Lyme in the 20th Century, Part VI

The HMS Formidable funeral procession in Church Street, January 1915

THE impact of the 1914-18 World War was to have long lasting social and economic consequences. 

Residents who crowded into St Michael’s Parish Church on August 9 1914 (the first Sunday following the declaration of war) took part in what was a national day of prayer ‘for the safety of the British Empire’. 

They had no concept of what the next four years would have on their lives; there would be hardship and a lasting sadness over the number of the townsmen who died in the conflict. 

Women wearing black clothes and men wearing mourning armbands became a common sight; many families were left devastated. 

After the war a memorial window in the parish church was unveiled on April 21 1921 as a testament to those who died serving their country, a plaque lists the 55 men.  

Six seamen, the youngest aged 17 years, from the battleship HMS Formidable torpedoed in Lyme Bay by a German submarine on January 1 1915 were given a civic funeral. The event was a sombre overflowing of the town’s public grief.  Buried together in the town’s graveyard (the council charging the cost to the Admiralty) their resting place is marked with a Celtic-Cross. 

Survivors from the sinking, whose boat was washed ashore on Cobb Gate beach, presented the town with a mounted badge of the Formidable in gratitude for the care they had received. It hangs in the Guildhall, the inscription marks a stirring event in the town’s history.      

Patriotic fever was sweeping the country; young men were being encouraged to join the armed forces. Lyme, like other towns, posted lists of men who had volunteered and by the middle of September 1914 some 450,000 men nationwide had volunteered. The town council made it clear that such men would be given employment preference when the war ended. 

In 1916 the council published a Roll of Honour, it listed just over 250 men serving in the forces. Men who failed to enlist were often treated with contempt and accused of cowardice. A shaming symbol was a white feather given mainly by women to such men.

In the autumn of 1914, a small number of Belgium refugees were taken in by the town. They brought with them accounts of German war crimes described as ‘appalling savagery’. 

As the number of casualties increased so did the need for military hospitals. In March 1917 the Bridport News reported that A.J. Woodroffe, the town’s mayor, at his own expense had converted his Rhode Hill mansion and made it available to the Red Cross. It was able to accommodate almost 80 patients and had both medical and recreational facilities.  The extensive grounds with sea views must have been blissful after the horror of trench warfare. 

Soldiers in hospital wore a uniform of ‘Convalescent Blues’. It was made of blue flannel and worn with a white shirt and a red tie; it identified a wounded soldier as a ‘Returning Hero’. The convalescing soldiers became a common sight in the town. 

To be continued…

Peter Lacey
Local historian and author 

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