Information below has been contributed to the Virtual Museusm by local historians and volunteer researchers
Alex J Philip - Borough Librarian
Christoph Bull, District Manager of Gravesham Libraries 2004 – 2013 and local historian, has kindly researched the renowned Borough Librarian Alex J Philip and his role during the First World War.
On appointment in 1903, Philip was the youngest Chief Librarian in the county, he went on to become a figure of great importance within the borough which led to him being tasked with a number of official war duties. After the war he was awarded an MBE.
He stopped Gravesend Corporation closing Gravesend Library during WWI (they wanted to save rates for war effort – but the library provided ordinary people with the means to read newspapers, magazines and books to keep up their morale on the home front).
In 1917 all books in German or written by German authors were ordered to be removed from Gravesend Library’s shelves
By 1915 A J Philip was the Borough organiser of Air Raid watches (Actual title was Special Constable in Control) – he reported that 10 shelters were in the town and most of the town covered by patrols of volunteers. Where there were no patrols residents were informed, told not to panic and stay indoors in the event of a raid by a Zeppelin or aircraft. The Air raid watch was divided into 5 sections, later reduced to 4 – under a General Section Leader who was elected to work with 4 section leaders – this had 80 to 90 patrols – each with 9 people, later reduced to 4 men on duty which reduced the time each person was on duty to one night in every three weeks.
A J Philip was allowed £5 allowance for expenditure - and within a week of starting the patrols had 2970 men volunteers. Each patrolman had a white armlet 1 inch wide, they issued leaflets of instructions to each household with advice e.g. hide under stairs or put strongest table in a corner formed by two walls and cover this with a blanket. Patrols were to knock at each house as soon as the lights were put out in the street – houses also had to blackout lights. The Zeppelins were slow moving so gave a patrol time to give door to door warnings.
A J Philip worked at Section HQ nightly until 2 or 3am which caused him health problems. HQ not specified but probably his office in Gravesend Library. In 1917 he was called upon to organise Food Control in Gravesend because the Zeppelin patrols had worked so well. Pig Club begun by Food Control Office to encourage home produced food (based in stables in Manor Road). Sugar was first item to be rationed. Jam making in Manor Road by Food Control Committee was a great success
He informed the military that a house in Pelham Road was sending light signals to the German aircraft and Zeppelins – these were suppressed but there was never an attempt to translate these signals which might have been meaningless.
Meat rationed later in 1917 – He nearly died as result of freezing in a lorry load of frozen lamb which was delivered to be sorted out one night. He suffered a lot of problems with publicans and butchers over rationing, watering down beer and the quality of meat, many butchers and publicans wanted to kill him – Gravesend Police issued him with an automatic pistol and told to avoid the older parts of town after dark. One butcher – Ibbotson – tried to blackmail A J Philip – he failed and was heavily fined. A J Philip came up with idea of weighing food coupons instead of counting them – this saved time and was later adopted nationally by other local authorities.
He was a very important man in both World Wars and his library skills made him a very able administrator - but Allied propaganda distorted even his mind – in his memoirs he writes,
“I am against killing people, but it is alright to kill Germans”.
A chilling example of how even intelligent people are taken in by lies, half-truths and censored information.
On Christmas Day, 1901, Kate Harvey was given an empty album by her father. Fifteen years later, she was working at Gravesend Hospital when the First World War broke out, and she took the album with her.
Over the course of four years, wounded soldiers came in fresh from the battlefield, either to recover and walk out or to spend their final moments there. Some shared their thoughts, by way of cartoons, poems, pictures or verses; others wrote a simple “thank you”.
A Grateful Soldier: Nurse Harvey is the one I recommend, she does her duty at Gravesend, Twas her I saw to tell my pain, And she relieved me of the same, Tis nice to see her smiling face, So gentle and so full of grace
Sapper M Brocklehurst, Royal Engineers.
A Soldier’s Wish: I am far from Ypres I long to be, Where German snipers can’t get at me, Think of me crouching where the worms creep, Waiting for someone to sing me to sleep, Pte W G Bloom, 19th Canadians, wounded in Ypres on July 25th 1916. Born March 25, 1986 he entered the army in Toronto in July 1915. A year later he was injured in Ypres and brought to Gravesend where he stayed until December 1916. He died in 1977.
As the years went by, Kate added many of these tokens to her album. The entries share an insight into the thoughts and feelings of those soldiers, who came from all over the British Empire – Canada and Australia, as well as Britain and Ireland – and found themselves in the Tingey ward in Gravesend Hospital.
Not much is known about Kate, but her album has survived the 95 years since the war ended, and is now in the hands of Mike Cross, who lives in Oxfordshire.
Information taken from Gravesend Reporter - November, 9th, 2012 and the web site A Nurse’s Great War Album