Pages

Thursday, 16 April 2015

CARRY ON, SERGEANT!



Postcard by Capt Bruce Bairnsfather
The Chevrons Club opened on the 7th February 1918. It offered Non Commissioned Officers on leave a place to stay in London. Conveniently situated near Victoria Station, the Club provided guests with a hot meal, a bath and a bed, with the chance to relax with a smoke and a game of billiards for just 1 shilling a night or 5 shillings a year.

I have a pile of paperwork relating to the Club's early years. This unique collection paints a picture of an organisation with big plans and good intentions (branches in major naval and inland towns and the Dominions, local unemployment bureaus, war memorials etc). 


Chevrons Club 1918 from Flight Magazine via Flightglobal.com
Although by 1919 the Chevrons Club had a healthy 1,745 members (including 112 Canadians and 227 Australians), subscriptions alone were not enough to keep an increasingly expensive operation afloat. Clearly, this was due (in part at least) to overspending by an Executive Committee comprised of (mainly) senior ranking officers from the armed services, adept at persuading various wealthy friends and colleagues to make hefty donations but inadequate as managers of a residential London club!

In order to help raise £150,000 to continue the extension of the St George's Square headquarters and to establish local clubs, the Executive Committee organised a dance, hosted by everyone's favourite fundraiser, George Robey

The grandly titled 'George Robey's Ball' was held on the 5th June 1919 at The Queen's Hall, in Langham Place, London. 

I'm thrilled to say that I've discovered a hitherto undated clip of film from the night in question, on the British Pathé website: http://www.britishpathe.com/video/george-robey-1/query/music
If you follow the link, you'll see that it features George Robey, working the dance floor in his rather creepy 'Prime Minister of Mirth' persona. Amazing!

Given all the effort involved, the ball made a regrettable loss of about £55, a sum which ignored the "problematical £20 due from Mr Geo. Robey".

Not unreasonably, at their next AGM the membership passed a "vote of censure" of the Executive Comittee's administration, "in view of the colossal losses incurred under their management". The vote was dismissed as "the action of a few malcontents"

Seemingly unrepentant and undaunted, the Committee's plans grew more ambitious: a boxing tournament between the British and French Services, held at Holborn Stadium on 22nd June 1920. 

The Boxing Committee, fully expecting a capacity crowd of 3000, spent a whopping £770 on the match. Expenditure included: £72 on the stadium, £60 on unsold programmes, £116 on a press agents' lunch and advertising, £100 on medallions and £68 on 'tube railway' posters.

In the end they sold a paltry 705 tickets, which amounted to receipts of only £525 - another colossal loss.


The Finance Committee Secretary, LJ Farries Esq announced the "adverse balance" in his report to the Executive Committee of July 1920. 

Staggeringly, he managed to blame the French ("the French were entirely responsible") for delaying the match until it was too late in the boxing season. 

In addition, he quoted the "failure of the Goddard-Moran fight" which temporarily closed the stadium box office and a lack of public interest because "the boxing public have been surfeited with boomed matches on which enormous sums have been spent in advertising and nothing short of a sensation will now draw the people, as witness the farcical Burns-Beckett fight".

Perhaps the most disappointing factor of all was the "prevailing apathy" of the armed forces themselves. Farries lamented that "Guards' officers came in some numbers but I doubt if we sold 10 tickets in the War Office or Admiralty; as regards the men I had printed a leaflet...offering service men in uniform half-price seats - not one was sold".

By August 1920, membership had dropped to 930 and part of the newly acquired premises (No. 82 St George's Square) had to be surrendered for a much needed £180.

Based on this downward trajectory, I was gladdened to learn that the Chevrons Club managed to survive the efforts of its first Executive Committee. In fact, it must have prospered, as the St George's Square headquarters were still open in October 1940 when they were bombed by the Luftwaffe.1 Eventually, the Club moved to Dorset Square, where it stayed, until its closure around 1972.2   

Detail from The Chevrons Club Christmas Card 1919

Footnotes


1/ '23/10/40 Bombed out at the Chevrons Club' Letter written by Elydyr Lewis from the Blog entitled "Letters from London WWII" Originally posted 6th September 2011. 
2/ 'The Last Days of the Chevrons Club' 1972 The National Archives Ref: AIR 2/18841 & AIR 2/18842 









No comments:

Post a Comment