AT "HMS CRYSTAL PALACE"
When the Admiralty moved into the Palace there was dust and dirt everywhere. With the aid of an unspecified number of vacuum cleaners and the cleaning of sections of Paxton’s glass house day by day it was all removed. The Palace’s statuary was packed up and, along with the Admiralty, the YMCA moved in. The Egyptian, Grecian and Roman courts in the Palace’s centre transept along with the Moroccan and Alhambra courts, North Tower gardens and the theatre – an area of 3,000 square metres - were placed at the YMCA’s disposal and used for reading, writing and concerts. The reading and writing rooms in the Egyptian and Roman courts provided accommodation for more than 700 men at one sitting. The Alhambra court had 14 billiard tables in constant use in the off-duty hours. The concert hall became a mess room but still staged many high-class concerts.
Bath time wasn’t a problem. There was a register of local houses where free hot baths could be obtained. For swimming lessons the men were marched along Church Road and down South Norwood Hill to the South Norwood baths, then in Birchanger Road. Regular field day sports were held on the football and sports grounds at the Palace.
In October 1914 the Benbow, Hawke and Collingwood battalions were sent to Antwerp to try and save the city from the invading Germans only to find they were too late. 1,500 were taken to neutral Holland where they remained for the duration of the war. They were first placed in a Dutch military barracks called Kazerne on the outskirts of Groningen. Christmas dinner was celebrated with turkeys, ham and puddings (and one bottle of beer per man) sent by the English people.
On January 16th they were moved into some wooden huts built on recreation fields opposite the Kazerne. Three huts, housing about 500 men each, became known as Timbertown. Eight or nine other huts housed workshops, a recreation hall, gymnasium, post office, sickbay, cook’s galley and offices. In the workshops the men made fancy boxes and photo frames etc for sale in England. The workshops also had its own barber, tailor and boot maker. The recreation hall housed the Timbertown Follies started by Fred Penley, son of the author of ‘Charley’s Aunt’. There was also a Timbertown Operatic Society.
On June 6th 1931 the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) unveiled a memorial – in those days termed a trophy – on the lower terrace of the Palace to the 125,00 men of the RNVR who had trained at the Crystal Palace. It was moved in the 1980s following increased vandalism and theft from the memorial and now stands near the entrance to the park’s Sydenham gate.
With the Royal Naval Division on board “HMS Crystal Palace” and elsewhere*
HMS Crystal Palace by Eric Price (Crystal Palace Matters No.5 Spring 1981)
Thanks to: David Britton, Crystal Palace Foundation; staff at Upper Norwood reference library and the Dome reading room, Imperial War Museum.
Further information: Bromley at war 1945 – 2005 produced by Bromley council. Parts of this leaflet may be disturbing to younger children.
Enrolment forms of anyone who joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve/Royal Naval Division who were sent to sea or the Crystal Palace can be obtained from the Public Record Office. Information on some of those who served in the RND is available from the Fleet Air Arm museum. Go to http://royalnavaldivision.co.uk/rnvr.htm for further details.
The ‘HMS Crystal Palace’ brochure and Crystal palace Matters are available on request from Upper Norwood reference library.
Published in the Palace Magazine Oct 2007