Letters of the First World War: “Terrible goings on”

Stephen Brown's letter home from the army, sent in November 1914. Image © IWM (Documents.145); Text © Brown family c/o IWM

Stephen Brown’s letter home from the army, sent in November 1914. Image © IWM (Documents.145); Text © Brown family c/o IWM

Rifleman Stephen Brown, 17, wrote a fourth letter to his mother from his barracks in Sheerness, as he waited to be deployed to the front in the autumn of 1914.

If you’ve been following along, you’ll know that we’ve been blogging Stephen’s letters to his mother in sequence on Wednesdays.

In this letter, Stephen talks of receiving the cigarettes his mother has sent him, tells her he finally has a date for when he will leave for the front, and encourages her not to be afraid.

He is still conscientious about sending his pay home, and describes how his unit helped with a firefighting incident.

After his battalion in the King’s Royal Rifles moved to Sheerness, Stephen was due to be sent as part of a draft with battalions that had returned from India to Britain. Eventually they would all join the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France.

As his departure looms, Stephen appears cheerful and positive.

Transcript of Stephen’s fourth letter

“Dear Mother

I hear there has been some terrible goings on down in the high street

Just a line to you know that I got the fags on Teusday I thank you very much for sending them we can get some down here when we can get out I have heard [?] they have stopped the week end passes as there are a lot of absences, but I shall ask the Captain for permission to come on pass we are going to the front on the 19 of November dear mother do not worry about me for by God help I shall come home

well Give my love to Lillie Kitty and Fredie and tell him I will come and see him bye and bye [sic] you will receive 3/0 shilling from me and the same from the war office which will make six alltogether [sic] give my love to all there is no need to put stamp on the letter you send put O H M S on it and it will come for nothing there was a big fire down here last night and they called us out at 3.30 in the morning to help keep the crowd back when we go on gaurd [sic] the people give us cocoa tea and something to eat

I hear there has been some terrible goings on down in the high street write and let me know when you get the allowance this is all at present so goodbye

from
your
loving
son

Steve

dont forget the reg no 4801 would be glad for more fags
give love to all”

A riot in Deptford

What happened back home on the high street? Stephen’s family home was in Deptford, South London.

We know that in October 1914, anti-German public feeling erupted on Deptford High Street. The Daily Mirror reported a ‘mob’ attacking businesses owned by German shopkeepers and looting the area.

Eventually the military had to be called in to restore order. Perhaps this is what Stephen is referring to when he talks about ‘terrible goings on’.

Exploring Stephen’s story

It is not long now until the public launch of Lives of the First World War, when we will invite you to contribute what you know to help us uncover millions of First World War stories like Stephen’s.

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