BRUM'S WHISTLES CALLED MEN OVER THE TOP - BUT ALSO SAVED LIVES; Whistles that sent our soldiers 'over the top' of the trenches were designed and made in Birmingham. They also helped save lives during the bloody conflict. JUSTINE HALIFAX reports.
Trench warfare is also now synonymous with the futility of war as many soldiers lost their lives either from the horrific trench conditions, or often within seconds after the whistle blew to send them from the trenches to charge into ruthless enemy gunfire.
But 100 years later, few people are aware that the whistles used by officers were both designed and made in Birmingham's thriving Jewellery Quarter by a Birmingham-trained toolmaker.
And they have been continuously made in Birmingham since 1870.
This famous Birmingham toolmaker was Joseph Hudson.
After founding his own company, J Hudson & Co, in 1870 he made various products including corkscrews, snuff boxes and whistles but also did some shoe cobbling and watch repairing to supplement his income.
It came after he replied to an advert from The London Metropolitan Police for an idea to replace the then policeman's rattle, which was a cumbersome means of communication for the then bobby on his beat. His eureka-moment for the police design came after he accidentally dropped his violin on the floor and decided to replicate the discordant sound that it made when it broke.
It led to a contract with the police in 1884 that gradually made Hudson the largest whistle manufacturer for the British Empire Police and other general services.
And it was in the early 1900s that Joseph opened his factory in Barr Street, Hockley, from which the firm still operates, very successfully, to this day.
For the company makes a staggering six million whistles a year under the Acme Whistles brand name which are exported to an impressive 119 countries around the globe.
It was Joseph's original police whistle that formed the basis of the design that later led to the WWI trench whistle.
The Hudson Officer's Trench Whistles with "J Hudson, Birmingham" and the year of manufacture printed on the front, was attached to a soldier or officer's uniform with either a leather strap or lanyard.
During the Great War these whistles were in such high demand that when there was a brass shortage across Britain, Cadbury's, at nearby Bournville, stepped in to help.
The chocolatiers shipped in biscuit tins so that the whistles could continue to be made - in some whistles you can see the Cadbury's cocoa stamp embedded in them.
Acme Whistles' Director, Simon Topman, said: "The infantry whistle that was used to send men 'over the top' was made at our Barr Street, Hockley, address which we still occupy today.
"At one time, as we ran out of brass to make the whistles, the Government was concerned that a lack of whistles welcome sound, many of the whistles were lifesavers."
Just two of the men who hailed the whistles as saving their lives from enemy sniper's bullets were Lance Sergeant Harper, 2nd Battalion Warwickshire Regiment, and Captain Hackett, 4th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment.
Both stories appeared in war-time publications.
The story of the first appeared in The Sports Trade Journal after a letter was received by Hudson's dated November 3, 1914, from Lance Sgt T. W Harper, who was at the time convalescing in Ward 23, Cambridge Hospital, Aldershot.
He wrote: "Dear Sir, "Will you kindly forward me one of your catalogues of whistles as I wish to purchase one before I am ready to proceed to the front.
"I am lying here wounded having been shot in the right arm and leg by shrapnel, but I am pleased to inform you that my life was saved by one of your whistles, 'the Metropolitan Patent.' .' I had been using my whistle during the attack and had left it hanging from the second button.
"When I was wounded it was struck by a bullet in the centre and smashed about all shapes, but thank God it was strong enough to resist the force and this saving the bullet from going straight through, which the doctor told me would have been my death.
"If you wish to see the whistle I could forward it to you promising me you will return it to me without fail as it is a great treasure to me.
"Trusting I will hear from you soon. Yours Sincerely, T W Harper SERGT, 2nd Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment."
And it seems he did send the lifesaving whistle on.
For its December 14 edition the Sports Journal - printed by J G Hammond and Co Ltd of London and Birmingham - featured a picture of the smashed whistle alongside a picture of Lance Sgt Harper in uniform. The article was entitled "Hudson Whistles at the Front".
In a different publication the same incident was also described as a "miraculous escape" from death in an article entitled Hudson Whistles the Metropolitan on Active Service It's in this same article that brief details are also given of a Captain Hackett, 4th Worcestershire Regiment, who also talked of owing his life to a Metropolitan Patent whistle.
The article states: "During an advance early in 1918 a bullet struck it in the centre, but happily, the solid character of the whistle retarded the progress of the bullet and diverted its course. e ocer escaping with nothing worse than a few grazed ribs."
Both articles featured the Hudson company logo which states upon it that: "Hudson Whistles are used all over the world".
And they still are as the company remains the world's largest, and most famous, producer of whistles.
Yet another lifesaving contribution from the company to the war eort included the artillery whistle.
is was used by artillery ocers to warn the men when the gun was about to re so that they could step away from it and avoid injury from the inevitable recoil - which injured or killed many men.
ere's also a reference made to a J Hudson whistle being used by a Victoria Cross recipient.
A post by a former Lieutenant Colonel, and Aston Villa Fan, on an online WWI forum, states: "Whistle carried by Second Lieutenant Montague Moore of the 15th Battalion, e Hampshire Regiment. His battalion took part in the capture of Flers in September 1916.
"Moore was awarded a Victoria Cross after leading an attack in Ypres in 1917." A Brigadier General, also writing on the same forum, reveals just how integral these whistles were in those early war battles - J Hudson whistles also saw active service in WW2.
He states: "Whistles are remarkably eective for passing simple, previously agreed, messages and commands above the racket of a lot of ring. All the ocers right down to platoon commanders would have had them and used them. With the advent of personal radios down to the individual nowadays, the era of bawling, shouting and whistling may well have passed, but I know from experience that it is perfectly feasible to organise a platoon attack, informing the section commanders who is to provide re support and who will actually assault with the commander and from what direction, using nothing more than simple coded whistle blasts."
And the era of military whistles is far from over. For J Hudson and Co still make in large numbers both NATO infantry and artillery whistles as well as boatswains pipes - a whistle which is used on naval ships by a boatswain (a senior deck crewman) - for various navies. e importance and signi cance of the Birminghammade whistles will be heralded in a showcase oral display at this summer's Chelsea Flower Show, which will run from May 20 to 24.
ree giant, but exact replicas, of the WW1 trench whistle have been made for the Birmingham Parks Department's entry to the show and will form a fountain within the display. e show will run ahead of Britain commemorating the centenary of the start of our involvement in the Great War and the lives of the millions of soldiers lost, in August this year. Acme has also just revealed that it has decided to make replicas of the trench whistles which will have a remembrance poppy enamelled on to the front. ese will be sold at Chelsea and afterwards to support the work of the Royal British Legion.
Joseph Hudson started work at Joseph Hudson started work at |the age of 12 having moved from the age of 12 having moved from Matlock in Derbyshire where Matlock in Derbyshire where his family were farm workers. his family were farm workers. He trained as a toolmaker and He trained as a toolmaker and was clearly entrepreneurial and inventive. He patented a wind resistant camping stove in 1906 and a battery charger in 1912.
In 1883 The Metropolitan |Police of London were seeking a replacement for the cumbersome policeman's rattle that was the means of communication for the "Bobby on the beat". Joseph Hudson on the beat". Joseph Hudson had made whistles for years and had made whistles for years and saw his opportunity. Inspiration saw his opportunity. Inspiration came one evening as he played came one evening as he played his violin. Somehow he acciden his violin. Somehow he accidentally dropped it and noticed the tally dropped it and noticed the discordant note it made and how discordant note it made and how arresting it was. He copied that disarresting it was. He copied that discordant sound and the police whistle cordant sound and the police whistle was born. The broken violin is still on was born. The broken violin is still on display at the factory. display at the factory.
| The following year 1884, looking to | The following year 1884, looking to |build on his success he invented the world's first referee whistle, The Acme Thunderer - to distinguish it from his police whistle, he inserted a pea.
| By 1930 Hudson was established as |the most successful whistle maker of the 20th century.
Bombed in 1940 and rebuilt, the |company made whistles for the war effort and ammunition.
Today the company continues as |Acme Whistles - owned and managed by Simon Topman - and sells six million whistles a year with total sales since founding of 460 million.
New products still extend the range |and its use with a catalogue of 83 whistling products.
As well as the first police whistle the |company's other innovations include a sports whistle 1884; siren whistle 1890; taxi whistle 1909; speaking tubes and whistles 1918; plastic whistles 1926; silent dog whistle 1935; waterproof lifesaving whistle 1949; deep mine safety whistle 1984; tornado whistle 1998 and the high range water whistle 2010.
| Above, an Acme Thunderer artillery |whistle in the shape of a Churchill Tank. Left, an advert for J Hudson & Co with a whistle-saves-life story. Below left, an original whistle from 1915
| Sales director Ben McFarlane with |one of four large whistles destined for the Chelsea Flower Show
The company's |factory in Birmingham and (inset) a portrait of Joseph Hudson and his violin
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|Publication:||Birmingham Mail (England)|
|Date:||May 17, 2014|
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