Ewhurst History Society

JANUARY 1917

Ewhurst Red Cross Working party

The Working party affiliated to the Red Cross was busy making garments, bandages and other necessities for military hospitals.

It was reported that the following have been made and sent - Nightshirts 149; Pyjamas and bed jackets, 32; abdominal and lint bandages, 511; roller bandages, 34, treasure bags*, 162; little pillows, 7; feather pillows (full size) 2, kettle holders, 4; ward slippers, 26 pairs; operations stockings, 29 pairs; pillow cases, 30 pairs; old linen, 8 packages.

*Treasure bags contained soap, shaving equipment, toothpaste, handkerchiefs, stationary, sweets or chocolate and were given to injured men when they were in casualty clearing stations. They were alao sent to Prisoners Of War

 

German POWs

It was reported at Hambledon Rural District Council meeting that German prisoners of war were working on the roads.

 

Waste paper salvage

The school log book for 16th January 1917 records that the children had been collecting waste paper as part of the War Effort and had sent– 5 sacks (5cwt 6 lbs) to paper mills at Cardiff.

 

The Silvertown Explosion

On January 19th there was an enormous explosion at a munitions factory at Silvertown in the East End.

The explosion took place at the Brunner Mond factory in the early evening of Friday 19th January 1917. Before the war the factory had produced caustic soda, but had been adapted for war work for the highly dangerous process of purifying of TNT, despite being in a densely populated area. A fire had broken out, which spread to the stored TNT, causing a catastrophic explosion. The factory was destroyed instantly, along with the Silvertown Fire Station, which was opposite, and many nearby warehouses and homes.  Around 900 houses were rendered uninhabitable and up to 70,000 sustained damage.  Debris was strewn for miles around, causing more fires, and across the river, (now the site of the Millennium Dome / O2) a gasholder blew up in a fireball. The effects were even felt in central London where glass was blown out of windows in the Savoy Hotel and the resulting fires could be seen from Maidstone and Guildford. Shock waves were felt as far away as Southampton and Norwich.

Despite the devastation, the death toll was not as high as might have been expected. Seventy-three people were killed (sixty-nine immediately and four died later), and more than 400 were injured. The relatively low death toll was partly due to the time of day, 6.52p.m. The day shift had finished, but the night shift had not begun, and most people were indoors, but crucially downstairs, as it was the upper floors of houses that sustained the worse damage from raining debris.

Among the dead was Samuel Saunders, of Ewhurst, one of 16 workers at the plant to die. A policeman and two firemen who had raced to help put out the original fire were also killed, but most of the victims were local residents including children. Andrea Angel, the factory’s chief chemist, and George Wenbourne, were both posthumously awarded the Edward Medal; and Police Constable Edward Greenoff was posthumously awarded the King's Police Medal.

Samuel Saunders was born in Cheshire in 1866. The 1901 Census shows him as living with his wife, Jessie, and two of their three children in Ilford and his occupation was given as Foreman Carpenter at the Brunner Mond Chemical Works.

Not long after, the Saunders family moved to Ewhurst, where Samuel took up the tenancy of the Windmill Inn. He also had a licence for quarrying stone on Pitch Hill and was running a building business. After the Windmill Inn burnt down in 1906, the family moved into a new house, which he had built in the Ockley Road, near the bridge over Cobblers Brook and the 1911 census describes him as a builder.

In 1915 Samuel returned to the Brunner Mond Works and was there on the fateful night. The local connection to the blast was not reported in the Surrey Advertiser, but a note on 3rd February stated that “Mrs Saunders and family wish to thank all friends who have written and sympathised with them in their great loss. Owing to the large number of letters received it is impossible to answer each one individually.”

Pte Urban Eclipse Carpenter, Hampshire Regiment

Urban Eclipse Carpenter was reported Killed in Action on 4th January 1917. He had enlisted in September 1914 in the 11th Pioneer Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment and had fought in the Battle of the Somme, but at the time of his death, the battalion were at a camp near Ypres. The Battalion War Diary for the 4th January notes that the men were occupied in maintenance work and improvement of the line and trench mortar emplacements, but this was still dangerous work and he was probably shot by a German sniper as his company captain, in a letter of sympathy, says "it is a comfort to know that he did not suffer, as he was shot through the heart, and death was instantaneous. He was liked by both officers and men alike, and we can ill afford to lose him."

Urban’s mother had been an unmarried domestic servant and from the age of three he had been bought up by his uncle and aunt, Frederick and Laura Carpenter at Hazelbank Bakery. By 1911 he was working as a baker at their shop in Capel. Before the war he was a well known distance runner and the winner of many cups and medals.