George Rowles: The Great War & World War II

war effort by the Press Industry
War effort from the London Press Industry 1915

The Great War

George had been tramping it and wandering from ‘ship’ to ‘ship’ for nearly a decade when war broke out in 1914. He was called up to serve in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. After “many adventures on the Somme” he became a casualty in the early part of 1917. He spent twenty-four months in hospitals, mainly at Roehampton, riding in wheel chairs and having operations before being discharged from the army in 1919 with two artifical limbs, the words of his discharge papers endorsed:

“totally disabled.” (p44)

injured soldiers at the somme
Casualties, injured soldiers from the Somme, 1916.


How he lost both feet remains a mystery, it doesn’t make the front, side or back page. He does mention on a couple of occasions the difficulties he faced with menial tasks such as walking through hail, sleet and snow. He mentions also his ties with B.L.E.S.M.A. (The British Limbless Ex-Service Mans Association) It’s fair to say George didn’t allow his disability to get in the way.

Shortly after his discharge he tells how friends and ex-colleagues heard of his predicament and avenues open up for him, soon he was installed on the weekly Bioscope as editorial proof-reader. He took up freelance work when it was available and he enjoyed the atmosphere of the ship.

World War II

Later on in George’s memoirs he briefly mentions World War II and his “release” from governmental employment, in response to a letter he wrote to the World’s Press News Editor A.J. Heighway:

In 1944 I made a suggestion to the editor Arthur J Heighway for a new regular feature but it brought the reply that such a feature could not be undertaken during war, but would I like to join the staff and take charge of the printing and technical section?

This did not seem quite on the cards as I was then in Government employment at the Wealdtone works of H.M. Stationery Office and “release” for private employment did not seem likely.  (p207)

It was likely and it was fixed for George Rowles to join up with the World Press News with immediate effect. He stayed with them for ten golden years. It shows the importance of the Inky Way.

As London suffered in War,  Fleet Street became an obvious target during the Blitz. When the sounds of the air-raid sirens were heard then the Printing Trade like the rest of London would take cover. These raids could last hours and it was usually the reporters, journalist and Printers who would be the first to leave or the first to request to leave before the air-raids had passed. Rival Newspapers were also neighbours and some even shared the same shelters, so competition was also rife. Despite the eagerness to return to work in all conditions and be the first with the news it was never their decision, permission to re-start work had to come from the Imperial Father. (Head of the Chapel)

Winston Churchill inspecting bomb damage on the streets of Battersea, London, September 10th 1940.


Only the Imperial Father could give permission to leave the shelters and start work again during an air-raid. (p51)

The Imperial Father.

Imperial Father, lend thine aid

To those embarrassed by the raid.

With glances shrewd and judgement wise

Paternally inspect the skies–

For daring is the challenge hurled

by News we know “of the World”

Sub-editors thy edicts heed,

As colleagues of lesser breed;

Executives for vantage vie

To study thine appraising eye–

Oh, hear us, thou who gives hint

Which means

To print or not to Print!

By George Rowles.

If the story didn’t involve his trade then, the story didn’t make it into his memoirs.

Bibliography: Rowles, George. Chaps Among the Caps. Unpublished. Burnett Collection of Working-Class Autobiography, Special Collection, Brunel University Library, 1:600





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