Friday, 16 December 2016

A Woman, her Dog, and a Club!

I held the small postcard from WWI and I wondered, not for the first time, who the soldiers were, where the photo was taken, and who was the lady with her dog? We know that Dar (George Kirby McArthur) was seated on the lady’s right.

Looking closely at the photo, I realised that the sign in the window next door was a “To Be Let” sign and the contact person was a builder on Edward Street in Bath!

I knew that the family story was that Dar had met Beatrice (Birdie) Butt when he was gassed during the War and she had nursed him. But I could never reconcile this story with his Service Record which doesn’t show any evidence that he had been injured at all during the whole time he served during the War, either at Gallipoli or on the Western Front. With this postcard, I now wondered if they had actually met in Bath! But, there was more to investigate.

Looking at the photo again, I realised there was a plaque above the door. It read “Club ASC 701 MT Coy”. We know that Dar transferred to a Mechanical Transport Company in early 1916! But this still didn’t tell us where the photo was taken in Bath and who the lady was.

So, there was more detective work to be done to try to find out these answers. Google Maps Street View proved invaluable as I spent many many hours strolling the virtual streets of Bath looking for the distinctive railing, wide walkway to the front door, and the brickwork and position of the windows. I thought I found a possible match but I wanted more proof so I contacted the Somerset Records Office for some help on the location and what the ‘Club’ was.

The good people in Bath came up with the possibility that the photo was taken in Great Pulteney Street which leads from Pulteney Bridge to Sydney Gardens and is situated on the east side of the river across from the city centre. Their best guess was that it was somewhere around numbers 45 to 47 with a favoured guess of 46. Unfortunately, a trip to Bath to personally check this was out of the question.

Then there was a lot of trawling through the British Newspaper Archives to try to find some answers. The Bath Chronicle had many articles about The Great War and I learnt that the Mechanical Transport companies for the Allies were using areas in and around Bath for their training. Then I found an article dated 4th December 1915 which reported:

“That the Recreation clubs have been established in Pulteney Street for the men of the A.S.C. M.T. stationed here.  The men were indebted for their provision to the indefatigable efforts of the Misses Sullivan, who reside at No. 41a. These generous ladies began by regularly serving tea to the transport drivers passing through Bath, and upon the arrival in Bathwick of the present troops, they shortly afterwards opened a club at No. 35 for one of the Companies, their appeal for help bringing in money and furniture for the purpose, while the house was lent by Captain Forrester through the agent to the Bathwick Estate. Since the establishment the other Company had been provided with similar facilities at No. 45 and 46. Canteens have been set up, and every provision is made for all sorts of games, reading and writing and they are proving very popular with the men.”

This gives a pretty good description of just how the Recreation Clubs were set up and how they were utilised by the troops. It also appears to confirm that our photo was taken at 46 Greater Pulteney Street, as suggested by both the Somerset Records Office and my own observations on Google Maps. And if all that is true, then the woman is one of the Miss Sullivan’s. Other articles reported that the troops were billeted in the Twerton area of Bath and that the local Methodist Church arranged social dances, dinners and other activities.

But, we still didn’t know what the 701 MT Company and where they served. So, a search of Military records indicated that they were part of the 63 Divisional Supply Column which served in various theatres of War on the Western Front.

Why was Dar at this particular Club? My best guess is that he and the others in the photo were at Bath training with other Mechanical Transport Companies early in 1916 and this photo was taken with Miss Sullivan possibly before they left Bath to go back to the Western Front.

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