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Tomkinson
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Attached is a photo postcard from my great Grandfather's collection showing a group of 'chippies' involved in the construction of a camp, possibly near Canterbury in about 1917.

The men would have been involved in general construction and flooring for the marquees shown behind them.

The work undertaken to support the front line troops and especially in training camps all over the UK should not be forgotten.

Cheers

Mike Tomkinson

Bradford

post-43296-1234179848.jpg

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Nice photo Mike. You are right and the marquees did not put themselves up either. There would likely be some brick ovens built for cooks and baths etc. Drainage installed for run off, all skilled work. The problem was persuading the public that this work was essential and also, in the early days, persuading the men that their biggest contribution to the war effort would be at home.

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Early in the war there was a great deal of controversy about the attitude of workers constructing the new camps on Salisbury Plain. When war broke out, a carpenter's pay was 7 1/2d an hour; by December 1914 this had risen to 10 1/2d. A labourer's peacetime pay of 4d or 5d an hour had increased to 6 1/2d. With Sunday work, a carpenter was receiving £3 a week, a labourer 35s, plus free accommodation and bedding. Recruitment posters were offering single men starting pay in the Army of 7s a week. When the 7th Wiltshire arrived at Sutton Veny in the spring of 1915, there was much discussion and discontent after they discovered that the civilians building the huts there were receiving such high pay; the soldiers thought it grossly unfair that "shirkers" should be so much better treated than men who had enlisted voluntarily.

In February 1915, some of the 15,000 or so workers employed by Sir John Jackson Ltd in the Warminster and Larkhill areas went on strike, wanting full pay when unable to work during wet weather, instead of the quarter-day's pay they received if they stood by until breakfast and were still unable to work. Sir John visited the camps and told his men to "take it or leave it". Many chose to "leave it" and quit the district and were replaced, others returned to work.

On September 22, 1915 The Times published an article by a correspondent who had visited the Wiltshire camps: "Nowhere in the country could the virtues of economy and national organization be more urgently required than in this district," he complained, continuing: "if one-half the stories I have heard of idleness and a determination to make an easy and well-paid job last as long as possible are true, then the labour engaged has remained unsatisfactory, and because of its inefficiency has been woefully expensive to the country.

Anger in the villages is all the keener because the worst slackness has been observed among unmarried men of military age. There were recently at work in one locality 3,000 men of whom it was estimated that 1,300 might have enlisted. Among a considerable section of them laziness seems to have been developedinto an art, and any display of energy by a newcomer to the gangs has been resented...

A farmer upon whose land many of the huts have been erected told me that the men engaged on the job were lazy in the extreme. It was quite a common practice among them to turn up for work an hour and more after the whistle had gone. "I could not tell you," he added, "how many times I have seen them asleep under the hedges when they were supposed to be working ... Owing to the scarcity of labour, too, they don't care very much for the foreman. Half-a-dozen men were discovered taking a nap one day, and when they were hauled from the hedge-bottom they said they were tired and had done enough. The matter was overlooked.

Another farmer told me of two carpenters from Scotland who were heard to say, "England's a grand place. They give you all day to do an hour's work here, and you get a handful of money for doing it." A labourer remarked that the war was the best thing that ever happened and the Kaiser was the best friend they had. A farm hand disagreed with him and knocked him down...

A number of unmarried youths hanging around an uncompleted hut were asked why they did not enlist. Their reply was, "Let the married men go and fight. They've got something to fight for and we haven't, and we're not going to chuck up good pay and an easy job."

A few days later, "Rusticus", writing to The Times “from "Edge of Salisbury Plain", added that men ready to do their ordinary amount of work had been told (by their less industrious colleagues) that if they meant to carry on like that they had better go home. One boy, earning 38s 2d a week, bragged that he didn't do 1s worth of work a day. Another, aged 16, was being paid 48s a week.

Some postcards of camp construction workers in early 1915 show them behind placards bearing the words "OHMS”, probably reflecting their awareness of criticism they had attracted; perhaps they wished to remind people that they too were on Government work. In late 1914 these letters had frequently appeared in place of registration numbers on vehicles used by camp construction workers, their drivers apparently believing this meant they need not observe speed limits or use lights at night. The Home Office confirmed that the substitution of "OHMS" for registration numbers was completely unauthorised.

Moonraker

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The fairest answer to the problem of labour and enlistment was conscription. Of course, eventually it was applied. Until then, this was a free market for labour and the men would have been fools not to go for the highest wage on offer. I wonder how much the farmer charged for the land the huts were standing on? We are afforded a small glimpse of the alienation a lot of men felt for the government of the day. None of the young men questioned would have had a vote ar any real prospect of one for a long time, if ever.

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Not forgetting the civilian workmen who were employed in France, building accommodation, stables, hospitals ect. A number of British firms had War Office contracts and sent their own men out. One of those companies was Robert McAlpine; McAlpine himself qualifying for the British War Medal. There were also civilian railway construction units.

TR

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Guest KevinEndon

Nor the Irish who built the ammunitions factory in record time at Gretna, every one who died whilst in construction deserved to have CWGC recognition

K

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Sir John Jackson Ltd were the subject of disputes well before WW1, they were a very large Government contractor and there are quite a few questions raised in parliement about their practices and below average pay.

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This thread has indeed become an interesting sub-topic!

I think it is worth remembering that, despite the sacrifices of many of the early volunteers, a good deal of male workers in the UK held back from enlisting. For some, the economic boom and the sudden demand for their services (the boot manufacturers in Northampton, for instance), meant that a predicted boost to otherwise sporadic incomes, combined with the much-heralded prediction for an early decisive end to the conflict, meant that enlistment was a decidedly second choice to remaining in civilian employment. Others, such as agricultural workers (many of whom might have been particularly disgruntled at the Army's requisitioning of horses at or around harvest-time) also refused to enlist. Despite the facts that the enlistment rates were (nationally) vaguely 'normal' amongst farm workers compared with employees engaged in other industries this response was decidedly regionalised. The rural nature of many remote communities meant that many held back due to a realisation that their departure from the family smallholding might have grave consequences for the income and viable survival of their own families. Though I appreciate that pals can come back to this comment with plenty of examples where this WASN'T the case, I hope that we can all be objective enough about the Great War to recognise and appreciate the fact that human responses are rarely completely uniform; acknowledgment of this is, to me, as important as demonstrating respect for those who served, suffered or fell on the actual field of battle

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Agricultural workers faced a particular problem. A large percentage lived in tied accommodation. If the man joined the army, where would his wife and family live? With the best will in the world, the farmer would need that house for his replacement. Some food and accommodation were part of the normal farm worker's remuneration. An experienced horseman was being asked to give up his home and a reasonable wage for a pittance while he fought.

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Very true;

for many in the more remote comunities enlistment in the Army, or in any other aspect of what may be termed 'national service' was a totally alien, and therefore irrelevant, concept. The necessity to work within the family unit, and the family unit had an undoubted knock-on effect with regard to rural parish life as well (which brings into the discussion an altogether different topic!) must have made many young men feel that a distant war, serving with people with strange accents and hailing from places they'd never even heard of, was so irrelevent and alien to their normal existence that early volunteering was simply not considered. This is not a comment on the bravery or otherwise of the 14-18 generation but, again, is a fact that those of us that choose to study the War have to bear in mind

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We may have wondered off the main topic here but the thrust is worth maintaining.

We are all well aware that at the outbreak of the war we see those pictures and newsreels of the day showing thousands flocking to join up and do their patriotic duty for King and Country.

Obviously it did happen but to an extent it must also have been propaganda designed to make those who did not join up immediately do so.

That famous poster of Kitchener, although it came later in the War was not designed other than to attract recruits.

Whether there was a divide between Town and Country in terms of recruitment is hard to say and worthy of more research.

There is probably no hard and fast rule as to which group of workers did what and when in terms of when they joined up and/or were conscripted.

2 of my great Grandfathers were in from 1914 and both came from a northern industrial background.

Cheers

Mike Tomkinson

Bradford

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There was an inquiry into Sir John Jackson Ltd and their practices

168. Allegations against Sir John Jackson, Limited 1916-17

App. c.l6 Nov 1916. Rep. 30 March 1917: 1917-18, Cd.8518, xv, 189.

Sir A.M. Channell; Sir F. Crisp; Sir A.R. Stenning.

Secretary: H.G. Bushe.

To inquire into the allegations made against Sir John Jackson Limited in the second report of the Public Accounts Committee (115, 8 Aug 1916).

Sir J. Jackson MP was head of one of the largest public works contractors of the time, which had undertaken work for British and foreign governments. The Royal Commission had been requested by Jackson following the publication of the Public Accounts Committee report which suggested that he had abused his position by offering to erect army huts without profit in order to obtain an inordinate amount of commission for later work. The Commission's report exonerated Sir John or his company from having brought about a situation in which they could demand large payments, since the government could have placed subsequent work with another contractor, but concluded that the amount claimed for the later work was excessive and inconsistent with his earlier profession of patriotic motives.

From: 'List of commissions and officials: 1910-1919 (nos. 146-174)', Office-Holders in Modern Britain: Volume 10: Officials of Royal Commissions of Inquiry 1870-1939 (1995), pp. 57-69. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=16608

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In January 1915 the Marquess of Bath and three JPs complained to the War Office that Sir John Jackson's work on the camps "was not adequate to the money paid"; Sir John's initial response was to accuse some of his workforce of "idleness". His camp contracts brought him £800,000 from the War Office in commission and expenses.

A telling comment on Sir John Jackson from the Public Accounts Committee was that "his career as a successful contractor making large profits on work requiring large capital and with some risks which finally seem never in his case to have led to disaster, seems to have given him an altogether inflated idea of the market value of the services … rendered under different circumstances, which involved no risk whatever".

Prewar, Sir John's company had developed the Plymouth dockyards, extracting shingle offshore from Hallsands; this was blamed for the village's destruction in a storm of 1917.

Moonraker

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im a `chippie` myself and have taken an interest in this thread

i should think that the published stories re shirking on this thread are nothing but nonsense in the main...

they might be sleeping in hedgerows yes ,but probably because they are tired..big scale carpentry would be very demanding in those days............my thoughts

hard manual work back then.long hours

hand cutting,lots of nailing and bolting

big section timbers mortice and tenoned by hand

large fabricated sections manhandled into place,no cranes in these days

so if the tradesmen are making a good wage,then they would also be producing great effort in the building of the camps.........a bonus system would be operated i imagine

i should think we look at jackson`s actions more than the men

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On September 17, 1914, an MP claimed that 400 of Sir John Jackson's employees at Bulford were crammed into one building with no beds and insufficient sanitation; he was told that the Local Government Board would send an inspector down. Some of Jackson's workers were housed in the former Bristol Flying School aero sheds; possibly the MP was referring to these.

On March 1, 1915 the House of Commons learned that at Bulford 410 workers were living in tents and 302 were messing in huts where other men had slept.

A grievance among the Sir John Jackson workers in the winter of 1914-15 was overcrowding on the trains between Salisbury and Codford (where camps were being built) at a time when the medical authorities were stressing the importance of avoiding this (so as not to encourage the spread of meningitis).

Moonraker

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Reading this thread and as its originator I asked myself the question why my great Grandfather would have a picture post cards of a group of chippies in his collection it in the first place?

The collection is very ecletic but I do not think he would have included the picture if it showed what he or others thought were a bunch of shirkers.

The men pictured a clearly proud of their work and trade. One proudly dispays a tool of that trade - his way of contributing to the war effort.

No doubt, there were shirkers and robber baron bosses who profited from the war but I like to think, at this great remove, that this bunch were honorable and proud men.

Cheers

Mike Tomkinson

Bradford

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Almost a century later, who can tell what proportion of construction workers were shirkers? As with any group of people, it takes only a few bad hats to give everyone a bad name.

Moonraker

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I've done a bit of research into the French civilian labour force who worked alongside the British on construction projects. Locals craftsmen were recruited as needed on jobs supervised by men of the Royal Engineers. One of the problems encountered was the the RE overseers weren't particularly well-supervised themselves with the responsibility of completing a job sometimes delegated to a junior NCO. Corruption was commonplace.

French labourers were paid by the hour. At times, a job would be completed early but the NCO in charge would log the men down as having worked a full day. The locals were paid for the hours they had worked with the difference being pocketed by the soldier. I've uncovered a few cases wheere this happened and, in one instance, the NCO was blackmailed by a fellow engineer with fatal consequences.

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  • 4 months later...

Comments critical of camp-construction workers made in the House of Commons by Sir Basil Peto, MP for Devizes, March 15, 1915

As to the men refusing to work for less than the ordinary rate of wage, I should like to give the House a few instances. These facts were given to me by a member of one of the best known firms of estate agents in the South of England in the neighbourhood of Salisbury, and they deal with cases that have come under his own observation. He says:— "Most of the men employed are of an unusually low type. In fact one hears of painters' labourers, and bricklayers throwing up their ordinary occupations, and starting off with a saw and a few other tools in their baskets, and getting put on as carpenters, earning between £2 10s. and £3 per week. Only on Saturday I heard of a painter who was an absolute novice at carpentering, undertaking this work, and boasting that his earnings were £3 2s. 6d. a week." 1882 He refers to boys of fifteen or sixteen years of age engaged at 45s. a week, and other boys straight from school earring 38s. and 39s. per week. This is absolutely demoralising labour in the South. To show how entirely in the hands of labour these contractors are, I understand that in older to get the men to come back, not on Christmas Day, nor on Boxing Day, but on the proper day for recommencing work, the day after Boxing Day, at the great camp at Codford where 1,500 men were employed, they paid a bonus of 10s. to each man who turned up.

The result of that is that if about 1,000 men turned up £500 would be paid in bonuses alone in order to get them to come, with £50 for the contractor. A great many of these men are what really would be called "deadheads." They go and take out a ticket in the morning, and disappear to various occupations during the day. When the time comes for overtime they turn in. They thus get pay for overtime as well as for their so-called work. I have this report from a builder living close to one of these camps. He has had the thing very closely under his own observation, it being in his own trade, and therefore interesting him. He says:— "Huts, etc., are being built on a percentage basis." Then he goes on to say,— "Take the Ridge at Romsey, a retired builder living near says the men get their tickets in the morning, then go off after rabbits for the best part of the day at 11½d. per hour, then work or play at overtime. One labourer started to dig three post holes per diem. The foreman and ganger told him if he worked so hard the rest. would strike. One and a-half holes were enough, or value about 1s. 6d. for a day's pay. This is general everywhere." I could give many more instances of that kind, and as to actual absence from work In the case of the camp at Warminster the attention of the War Office appears to have been called to it, and they sent an officer down from the War Office—a practical step which I hope to see repeated. I feel practically certain that they will find a similar result and do a great deal of good. The officer turned up and told the ganger to assemble the men who were doing any kind of labouring and navvy work. The reason he gave—and it was very ingenious and worked admirably—was that he wanted to pick out half a dozen of the men for a very special job. He asked the timekeeper how many there were, and the reply was fifty-five. There was then a search high and low for these men, but only thirty-one could be found. During the rest of the day a hunt was made for 1883 the remaining twenty-four. Many were found to be in the public-houses in the neighbourhood; the rest were reclining in a particular hut where the door was shut, and where they thought nobody would look to find them.

Moonraker

(One or two typos because this has been copied from the on-line Hansard.)

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This might be of interest:

MUN 4 / 6503

HUTTING AGENCIES

The agency system under which most of the large camps have been erected arose out of a patriotic offer on the part of Sir J. Jackson MP, to give his services in connection with any large building schemes contemplated. In view of the insufficiency of the technically qualified staff at his disposal for the large amount of work likely to be required, DFW

(Director of Fortifications and Works) strongly recommended the acceptance of of the offer, and suggested that Sir J Jackson should be asked to undertake the complete arrangements for the erection of certain camps then under consideration. Arrangements were accordingly made with Sir J Jackson to carry out the erection of camps at Grantham, Purfleet etc.

These arrangements were made on the basis of cost (including a fair proportion of the Head Office expenditure of the firm) with no percentage added for profit. On a proposal, however, to extend the Agency to include the erection of additional camps on Salisbury Plain, Sir J jackson asked that the terms under which he was acting should be revised, and that an allowance should be made for profit on all the work outside his original arrangement. The rate of percentage was suggested was 5. DFW’s efforts to secure the withdrawal of this new proposal failed and eventually the revised terms were agreed by F.M. and sanctioned by the Treasury. In the meanwhile offers of assistance of a similar character had been received by DFW from other large engineering and building firms that the terms eventually agreed with Sir J Jackson should apply. A list of the Agents appointed is attached, showing the approximate cost of the work, and the terms of each agency. generally the terms agreed as regards those agencies in operation before Sir J Jackson’s agreement was settled were 11/2 % for Head Office expenditure over all the work carried out, and 5% for profit on the cost of work not included in the original arrangements with each agent. In a few cases, a higher percentage (up to 21/2%) was allowed on special ground for head office expenditure. The terms for agents appointed later were fixed at

51/2% on the cost of all work carried out by them.

The Agency system has from the first been regarded as a financial and administrative and not a contract question, the agent acting as an adjunct to and under the direct control of DFW rather than as a party to a formal agreement or contract with the Department. The proposal to accept Sir J Jackson’s offer was concurred in by the Contracts Department; but subsequent negotiations as regards the percentages and the settlement of the details. of under the “Memorandum of Arrangements” the agent was given a free hand as to organization, supervision and method of carrying out the work, and was responsible as to results to DFW.

The Agents under the terms of the “Memorandum” forwarded to the War Office copies of all orders and contracts made by them. These have been regularly passed to the Contracts Branch for information and record, after having been reviewed by DFW. One or two questions in dispute on the application of the percentages were also referred for observations.

The Agency accounts are being subjected to audit both financially by Chartered Accountants and technically on behalf of DFW. In connection with the consideration of the accounts, the point was raised as to the inclusion in the Agent’s cost, to which the percentage is applied, the cost of stores and materials, provided by the Department under special contracts, and (as regards timber) through the Office of Works. In addition to timber, steelwork, stoves, grates, sanitary fittings ect have been supplied. It was decided that a distinction should be drawn between materials and fixtures ( as ranges, stoves, sinks ect.) and that the cost of the former should be included in the Agent’s cost to which the percentage would be applied. In the case of timber, the decision was largely influenced by the fact that a considerable amount of timber used (all in case the case of Sir J.Jackson) has been brought in the open market, and not obtained through the Office of Works, and that to exclude the value when it was supplied by the Office of Works would penalize those Agents who had used that source of supply.

The Agency arrangements generally have been the subject of an enquiry on the part of a committee of the Institute of Civil Engineers. They have expressed the view that the terms allowed to the Agents are too high, having regard to the value of work carried out by them. As the the result of this report, steps were taken to secure if possible a reduction in the terms.

In the Meanwhile the matter came before the P.A.C. and as the outcome of the Committee’s report a commission was appointed by the Government to enquire into the circumstances connected with the appointment of Sir J Jackson. Following the publication of the Commission’s finding Sir J. Jackson has agreed to reduce his percentage from 5 to 4.

TR

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Terry, thanks for that - a document I hadn't come across. Yes, I think that Sir John acted reasonably enough. He faced a massive logistical challenge in assembling a workforce from all over the country to build camps on Salisbury Plain and elsewhere in the first months of the war. Then there was the matter of obtaining materials, not least wood. Camp sites had to be identified very quickly. I don't know who drew up plans for the individual camps - perhaps a combination of civilian and military engineers - but again this was done in great haste.

Moonraker

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