Letters from the Front: 1914-1918

18 February 2014

Gen - photo - Eton Manor Boys on a bench at The WildernessVilliers Park Educational Trust started out as the Eton Manor Boys Club, established in the East End of London a century ago.  The Club was set up by four Old Etonians to help teenage boys and men of Hackney Wick discover their true abilities and make the most of themselves.

When the war broke out the members were keen to sign up – and the letters they sent from the Front to the Club magazine Chin-Wag are incredibly moving.  Many of the soldiers write to thank the Club for sending the Chin-Wag magazine, and gifts, to them at the front:

“I am sorry for not having written to you before, but we have been in the trenches now for 11 days, and, of course, our officer has had no time for censoring.  I thank you for this month’s CHIN-WAG and parcel of groceries.  I hope the Clubs are progressing favourably and all chinwaggers are chin-wagging”.

Rifleman W. FORRESTEH

“I got hit with shrapnel through putting my head up.

Keep your head down, matey,

Keep your nut well down,

When your in the trenches,

Keep your napper well down.

Bullets are a flying, nasty bits of lead,

It’s all up with you chummy, if you stops ’em

with your head,

Drills you through to temple, comes out

of your crown ;

If you want to see old’ Blighty,’

Keep your bend well down.

I’m not afraid to snuff it, but while there’s

life, there’s hope,

I don’t look over sandbags while there’s a periscope;

On ‘listening post,’ it’s risky, a game that

I don’t love;

So I crawls out on my tummy, while the

maxim squirts above:

The’ sniping box’ I aim from, not look

over like a clown;

So I laughs at ‘Fritz,’ and he has such fits,

‘Cos I keep my napper down.”  BILL GRAVES.

The Magazine also had the devastating task of listing those injured, missing, or indeed killed, in action.  The Eton Manor Boys Club War Memorial was removed during the construction of the Olympic Park in Stratford (the venue for the Wheelchair Tennis was built on the site of the old Clubhouse), but it will be replaced this year once the post-games landscaping is complete.

“Since the last issue of CHIN-WAG another friend of the Club has been killed in action. Captain Gilliat was not perhaps so well known to members generally as were many of the other Old Etonians who come down to Hackney Wick, but to those who were members of the gymnastic class he was a familiar figure and be will he much missed by them, and by those others who knew him.  We are sorry to hear that Ernie Green of the 1st Battn. London Scottish is missing, we hope very much to have good news of him before long.”

Extract from November 1914 edition of Chin-Wag Magazine

Our archives are held at the Bishopsgate Institute in London and contain all editions of the Chin-Wag Magazine from its inception in 1913 to the final edition in 1967.  All of the issues contain amazing stories, a fascinating insight into a past world and language, as well as a fascinating piece of social history especially over the four years of World War 1.