Ex-servicemen's organisations

DS&S marchers

The outbreak of war in 1914 was greeted with patriotic fervour in Britain. Young men rushed to enlist voluntarily for a big adventure involving travel - and it would in any case all be over by Christmas.

But it was to be a war like no other that had gone before. Tactics that might have applied to the Crimean War, for example, were now proving ineffective in modern warfare with its aeroplanes, tanks and submarines.

So three years later, with horrendous casualty lists, unbridled patriotism had given way to questions like "What have we been fighting for?" And men whose Army careers had been ended by wounds, including loss of limbs, and poor health, returned to find their promised land fit for heroes was filled with unemployment and the prospect of poverty.

Perhaps with an eye to the embryo Russian Revolution, the discharged and disabled men began to realise they needed to pull together to win a better life. The war would have victors but very few winners at an individual level.

So the scene was set for the establishment of discharged servicemen's organisations. A first meeting in Luton was held at Franklin's Restaurant in George Street on September 11th, 1917, with the object of forming a purely local group.

Socialists in the town saw the opportunity for the men to be affiliated to and so strengthen the National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised sailors and Soldiers, an organisation run on trades union lines. Luton's Trades and Labour Council footed the bill for a second meeting, held at the Town Hall on September 21st, 1917, at which it was agreed to apply for affiliation to the DS&S.

On December 9th, 1917, a Luton branch of the rival Comrades of the Great War was established, also following a meeting at the Town Hall.

The two ex-servicemen's groups were bitter rivals, the DS&S accusing the Comrades of being Establishment-led and out to continue the exploitation of discharged men. The DS&S also excluded former Army officers, except those promoted through the ranks.

The rivalry would ultimately still be revealed on the fateful Peace Day (July 19th, 1919), when the Town Hall was burned down and resulting in headlines in the local and national Press. Both organisations had initially decided to follow national guidelines in boycotting the town procession, but at the 11th hour the Comrades decided that ex-servicemen should be represented and hastily created a float. They were booed by DS&S members as they went past.

The two groups did ultimately come together with others to form the (Royal) British Legion in 1921.

Callous military and discharged men

Bute Hospital, Luton

  • Bute Hospital, Luton.

Scathing things were said about the treatment by the authorities of discharged men, at a meeting of Luton War Pensions Committee at the Town Hall on Friday night [September 28th, 1917].

Mr William Phillips cited the case of a Dunstable sergeant who went through all the early stages of the war, and since discharge has served in the Corps Commissionaire at Kent's in Luton. He has had his right arm amputated from the shoulder and has a wound in the right side and groin from an explosive bullet and goes into hospital at intervals to have the wound seen to and occasionally an operation performed.

For 11 weeks he has been in the Bute Hospital, and some weeks ago the Medical Board at Bedford wrote inquiring if he was fit to attend for medical re-examination. The Matron twice informed them he was not fit, and the matter was left until September 17th, when the man was sent a summons to appear at the military hospital at Kempston Barracks for examination within 24 hours of "otherwise his pension might be stopped".

Dr Bone said the man was not fit to go, but he was in such a state about his pension that he was allowed to go. As it happened, it did not hurt the man, but it seemed to Mr Phillips that instead of making all this fuss the Medical Board should have written to the hospital again and asked for a certificate from the doctor attending him and have either accepted the medical certificate or sent a travelling medical board to see him.

The Deputy Mayor (Councillor Primett) gave the history of another case. This man was put into the W Reserve and, having been an engineer, was sent to do munition work. After about a month his health broke down and he was sent into a London institution, where he had undergone four serious operations. He had still an open wound that was not healed, and yet to got a calling-up notice to join the Colours within so many hours at Chelmsford.

There was something worse. The wife of this man had never had a penny separation allowance since he had been in hospital. She had had to struggle along and work to keep herself and four children, and all the help she had was a sovereign from the Mayor's Fund.

Mr W. J. Mabley remarked that these men had apparently been fighting for democracy and it appeared they were getting it in a different way from what they expected. His contention was that no medical officer in the service should have anything to do with a man discharged medically unfit as regards reassessing his pension. It should be done by civil practitioners in the district where the man had been living.

The Mayor [Alderman John Staddon] said he had one of the most peculiar experiences. While his son was lying in Cambridge Hospital a letter was sent to him at Luton, with a railway warrant, to appear before the Medical Board at Cambridge within 48 hours, and was sent from not five yards from his bed.

"It's an absolute disgrace," commented Mr Mabley.

Reference was also made to the new duties placed on the local committee in connection with the work of the Appeals Tribunal set up by the Ministry of Pensions to hear appeals from men given or refused gratuities on the ground that their disability was not attributable to military service.

If a man feels he has a legitimate he can go to the local committee and state his case, and the medical history papers relating to him will be laid before a special sub-committee which it was decided to constitute of Alderman H. O. Williams, Messrs W. J. Mair, W. Saunders, F. W. Smith and J. H. Saint.

The man will have to appear before the sub-committee and produce evidence from his ordinary medical attendant as to the state of his health before enlistment, and evidence will also have to be obtained from his approved society and employer bearing on the matter. It will not be for the sub-committee to adjudicate upon a man's appeal, but the committee's opinion may be sent up with the papers to the Appeals Tribunal.

Mr Mabley entirely disagreed with the requirement as to the state of a man's health before the war, contending that if the Government accepted a man for service they were responsible for the position he was in medically when discharged, and the Mayor said he quite agreed.

He thought there was no tribunal in the country which had fought this question more than the Luton Tribunal, and still the military were persisting in the same thing. He thought they were worse now than they were months back, and the Government must make themselves responsible for these men. It was one of the crying evils of compulsory military service that the medical boards of the country, with few exceptions, could not be trusted in their examinations to do their duty to the men as well as to the Army.

As a result of further consideration of the question of the treatment of discharged sailors and soldiers at Wardown V.A.D. Hospital the opinion was expressed that it would be unreasonable to expect the medical staff of local hospitals to undertake the treatment without remuneration, and the Secretary was directed to inquire of the Ministry of Pensions what fees the local committee may offer for the services of the doctors, in addition to the payment allowed to the institutions.

The Deputy Mayor said the attempt to get these men treated free was on all fours with what they had to contend with in the early stages of the committee's existence, the proposal to get voluntary subscriptions to supplement pensions. Luton had something to do with the killing of that, and he hoped this resolution would have the same result.

[The Luton Reporter: Wednesday, October 3rd, 1917]

Comrades launch Luton branch

Comrades of the Great War Peace Day float 1919

  • Members of the Comrades of the Great War with their Peace Day float, July 1919.

[The Luton News: Thursday, February 7th, 1918]

We understand that the efforts of the organisation known as the Comrades of the Great War to establish a Luton branch have been thoroughly successful, so much so that within a very short time it is hoped to open a club and headquarters in the centre of the town.

The extensive premises, No. 5 Upper George Street, previously the premises of hat manufacturers Sanders & Brightman and occupied by the military authorities for some time, have already been taken over by the Comrades and the work of equipment will be in progress within a few days.

A deputation of the Comrades of the Great War explained to us the objects of the organisation generally, and the intentions in Luton in particular. They desire to make it absolutely clear that there is no political taint whatever in the organisation, that the fundamental object is to create a fellowship amongst those who have served the country in any capacity at sea, on land or in the air during the war. They have also gone farther and admitted to their circle all those who have at any time served in His Majesty's Forces.

The premises at Upper George Street have been selected as particularly adaptable for this purpose. Here is to be established a social club which shall combine a degree of home comfort and an employment bureau. This is to be the open-sesame for Luton demobilised men, and will also help to remedy their grievances. The promoters are also hopeful of eventually being in a position to give practical sympathy to the dependents of men lost in the war, and, in short, all who have fallen upon evil times.

Among the principal supporters in Luton are the Mayor (Councillor Charles Dillingham), Mr J. W. Green, Mr Leigh Kent and Mr William Austin. The membership on Monday stood at 289, of which over 200 are in Luton alone.

The initial work is being carried out by Mr Milner (formerly of the Indian Cavalry), organiser; and Hon Sec Mr Talbot, who was a bandsman in the 1st Battalion of the Queen's Royal West Surrey Regiment, and who served at Mons.

These gentlemen told us they were not in opposition to the Discharged Soldiers Federation. There are certain things on which the two organisations differ, but there was no question whatever of opposition, and they deeply regretted that any such impression should be fostered by anyone.

From a political standpoint they say that their politics ended with loyal support of the Government's policy to continue the war to a successful issue, and whatever Government was in power and maintained that policy they would loyally support. So far as Party labels were concerned, men were free to be Liberal, Conservative or Socialist, and there would be no favouritism to any particular candidate in the event of a General Election.

The first and chief desire of the leaders in Luton was to establish a club which will be a boon to men who may return from the war friendless, or will help to cement the friendships and the spirit of comradeship acquired by sharing the fortunes and misfortunes of war.

It is contemplated that the present membership will be doubled in a few months, and there are prospects of sufficient support forthcoming to enable them to place the club on a sound basis for the next two or three years. The membership fee is one shilling, and one shilling extra for the badge, and it is probable that the members desirous of entering the social side of the club will be able to do so at the rate of a penny or twopence a week.

The prospect of the formation of a Comrades branch in Luton did not impress the rival Discharged Sailors and Soldiers Federation. DS&S Hon Secretary H. Charles Cooper wrote in the following week's edition of The Luton News: "With reference to statement of membership of Comrades of the Great War in this district, it would be of interest to many of your readers to know how many are actually discharged servicemen, and how many are civilian sympathisers. The membership of the Luton branch of the Federation at present consists of over 200 discharged servicemen who have not been coerced in any way to join the Federation."

Comrades of the Great War

Comrades of Great War on Peace Day 1919

  • Members of the Comrades with their Peace Day float in 1919.

There was considerable enthusiasm at the Town Hall on Sunday, when a meeting was held to explain the objects of the new organisation for discharged soldiers and sailors, known as the Comrades of the Great War. The Mayor (Councillor Charles Dillingham) presided over a fair attendance consisting mostly of discharged men.

The Mayor at the outset emphasised the fact that he was out to help the discharged men and no special organisation, but he would have nothing to do with any which had a political aim. He had been convinced that the Comrades was a bona fide organisation.

Capt Towse VC (Chairman of the General Committee of the Comrades movement, who lost his sight in the South African War) had a very hearty reception. He said he had been in the Army all his life, and had to be in the work again in this way, although sightless. He had been working in France amongst the boys in hospital at his own expense.

The Comrades movement had been started by officers and men, and its first object was comradeship, with an enormous affiliation throughout the Empire, by means of which the comrades of the Army and Navy who had done their bit could stick together, and have due recompense. Any man with the badge would be made welcome in any part of the Empire.

The clubs or lodges would be looked after entirely by the men, as the whole movement would be. Grievances would be thrashed out and, if necessary, taken right to Parliament. A big object was to press the claims of the widows and orphans.

Then there were objects as the further treatment of the disabled, the settling of men on the land and the perpetuating of the memory of those who had fallen. They did not want costly memorials, but just a simple scroll in the clubs of those who had fought by the side of the men who had gone under.

The speaker next referred to the Federation [DS&S] and expressed their willingness to meet the representatives of that organisation at a round table conference. The Comrades were not begging for members, but had no fear of getting them. It was quite straight.

After what he (the speaker) had done for the country, was it likely that he was out to exploit the wounded man? He had been a soldier all his life, and loved the soldier - drunk or sober. The whole trouble today was that they did not understand each other.

Capt Towse explained that they had five politicians on the Comrades Committee, and here me W. J. Mabley interrupted by saying that the men should elect their own MPs without going to professional politicians. Capt Towse replied that the men could do so if they wished, but meanwhile they could not force their way into Parliament without they were members of the House. The present Committee were holding their office in trust for the men who would later elect their own representatives, and their only axe to grind was the real interest of the men.

Capt Donald Simpson (first President of the New Zealand Soldiers Association and founder of the Comrades movement) outlined very vividly his miraculous recovery at Gallipoli, and told how he had since devoted his life to the comrades who had fought. He explained how he had formed the movement in the Colonies, and denied that he was out for exploitation.

He said he saw in the local paper that they [the Comrades] were called blacklegs. Who were the accusers that they should judge? If the Comrades credited others with having the best intentions, who shouldn't the Comrades be credited the same?

He paid tribute to the splendid work that the discharged soldiers had been doing on their own and unaided, in the name of the Federation. They had done excellently without the sympathy of the public. He had met its members everywhere, and was prepared to come to Luton at any time to discuss the whole question with them in any way they wished. He was sure they would finally come to a conclusion, and he would bet that they would join issue in bringing about what they wanted.

"I am not up against any of you boys," declared the speaker. "I have made the best of friends with members of the Federation after I have got to know them."

They were all shouting about a pound a day and better conditions, but they would achieve nothing if they made a premature peace. He was there unpaid and unthanked and he had paid all his expenses for the last 18 months. He did not want their pay. He was well paid by God in having his health given to him again to go on with this work.

He agreed with 75 per cent of the claims of the masses in Great Britain, and he saw the chance of achieving their ideals from this war. Suspicion was the curse of the whole thing, but he could not blame the workers for mistrusting the upper classes, who had taken more care of the breeding of horses and cattle than they had ever done for the masses. They all wanted an opportunity for every man to live in decent conditions, get married and bring up a family. The whole temperament of Britain was changing, thank God.

Capt Simpson humorously described how the MPs of their Committee were being closely watched, and pledged his word that there was not the slightest chance of exploitation. They did not want only men with a grievance, but all of them to hold out a helping hand to each other. People were all more or less victims to apathy, and he hoped to achieve a recognition of strength in unity.

Mr J. W. Green, in proposing a vote of thanks to the speakers, said he was in full sympathy with the movement. Mr A. E. Talbot (local Secretary) seconded.

Mr W. J. Mabley rose to support the proposition, but referred to the word 'blackleg'. He was the man who made that statement, and he said a man was a blackleg who took part in meetings of one body and was at the same time creating another. It had actually happened in this district, and if he thought it was English and playing the game, he did not.

Mr Mabley next declared that their was a comradeship among the men in the trades union movement, and they were prepared to fight for democracy. He could never accuse any of the Comrades of the Great War executive of forwarding the cause of democracy in the past. The Federation was going on with the fight for the emancipation of the discharged men.

Another speaker asked why the Comrades organisation was formed after the Federation was in existence. He thought it was silly.

Capt Simpson replied that he was in the Federation, but they passed a resolution excluding officers except those who had risen from the ranks. He was expelled by this foolish act. The other association was afterwards formed.

The proposition was heartily carried, and Capt Simpson appealed to both bodies to come together.

A vote of thanks to the Mayor concluded the meeting.

[The Luton News: Thursday, December 17th, 1917]

DS&S growing in numbers

From The Luton Reporter: Wednesday, October 31st, 1917.

Now that the Luton and District Discharged Sailors' and Soldiers' Association has been registered under the War Charities Act as a war charity, entitled to solicit funds by public appeal, no time has been lost in soliciting for actual sympathy and support for the worthy cause which the Association has at heart.

Hitherto the Association has had to depend upon the subscriptions of the discharged men joining its ranks and the policy of cutting its coat according to its cloth financially has naturally had the effect of curtailing the scope of its useful activities.

An office has been opened at 15 Castle Street where, in the evenings, the chairman and hon. treasurer Mr Herbert W. Booth and the hon. secretary Mr W. Walker and their colleagues on the committee constitute a modest sort of information bureau, and devote their leisure time to assisting fellow-wearers of the silver badge to obtain redress for any grievances they may have.

This, however, is but the beginning of the work the Association has in mind to undertake, and it is felt that one of the essentials for such an organisation is a club which will afford adequate headquarters and provide social amenities for men whose comradeship had been cemented in the service of their country.

The Association has already made most encouraging progress. Starting with a foundation basis of just over a score of members, the numbers have in three weeks risen to over 70, and interest in the movement has been considerably stimulated by the visit received last week from Mr J. M. Hogge, the well-known Scottish MP, who has made the matter of pensions and other grievances concerning discharged servicemen a phase of war problems peculiarly his own. Mr Hogge had a very interested gathering of discharged men, under the chairmanship of Mr Herbert W. Booth, to listen to his lucid and explicit discourse at the Corn Exchange concerning the aims and objects of the movement.

Several of the points raised were remarked upon by Mr Hogge as showing the necessity of discharged men joining an organisation being tun on a strictly non-party basis.

In commendation of the appeal the Association is making to the townspeople for liberal assistance towards the provision of homely comforts of a social club, Mr Hogge urged that if the discharged men wanted a clubroom it was up to the people of Luton for whom they went into the Army to give them it.

"They were eulogistic enough when they asked you from platforms to go into the Army," he said. "Now you have come back disabled and want to cling together the people of Luton ought to tumble over each other to give you this memorial of gratitude. They have been proud of you: let them be proud of the opportunity of giving this token to the men who went into the war."

The Association has quickly secured official recognition, the Local War Pensions Committee having invited it to nominate one of its members to serve on the Disablements Sub-Committee and, is a short bill 'fathered' by Mr Hogge becomes law this Session, the Association will become entitled to representation on the War Pensions Committee itself.

Dawn of the DS&S in Luton

Luton Town Hall c1914

  • Luton Town Hall would play a pivotal role in the story of the DS&S in Luton.

There was not a large attendance at the Luton Town Hall last night [September 21st, 1917] at the meeting for Discharged Soldiers and Sailors to form an association on trade union lines. The initial stages were by no means auspicious, for leaders of the local trades union movement were expected to be present, and it was long after eight o'clock before a start was made.

In the meantime several of the audience chafed at the delay, and one veteran with a vein of humour not too refined, had a wordy duel with Mr Tom Smith, the secretary of the Luton Trades and Labour Council, on the merits of punctuality. But his reason, as he frankly admitted, was the desire to assuage a strong thirst.

The Chairman, Mr Herbert W. Booth, an ex-sergeant, also expressed dissatisfaction, but it was generally recognised that the speakers who were expected were doing very useful work on a War Pensions Sub-Committee in a room below.

The first meeting of the men was held on September 11th at Franklin's Restaurant, and was adjourned until the question of organisation had been considered by the discharged men of the Labour Party. After this meeting had been held, it was agreed to hold a meeting last night.

The Chairman moved that the Luton News report of the last meeting should be regarded as minutes, and this was agreed to. He then said that he had received from Capt Donald Simpson, of the New Zealand Engineers, as telegram with reference to the last meeting and asked, in order to prevent misunderstanding, that he (the Chairman) should visit him in regard to the work of the Comrades of the Great War Fellowship.

In order to get at the facts, the Chairman said he also wrote to the National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Soldiers and Sailors. He read the reply which pointe out the difference between the two institutions, and said that Mr J. M. Hogge MP and Mr Pringle MP, two of the leading spirits, were fighting for the discharged soldiers and sailors in the House of Commons, and they were the first to lend a hand when help was required for the National Federation in its infancy.

"You are getting people saying that Messrs Hogge and Pringle are not for the discharged men, but are out for themselves," said the letter. "I give those people the lie in the face. After the Liverpool election, run by the discharged men, we fund we did not have enough money to pay expenses. We went to several people for funds, and we were refused and not able to foot the bill. Mr Hogge put his hand in his pocket and paid for the whole concern."

The letter went on to say that Mr Hogge had refused an under-secretaryship as well as the secretaryship to the Food Controller, positions each worth £1,200 a year. It also pointed out that the members of the House of Commons at the head of the Comrades of the Great War Fellowship either voted for the Review of Exceptions Act of 1917 or were conspicuous by their absence when the Bill was before the House, and Messrs Hogge and Pringle were among the 16 who voted against the Bill.

The Chairman said he went to the London headquarters of each of these institutions and got the whole facts of the movement, and he would deal with any questions which might be raised when a resolution was put before the meeting. On the last occasion, and in his letter to the Luton News, he made his own position clear, and he stood by those things, and was quite ready to take the responsibility for anything he had said or done.

Advert for first meeting of DS&SEx-Quartermaster-Sgt Walker moved that an association of discharged soldiers and sailors be formed on trade union lines, and this was seconded by Mr Rudd.

Mr Pym, a member of the Luton Trades and Labour Council, rose to support, and said that, although he could not claim to speak as a discharged soldier, he had been rejected on medical grounds.

He proceeded to say that many of them had hoped and had faith at one period that a change of heart could come over those who ad control over the finance of this great empire. Subsequent happenings had proved that their faith was misplaced and faith shattered. They had seen how many of the capitalist class had been more concerned with the amount of dividend they could obtain rather than the source from which those dividends sprung.

The Chairman hereupon rose and said: "I think this gentleman is putting political views which I do not accept. The term capitalist and other expressions are purely political phrases, and as such do not concern this meeting.

Mr Pym protested, whereupon the Chairman abruptly asked: "Have you anything to say in support of or to confirm the proposition- for or against?

Several members voiced their approval, shouting "No politics."

Mr Pym briefly expressed his pleasure that there was a prospect of such an association, gave an assurance of his hearty support and then resumed his seat.

Mr Tom Smith said he was heartily in sympathy with the movement and wished it every success. He said the Trades Council had this matter before them for the last month or two, thinking that many of the discharged would like to combine.

Mr J. Mabley was deputed to attend the first meeting convened by Mr Booth. He reported favourably, and the arrangements for the meeting were decided upon. He supported them heartily, recognising that they who had been soldiers had been defending the homes, had done their bit and their best, and it was not to be expected that they were now coming home, after hazarding their lives and health, to be exploited by those who wished to exploit them.

If they combined they could ensure representation on the different public bodies which had a voice in the disbandment of soldiers, their pension welfare and other things. Individually they would find they could do little; organised they could do much.

If they elected an executive committee and got thoroughly into the movement and strengthened their ranks, they could them apply for affiliation to the National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Soldiers and Sailors and become something of a power themselves locally, and strengthen the Federation nationally (hear, hear).

Acting on the instructions of the Trades and Labour Council, he had endeavoured to secure the attendance of Mr Hogge for the meeting, but it was impossible. It was hoped to secure his attendance later.

He could promise them that the Trades and Labour Council had no axe to grind in calling that meeting Their only motive was to see the men together and to help to do them good, and repay them in a little way for risking their lives in defence of the country (applause).

Mr Suttle asked what he was to understand by the words"trade union lines".

The Chairman said the first intimation that the meeting was to take place was when he saw the Saturday Telegraph. Personally he did not quarrel with the term, but in his letter to the Luton News of Thursday summarised what he thought adequately represented "trade union lines". It was a wide matter, but as he understood it, self-help self-government and no party. "That is sufficient for me," he added amidst applause.

Mr Justin had great pleasure in supporting the view of the Chairman as expressed in the Luton News. "We are old soldiers and have to do our best for ourselves," he said, "and we don't want tolet political bodies and trades union bodies depend upon us." (hear, hear).

Mr Suttle said they wanted no political parties, but an association of their own (hear, hear).

Mr Mabley, who arrived rather late, rose to reply to Mr Suttle. He asked what would have been the position of discharged men without the Labour Party. He referred to Mr G. N. Barnes MP, and his work as Pensions Minister, and said the pensions had increased by 50 per cent.

A voice: "He is paid to do the work."

Mr Mabley said he could go farther and declare that locally and nationally there was not a man who had fought more honestly than the members of the Labour Party. No one had suggested they should be linked to a political party.

As a discharged soldier he candidly told them that they were not allowed to be in a political organisation when they were in the Army for one particular reason - because it would have been for their benefit and not for the benefit of those who controlled the Services.

The time was coming when the workers of the country would not go cap-in-hand to the upper classes. If a man was fit to fight for his country he was fit to take his pace with any man in the House of Lords to legislate for the country (hear, hear). There were any amount of men of military age in both Houses of Parliament who would not go to fight for their country, although they sat and made laws compelling others to go.

"Trades union lines" meant "each for all, and all for each," and they could not do better than that. He had never seen it, although he had served on three continents - in India, Egypt and at home. "I am no novice," he said. "I was discharged as a sergeant-instructor."

He urged them to adopt the trade union principle and spirit and so create a better atmosphere for those of their comrades who would return at a later date. He did not think either that the Labour, Liberal or Tory parties in Luton desired to control them, but wanted them to assist to control the country.

He supported the idea of affiliating to the National Federation because they had done something, and he predicted that they would grow stronger if they adopted the trade union spirit, and eventually there would be nothing to prevent discharged soldiers of the country going to the House of Commons to legislate for themselves (applause).

An auditor pointed out that they had an object lesson in trades unionism, for the only people who got anything were the organised workers, and he instanced the railwaymen and the engineers.

The Chairman's view was that when an educated body like the school teachers adopted trades unionism, it was good enough for discharged soldiers.

Mr Mabley said that at the trades union branch meeting it was a rule that no politics should be discussed. They had a Trades and Labour Council to deal with political questions.

The resolution was carried unanimously. The meeting then proceeded to elect a Provisional Executive Committee. Whe Mr Mabley was nominated, and auditor asked if that gentleman had been in the Army in this war.

Mr Mabley: "Twelve months and a fortnight. I went out on August 4th, 1914, and I don't think many went out earlier (loud laughter), and came back on August 20th, 1915, and got my discharge on August 8th, 1917, after 12 years service with the colours.

The querist replied that this was a civilian army and they were dealing with a civilian army, and not with old soldiers.

The Chairman said that the feeling of the meeting was that they should stand by the men who had been regular soldiers also (applause).

The Provisional Executive Committee was then elected as follows: Chairman, Mr Herbert W. Booth; Hon Secretary, Me W. Walker; Messrs J. Mabley, Cowdrey, Rudd, Hawkes and Suttle.

It was announced that the Luton War Pensions Disablement Sub-Committee has allotted seats to the Discharged Soldiers Association, and these were left over until the next meeting.

The Chairman gave a brief survey of his visit to the headquarters of the two institutions for discharged men, and supported affiliation to the National Federation. A suggestion that there should be a flag day for funds was favourably received.

The Chairman moved, and it was heartily carried: "That this meeting of the discharged soldiers and sailors of Luton and district, having considered the constitution and object of the organisation designated The Comrades of the Great War, is of opinion that as the said constitution and object are substantially those of the existing National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Soldiers and Sailors, no useful purpose will be served by the inauguration of The Comrades of the Great War movement, and this meeting therefore urges all discharged men to support the National Federation in every possible way."

Seconding this, Mr Mabley said that the people running The Comrades of the Great War movement were out to use the discharged men for their own convenience, and the Chairman concurred. The resolution was carried.

The proceedings closed with votes of thanks to the Trades and Labour Council for arranging the meeting, and to the Chairman.

[The Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph: September 22nd. 1917]

First meeting of discharged servicemen

Franklin's Restaurant

A meeting of exceptional interest to discharged soldiers and sailors was held at Franklin's Restaurant [pictured in 1907 behind the cars] on Tuesday evening [September 11th, 1917], there being a large attendance of wearers of the silver badge, many also having the gold stripe indicating wounds. The meeting was called by Mr Herbert W. Booth, a discharged soldier now working in Luton, in the interests of other discharged comrades, to consider proposals emanating from London regarding the formation of a league of discharged men.

Mr Booth was voted to the chair and produced a letter written by an officer in London to a Hampshire paper, dealing with a new organisation called The Comrades of the Great War Fellowship. The writer of the letter, Col Faber, pointed out the "urgent necessity of creating a human link between the men and what must always be a State machine".

He was glad to see they had had the hearty co-operation of Lord Derby, who was writing to Lords Lieutenant, Chairmen of County Councils and Mayors, asking for their support.

Silver badgeThe letter continues: "There has been for some time past a huge effort made by syndicalists and others to raid the discharged soldier. A large number of organisations have already been started and, unless we take without delay active and energetic measures, these men who have fought so valiantly and suffered and bled for their country will be left to the mercy of syndicalist exploitation - a condition of affairs which must not be allowed to occur under any circumstances."

Mr Booth here observed tat discharged men would doubtless hear further on the matter, but it was better they should have an opportunity of discussing it quietly among themselves rather tan have it proposed at a public meeting with a lot of high-flown talk.

The writer of the letter went on to outline this new scheme and said it was intended to get leading men in the country to become foundation members, each giving a sum of money to help in launching the scheme, which apparently had its origin with Sir Arthur Norton Griffiths MP. It was intended that Lord Derby should address these leading men in London and announce that the country was determined that the men who had fought for the country should not suffer through neglect.

One of the men present mentioned that Mr Hogg MP had already started an organisation for discharged men, and pamphlets had been sent round. There was a big centre in Liverpool, where they had run a candidate for Parliament.

Mr Booth then read out the details, proposed in the letter, for the formation of the new organisation, one of the objects of which is perpetuate the spirit of comradeship, patriotism and devotion which has characterised the Forces, and foster and promote the same in the rising generation.

Mr Booth read two letters from discharged men not able to be present, asking for particulars.

Mr J. Mabley then spoke both as a discharged soldier and as a member of the Luton Labour Party. He explained that the Trades and Labour Council had intended taking in hand the arrangements regarding the local organisation of discharged men. They intended calling a meeting for next week, and they had gladly assisted him.

He would urge the men, before they joined any organisation, to consider the work of Mr Hogge MP for discharged men before these gentlemen in London did anything at all. When discharged men organised, they should organise on trades union lines, and should not assist any political party of any kind. They should have their own representatives on local and national bodies, and that was what Mr Hogge's organisation amounted to. There were thousands of discharge men in it.

He advised them to delay their decision until next Wednesday, and if they were willing the Labour Party would bear the expense of a meeting in the Town Hall [advert below]. They would circularise all the discharged men, for there were probably hundreds in the town.

It was only right that an organisation should be formed with the backing of the majority of the discharged men in the area, not only silver badge men but all those discharged, and men who in the majority of cases has been thrown on one side.

Town Hall meeting advertThere was an opening for at least two discharged men on the Disablements Sub-Committee in Luton, and they were waiting for an organisation to be formed to elected representatives. It was only right that those affected should be represented (applause). Throughout the country the labour Party had done its utmost for the benefit of discharged men, and he appealed to them to form only one organisation, and not have two in the district. They would have one working against the other. He urged that they should have no heed of Parliamentary promises. They had to organise and do it for themselves (applause).

Mr Booth said that he was entirely a non-Party man and he found himself largely in agreement with Mr Mabley on this question of an organisation for discharged men. The formation of a trades union came from within the workers' ranks, but here discharged man saw the start of a new organisation (the first referred to) from an outside source, or from politicians.

He was suspicious of any scheme which emanated from politicians. They promised much at election times, but did very little afterwards, and there was an instance of this in the postponement of better pay for men now serving, and in respect to pensions.

Discharged men would be a strong force in the country which politicians could not ignore, and this fact necessitated that they should be careful not to allow themselves to be shepherded into any union which might ultimately hold them in political bondage.

There was in the letter he had quoted a reference to syndicalists - a name given to me who look after their own interests. That statement was a distinct reflection on their ability as men to form their own opinions and to look after their own interests. At present there was no difficulty in getting work, but after te war there would be a flooding of the labour market, and many would feel the pinch, as was the case after the South African War, despite the promises of politicians.

There were instances already of men who had been discharged receiving bad treatment from employers. It was a good suggestion to wait till after the meeting of the Labour Party.

Mr Mabley explained that it would be a meeting of discharged men who were also members of the Labour Party.

Mr Whoswall, late Notts and Derbys, proposed that the meeting be adjourned until after the Labour meeting, and this was carried. A vote of thanks was accorded to Mr Booth, and a collection taken to defray expenses.

In the ensuing discussion, Mr Mabley promised to try and get Mr Hogge to address the meeting.

Mr Herbert W. Booth, who is an ex-sergeant of the Royal Engineers, writes as follows: "It is obvious that (as the outcome of the above meeting, and the further meeting which is being organised) a local branch of some organisation for furthering the interests of discharged men will be formed.

"As a provisional measure and, as several men have already asked for assistance in preparing necessary papers and documents etc, and advising them as to their position, a room has been secured at 15 Castle Street, where any who desire such assistance may obtain the same. The provisional office will be open for this purpose on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 6 to 7.45pm and on Saturdays from 1pm to 6pm.

"It is possible that arrangements may be made for opening the room as a recreation room, on a small scale, with facilities for a smoke and a chat.

NB: The office will open tomorrow (Friday, 14th).

[The Luton News: Thursday, September 13th, 1917]

National President addresses discharged men

Hogge meeting advert

On Tuesday evening [October 23rd, 1917], Mr James Myles Hogge MP visited Luton and addressed a meeting of discharged men in the Corn Exchange, under the auspices of the Luton Discharged Men's Association. There was a good attendance, and Mr Herbert W. Booth (Chairman of the Association) presided.

The Chairman and Hon. Secretary were at the outset appointed as delegates to the council meeting of the National Federation, and the chairman was appointed as representative on the executive of that body.

The Chairman said he would like to remove any impression which some people had that in the Association there were people drawing money. No person received anything, and all the officials were giving their services voluntarily to serve the interests of discharged men (applause).

The Chairman, amidst applause, then called upon Mr Hogge, the national President, who, he said, was the soldier's friend.

Mr Hogge said that they were in the early days of what was going to prove one of the greatest movements in the country. It must embrace every type of man who had been discharged from the Army. The comradeship of the fighting line must be extended into the comradeship of the organised line at home.

He agreed that the fewer paid posts inside the Federation the better. He himself was in it solely to see the discharged man get his rights (applause). The organisation must be on a strict non-party basis and he did not want to see it exploited by any party. But the time might come when they might have to be political and fight for what they wanted without the agency of the existing parties.

They must depend upon themselves. Gratitude to our soldiers today was an overflowing attribute of public opinion, but the further we receded from the end of the war the less there would be public gratitude. They must help themselves, and the first thing was to stand for the welfare of the dependants of the comrades who had died (hear, hear).

Mr Hogge went on to speak of the injustices of discharged men in respect of pensions and gratuities. Although generous when compared with pensions of the past, he did not feel yet that the pension warrant was anything like adequate for the sacrifice of a widow and children of a man who had been killed. Mr Hogge gave illustrations of the unjust administration of pensions, and said he had told Mr Hodge that if the men were refused their request they would walk over the top of him (laughter).

In regard to training the disabled, he said it with regret that the Pensions Ministry had not gripped the question at all, and some of the attempts made were ridiculous. The Government was not providing the money necessary to set up the proper organisation. They even talked about teaching men to cut diamonds! (laughter). It was essential that disabled men should not be put to the fancy trades, but to the staple and most remunerative trades.

Today many men were being exploited to accept lower wages, and if that was so now, what would it be after the war with the labour market flooded? They must as an organisation maintain the position that under no circumstances should a pension be a factor in determmini8ng the man's wage (applause).

The speaker dealt with the need for the establishment by the Government of men in their own business or trade, and instanced the case of the man who had to sell up a business to join the Army. The money he got from the paymaster was not sufficient to replace that man's lost capital. On the contrary, many would look for the paymasters to be starting in business (laughter). It would pay the Government to re-establish such men. Then the Courts Emergency Acts should be continued so that no discharged man could be sued for debt until he had re-established himself proper;y in civil life.

People thought the discharged soldier, in organising, was out for plunder, but he had no such insane idea. He had come back a better man with a wider outlook and determined to take his proper share in public life. He wanted security for himself and his children against war in the future, and to live and not merely exist. No discharged man and no dependants must be beholden to charity.

"If the discharged men of Luton want a club room," added Mr Hogge, "there are those who can give it you and ought to be proud to do so. I man the people of Luton for whom you went into the Army (applause). I don't think it is necessary to remind them that it is up to them to do it. They were eulogistic enought when they asked you from platforms to go into the Army. You were little tin gods (laughter).

"Now you have come back disabled and want to cling together, the people of Luton ought to tumble over each other to give you this memorial of gratitude. They have been proud of you. Let them be proud of the opportunity of giving this token to the men who went into the war. And when you have got it, don't let it be for billiards and cards only, but show Luton people that you relish what they have done for you by making the best use of it (hear hear). If you cling together, this Federation has a great future in front of it" (loud applause).

A considerable time was devoted to questions, and Mr Hogge had a friendly chat with the enquirers and gave valuable help, even promising to take up several cases. He also dwelt upon the iniquity of recovering alleged past debts to the army our of pensions. Mr Hogge described one case brought up that evening as a perfect scandal, and advised all men in doubt to go to the Association office.

A vote of thanks was heartily accorded Mr Hogge, the speakers including Mr J. Mabley, who described most of the cases before the local committee as "absolutely rotten".

[The Luton News: Thursday, October 25th, 1917]

Smouldering resentment of discharged men

[The Luton Reporter: Tuesday, November 13th, 1917]

Mayor John Staddon 1915-1917

  • Retiring Mayor John Staddon, a first named target of DS&S resentment in 1917.

Keen resentment is felt by members of the Luton and District Discharge Sailors' and Soldiers' Association concerning what is regarded as the apparent indifference of those in authority locally to their claims to recognition.

Speaking at a meeting at the Franklin Restaurant on Tuesday night [November 6th, 1917] the Chairman, Mr Herbert W. Booth, said this was a movement which was about to become international as well as national, and yet when it was suggested by the Executive that the Mayor of the town should identify himself with it, Alderman Staddon wrote: "I cannot bring my mind to believe that you are really on the right road in regard to the formation of this Association. It does occur to me that this movement will create overlapping with efforts already in existence in regard to discharged soldiers and sailors."

If that was the mind of the Mayor of Luton he was lacking in foresight, and was certainly out of touch with the fact that the old order was changing and would have to give place to the new, said the Chairman.

Alluding to the registration of the Association under the War Charities Act, Mr Booth said this step was taken simply and solely that when they appealed for funds the people of Luton should be satisfied and properly safeguarded and assured that discharged men were as honest as the Mayor of Luton when he appealed for the Red Cross Society - (applause) - and equally worthy of public support.

It was a matter of great regret that so far their hopes has materialised in only a small degree. It was possible their appeal was inopportune, but they had not asked Luton to do more than had already been done by other towns for their discharged men, and under those circumstances they might not unfairly assume that Luton, compared with other towns, was lacking in appreciation of the services and sacrifices of discharged men.

In order that workers especially might have an opportunity of showing their appreciation it was agree to take steps to organise a flag day, but the reply of the Mayor, through the Town Clerk, was that he could not assent to their holding a flag day on November 10th, as it had been the practice not to have more than one flag day each month, and the Salvation Army Day [advert, right] would be held in the middle of November, and there were several other days for which arrangements had still to be made in response to long-standing appeals.

From this it would seen that the claims of discharged men who had fought and bled for their country were last to be considered in Luton. It clearly showed voluntary service and sacrifice, even in this war, were not appreciated as they were glibly promised they should be when they enlisted, and should the occasion ever again arise any appeal for voluntary service would leave them absolutely cold.

Never again in the history of this Empire should men volunteer - (applause). All men should be conscripted and no man, Government or municipal official in a 'cushy' job though he be, should escape the net in that matter.

It had been said that a nation had the Government it deserved, and he supposed the same applied to a town, but it was hard to believe that the mandarins and bureaucrats of that mutual admiration society which met at the Town Hall represented the people of Luton. Such a decision as that before them was only what one would expect from mandarins and bureaucrats who, secure behind the skirts of D.O.R.A. [Defence of the Realm Act], misrepresented the people, played the old party game and provided funk holes for fit eligible officials with cushy jobs and fat salaries - (applause).

An incident in connection with the Association's appeal was described by Mr Booth as ranking with the incident of the widow's mite recorded in the Bible. It was a letter received from eight little children from Mountain Ash, Limbury, enclosing a postal order for 10 shillings for the club for discharged soldiers, and he hoped the fact would be published far and wide - the prosperous and important town of Luton, its chief citizens, manufacturers, traders, churches and brotherhoods, and public men put to shame by eight little children - (applause).

Those eight little children were makers of history. Their letter should be framed and exhibited publicly, and when the Association secured their club, as they certainly would, he suggested it should be opened not by any public personage, but by those eight little children - (applause).

Complaint was also made concerning the refusal of the Secretary of the local War Pensions Committee to afford opportunities for discharged men to consult him on some stated evening in the week. The Secretary stated that if men would send him a message he would endeavour to meet them, but Mr Booth said that was not good enough. The Secretary was paid for his work from public funds and must therefore study the convenience of the men for whose benefit these committees had been formed.

The membership of the Association was reported to have increased roughly at the rate of 20 per week, so that at the end of the month they had no less than 80. This membership, it was stated, had been achieved without assistance from any official or semi-official sources, or from any public men of the town, and is thoroughly democratic, as is the executive. The claims of party have not been in any way considered, not has there been any endeavour to provide for any equalisation of party representation.

"We all have nothing whatever to do with party politics as such," said the Chairman, "but we do intend to become political, and we shall be a political force which will have to be reckoned with."

Mr Booth was reported to have secured second place on the list in the election of the new executive committee of the National Federation, to which the Luton Association is affiliated.

In reply, the by then ex-Mayor [Alderman John Staddon] said at the Mayor-making ceremony for Council Charles Dillingham the following Friday [November 9th] that he was thick-skinned enough to take no notice to the criticism offer with regard to the flag day proposal. He stated that there was still a long list appeals which he had been unable to deal with fairly and which he was therefore going to hand over to his successor.

In addition to those, an application was made by a new society formed within the last few weeks for discharged soldiers [The Comrades of the Great War], expecting a flag day and naming a date within about three weeks. He had done his duty to the public and the institutions for which he had collected, and why should a society formed six weeks ago come and shut out all others on the list? All he said was that while he was Mayor it could not be done.

He had put off the Salvation Army for eight months, and it was a society that was doing a grand job for the men in the fighting line. Men who had been discharged were being looked after in certain directions, and if they were not receiving the attention they needed it was for the Government and the War Pensions Committee to deal with the matter, and hot charity. Therefore he refused their application, and he gave them a proper and reasonable reply.

But there were men who were so ready to get up and criticise what anyone did without taking the actual fact in detail.