Friday, 19 August 2011

A royal by any other name and the West Ham Pals regiment

The unveiling, by Sir Trevor Brooking at the Boleyn Ground, of the Memorial Plaque dedicated to the service and sacrifices made by the Men of the 13th (Service) Battalion (West Ham) Essex Regiment ('The Hammers') took place on Remembrance Sunday, 8th November at 10.55am.Among the West Ham pals was Ernest Sherman, born in Whitechapel, who was originally a Corporal in the 2nd battalion Essex regiment. He was severely wounded by accurate shellfire during the Battle of Arras in April 1917 and was awarded the Military Cross at the age of 20.

It is interesting to note that, Sherman was of German origin, German immigration into the UK was very common in the late 19th Century because of the Royal family's strong German connections.***See note on family history**** Most Germans like my Great Great Grandfather Bernhardt came to work in the Sugar wharehouses in Greenock , Liverpool and the East End of London. This was because Tate and Lyle was formed from a merger between Abraham Lyle of Greenock who had expanded into the east end of London and Henry Tate, who had set up a sugar refinery in Liverpool. Lyle himself brought quite a few Scots to the East End .

However, by the time the First world war arrived the Royal Family switched to an English-sounding name because of anti-German feeling, as did some of their subjects. For those ordinary German-Britons who did not change their names like my own family there was then additional pressure to prove ones loyalty. The best way to do this was to enlisted and many German-Britons did just that...

In fact, a battalion of the Middlesex Regiment was formed to accommodate men with German names from London, and was promptly christened "The Kaiser's Own". A number of German names can be found in the pages of the London Gazette as receiving decorations

Returning to the Royals...Since the marriage of Victoria - the last of the Hanovers - to Prince Albert, Britain's royal family had been "of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha", or Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. In a time of brutal war with Germany, a more German family name would be hard to find.

The in 1915, with the war less than a year old, the sinking of the liner Lusitania by a German submarine - with the loss of almost 1,200 lives - prompted a fresh wave of outrage in Britain, as well as the US and the Empire. The consequences for Germans in Britain were grave. Days of anti-German rioting in London, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and elsewhere saw Germans menaced and buildings wrecked.

So many bakers' shops were destroyed in the East End of London, with bags of flour emptied and loaves smashed in the street, that a local shortage of bread immediately followed. In Bradford and Nottingham, groups of naturalised Germans rushed to sign letters expressing their desire to see Britain victorious and Germany crushed.

The newspaper backed the segregation of all Germans of military age and the deportation of those who were not. There were estimated to be 60,000 Germans, Austro-Hungarians and Turks in the country as well as 8,000 naturalised citizens of "enemy origin". These words would have chilled King George V to the marrow. Austrian-born Prince Louis of Battenberg, a key member of the royal circle, had to resign his position as First Sea Lord because of his German heritage in 1914. By 1917, the pressure had spread to the whole family.

So in 1917 the royal family saw their name change overnight, princes lost their titles and became lords, the Battenbergs opted for literal translation and became Mountbatten, and the quintessentially royal and English "Windsor" was introduced - the brainchild of the king's private secretary Lord Stamfordham.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for mentioning the West Ham Battalion in your post. Yes, Sherman was German heritage, but wasn't the only one. The medical officer was Alan HOLTHUSEN, his brother Len was also the Hammers signals officer. The West Ham Battalion tailor was Ernie KURTZ (who changed his name to Curtis in 1916). Other names off the top of my head include LANG, LUCK,
    GIESS (two brothers, VOGT, VAUS, ZIMMER, SCHULER and KUNKEL.