Stories of People

Joe Braddock’s Scouting Diary 1915

uniform braddock

Member of the sea scouts on lookout for enemy ships IWM Q 19992















(left) Joe Braddock  [photo courtesy of Peter Clark and Mark Whittaker]                                

(right) A Sea Scout on lookout duties First World War [Image courtesy of Imperial War Museum ©]

When Britain entered the First World War in August 1914 the Chief Scout Sir Robert Baden Powell urged Scouts to get involved to support the war effort, not as combatants but rather filling useful roles at home thereby freeing men to enlist and go to the Front. His appeal was backed up by a poster campaign reinforcing the message of service, as can be seen in the example below. Thousands of boys and young men answered the call, with many joining the Scouts for the first time in the Autumn of 1914. One such local man who did so was Joe Braddock, who lived with his family in Stockport Road. Joe’s name will already be known to many local people through the researches of Peter Clarke and former colleagues, who have given details of all the Marple servicemen killed in the First War in their book Remembered, published in 1999. During his research, Peter was given a pocket Scouts’ Diary belonging to Joe Braddock which he has kindly donated to the Marple Local History Archive. The Diary forms the basis of the present article.

Gov Poster 1914

Government poster from 1914 promoting civilian action to support the Armed Services
with a Scout in a prominent position

[© The Scout Association Heritage Collection]

The diary is not a daily journal. Joe kept it in much the way that most of us use a pocket diary, writing in reminders and noting events of importance to the owner like trips and , in Joe’s case, sporting events. From these snatches of information, we can build a picture of Joe’s life in the last full year before his fateful military service began.

When war broke out, Joe was 17, just too young for active service. He joined Marple Scouts and threw himself into the routine with enthusiasm. By December 1914, Joe had passed his Tenderfoot tests and in the following three months passed a further series of tests to become a Scout Second Class.

joe diary page

A typical page from Joe’s Diary with the daily tip for Scouts and some of Joe’s jottings

These include a signalling test, a skill that was to figure greatly in the remaining years of his short life. By May, he had passed two elements of the tests needed to gain Scout First Class status. By the Summer of 1915 , however, Joe was apparently becoming unsettled in the Marple troop and in July 1915 he obtained a transfer to High Lane Scouts. The reasons for this move are not entirely clear. Two or three cryptic entries in the Diary from around this time suggest that he was not happy with the way the Marple troop was being run. More positively, the High Lane troop had a Sea Scouts branch which attracted Joe. Pages 64 and 65 of his Diary outlined instructions from the Admiralty for Sea Scouts in Coast Watching. Having read this information, it seems Joe had already decided on a more active involvement in the war effort by undertaking these duties. He enthusiastically set about making his mark at High Lane, quickly passing a further series of tests, again including signalling but also photography another of his interests. On the 14th August, he records that he had made the decision to go on coast guard duty. In the following fortnight he obtained the agreement of his family and the Scouts to go and prior to his departure he was made a Patrol Leader for the Sea Scouts and passed his First Class Signalling badge. On 27th August he left work early, packed his bags, having made a list in the back of the Diary of what he should take with him and went to catch the night train for the long journey south to Cornwall to take up his duties with other scouts on the Lizard Peninsula. His train went via Bristol to the Cornish station Gwinear Road [closed in the Beeching cuts of the 1960s] from where he journeyed onto Helston, arriving in time for afternoon tea.

The volunteer scouts were under the supervision of the local Coastguards and the general authority of Board of Trade inspectors. There was a fear of a possible German invasion, so an important aspect of the scouts’ work was to keep a watch for enemy shipping. Other duties included watching out for any ship in distress and taking and receiving messages on behalf of the Coastguard. To carry out these duties the scouts were divided in to two groups each taking a separate “beat” with the day divided into a series of naval-type watches. Joe summarised his duties in the diary but he appears not to have had the excitement of observing the enemy; the only military ships he noted were Royal Navy vessels, including one of the formidable Dreadnoughts. He continued to develop his signalling skills, including Morse Code which he practised in the diary. Of course, life in Cornwall was not all duty and work. Joe was able to continue his love of playing football against some local teams and several times he took the opportunity to bathe in the sea. Other diversions included a trip to Penzance, regular visits to Band of Hope meetings and once a trip out in the local Lifeboat.

Sea scouts

An inspection of volunteer sea scouts on coast watching duty during the winter of 1914/15

[© The Scout Association Heritage Collection]

In December 1915, he was granted seven days’ leave to return home to Marple for Christmas. Having had an enjoyable time with visits to the cinema and the theatre, he returned to the Lizard on 29th December. The last entry in the Diary records that he went to a Bazaar in one of the local schoolrooms on New Year’s Day, 1916. While we have no diary for that year, we know from other sources that later in 1916 Joe decided to take a more active role in the war effort and enlist in the Army. He did so whilst in Cornwall, initially joining the South Lancashire Regiment, which had bases in the West Country, but soon transferring to a service battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment as a Signaller. A huge number of transfers occurred in 1916 as thousands of volunteers poured into the New Armies and existing Battalions were re-formed after the heavy losses on the Western Front in 1915. In Joe’s case the Diary provides information explaining this particular transfer.

birkenhead regiment of soldiers from a pint sized battalion

A Birkenhead Bantam Platoon

The 14th Battalion of the “Glosters” was a newly formed Bantams battalion, specifically recruiting men whose stature would have previously rendered then ineligible for military service as they fell below the minimum required height of 5ft. 3ins. Given the desperate need for men, this minimum height was reduced to 5ft. and the Glosters recruited heavily for the new battalion throughout the West Country in 1915 and early 1916 with posters like the one below. In Joe’s Diary there was a page for “Personal Memoranda” which he duly filled in, revealing that he was 5ft in height and weighed just 6st. 2lbs. No doubt he was still growing; his boot size has a 4 crossed out and replaced with a 5, but his height made him a perfect recruit for the Bantams. We know that Joe enlisted in 1916 whilst serving at the Lizard but unfortunately other details are missing as his full service record was one of the many destroyed by enemy bombs and fire during the Second World War.

Bantams recruiting poster WWI

Joe will have seen this or a similar poster while in Cornwall, encouraging him to enlist and don the service uniform

Later in 1916 Joe left for France with his Battalion, which was one of the earliest Bantam outfits to be formed. In October, 1917 Joe was killed by an artillery shell in what became known as the Battle of Passchendaele. His mother received the tragic news at the family home in Albert Buildings, 129-131 Stockport Road, in the centre of Marple. The photos below show a section of Stockport Road in 1911 with Joe’s home in the buildings in the near foreground and the present day view of the section, opposite the current Costa Coffee, with the datestone clearly visible.

Stockport Road

Stockport Road looking from the corner of Market Street towards the Navigation (1911)

Stockport Road
Stockport Road

Stockport Road looking from the corner of Market Street towards the Navigation, present day.

Stockport Road
Opposite Costa

Opposite the current Costa Coffee (present day)

Opposite Costa

After his death, Joe was buried in Bedford House, a War Graves Cemetery in Belgium. However, his name is also remembered on the Marple War Memorial and on a Methodist Church Plaque, while the family had his name added to the family gravestone in All Saints Churchyard as shown below [photograph courtesy of Hilary Atkinson]

gravestone braddockBraddock Family Gravestone in All Saints Churchyard

Joe’s diary is interesting to us in three ways. First, it gives us a highly personal glimpse of a young man’s life at a crucial time in the country’s history. Secondly, it is a useful part of the history of scouting at “grassroots level” and life on the “Home Front” during the Great War and thirdly, more widely, it gives us a flavour of the age, its priorities and outlooks so different from our own a century later. The diary is a valuable addition to our Archive, for which we are grateful to Peter Clarke, and it is hoped that similar donations of interesting documents and other ephemera might be offered in the future.

Geoff Higgins (August 2020)

[Author’s endnote: I am most grateful to Hilary Atkinson for encouraging me to write this article and to her and Neil Mullineux for helpful advice on the contents and layout of the article]