Nearly two months after the declaration, news of the war dominated the newspapers. Fighting had broken out across Europe and while recruits were still joining up and being mobilised, the first reports of casualties were appearing in not only the local papers, but in local Council records.
Reports of the ‘European War’ appear regularly in Council minutes in late 1914, often being reported in a matter of fact way along with other committee business. The amount of detail varies – from the Libraries Committee that reported 7 men had been called up, to the Public Works Committee that listed individual men who joined the forces, even detailing their rank and which arm of the forces they joined.The call to arms was answered by all offices within the Council. The Council Proceedings for 8 September 1914 noted receiving the letter of resignation from the Lord Mayor, Alderman Ernest Martineau, who was taking up his rank as Lieutenant-Colonel of the 6th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment. His resignation was duly accepted. From the series of Birmingham Biography News Cuttings (available on floor 4) a report from the Birmingham Post in September 1914 shows the respect the Lord Mayor had for the men serving under him.
The Lord Mayor (Lieutenant-Colonel Martineau) returned to Birmingham on Saturday and is staying until Wednesday, when he will return to the command of the 6th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment. In the course of an interview, the Lord Mayor said the men under him had made extraordinary progress since they had been mobilised. Wherever they had been billeted they had been spoken of most highly….. The Lord Mayor said the response which Birmingham had made to the call for recruits was really splendid, and he believed the men obtained were very good material.
The Gazette published figures of the number of men who had joined as of 23 September 1914.
Sadly, there were also reports of the first losses of Council employees. On 8th October 1914, the Public Works Department Committee Minutes recorded the recent loss of Private H. Tredwell [sic] who worked as a steam-roller flagman for the City. An article appeared in the Birmingham Gazette on 23 September 1914 mentioning a letter found amongst the personal effects of Private Treadwell when he died of wounds. The letter was addressed to his wife, hoping that her and his daughter Lily were in good health, before writing I am in the very best of health. If it is my luck to come back we won’t half have a time of it. The minutes show the War Office granted a pension of 5/- per week for his widow, and 1/6 for his daughter.
While reports of British casualties would prove to be fairly common placed in the local press, it was surprising to find so early in the war a letter written by a German soldier, portraying a vivid picture of war.
His name is not given, and we have no way of knowing whether he survived the war, however it does show that on both sides, there were ordinary men responding to the call to do their duty for their country.
Nicola Crews, Archivist