The principal role of the monthly parish magazine was, of course, to support the church’s religious mission, but the First World War brought inconveniences and calamities that the magazine could not ignore. As part of the Heritage Lottery-funded “Remembering Herne Hill 1914-18” project we have been able to track the effects of the conflict on parishioners from its outbreak to the Armistice (with help from churchwarden Leigh Whittingham and administrator Derek Gibson).
The war seemed to come as little surprise, but it is impressive how quickly the church responded. By order of the War Office, the Church Lads’ Brigade had to spring immediately into action: guarding the railway between Herne Hill and Penge, including the tunnel! It may seem ironic that at a time of ill feeling against anyone with a German-sounding name that Captain Harry Alex Schmidt, of 113 Herne Hill, was in charge of the Brigade. In his parish letter of October 1914, the Vicar (Revd H.P. Lindsay) was eager to report:
“We are proud of Herne Hill and of the magnificent response of the men in our parish to the call of arms by our King and Country in this hour of great national peril.
“Captain Schmidt, to whose ability and unfailing devotion we owe so much for maintaining the high military efficiency of our CLB, has been gazetted to a commission in HM Army Service Corps. The War Office pay a fine tribute to his special fitness by placing him at once above subaltern rank.”
There were, in fact, many people of German origin living in the Herne Hill area before the First World War — some well to do, some less so. Following news of the sinking of the R.M.S. Lusitania by a torpedo from a German submarine in May 1915, several German-owned businesses were attacked, including the baker’s shop and home of Henry William Hahn at 51 Hinton Road. Mr Hahn and his wife were German, although their three children, Helene, Eric and Gladys, were all born in Lambeth H. Munnich’s shop also had its windows broken.
Bertha Burgess, in Milkwood Estate, (published by the Herne Hill Society but out of print) recalled: “There was a baker’s shop in Milkwood Road that was owned by a German. When the First World War was declared people broke into the shop, took the loaves and kicked them along the road.”
But already in December 1914 the parish magazine had contained, perhaps, an indirect reference to such xenophobia:
“Mrs Schultze feels, I regret to say, that she must resign the charge of the Mothers’ Meeting at the end of the year. She and her daughter have devoted themselves to the members with loving care and the parting will be keenly felt by all as a personal loss.”
Mrs Schultze was a Englishwoman, Caroline, who had married a German-born merchant called William Schultze. Their son Theo (Wilhelm Ernst Theodor) attempted to enlist as soon as war was declared, but was exempted because of his role working in exports. He finally enlisted in the Queen’s Westminster Rifles in January 1916. That July he went to France and spent the next two months serving on the Somme. On 7 September he was killed by shrapnel from a shell blast.
As for Harry Schmidt, in October 1915 he was promoted to Major on active service in France. He survived the war. But the family changed their name to Smythe …