The Brockman family lived at Eaton Cottage in Thames Ditton and for at least part of the war the members of the family produced a little, monthly home-produced newspaper, the ‘Eaton Cottage Herald’ (SHC ref 9497), presumably for the entertainment of friends and relatives. At the time the newsletters were written, the household comprised Herbert Brockman, his wife Isabel, their two children, Miles (b.1903) and Nancy (b.1906) and the children’s nurse Elsie May Taylor (1891-c.1982). The newspapers were passed to the History Centre by a descendant of Elsie. Herbert Brockman was a cashier for a cement company according to the 1911 census. All but one of the surviving issues date from 1916, the sole exception being dated March 1915 (although as there is no March 1916 issue this might be an error?). Miles was often away at a school called St Clear and during the course of 1916 tried and failed to enrol as a naval cadet.
The newsletters paint a charming picture of a comfortable middle class life. Frequently the war scarcely intrudes and instead the newspapers are full of descriptions and drawings of boating on the river (‘the river season has now commenced, and the boats play a great part in the day’s work’, June 1916), seaside holidays in Shanklin (IOW) and Dymchurch in Kent, bike trips, birds’ nests raiding, camping and cooking in the garden, dressing up and amateur theatricals. We are very definitely in the world of E Nesbit and Arthur Ransome. The adventures of the family’s dogs are lovingly chronicled. However, the great conflict always lurks in the background and finds expression in all sorts of ways. The children’s games make reference to it: a ‘storyette’ in the August 1916 has some boys wreaking local havoc by acting out a Prussian army corps attacking a Red Cross Hospital. The snowmen built in the garden in March 1915 (or perhaps 1916) were given topical identities.
It is clear too that the family played a full part in the patriotic war effort. In March 1915 it was reported that ‘the fretwork craze has given us many hours of labour and has resulted in our being able to send several picture puzzles to the hospitals for the amusement of our wounded Tommies’. In October we learn that ‘Our Day [Red Cross fundraising day] found Mother busily engaged in selling flags with the great assistance of Nancy and Elsie, and, let us add, Jim [the dog], who ran around and fought dogs who did not agree with flag days’. In November, ‘The ladies of the house are knitting very industriously for the soldiers while Nancy sits and sews’ (November 1916). The accompanying drawing is captioned ‘Sister Susies!’ a reference to the popular song:
“Sister Susie’s sewing shirts for soldiers,
Such skill at sewing shirts our shy young sister Susie shows
Some soldiers send epistles, say they’d sooner sleep in thistles,
Than the saucy, soft, short shirts for soldiers sister Susie sews”.
Hubert Brockman was too old (at least in 1916) to be conscripted. Instead, he enrolled as a Special Constable to support the police across a range of activities, but particularly in assuring that the local blackout was observed to prevent Thames Ditton and other places around becoming an easy target for Zeppelins. He is shown proudly wearing his new uniform (March 1915) but in another drawing is gently mocked as an amateur, in comparison with regular police officers (April 1916). In October 1916 it is reported that he has been promoted to the rank of Sergeant.
The worsening state of the country’s supply chain and increasing shortages are also touched upon. A cartoon of a mother bird feeding her chicks is captioned ‘Now hen children, you must make this worm go a long way because it’s wartime’ (May 1916). Another topical joke, under the heading War Economy , runs: ‘Small boy (making frantic efforts to stand on his head, “Muvver told me to play at somefink what don’t wear my boots out” (October 1916).
A mournful depiction by Nancy Brockman of pre-war Easter eggs and the eggs they were faced with in 1916 speaks for itself.
In the midst of increasing austerity, the family kept their own and their readers’ spirits up with bad jokes which stressed the justice of the cause for which they were fighting and the certainty of victory and revenge for all they were being put through:
Teacher to very small girl in Sunday School class, “Now, what would you say if Satan were to speak to you?” “I don’t speak German” came the cutting reply’ (February 1916)
” I wonder”, said Mrs Brown, “what they’ll do with the Kaiser when the War’s over. I suppose they’ll take his crown away and make him look for another job”. “Perhaps”, agreed Brown, “and I know the job he’ll choose”. “What’s that?” “A diver’s”. “Why?” asked Mrs Brown. “So that he can inspect his famous fleet now and again” was the reply (February 1916).
Christmas 1916 was to have been spent at their ‘other home’. The cover of the newspaper shows them being welcomed at a large house. A piece of luggage is marked Whitville. The paper was never completed and a draft of the editorial states that in fact they were forced to stay at Eaton Cottage because the ‘lady of the house’ had fallen ill. It is not known if further editions were produced but it seems unlikely. Perhaps paper shortages, perhaps a change in family circumstances brought an end to this charming record of one family’s experiences during the war.