Interest has been aroused over the history of the War Memorial located in the churchyard of St Peter’s Church, Dulwich Common and which was awarded a grant of £7000 for its restoration by the Dulwich Community Council. The work was carried out this summer. An earlier more modest restoration was made a few years ago on the initiative of local resident Mike Dudding.
The memorial takes the form of a flagstaff surmounted on a stone plinth which is inscribed
WHO DIED IN WAR
DULWICH VOLUNTEER BATTALION
So what was the Dulwich Volunteer Battalion?
A search of the archives of St Peter’s Church, now in the custody of St Clement’s Church, Friern Road gives some clues, but alas the Minute Books and Parish Magazines from the Great War period are missing. What the parish magazine of April1925 tells us is that the vicar, the Rev Arthur Herbert Knott was installed at St Peter’s in September 1914 and organised Sunday morning open air services for the 1/12 County of London Volunteers (The Rangers) which were held in the grounds on Dulwich Common. “He was a great comfort to all who had relatives at the Front and although he spoke plainly with regard to the seriousness of the German menace and did not minimise the danger which threatened the country, he never once lost hope and was always confident of victory.”
The Rev Knott had been an assistant master at Alleyn’s School from 1888-99 and was also curate at St Barnabas from 1892-99. From 1898-1903 he was an evening lecturer at King’s College, London.
Although St Peter’s already had its own wooden war memorial, commemorating those who died in the war installed in the church (see below), on Armistice Day, November 8th 1925 the parish decided to commemorate the day by holding a service beside the Flagstaff of ‘the disbanded Dulwich Volunteer Battalion which the Battalion did us the honour to hand over to our safe keeping, a short service in memory of those among them who died in the Great War’.
Further evidence of the Battalion’s existence has been found in the Alleyn’s Estate Governors’ Minutes October 1914 when the governors received a letter from a local resident, Dr Batten on behalf of the Dulwich and Sydenham Golf Club in which he stated that ‘it is proposed by members of the Golf Club, who have formed a Training Corps affiliated to the National Defence League, to construct and use, with the consent of the Estates Governors, an outdoor miniature rifle range of fifty yards, on a lower part of the ground where it would be out of the way of golf. Dr Batten stated that the range would be constructed in accordance with the regulations of the War Office and would be certified as safe by the authority before being opened for use.’
In the archives of Southwark Local Studies Library there is a leaflet issued by 1st Battalion Dulwich Volunteers (South London Regiment) (Late Dulwich Defence League) dated 3 June 1915.
This Volunteer Battalion, the first of its kind, was formed almost immediately after the outbreak of the War. Its two objects were:- to encourage recruiting for the Regular Army, and to train its own members to take part, if necessary, in the defence and protection of our Country.
Recruiting has been encouraged by the personal efforts of its members, and by the exhibition and publication of posters, and already 62 of the Battalion have enlisted.
From the beginning drilling has gone on steadily and continuously, and the Battalion has earned the approbation of the inspecting officer, Sir Desmond O’Callaghan KCVO for its efficiency; and now the call has come to do more actively useful work.
The Battalion has been asked to maintain an armed guard, night and day, at Dulwich Fire Station, and further, in case of a Zeppelin raid, to set similar guards at each of the 31 fire alarm calls in the district. This is probably the first of many public services which the Battalion will be asked to undertake and will willingly perform.
It is in order that these services may be adequately carried out, that the Committee are making this appeal to residents of the district; and they do so the more confidently because members of the Battalion have already subscribed over ONE THOUSAND POUNDS towards getting themselves properly drilled and trained in shooting, and providing themselves with uniforms. An average of 7,000 rounds per week has been fired at the indoor range, besides the amount now being used at the outdoor range, recently opened by the Dulwich and Sydenham Golf Club.
The cost of fitting out a man with a rifle and ammunition will be approximately three guineas, and the Committee feel sure they may safely appeal to the people of Dulwich and the district to subscribe the FIVE HUNDRED pounds which is needed to assist in arming a portion of the Battalion to enable it to perform the duties which it has been asked to undertake, or any other duty which may be demanded of it. The Committee of the 1st Battalion Dulwich Volunteers appeal confidently, because it is a local battalion, because its first work is helping to secure the safety of the locality, and because of the continued sacrifice of its members who have given, and are giving, time and money, and have spared no pains to make themselves efficient and to be ready.’
The leaflet bears the names of the Commandant, Col. F. Campbell CB, VD of ‘Airds’, Crescent Wood Road, Sydenham Hill, the President, J R Manning, Brunswick House, London Road, Forest Hill and the Chairman, Dr G B Batten, 2 Underhill Road, East Dulwich.
The subsequent history of the Battalion is unknown although one source (East Dulwich Forum blogger Jaytyger) says that the Dulwich & District Athletic Association became the Dulwich Defence League and that the idea originated at a meeting held at Lordship Lane Hall in September 1914 co-chaired by the Dulwich MP Col Fred Hall. As the battalion grew it formed a cyclist company, signalling company and later a boys’ corps for pre-enlistment age. The battalion had a band which played across the borough raising funds for wounded servicemen
The last piece of evidence found so far is a press cutting from the South London Observer & Camberwell & Peckham Times June 1920;
The Dulwich Volunteer Battalion are handing over to the custody of St Peter’s Church, Dulwich Common, their last piece of corporate property, the Headquarters Flagstaff, presented to the Corps by Private Campbell , now H.B.M Vice-Consul of Java, brother of the Mystery Ship VC and son of the first Commandant. The flagstaff has been set in a ferro-concrete base designed by the Engineer officer to the Corps Lieut Geo. Sutton and occupies a prominent position at the junction of Lordship Lane and Dulwich Common from whence the Battalion often marched off to its various duties. The ceremony of transfer will be conducted by the Rev Arthur Knott, the Vicar at 10.45am tomorrow (Sunday) and it is hoped that all old members who can will make a point of attending, officers in uniform if possible.
It would therefore appear that the Dulwich Volunteers were formed immediately after the outbreak of the Great War with its Orderly Room in shop premises at 513 Lordship Lane (now the Veterinary Surgery) with its Headquarters in Lordship Lane Hall in Wood Vale. The common connection between its founders was membership of the Dulwich & Sydenham Golf Club and the Dulwich & District Athletics Club. Probably through another connection with one of its staff officers it may have been a conduit for recruitment into the 1/12 County of London Regiment (The Rangers) which had its headquarters at Holborn. The Rangers may have been made up largely of office workers some of whom must have lived in the Dulwich area. The 1/12 was formed in August 1914. In 1916 they became part of the famous 56th Division and in 1917 fought at Arras, Ypres and Passchendale.
The cap badge illustrated was found a few years ago on the allotments, near the Golf Club in Grange Lane. It is probably the badge of a member of A Company, Dulwich & District Defence League, later the Dulwich Volunteer Battalion.
The Dulwich Volunteers were clearly a successful unit and a fore-runner of the Local Defence Volunteers (the Home Guard ) of World War 11. The erection of memorials to the Fallen became a customary after the war ended and the names of those killed might well be replicated on parish, school or company memorials. At a parish level, appeals for names of local casualties were made by the parish priest and a list opened. A memorial might take the form of a carved tablet bearing the names of the fallen inside the church, as was the case of St Peter’s which was dedicated on 4 July 1920, just a few weeks after that of the Dulwich Volunteers. The St Peter’s memorial listed the names of 51 local men. Alternatively it might be a stone memorial in the churchyard as the case of St Stephen’s, College Road which bears the names of 36 local men.