The Great War.
At this time of national crisis the Red House felt that they had a "link" with the Prime Minister; he was Herbert Asquith who, when Home Secretary, had signed the original certificate changing the place from a Reformatory to an Industrial School. There was also a tie with Winston Churchill who had signed their order authorising the reception of up to 96 boys. Now, in 1914, Winston was First Lord of the Admiralty and had just left his Whitehall office to lead a small British naval force in person; his aim was to delay the fall of Antwerp and give our armies in Flanders enough time to fall back and cover their base port at Calais.
Margaret longed to make changes so that the lads at Buxton "could feel they were members of a large family." This would have meant reducing the size of the school and that could only be contemplated if the authorities would contribute more. It now seemed that these improvements would have to wait till the war was over; at this time many people thought that this might take another year or more. Lord Kitchener who was Minister for War, was however calling for soldiers to volunteer for three years service or the duration; he alone of the government ministers seemed to foresee a long war. The good news was that the British navy had secured command of the seas while the French had established a firm defence line; what was more the Russians had overrun some forces in the East. People pinned their faith on Russia's unlimited manpower but only the leaders knew of the bad news; this was that the Russian armies were firing off more ammunition in day than her factories produced in a month.
The Babingtons and the school staff were worried most of all by the rising price of food; hoarding had caused the government to fix maximum prices which were reviewed each month, but always upwards.
Cheese had been 1/6 a pound, butter 10d and sugar 3d. (Approximately one new penny for a pound of sugar!) After twelve months of war food prices had increased by one third; the school staff asked for a rise in wages but the money was just not coming in to make this possible. Mr Cox pointed out that it was nine years since he had an increase so he was now granted a second week's holiday each year.
In March 1915 England had a reserve of only four months grain. The Germans now announced that they would henceforth use their submarines to attack both naval and merchant ships. This early warning gave the British Admiralty time to take defensive measures before the 1917 onslaught by 300 submarines. On the home front the government's greatest worry was food but the newspapers made more fuss about the Zeppelin raids. On 19th January 1915 bombs had been dropped on Kings Lynn; a Red House boy returned with an account of the damage. These air raids did in fact cause only one hundred casualties in one year.
The Babingtons had been feeling the strain of having one hundred boys in the school and having to visit the increased number out on licence; however there was no difficulty about job finding. So many men had volunteered for the armed forces that there was now a country-wide shortage in agriculture, in the factories and in the mines. Parliament had recently sanctioned the payment of separation allowances for the families of soldiers. This was 12/6d for a wife plus 5/- for the first child and lesser amounts for others. In December 1915 the conscription of bachelors was started. Margaret thought that conscription should have been started in 1914; by depending only on volunteers for the forces it had become a disgrace for young men to be at home although many of them were in essential war work. Since April 1914 thirty-six Red House boys had joined the Army and twelve the Navy.
Norfolk was full of soldiers, some guarding the coast against a possible German landing while others were here for training; they were billeted in the great houses like Blickling. Cawston Manor was a Red Cross hospital where Mrs Babington occasionally did a week of nursing according to the diary. The Red House swimming baths were used by the soldiers at a penny a swim. Many old boys visited the school when their regiments were training in Norfolk; one such visitor had emigrated to Canada and now returned with the Canadian Army Engineers.
The Home Office inspection for 1915 was carried out by a man whom the school considered to be "out of touch". When the report arrived the covering letter said that owing to shortage of staff there would be no inspection in 1916. In spite of mounting difficulties the managers were able to make some progress. Beds replaced the hammocks and later the canvas covered frames; each boy was provided with a pair of gym shoes and caning on the hand was discontinued. The managers meetings were sometimes held at Red House and sometimes at Dudwick Cottage; Major Marsham, Sir Eustace Gurney with Ted and Margaret Sewell attended regularly; they were now joined by Dr Wright who lived at Coltishall. At one of these meetings they agreed that the school shoemaker should take on a boy who was about to reach the age of sixteen after doing very well in his training for this trade. This youth was to receive £6.10s a year living in; he would work eight hours a day Mondays to Saturdays, but with a half day off on alternate Saturdays, and Sunday off. At this time the standard working week for a farm boy in Norfolk was 54 hours.
Throughout 1916 things got more amd more difficult at Buxton due to rising prices; the value of the £ was falling fast and tradesmen said they could not supply the school with quantities of meat, coal and lamp oil which they had contracted to deliver. The boys were supposed to have fish 3 days a week in order to save meat but there was no fish, Eventually in April 1917 the Germans sank one million tons of shipping in one month; the government now brought in rationing by means of food tickets. The Red house was supplied with special food permits by the Home Office; they raised ten tons of potatoes on their farm and sold the surplus to the local people at one shilling a stone.
By 1918 the purchasing power of the £ had fallen to half its 1914 value; the Treasury now authorised a considerable increase in the maintenance allowance for each boy. It was to be 17/- per head per week, provided local authorities would pay half. The managers were at last able to increase the salaries of the staff. The Governor received £250 and his wife, as matron, £50. Mr Cox, as head teacher and deputy, received £180 and £60 for Mrs Cox the assistant teacher. Both families had their house rent free; they were entitled to purchase provision from the school at contract rates but they paid for their fuel and light. At the same time the Home Office announced the terms of a superannuation scheme which was to be started. The staff thought that this would be worthless if we did not win the war which was now going badly for the Allies.
Russia had been driven out of the war, also Romania, and Italy had been severely maimed. On the other hand America had promised to send a huge army to France; before they had time to arrive the Germans attacked the British and French lines with nearly a million men. This massive attack broke through the French front getting near enough to Paris to shell the capital with an enormous gun named "Big Bertha". The first American troops landed in France in April 1918 and within two months they were holding the German attack on the River Marne. The British and French mounted a counter-offensive led by a vast array of tanks and this turned the tide. Churchill's faith in our secret tank development was fully justified; he was the member of the war cabinet who had really pushed it forward. In September the German government opened correspondence with the allies with a view to peace.
The Kaiser fled to neutral Holland; this was big news at Red House where he was pictured as the evil bogeyman in their cartoons. The war was over; the British Empire had lost one million men and France more than that. Many Red House old boys had lost their lives and a good number had done well, gaining rank and responsibility. At least two were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, the highest award for bravery, second only to the Victoria Cross. Clive we have already mentioned; the other we know of was Ernest Bell who gained his award in October 1918 while holding the rank of Battery Sergeant Major in France.
The war years had been a great strain on the staff but most of them got over it in time. Alfred Babington who was 55 in 1918, served for another nine years and lived to be 81. William Cox was 47 when the war ended; he served another ten years and lived to be 95. The school staff must seem tiny, by modern standards, considering that they had one hundred boys to look after during the war years. The list was as follows:-
Red House Staff - December 1918 A.M Babington ...... Superintendent Wm Cox.............. Schoolmaster E.Cox ...............Assistant Schoolmistress J. Lusher ...........Baker and Gardener W. Jeckell...........Farm Bailiff J. Whitewood........ Drill Instructor and Handyman L.L.Babington .......Matron H. Jarmy ............Tailor M.Babington .........Clerk M.Prockett ..........Assistant Cook