Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: Second royal visit reveals scale of war numbers

Nostalgia: The King and Queen visiting the Army Ordnance Depot in Dewsbury on their second visit to the own in May 1918, the last months of the war. The women lined up outside sorted the rags.
Nostalgia: The King and Queen visiting the Army Ordnance Depot in Dewsbury on their second visit to the own in May 1918, the last months of the war. The women lined up outside sorted the rags.

Last week I wrote about the first Royal visit to Dewsbury in 1912 which was only of a 15 minute duration, and I reported how civic dignitaries had expressed disappointment that they had not been able to look round local mills.

They also asked if their Majesties would visit Dewsbury again - and they did four years later.

Dewsbury’s first Royal visit was in peace-time but sadly by the time they got round to visiting Dewsbury again in May 1918, the world was at war and millions of men had lost their lives.

On their first visit, the King had worn a light-coloured day suit, in keeping with the joyful occasion, and the Queen wore a large, flamboyant hat decorated with summer flowers.

But on their second visit in 1918, their attire was more subdued, with the King wearing his military uniform, and the Queen, in a plain grey costume and a simple touqet hat trimmed with violets.

The tour, which included other towns in the Heavy Woollen District, had been arranged for the purpose of inspecting the great work done by the woollen industry, and also to pay tribute to their war work.

They visited a number of local woollen mills, including Mark Oldroyds, Wormald’s and Walker and Messrs E Fox, shoddy manufacturers, all of which had been working day and night to keep up with the orders flooding in from the military.

For, not only were the mills of the Heavy Woollen District supplying blankets and uniforms to our own soldiers, but also to the armies of our allies.

In the first year of the war one order alone from the Russian Army was for a staggering one million blankets for their soldiers, an order which would be shared among mills in the West Riding, and Dewsbury would have received a huge share of this.

A second Royal visit in less than four years was seen as a tribute to the great work these mills and their employee were doing to aid the war effort.

The Royal couple arrived in Dewsbury by train and their first visit was to the Army Clothing Depot next door to the station where discarded uniforms collected on the various battlefields were sorted and repaired and made ready for re-issue.

Their second visit was to Messrs Ephraim Fox and Sons, Calder Bank Mills, where they were introduced to the intricacies of the shoddy industry, which was also playing a huge part in the war effort.

From there, they proceeded to the huge blanket concern, of Wormald’s and Walker, Thornhill Lees, where they saw blankets in various stages of manufacture - blankets for all purposes, civilian as well as military.

Following a visit to the Town Hall, their Majesties then proceeded to Mark Oldroyd’s Spinkwell Mills in Halifax Road, which, by coincidence was celebrating its centenary that year, and there they toured the factory, spoke to employees and partook of lunch.

Major F H Chalkley, Chief Army Ordnance Officer, conducted the Royal party to the Army Clothing Depot situated at the far end of the station yard, and as they passed through the gates, they were greeted very cheerily by the female employees of that service.

The women had formed an avenue to the sheds, and it was reported that they looked “exceedingly neat, clean and smart in their overalls and caps of khaki.”

The King and Queen passed into the huge sheds where the rag sorting was done, and here large numbers of women, similarly clad as their colleagues outside, were at work, dealing with the discarded uniforms just as they had come from the battlefields.

The Queen showed much interest in the work these women were doing, particularly in those women packing the bales, it being necessary for them to tread the material down to do this work.

She also showed great interest in the button department where large numbers of the younger girls were engaged

Here the Queen had a pleasant surprise when Miss Maggie Horbury, aged 13, presented her with a bouquet of red roses.

During the visit, the King expressed surprise that not one of those who dealing first-hand sorting the materials from the battlefields, had suffered any infection.

The Army Clothing Salvage Depot at Dewsbury was set up in the second year of the First World War to deal with worn out clothing from the troops in France, Egypt, Salonika and various other Fronts, and also from troops in the United Kingdom.

The following gives some idea of the extent of operations at this depot since June 1916, when the scheme was commenced up to June 1918: Tonnage received and dealt with - 35,000 tons; approximate value of tonnage in stock, £228,970; total value sales £2,327,218.

The total number of garments of all descriptions received was 50,000,000, including, 6,300,000 jackets, 6,500,000 trousers, 920,000 great coats, 1,450,000 pairs of riding breeches, 4,250,000 pairs of puttees, 5,430,000 jackets, 13,500.000 pairs of socks, 3,950,000 pairs of drawers, 2,750,000 caps and 2,245,000 cardigans jackets.

There were also another nine million various other items of clothing and articles sorted at the depot, and the total number of buttons salvaged was a staggering 50 million.

From the above, many garments were found to be fit for further use by the troops, and these were picked out and sent to the cleaners, and from there to the Ravensthorpe part-worn clothing repair factory to be repaired. Over 18,000 garments per week were being repaired there.

The staff employed at the Army Salvage Depot included 649 civilian female employees, 10 civilian male employees, besides a number of Army Ordnance Depot officers and men of the Army Ordnance Corps.

Reading through the above statistics one gets closer to the men who served - and died - in the First World War than many of the other statistics we will be introduced to at this time.

It gives us some idea of the staggering number of men involved in the war world-wide, and the price we put on their discarded uniforms.

I cried when I first read them - but I made myself read them again, and I also felt duty bound to include them in this article.

Melancholy statistics which say so much about the futility of war.