowntree’s, who joined up and was killed in action during the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915. He was one of many employees who enlisted and fought but never returned. In memory of their sacrifice, the following memorial was commissioned.
However, this single photograph is all we have to show that the plaque existed. It is in addition to the larger WWI memorial which is currently sited outside the factory gates and lists all Rowntree’s employees who lost their lives in the war.
Can you help?
Perhaps you have seen this memorial or read about it? You may be a former Rowntree’s employee who passed it every day at work? Is one of your relatives listed on the memorial?
We would be very grateful for any information regarding this or any other aspect of Rowntree’s during WWI. Please get in touch either by phone on 01904 543384 or email email@example.com
And finally…the Rowntree Fire Brigade
- The Rowntree Company Fire Brigade was stationed at the Haxby Road Factory in York and was composed of around twenty men. The purpose of the Brigade was practical, but in reality they were not as busy as the city fire brigade. In 1907 there were no fires which they had to deal with, just thirteen false alarms.
- As they spent little time fighting fires, the Rowntree Fire Brigade served as a social club for the firemen and their families. In the Cocoa Works magazine there are several references to billiards competitions. These competitions were played within the brigade themselves, but also against other billiards clubs in York. For example, in November and December 1908 the Fire Brigade played the Liberal Club in Billiards. There were also social evenings. On 27 January 1909, the Fire Brigade and their families hosted the ambulance service for a joint social, where they played draughts
- The Fire Brigade competed in several competitions, which involved physical exercises and fire drill competitions. Each year there was a national competition at Crystal palace in London, as well as local Yorkshire competitions at venues like Harrogate and Scarborough. Between 1904 and 1907 the Rowntree Brigade won 26 prizes
- The Rowntree Brigade travelled across Britain, not just for competitions like at Crystal palace, but for annual excursions. In 1902 the brigade went to Scarborough and enjoyed activities such as fishing, and in 1904 they went fossil hunting in Whitby.
- The activities of the Fire Brigade reflect the attitudes of the Rowntree family. The firemen played a large role in the local community, they were treated well and given lots of time to relax and visit places like Whitby and Scarborough and the social events they had were family orientated and were non-alcoholic. The attitude of the Rowntree family to alcohol can be seen by the fact that the village they built on the edge of York, New Earswick, did not contain a single pub!