“The Boer War was on during the early years and everyone was consumed with emotion because of the troops besieged in Ladysmith. One only had to mention Ladysmith to bring out the patriotic fervour in all the men especially in the pubs.” (p.41).
Spending his early childhood alongside the outbreak of the Boer War, in which his father served, the influence of the patriotism and war had a strong effect on Frederick growing up. Being from Portsmouth also meant that he was very familiar with the naval and sailor culture that was very ingrained in the city.
Patriotism was at an all-time high during this era, and Frederick recalls watching a theatre show about the Boer war which reduced him to tears from proudness, despite only being a young boy who perhaps does not completely understand: ‘I thought the Boer War was a very wicked thing, for whereas all the British soldiers had been wounded not one Boer seemed to have the slightest scratch’ (p.42). The show in question consisted of British soldiers facing the Boers, the latter being ‘superior in numbers, superior in ugliness and superior in face fungus’. However, the Britons were supported by a beautiful Britannia and a red cross nurse. Britannia sang ‘Rule Britannia’ and the Boers ‘melted away in abject confusion’. Not only does this portray the level of propaganda and patriotism within the media, but the effects of the war were embedded into the Portsmouth culture. Dawson, (1997) explains how in the late nineteenth century ‘heroic masculinity became fused in an especially potent configuration with representations of British imperial identity. This linked together the new imperialist patriotism, the virtues of manhood and war as its ultimate test and opportunity’ (p.1.), and this concept is evident here.
One of my relatives lifted me up onto his shoulders as the procession passed our front door. [..] As the marchers went along they sang their songs, ‘Goodbye, Dolly Grey’ ‘Sons of the Sea’ and other heart-warming sonnets. And one I still remember was:
Lord Roberts and Kitchener
General Buller and White
They’ve all gone off to the Transval
To show the Boers how to fight
And when the war’s over
We will be happy to see
The flag will fly over Pretoria
And Kruger will swing on a tree
And my heart tingled with patriotism when I heard it. (p.43)
A considerable part of Frederick’s memoir focusses on the relief of Ladysmith, and Frederick talks about how everyone went ‘frantic’ when the news was announced. ‘A torchlight procession formed up at the Guildhall, marched along Commercial Road down Victoria Street along Baker Street up Princes Street into the Commercial Road again and went on all night’ (p.43) Frederick remembers the songs, the chants and the happiness of that time, linking the memory to his family and his home.
He explains how some men stayed drunk for days, and that at the Admiral Drake ‘they ran out of beer on the second day and their “on tick” slate was full to overflowing.’ (p.44). Being a naval city, the relief of Ladysmith had an almost personal effect on the city, again something which stayed with Frederick for the rest of his life. He joined the army as soon as he could, so the patriotism and the propaganda filled era strongly shaped his life.
The Commercial Road in those days was a sea of navy blue on pay days when big battleships returned to port. The sailors seemed to spend their evenings in particular (and during the daytime, frequently, because the pubs were open nearly all day) walking up and down Commercial Road and beyond, in and out of pubs or in Aggie Weston’s Sailors Home if they were obstenious [sic] or broke, until midnight. (p.17)
Not only did the navy play a huge part in the lives of Portsmouth locals, but the Sailor culture that came with it was very much a part of the city. Throughout the memoir, Frederick repeatedly makes references to the sailors, be it from his Grandmothers shop, his Grandfathers Pub The Admiral Drake, or even his schooling.
Sailors used to come into the shop on their way back to their ships buying a pound of this and a pound of that, not being sober enough to know what they were buying and not knowing if they had the money to pay for what they bought (p.23)
Frederick humorously remembers the way in which the ‘judicial’ patrols would deal with the drunken sailors, carrying those that had lost their senses horizontally across their shoulders back to the ship. The sailor in question would usually fall asleep, and Frederick likened their journey back to the ship as ‘a present-day coffin disappearing behind the curtains at a crematorium’. (p.17) The sailors, however, tried to avoid being found by the patrols under concerns that they would take their remaining money. They preferred to look out for each other as shipmates, in which case they could balance out their debts to each other in the next morning. If the sailors were in a dangerous state, the police would carry them on a stretcher to the station. This appeared to be quite a common sight, as Frederick remarks that during the Lord’s Prayer in school that he and his friends would recite ‘Lead us not to the copper station’ instead of ‘lead us not into temptation’ in reference to this; something he considered at the time ‘quite sensible’.
Frederick’s early experiences of the war, such as the above, offer an insight into the other side of the war, the side that the families left behind experienced. Looking at the culture that war brought from a child’s point of view is fascinating, seeing a corrupt concept in an innocent way. The patriotism and pride that a young Frederick felt emits strongly through his writing, particularly in these memories.
Please have a read of Part One of this post for Frederick’s family habits and culture, including their love for music!
Dawson, G, (1994). Soldier Heroes: British Adventure, Empire and the Imagining of Masculinities. London: Routledge
Elliott, I (2018) Hannan. Dora R. ‘Those Happy Highways: An Autobiography’[blog] available at http://www.writinglives.org/category/dora-r-hannan
Patriachal Cartoon. (1902). [image] Available at: https://www.youthdebates.org/t/propaganda-images-thread/111011/7
Rowlandson, T. (1814). Portsmouth Point. [Hand Coloured Etching] London: British Museum.
Yarwood, D. (n.d.). Portsmouth Harbour, HMS Excellent. [Oil on Canvas] Royal Navy Trophy Centre.
Worthington, P (2013) Chase, Alice Maud ‘ The Memoirs of Alice Maud Chase’ [blog] available at: http://www.writinglives.org/category/alice-maud-chase
Wynne, Frederick Charles. ‘Old Pompey and Other Places’. Burnett Archive of Working class Autobiographies. Brunel University Library. Special Collection, 2:08