Fellowship & Sacrifice: Hampstead and the First World War

3 July 2014

The upcoming exhibition, Fellowship & Sacrifice, will examine the impact of the First World War on Hampstead – but just how much fellowship and sacrifice was involved?

Despite an initial influx of army recruits, numbers began to dwindle by 1915 and the Government introduced the National Registration Act of July 1915, where all men aged 15-65 had to register their details. The Military Service Act of 1916 followed, meaning that all men aged 18-41 were compelled to enlist. The familiar poster depicting Field Marshal Kitchener stating, 'Your country needs you', springs to mind, but London Transport commissioned their own series of posters called London Memories, which, depicting idealised scenes of the city, were designed to promote patriotism and the urge to enlist. Hampstead Heath, complete with sheep, trees and green expanses, was pictured in one poster (which will be on display in the exhibition)  but the Heath would not have seemed so tranquil during war time.

Many local men joined battalions like the 'Hampstead Heavies' (138th Heavy Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery) who trained on Hampstead Heath along with many others. Anti-aircraft guns were stationed at Kenwood, to counter the aerial bombardment the German army began in 1915, killing many civilians. Although the cost of the war was high for civilians  with many women also risking their lives daily in munitions factories across the land – it was much higher for serving soldiers. Throughout the war, hundreds of thousands sacrificed their lives for their country. Those fortunate enough to survive their injuries may have recuperated in one of Hampstead’s military auxiliary hospitals, each run by a handful of trained medical staff and supported by Volunteer Aid Detachments. These VADs had been founded in 1909 by the War Office, Red Cross and the Order of St John to provide support to the Territorial Army medical service and many supported their local communities through volunteering at the outbreak of war. Local fundraising efforts helped to support these hospitals as well, and in an article from the British Journal of Nursing published in 1915, Sister Willes of Mount Vernon Hospital expressed gratitude to the local community for their help:

'... many of the residents of Hampstead have sent useful gifts... but she would be glad of some bed-tables on castors,
made to slide over the beds, and some flower-pots for the plants which decorate the wards.'

In Great Britain, life was changed irrevocably as the war catalysed social, political and military change. Despite, or because of, its horrific reality, communities came together and sacrificed their time, their money and their lives – invaluable contributions that Fellowship & Sacrifice seeks to touch on and commemorate.

Fellowship & Sacrifice: Hampstead and the First World War runs from Friday 18th July until Sunday 14th December.