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Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Fred, a Red Cross, Ambulances and a Euphonium by Jon Bolton

Fred Ireson, my maternal great grandfather, Bandmaster of the Wellingborough Salvation Army, drove a Salvation Army ambulance during WW1 and was a member of the Salvation Army Motor Ambulance Band. For his War services, he was presented with an inscribed euphonium by General Bramwell Booth. He marooned his ambulance on a beach in France and was nearly swamped by a rising tide. These few facts and anecdote were the only verbal information regarding his war service that I learnt during family history enquiries amongst my family.

The British Red Cross and the Order of St John made separate appeals for funds at the outbreak of war on 4th August 1914. It was the duty of Government to remove and treat the sick and wounded from the battlefield and return them to service or civil life. However, in a Great War, the Army Medical Services did not have the resources, so any efficient, voluntary assistance offered was welcomed and a necessity. The Army Council commended the appeals to the public equally and encouraged the creation on 20th October 1914 of the Joint War Committee (JWC) to pool the resources of these two organisations and work under the protected emblem of the Red Cross. The JWC organised members into Voluntary Aid Detachments (VAD) and provided the operational structure across Britain and the various theatres of War. All members (VADs) were trained in first aid and the particular skills required for their placements in hospitals, convalescent homes, medical depots, work parties, ambulance units and other sections. At the Armistice in 1918 there were 125,993 VADs, of which 35,342 (28%) were men.

On 12th September, 1914 the first Red Cross ambulances, volunteers from the Royal Automobile Club, were sent to France. Considering at the start of the War, medical transport was all horse-drawn, they were an immediate success and resulted in the creation of the Motor Ambulance Department (MAD), later of the JWC. An appeal was launched on 2nd October, 1914, with the support of the Times, for funds to provide Motor Ambulances, with an estimate of £400 to purchase a chassis and fit the body, and £250 for six month’s upkeep. In three weeks, funds were raised for 512 ambulances.

Many organisations donated or lent vehicles. Each vehicle was examined for suitability and condition at the Royal Automobile Club garage. Owners were expected to make any necessary repairs and only those passed were accepted. For example, it was necessary for the vehicle to have a minimum wheel base of 10 foot 6 inches to support the body. All owners had to agree to accept loss of their vehicle or damage. In fact, many were wrecked or totally worn out during the War. Most donors actually agreed to their surviving vehicles to be sold to the Society’s benefit at the end of the War.

Drivers were voluntary or paid, with the same contracts (right) and underwent the same medical examination and driving test. Voluntary drivers supplied their own uniforms and were provided with superior billeting. All vehicles were dispatched from the JWC office at 83 Pall Mall, London, where the contents and equipment were checked by an official and responsibility transferred to the driver.

By 19th September, 1914, 9 cars had left for France, up to 25 the next week with increasing average weekly numbers to January 1915. By then, 466 4-stretcher and 178 2-stretcher motor ambulances out of a total of 830 vehicles had been dispatched via Folkestone or Southampton.

Early in the War, in one month, 89 different makes of vehicle were accepted which caused problems in maintaining spares. Gradually vehicles were standardised. This was particularly necessary for the Motor Ambulance Convoys made up of 15-20 ambulances and other vehicles. The types of vehicle were eventually reduced to 16 – Argyll, Belsize, Buick, Crossley, Daimler, Darracq, Dennis, Ford, G.M.C., Mors, Napier, Siddeley Deasy, Wolseley, Talbot, Vauxhall and Vulcan. Ten to fifteen tons of spares were dispatched weekly.

During the course of the War, the MAD dispatched 2,171 motor ambulances of 3,446 vehicles to various theatres of war, 1,484 to France. 983 vehicles were loaned, 520 gifts and 1,943 purchased. In France, 7,250,286 sick and wounded cases (ie the same man often several times) were carried by the MAD. Each ambulance carried an average of 3,939 cases and 2,500 drivers, male and female, served during the War.
The Motor Ambulance Department organised it
s Motor Ambulances into the Chain of Evacuation, liaising with the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) and the Army Services Corps (ASC). Near the front line, Regimental Aid Posts patched up the wounded and returned them to the line or sent them back, walking or carried by relays of RAMC stretcher-bearers, to Advance Dressing Stations (ADS), through miles of landscape impassable by horse or motor transport. From here, those who could not be returned to the line were transported to Main Dressing Stations (MDS) and then to Casualty Clearing Stations (CCS), usually 20km behind the front line. Transport between the ADS and the MDS and sometimes on to the CCS was provided by RAMC Field Ambulances, mobile organisations, part bearer, part hospital attached to the Medical Transport of a Division. ASC Motor Ambulance Convoys, manned by ASC drivers and RAMC attendants, under the orders of the Director of Medical Services of the Army, were attached to the CCSs and the main means of evacuation from the MDS. Casualties were then cleared by Field Ambulances or Hospital Trains to hospitals in the Base Areas such as Boulogne, Etaples, Paris, Rouen and Havre, and from there by Hospital Ship to England.

Initial military opposition on the basis of obstructing Lines of Communication was soon replaced by the necessity for quick movement of the sick and wounded and working arrangements with the Red Cross were formalised by the Army Medical Service on 18th October, 1914. At this point there were 120 Ambulances and a few other vehicles: 50 ambulances with supporting vehicles were operating as No.2 Motor Ambulance Convoy at the front; 25 ambulances were based in Boulogne for evacuation of the wounded arriving from the battlefields of Ypres; other units were operating elsewhere; and No.4 Motor Ambulance Convoy was forming at Boulogne, operational by the end of October and served the Ypres front from Bailleul.

The Motor Ambulance Convoys were commanded by RAMC officers, whilst running repairs, supplies, parts, petrol, billeting and rationing were the responsibility of the ASC; major repairs were to be conducted by the BRCS at Boulogne or other Base. By October 1915, the questions of leave, discipline and punishment relating to volunteers, led to all members of the two Convoys becoming enlisted men only, those refusing to do so being withdrawn. In the autumn of 1915, 2 further Convoys were provided and each car was labelled with the name of the organisation that had provided it – hence the labels on the Salvation Army Motor Ambulances seen later in this article. There were eventually 7 JWC Motor Ambulance Convoys – 2, 4, 6, 16, 24, 27 & 42 MAC with 350 ambulances at the Front. Although Red Cross personnel had been withdrawn and control was vested in the Military Authorities, the Officers maintained close relations with the Red Cross Headquarters in Boulogne, including providing returns of their operations.

On the Lines of Communication, Red Cross Motor Ambulances were operational from early October 1914 and remained in the control of the Red Cross. The Red Cross and then the JWC were given responsibility for all the ambulance work from Deauville in the west to Dunkirk in the east; and hospitals were hurriedly prepared around Boulogne and along the coast in preparation for the expected casualties from Ypres. Orders for ambulances were conveyed to the Red Cross by the Embarkation Medical Officer who reported to the Deputy Director of Medical Services who had responsibility for the medical arrangements at each Base. At Boulogne, the RAMC provided spare parts, tyres, petrol, rations, accommodation and a garage, whilst running repairs was the responsibility of the BRCS; at other Bases and the Front, the RAMC conducted repairs and did not provide garages.

On 15th October, 1914, 17 Ambulances with drivers had arrived in Boulogne from Folkestone and were not sent on to Paris or Abbeville as previously due to the expected flow of casualties from Ypres. Six days later, trains loaded with wounded were arriving at Boulogne’s Gare Maritime. Hotels were still being converted into hospitals in Boulogne and surrounding areas and drivers and bearers helped remove furniture to make room. In one day 3,687 wounded were moved with 25 ambulances. The Motor Ambulances were garaged in an old building in the middle of town and the drivers billeted in hotels. However, a new Garage was established on the Quay Gambetta with repair workshops and the personnel billeted in some temporary buildings erected on the Quay to house a Fishery Exhibition. The Boulogne Red Cross garage became the focus of transport organisation, receiving and dispatching all vehicles and spares. Boulogne was the busiest Base in France, carrying 1,823,458 cases during the War. The standardisation of vehicles during the War meant the concentration of diverse, returned vehicles in Boulogne.

The Boulogne Convoy maintained a strength of 120 ambulances with a night and day driver for each vehicle. It was divided into seven Sections. Each Section had a Section Leader, Sub-Section Leader and a Corporal, two of whom were on day-duty and one on night-duty. The day-duty men paraded at 7:30am, the night-duty men at 7pm, when they were inspected by the Officer Commanding or the Adjutant. The day-duty men then proceeded to service their vehicles. The Officer Commanding or Adjutant inspected the vehicles daily and an Officer inspected the cars minutely day by day.

Due to continual enemy aircraft bombing and the exposure of the Quay, a duplicate emergency Garage was established at Trouville. During 1917 and 1918 when air raids were almost nightly, the Convoys of Ambulances were separated for their own safety and to deal with casualties more expeditiously. They could respond with a few minutes notice “frequently whilst bombs were dropping and shrapnel falling.”

On 9th December, 1918 B Section of the Boulogne Convoys was taken over by V.A.D. women drivers so that the men could go to Brussels to assist in the movement of returning British prisoners. Women took over the remaining work of the Boulogne Convoy and it was finally dissolved on 30th April, 1919. Shipments of demobilised vehicles began in December 1918 and were complete by August 1919.

The headings on the Medal entitlement letter and the Salvation Army contribution were thereby put into context. As I discovered from the Red Cross Indexes of Personnel, Fred Ireson was engaged as a driver for the Red Cross Motor Ambulance Department from 3rd Jan 1918 to 28thJan 1919. His previous engagement through the JWC was with the S.A. ie Salvation Army, based in Boulogne but with an unknown arrival date. According to Vic Elstow, historian of the Wellingborough Salvation Army, Frank Ireson, Salvation Army Band, Fred’s nephew, recalled “at carolling at the Workhouse (1915)….Bandmaster Fred Ireson was due to go to France with the Salvation Army Ambulance Teams immediately after Christmas…” (13) As described, there were 7 Sections in the Boulogne Convoy and “One of these was distinguished as the Salvation Army section, and was manned entirely by personnel, who were members of that Organisation, which, in addition to providing drivers, also subscribed towards the maintenance of the Ambulances and erected Recreation Huts for the drivers.” So how and what did the Salvation Army contribute through the Motor Ambulance Department of the JWC to the Boulogne Convoy?

The Salvation Army organisation took a position of neutrality towards the War. As Bramwell Booth stressed in his Xmas 1915 address, “Every land is my fatherland, for all lands are my Father’s”. After all, he was General to Salvationists on both sides; politics were irrelevant, only the well-being of all people. Despite criticism from Pacifists and disapproval by the Red Cross and War Office of their religious emphasis and tolerance of the enemy, Miss Mary Murray, who had organised tea huts and rest places for soldiers in the Boer War, was asked to head up the Salvation Army mission to assist the Army in WW1. Whilst many Salvationists joined the Services, many others became VADs, military chaplains and most famously the American Salvationist “Doughnut Girls”.

On December 1st, 1914 the Salvation Army presented 5 ambulances to the nation after a procession with bands from Thames Embankment to The Guildhall. The Lord Mayor, Alderman Sir Charles Johnston, presided in state. There were speeches by the General, General Mrs Booth, Brigadier Mary Murray and Captain Bramwell Taylor representing the 9 Salvationists who would man the cars as drivers and attendants. The General expressed how the money had been raised by small gifts from often the very poor and how the cars would convey Salvation principles of love, service and sacrifice; imbued with patriotism and an ambition to be of service to the wounded of any nationality. “These motors would work right up from the firing-line, and therefore the fine band of young men who had volunteered for this work knew that they would frequently be in danger themselves” (Brigadier Murray) (5) "Salvationists are a poor people. Their only riches consist in love and power to serve. Nevertheless, out of their scant means they contributed between three and four thousand pounds to the Prince of Wales Relief Fund, and also raised a further £2500 for the purchase and equipment of a Motor Ambulance Unit consisting of five cars. The unit is manned by Salvationists. It is no new thing to send ambulance brigades to the front at war time, but it is a new thing to see that they are all conducted by Christian men. The cars have splendidly stood the severe tests imposed upon them, and the men in charge have borne themselves so well that they have become known as 'The White Brigade.' No drinking, no smoking, no swearing amongst them; always on time and carrying out the orders of the medical staff with the utmost satisfaction, it is not to be wondered at that our officer in command of the unit was promoted to the charge of a section—with the management of twenty-five cars.” (Brigadier Carpenter) The nine Salvationists were named in the article above, so Fred Ireson must have gone to France after January 1915.

On 17th February 1915 “Queen Alexandra inspected at Marlborough House the six motor ambulances and motor lorry which the Salvation Army has presented to the nation. Her Majesty gave permission for the group of cars to be called “The Queen Alexandra Unit””. Gradually more were added until there were 30 ambulances and a complete section of drivers. They accommodated 4 stretchers or 8 sitting.

An eyewitness report by Sir F Treves on the work of the Red Cross ambulances in Boulogne (of which the Salvation Army unit was a part) was published in the Grey River Argus Newspaper in New Zealand, 24th December 1915: “The fleet of motor ambulances provided by the British Red Cross Society represents, in my opinion, the most valuable service ever rendered to the Army Medical Department in the form of (sic) voluntary aid. These ambulances are everywhere. The majority are working at the front in convoys of various sizes. They are perfectly organised and equipped, and are always at work. When they come down with patients they return with stores for the wounded. In the saving of life, in the lessening of suffering, and in the securing of prompt surgical treatment for the wounds these ambulances have done a good work the value of which can hardly be exaggerated. In Boulogne a number of our ambulances stand ready night and day for whatever transport may be required. Almost before the ambulance train from the front has pulled up at the platform our orderlies are at work. I saw a full train discharged, and can only say that I have never seen a convoy evacuated with such rapidity and precision. The wounded, who are taken off at once to the wards or to the hospital ship, fully appreciate the value of this speed transport, which is a revelation to those who have only seen horse or hand carriage in the removal of the sick.

On 28th March 1915 the New York Times carried a report from the London Morning Post by “St Q” a Red Cross ambulance driver based in Boulogne. When he first arrived in Boulogne harbour he witnessed “a long, double row of motor ambulances, khaki and green, standing, 150 of them, under the old Exhibition buildings…they never see the inside of a garage unless they break down.” As discussed above, the Boulogne Convoy had moved to the Quay Gambetta and the personnel were billeted in the Fishery Exhibition building. He recounted how the Red Cross had appealed for ambulances and funds and received both: “At first, all sorts of cars were taken, with all kinds of drivers, and sometimes the car went to pieces and sometimes the driver and once or twice both at once.” After a while, only the best vehicles and proven drivers were accepted and so many were being offered, they could afford to be selective. He states there to be 150 motor ambulances in Boulogne and 450 in the rest of the British sector of France. The Army Service Corps took responsibility for tyres and fuel and testing the vehicles, marking those that passed with “RA + a number” (this can be seen in the 2 photos above). This also meant the introduction of military ways such as drilling, saluting, army rations and duty hours of 7am-6pm or 9am-11pm with the latter often extended indefinitely. “The work is not hard if the car is in good condition, but the continual waiting about is very wearying.” A driver needed to know his vehicle and be ready to drive any other. The work rate varied with operations at the front but one day 3000 casualties were moved by ambulances; he saw 2 large ships filled and the hospitals around Boulogne half-emptied in 12 hours. He recalled, “Sometimes on an open road, sometimes in the middle of a convoy moving at 3 miles an hour, once or twice with twelve or thirteen people “up”, crawling along that 300 yards of holes leading to the bridge at Boulogne, the worst bit of pave I have ever met, fearing every jolt would break a spring or produce a groan from one of the stretcher cases.”

No. 7 Hospital Boulogne mentioned by “St Q” was the Hotel Christol, the Headquarters of the Red Cross, and known as “Allied Forces Base Hospital”. It was one of 17 hospitals in and around Boulogne, 10 regular and 7 voluntary under military control. At the Hotel Christol, there was 145 Red Cross staff. All Red Cross VADs arriving in France and going on leave reported to the Hotel, most requiring a meal and a bed – “a sort of hotel, except that nobody pays”. (10) No. 7 Hospital was based at Boulogne 23rd October, 1914-11th January 1915 and then moved to Etaples from August 1915.

Boulogne was clearly a hub of activity for the Red Cross and its Salvation Army Ambulance Section. In late 1915, the Sectional Officer, Adjutant WR Dalziel (in above picture of the row of ambulances) conceived the idea of the Salvation Army Ambulance Band with eight available bandsmen from the drivers and orderlies. It commenced its service with the rendering of “Australia” from the No.2 Band Book. Within a year there were 19 instruments and it played all of the Army’s music. It was recognised by the Church of England Padre and played at the Sunday morning Church Parades, accompanying the hymns and playing after the march back from the service. The Band also played at Hospitals and Salvation Army huts when formal duties allowed. Adjutant Dalziel was followed as head of the Band and Section by Lieut-General Bramwell Taylor (Bandmaster in the Band photos above). He developed the Band in the later years of the War and conducted it on its great Campaign at the close of hostilities. Moreover, General Bramwell Booth invited them to accompany him, where duties allowed, to hut meetings at the front.

Under the Colours magazine in July 1918 reported “Even more striking is the record of the unit’s aggressive Salvation fighting. The need for music was quickly realized, and a few instruments were secured, and out of the small beginning has developed a Combination which has gained for itself an all-round reputation worthy of the best Army Bands…Hundreds of thousands of men coming from and returning to “Blighty” have been cheered and blessed by the strains of music and in some of the Meetings the penitent-form victories have numbered more than one hundred. Added to this has been the work of playing to the wounded in the hospitals.”

“The Salvation Army was responsible for the formation of an excellent Band, and the influence of its members had a marked effect on the general tone of the personnel attached to the Garage.” It was reported that the first attempt for a service for the personnel was suggested by a Jew, supported by a Roman Catholic, conducted by a Salvation Army Section Leader with a mainly Church of England congregation.

The Salvation Army Ambulance Band was to have 2 reunion weekends, 23-24 April 1932 and July 21st-22nd 1945.

Fred Ireson did not return home until 1919 after touring the country with the Ambulance Band.

Band photos show him back in Wellingborough by July. It was described as the “Great Campaign”. There were 2 concerts a day and Fred “proved a very popular Euphonium soloist, one of his star pieces being “The Village Blacksmith” (“True till Death”)”. Fred Ireson was presented with his euphonium by General Bramwell Booth at the close of the Tour, carrying an inscription. In the 1970s it was in use by the Wellingborough Junior Band. In a letter to The Musician, 5th October 1985, a Mr Bruce Hobbs of Wellingborough stated that he played the instrument until “a few years ago” when it was replaced by a new one: “It was always a thrill to play this euphonium, with its inscription, etched on the bell, and it always reminded one of the principles of those gone before.”

Fred was Bandmaster at Wellingborough from 1900 until he retired in 1938, although remaining a member of the Band into the 1950s. He died in 1962, aged 81.

1 comment:

Guernseyliz said...

Do you have any photographs of Fred during the war? Only my late aunt had a postcard of a SA ambulance with it's driver, with a message signed "Fred" on the back. She was based in Boulogne in 1917/18.