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WILDY * SONS LTD. Law n<jokelle
_LONDQX. W.C.? Valuers

My Police Court Friends
with the Colours

My Police Court Friends
with the Colours





William Blackwood and Sons
Edinburgh and London




MY registers show that in these seventeen years
last past I have visited sixteen thousand seven
hundred and thirty-eight men and lads in their
own homes, having followed them from the Police
Court after prosecution for breaches of the law.
The offences were mostly trivial, arising out of
mischievous rather than criminal tendencies.
Among the great bulk of the men it was idle-
ness, drink, or gambling that caused their appear-
ance before the Bench ; with the lads, evil home
influence, lack of discipline, above all, lack of
worthy companions and friends, lay at the root
of their misdoings. Thanks to a variety of means
of help put into operation for their benefit by
numerous persons, most of these were stayed in
their evil course at its beginning.

A few, a very few, developed into criminals. I
have continued to do what 1 could even for these,
some of whom are now serving with the Colours.
But the following sketches have nothing whatso-
ever to do with them. Another day it may be
my privilege to deal with the problem of the con-
firmed criminal, be he monotonously sentenced to
term after term of ordinary imprisonment or con-
demned to a long period of penal servitude. I
am toi<l that even some criminals are doing good
service for Britain in the field at this present time,



and I can well believe it. But, I repeat, I am
not concerned with such now.

I am dealing with one thousand two hundred
and sixty-seven men and lads who, when the war
broke out, were leading perfectly correct lives.
After being in scrapes, all had recovered their
feet. To a man they were gaining an honest live-
lihood by industrious labour. Many gave up good
prospects when they answered the nation's call.
All deserve to rank with the best. Their worst
state was seldom from their own fault : the
honourable condition the country's crisis found
them in was largely of their own creating. And
every one of them went to the fight thinking of
no reward, but just of the safety and honour of

I place before their fellow-countrymen the brief
biographies of seventy-two of these heroes. Pride
and shame mingle as I write the short sketches
of their lives pride in their valour and in the
calm dignity with which they went forth to do or
die ; and shame that lives like theirs should by our
own selfishness and neglect of duty be often lived
at home under conditions set out in some of the
pages following.

As every one of these has recognised and dis-
charged as best he could his duty to God and his
neighbour, so may all of us be found ready, each
in his own sphere and according to the ability
given him, to set forth by our teaching and living
certain old-fashioned truths which it seems to me
are in danger of being forgotten. " The evil " shall
then still " bow before the good, and the wicked
at the gates of the righteous."













XI. WHAT ALL MAY DO .... 347





A TEACHER recently invited his pupils to write
their impressions on " the gladdest surprise of the
war." Their impressions turned out to be varied,
which was natural. There was really no occasion
for the disappointment that teacher showed
because what he regarded as the gladdest sur-
prise was passed over without comment by young
minds more impressed by other happenings which
they thought of supreme interest. It would
indeed be difficult for a jury of mature, years to
agree upon a verdict deciding the relative merit
of many of the unlooked-for blessings vouch-
safed to Britain in her day of trial. The splendid
loyalty universally exhibited by our dependencies
great and small ; the magnificent response of
daughter states to the cry of the Motherland ;
the wonderful results at home of Lord Kitchener's
appeal for men ; the cessation of party strife
throughout the Empire; the princely giving of
British subjects all over the world to the various
war relief funds: all these and many more great
have called forth our unstinted


admiration and praise ; and many have singled
out this or that as constituting the gladdest of
all the glad surprises of the war.

It is not a little curious that those who knew
best each peculiar set of circumstances, whether
connected with colonial loyalty, home politics, or
any of those factors which have worked to such
glorious purpose in our Empire life, are those
least astonished at what has transpired in scenes
with which they are familiar, and most pleasantly
startled by happenings in fields with which they
are unacquainted.

What has come to me as a delightful experience,
but certainly as something not at all startling,
will quite possibly be regarded by some extrava-
gant folk as the outstanding glad surprise of all.
It is not that : still it is worthy of grateful record
the wonderful rebirth of the old spirit of Britain
within many a breast where untoward circum-
stances of birth and upbringing might have crushed
out the last spark of patriotism. That a fervent
love of country should exist in the bosoms of those
who have found little that we should call attractive
or desirable in life ; who seem to have nothing to
thank anybody for until they came to be able to
work out their own material salvation ; who
might have been excused had they hesitated to
go into the fight, arguing that it mattered little
whom they served, seeing that no country upon
earth could have bestowed less benefit upon them
than had been bestowed by their own that is
indeed a really notable, and will come to many as
a surprising, blessing.

Throughout the memorable August of 1914 men
and youths who had " been down," and who, with
a very little help, had recovered respectability or
gained it for the first time, poured into my rooms
daily to tell me that the cry, " Your King and
Country need you," had come home to them, until
by the end of the month seven hundred and


fifteen had returned to the Colours, were training
with the new army, or had gone to serve on
mine-sweeping trawlers or supply boats, or as
stokers on the great ships at sea. They had
waited for no special pleading, no highly favour-
able terms of enlistment. It was enough for them
that they were needed. That England was in
danger, and that they could be of service in her
hour of trial, filled them with a stern and proud
determination to do their duty which brushed
aside all other considerations as trifles light as
air. News came later that, in the same month of
August, lads who had been salved from our social
wreckage and who were prospering in Canada,
Australia, New Zealand, had heard the great call,
and laid all else aside for sake of the homeland ;
and from the sea began to come stories of deeds
of gallant devotion wrought by such-like lads to
whom life aboard ship had offered a chance of
betterment. The torrent of August fell from
sheer exhaustion of numbers to a moderate stream
during September, but that stream has flowed
regularly ever since. Now, more than twelve
hundred of my friends are serving. To me they
form a glorious roll, for they represent very much
more than half the entire number of eligible men
and lads whom I have tried to help during these
seventeen years. 1 And who are these patriots,
and whence came they?

Here is a letter from a lad serving on a mine-
sweeping trawler, written about the middle of
January 1915. I quote it as written, altering
only the spelling :

" It is lonely, and I don't know how we live
through the cold. Oftener than not we're wet
through. I never seem to get used to the
danger. I'm so frightened that I can't often
sleep proper. It goes off when you're hard

1 Seven thousand two hundred and five, otherwise eligible,
l>cing engaged in the manufacture of munitions of war.


at work ; but when the excitement's over it's
just as bad again. If it wasn't for thinking
that poor folk's food depends on us keeping
the sea clear, I'm sure I should run away first
time I came into port again. I never prayed
much before, but I say my prayers many a
time a day now, and in the night as well ;
and I should be glad if you'd pray for me
now and then."

No doubt a poor, ill-penned, mis-spelt scrawl
enough, as little betokening a hero as one could
well imagine ; yet it was followed a fortnight later
by a letter from the trawler's skipper telling how
the boat had been blown in pieces and sunk by
a mine. Then this passage occurs, concerning the
writer of the poor letter just quoted :

" George was the only one lost ; and he gave
up the bit of board that would have saved
him so as to let a chap have it who was so
badly hurt that he couldn't swim. Poor old
George ! He never made any shout about
his pluck, and we most of us thought him a
bit of a coward ; but he showed us, after all,
he was a game 'un, and no mistake."
Giving his life for another, so the hero died ;
died as he lived, since first I met him twelve years
ago. His drunken father and his vicious step-
mother had left his little brother and himself for
two days in their wretched dwelling without food
or fire. The kindness of neighbours had been so
long abused by the unnatural parents as to tire
them of helping the children, and on the evening
of the second day George stole a piece of pork-
pie to satisfy his brother's hunger, not partaking
of a crumb himself. The brother's stomach, con-
stitutionally delicate and weakened by long ab-
stinence, rejected the gross food, and the little
chap, beginning to shiver, excited George's pro-
found alarm. Running up to me as I was visiting


their court, he told me his brother was dying. I
went with him to see what I could do. A doctor
who was fetched cheerily reassured the lad, but
enquired what he was doing without anything on
except shirt and trousers, seeing that the night
was bitterly cold.

The doctor had noticed that his patient was
wearing two coats and two waistcoats, and had
guessed the truth. But George said nothing, so
the sick lad was asked

" Why do you wear two jackets, my boy?"

The answer came, feebly but promptly

" Our George took his jacket and waistcoat off
last nielli when I was cold, and made me put
them on."

That was my introduction to George. The
doctor expressed his opinion of the parents, and
thanked me for certain arrangements I was pro-
posing to make for the lads' immediate well-
being, then went to his numerous other duties.
George remained looking anxiously upon his
brother as though he feared matters were worse
than the medical man would admit.

Suddenly he broke down completely, and con-
fessed the cause of his brother's illness. I have
witnessed not a few pathetic scenes in my time ;
I have stood in many pictures well worth paint-
ing; but I can recall few to match with this.

A squalid hovel, dimly lighted by a spluttering
tallow candle and destitute of furniture save two
chairs, without backs, an empty bacon box doing
duty as a table, and a rickety wooden settle; a
weakly, eight-year-old boy, pining for affection
and care, lying on that rough couch in that cheer-
less room with a fireless grate; his brother, but
a year his senior, with pinched, frail form, clad
only in ragged trousers and a torn, sleeveless
shirt, turning up to me a thin, white face, down
which the hot tears streamed, as he sobbed out


in a trembling, anxious moan, " Will God kill him
for eating the pork-pie because I stole it?"

I take it I need not say that the God whom I
serve enabled me to quite satisfy my conscience-
stricken questioner that he might put away his
fears. In a little while the sick child was sleep-
ing peacefully in his brother's arms in a comfort-
able bed readily and gladly provided by one of
those humble saints of God not infrequently to
be found among the very poor ; women who came
near to being angels, to whom the exceeding need
of any little one is a passport to exceeding love.

The worthless parents returned the same night,
and the next day the children again took up
their dwelling in their lamentable home. A series
of visits from an agent of the National Society
for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was
fruitful of temporary improvement ; but after
two years I met George again, this time in the
Police Court.

It was the same story once more, with only
slight variations. Left alone, without food or
fire, on this occasion for three days and nights,
the lads had suffered until the pangs of hunger
grew intolerable ; then George had pilfered bread
and cheese from a grocer's shop. Both boys had
partaken of the proceeds of the theft, but only
George was prosecuted, and the officer in charge
of the case informed me, " I don't think he'd have
stolen for himself; his little brother had the
biggest share." George was discharged with a
caution, and, through my own efforts, the parents
were brought before the Court a few days later,
and were not discharged. They returned from
prison, however, little changed. After two more
years George offended again in a precisely similar
manner and from the same desperate cause. On
this occasion it was thought fit to give him a
whipping, so as to impress upon him the fact


thai stealing is never justifiable. He went from
his whipping to an excellent master who had
offered him employment through me. I should
have much preferred to remove him altogether
from home and environment, but his parents were
unwilling, and he was not to be induced to leave
his brother.

For three years more he remained in that
melancholy dwelling, and no matter how his
wages increased, no matter what presents of
clothing his kind and generous master gave, he
remained, with his brother, ill-fed and insuffici-
ently clad, the improvidence and selfishness of the
parents growing only more pronounced. But the
hour of deliverance was at hand. The delicate
lad was taken seriously ill, and removed to the
hospital. For three weeks George haunted the
gates, and rules were waived frequently to enable
him to see his brother. It was pathetic, the nurses
said, to witness his grief when at last the brother
he so tenderly cared for died. The poor boy came
to me when all was over, and said that he desired
to go right away. He went to sea on a tramp
steamer, visiting distant shores ; twice he came
hack to this city, calling to see me before return-
ing to his ship ; on each occasion his tears were
very near : he had been to look at a certain grave.
The war came : he volunteered at once to serve on
a mine-sweeping trawler; and the end found the
hero still in the character I had ever known as his.
It would come quite naturally to George to give
up his life for another, as it had always come quite
naturally to him to risk all for those he loved and
in these latter days for England for us.

But what have we done to deserve that supreme
sacrifice paid for us by George, and many more
like him ? Most of us have done nothing. We
have given such-like a wide berth. They have
simply not come into our thoughts or our lives at


all. Yet, neglected, friendless, tempted, tried,
they were as other lads are. Their parched
hearts thirsted for affection. George, for example,
never forgot the goodness of the master who
treated him as his willing and faithful service
merited : no better. The kindness of the doctor
who came on the night of the stealing of the pork-
pie, "and never charged nothing," as the lad often
told in amazement ; and the tender care the
nurses gave his dying brother, were ever frag-
rant memories with him. As for me, his cease-
less gratitude shamed me. For what had I done ?
A cheery word spoken when we met, two suits of
clothing, grudgingly given, since it seemed wrong
to relieve the parents of responsibility and yet was
impossible to leave the lad in his rags ; a bit of
food from time to time, bestowed mostly after
being reminded of the sore need by one of George's
so-called crimes ; help to get a situation in which
he worked hard only to provide his father with
means for extra excess, while his own lot re-
mained equably miserable ; the sea outfit pro-
cured cheerfully enough because his going to sea
solved a difficult problem : that was all he had to
thank me for. I could hardly have done less.
Would that I had done more ! All that he met
with in the way of kindness on the part of any
mortal he deserved a hundredfold. We were his
debtors ere he laid down his life, in that we con-
sented to suffer a state of society which rendered
his early experience possible. How much more,
then, do we owe now to him, and to others like
him ? It is not easy to take great gifts gracefully
from those whom we have treated with indiffer-
ence or treated badly. Yet what can we do in this
oar hour of need save accept with chastened joy
their willing, priceless offering of life itself, and
prove our contrition by determining that, God
helping us, the elevation and betterment of the


class i'rom which they sprang shall bear witness to
the fact that they did not find us finally ungrateful
did not die in vain ?

For who shall estimate the value of the service
such lads have rendered? Look at this, written
from "somewhere in the North Sea" by another of
iny mine-sweeper friends :

" Our skipper says that but for us, poor
folks in England would all be clammed (he
im'ans starved) to death; for the German
mines would frighten all the ships away from
the seaports after they'd sent a lot to the
bottom. He read us a letter somebody had
sent with some nice warm clothes and choco-
late, and it said as how they were always
praying for us and thinking about us. It
made us all feel sad, like, for a bit; because
it made us think how near we always are to
Kingdom Come. We've had mines right be-
t ween the trawl-board and the boat twice, and
said our prayers thinking our end had come ;
but we've come out all right because of the
prayers more likely other folks' prayers than
ours ; for we're a rum lot. It isn't the danger
so much as the dark nights and the loneliness
that makes things so nasty. And it's awful
cold and wet ; and we've had eight months of
it now, off and on. But we're all as cheerful
as a lot of larks, and we're not coming back
till the Germans are done for, and their mucky
mines as well."

The writer was not to come back at all. That
trawler was lost shortly after the letter was
written ; and the crew perished. How the end
came, and how they bore themselves when the
boat went down, we know not. We may picture
out in 1'nncy how Harry died from his letter ju>t
quoted, and his brief biography following. Possibly
we may come near the truth.


He was ten years old when I first met him,
brought before the magistrates for begging. His
mother, a good-looking, plausible person, very
neatly dressed, told a sad tale of her boy's uii-
manageableness and misdeeds. He was made to
promise to give up begging, then allowed to go
home. On visiting the home, I made the interest-
ing discovery that the mother had hired her neat
garments from a second-hand clothes shop so as to
impress the bench with her appearance of respect-
ability. She was in reality an idle, dirty, improvi-
dent person, whose house was filthy and verminous
until the sanitary authorities intervened. The state
of the house, in truth, mattered little to her, since
she was seldom inside except to sleep. Her boy,
fortunately an only child, returned from school
day by day to find the door locked, and had to
choose between going without food, or begging, or
stealing. Harry never knew his father : he bore
his mother's name. Divers men shared the home
with the mother at different periods, and the lad
from time to time bestowed the term "father"
upon men whom he more frequently called "our
Bill," or "our Jack," or "our Sam." Being a sharp
boy, he soon abandoned begging for the more
profitable and less suspicious calling of street
trading in evening newspapers, since, to a lad of
his intelligence, that afforded a means of earning
money and simultaneously gathering alms in the
shape of frequent extra half -pennies bestowed by
purchasers of his papers who pitied his neglected
appearance. He failed to keep his mother from
again attending the Police Court on his behalf,
however, by overlooking the Education Com-
mittee's bye- laws in the matter of school attend-
ance, and put his estimable parent once more to
the trouble of visiting the second-hand clothes
shop, and the added expense this time of a fine
as the good woman indignantly said, "for not


sending a bad lad to school, as nobody can make
go to school, try as you will ; and I'm sure I'm
sick of trying."

The same course of conduct was persisted in by
the lad with the same result, until he realised that
he had come to the end of his tether; the next
false step would land him in an industrial school :
he valued his liberty too highly to risk that; to
everybody's astonishment he took a sudden and
strong fancy for instruction, and no more com-
plaints were made until he had proudly finished
his scholastic career. Whether his brain was a
little turned by his full freedom, or whether, by
now being able to devote his whole time and
energy to the sale of newspapers, he became in-
conveniently wealthy, it would be hard to say.
Anyhow, he next got into a scrape for "gaming
with coins," and had to pay a fine of half a crown.
Shortly afterwards he had a quarrel with his
mother, left home, and went to live in a common
lodging-house. A month later the mother went
abroad with a married man who had become
fascinated with her, and whose wife was giving
trouble in consequence. I do not think Harry saw
or heard from her again.

In the lodging-house he got associated with a
bad set, and was drifting steadily into serious
crime. I had a long talk with him. His strong
common- sense caused him to see that I was only
anxious to befriend him. I offered him choice of a
situation in the city, with good, clean, respectable
lodgings, a place on a farm where he would be
well cared for, or a berth on an ocean tramp
steamer. He hesitated between the country and
the sea ; he was very fond of animals, and much
attracted by the idea of having to tend horses and
cows, but he ultimately decided in favour of the
sea, beginning his life as a sailor five years ago.

When I saw him aboard his first ship just before


he went on his maiden voyage, he told me in a
strange, shy manner, of his only regret now that
the day had come for him to leave his old life
behind. There was in the lodging-house where he
had lived a consumptive lad who went out to sell
newspapers when his health would allow, but was
often unable to go for days together. Harry had
given him aid to tide over many a time of stress,
and now wondered what would become of him.
"It'll be all right for me, going about in foreign
parts and enjoying myself," he blurted out self-
reproachf ully ; " but how will he go on ? "

Harry's qualms were settled : the sick youth
was given all the help and comfort possible in
much better surroundings than the lodging-house
till he was taken away, which was not until his
friend returned for the first time from sea, and
had visited him in the hospital. Later on, another
lad who had been one of his old companions also
died ; that lad's mother had somehow won Harry's
admiration and sympathy, and on the few occa-

Online LibraryRobert HolmesMy police court friends with the colours → online text (page 1 of 27)