Sunday, 31 August 2014

A Terrible Accident

Monday 31st August 1914 (Bedford): News of a tragedy which cost the life of one of their number has reached the Highlanders billeted in Bedford. A group of soldiers visited St Neots yesterday and went to Eynesbury to bathe in the river. When they arrived they realised it was ladies’ day and sat some distance away. After a time they realised two girls had got into difficulty and two of the men went to their rescue. One of these, Walter Taylor, was bringing one of the girls back to the bank when the other caught hold of him. The poor lad sank and was caught in the weeds where he drowned. The girls were rescued by others of the group of soldiers who found a punt. Young Taylor came from Aberdeen, where ironically his address was Bedford Road. His funeral is to be held tomorrow at St Neots.

Source: Bedfordshire Times 4th September 1914

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Excitement in Wardown Park

Lake and bathing pavilion, Wardown Park c.1910 [Z1306/75/8/3]

Sunday 30th August 1914 (Luton): Both soldiers and civilians gathered at Wardown Park this afternoon to listen to the band. After the concert there was some excitement when a small boy fell into the lake and had to be pulled out by the Territorials. When the soldiers removed his wet clothes they realised he was wearing little more than rags and dressed him in one of their coats, much to his delight. Later in the evening there was pandemonium when a group of soldiers were seen chasing two men wearing civilian clothes. Everyone naturally assumed the men must be German spies. It turned out however that they were just local Luton men who had been giving out cigarettes to the Territorials. The soldiers had heard stories of a man travelling the country giving drugged cigarettes to troops so had became suspicious. After the men were identified they had to be sent out of the park by a back way to avoid the crowd.

Source: Luton News 3rd September 1914

Friday, 29 August 2014

Belgian Refugees in Luton

Ruined entrance to Termond, Belgium 1914 [Z160/484]

Saturday 29th August 1914 (Luton): Two families of Belgian refugees are now staying in a boarding house in Luton. The fathers are both businessmen from Brussels who escaped on the morning of the very day the Germans arrived in the city. One of them had stayed in Luton many years ago, having been sent here to learn English, so the two men decided to bring their families to the town rather than go to London. They are said to be remarkably cheerful and calm despite the loss of their homes and their uncertain future. There are reports of terrible things having been done to the Belgians by the German invaders, but the refugees saw nothing of this as they had left before the Germans arrived.

Source: Luton News 3rd September 1914

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Rugby Fixtures Cancelled

Goldington Road Stadium. Image: Wikipedia

Friday 28th August 1914, Bedford: Many of the young men of the town will be disappointed to hear that all Rugby football fixtures for Bedford have been cancelled for the foreseeable future. The team were due to play both Harlequins and Northampton in September but both those matches have been called off. Many of the team are already serving in the forces and others have joined up as volunteers. Even if there were enough players to make up a team, the Goldington Road ground cannot be used as the premises have been taken over by the army. The scrum hall is being used to store food for the troops, the grandstand is full of fodder for the horses, and the pitch itself has been badly damaged by horses and vehicles. It seems unlikely that there can be any matches at Goldington Road before Christmas.

Source: Bedfordshire Times 28th August 1914

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

School Matters

Thursday 27th August 1914 (Luton): An announcement has been made today about schooling arrangements. The children are due to return to school next week after the summer holidays, but many of the school buildings are being used to billet troops. Special arrangements have had to be made with a number of schools having to double up and share premises. Where this happens children will only get three days schooling a week and will attend school on alternate days, either Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, or Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. No doubt many of the youngsters will be happy to have unexpected freedom on the days they do not have to attend. Their parents' feelings may be rather different!

Source: Luton News 27th August 1914

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Spy Fever Strikes Again

Application by George Alger for a post as clerk at the Bedford Bank, 1841 [BD413]

Wednesday 26th August 1914 (Bedford): Spy fever has struck again in Bedford. Mr R. W. Alger was wheeling his elderly mother down the Goldington Road in a bath chair when he heard a German speaking in broken English. He reported the man to two Highlander officers and continued walking. Two mounted soldiers were sent to inform the police, but there was obviously some mix up over the message as they pointed out Mr Alger to a policeman as the suspected German. He and his mother were then taken to the police station. Meanwhile word got round the town that the old lady in the bathchair was a German in disguise! A hostile crowd gathered outside the police station and shouted some very choice words at those inside. Fortunately all was quickly resolved as Mrs Alger’s late husband had been a manager at the Bedford Bank for fifty years and the family is well known to the Chief Constable. Mr Alger and the old lady were escorted out the back entrance of the bank and order was restored.

Source: Bedfordshire Times 28th August 1914

Monday, 25 August 2014

Intruder at the Waterworks

Bedford Corporation Waterworks 1912 [Z293/1]

Tuesday 25th August 1914 (Linslade): Last week an incident took place at the waterworks in Linslade when one of the guards saw something creeping along the side of the fence and fired three shots. The area was searched carefully but nothing was found. It was feared that an intruder may have poisoned the water in the reservoir and a sample was sent to the Public Analyst for testing. Linslade Council held a special meeting today at which the analyst's report was read. No trace of poison has been found and the water has been declared safe to drink. In any case the reservoir had already been thoroughly cleaned and the filtering sand replaced. A lot of fuss and work was created by this supposed "intruder” which it is now suspected was probably nothing more a dog or fox.

Source: Luton News 27th August 1914

Sunday, 24 August 2014

An Exercise in Good Manners

Scottish horse riding through Cople, 1914 [Z68/1]

Monday 24th August 1914 (Bedford): The Highlanders are still in town and are an ever present topic of conversation. Among the Bedford girls they are already winning a reputation as good dancers and good singers. The townsfolk may be a little too appreciative as the local newspaper carried the following notice:  “We have been asked to express to the people of Bedford the Commanding Officers’ grateful recognition of the many acts of kindness bestowed on their men, and to express the hope that the townsfolk will refrain from buying the men intoxicating liquors”. Whatever their drinking habits the behaviour of the men has so far has been entirely gentlemanly. An employee at the newspaper offices was cycling on a country road when he met a company of Scots exercising their horses who were taking up the entire road. The officer asked if he wanted to pass, then ordered the troops to clear the way for him.

Source: Bedfordshire Times 21st August 1914 and 28th August 1914

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Laundry Service

St Mary's Hospital, c.1960s - originally Luton Workhouse [Z50/75/133]

Sunday 23rd August 1914 (Luton): The Territorials billeted in the town are having a practical problem due to the difficulty of getting clean underclothing. A Laundry Service Committee has been formed to help. Underwear is being collected from around town and a group of women have been put to work washing and mending it.

Extra billets have been found by sending forty of the territorials to the old Workhouse, where they are living in a separate section from the usual inmates, with their own entrance. Sixty more men are expected to join them. The Mayor has now agreed that their washing can be done in the Workhouse Laundry for a small fee.

Source: Luton News 27th August 1914

Friday, 22 August 2014

Boy Scouts Out for Victory

Postcard 1914-18 [X464/62]

Saturday 22nd August 1914 (Bedford): The Boy Scouts have been very busy all week. Some have been acting as messengers for the Highlanders since they arrived last Saturday and the police have also been relying on Scouts as messengers. Others have been acting as guards, watching both the railway bridges, the reservoir, and the pumping station. Bedford's own Scout Troups are being helped by the Elstow, Kempston and Clapham Scouts.

Source: Bedfordshire Times 21st August 1914

Thursday, 21 August 2014

National Day of Intercession

Knitted Soldier's Cap pattern [OR2343/8]

Friday 21st August 1914 (Sharnbrook): Today has been declared a National Day of Intercession to pray for the nation's soldiers and for a speedy end to the war. In Sharnbrook extra services are being held in the Church in the morning and evening. The village is intending to provide practical as well as spiritual aid for British soldiers. On Wednesday a meeting was held at the Church concerning Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild. As a result a working party has been set up which will meet in the Church Room to knit and sew items for soldiers and sailors, the sick and wounded and their families.

Source: St Peter’s Sharnbrook Parish Record Book, p.53-54 [P112/28/6]

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Guarding the Waterworks

Thursday 20th August 1914 (Luton)

Map of Luton c.1916 showing waterworks (centre-right) [WW1/VA4/2/1]

The guard on the Hart Lane waterworks has now been doubled following a scare on Tuesday night. A sentry saw a man’s head appear over the wall but when he shouted a challenge it disappeared. When he spotted the head again a few minutes later the sentry fired two shots. A search was carried out for the intruder but nobody was found. Nobody knows now whether there was ever anyone there or whether it was all in the sentry's imagination. Be that as it may, there are now eight sentries on duty at the waterworks at all times. We cannot take the risk that our water supply may be tampered with by German spies.

Source: Luton News 20th August 1914

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

News from Leighton Buzzard

Wednesday 19th August 1914

Leighton Buzzard Corn Exchange and Lake Street [Z1130/72/61-62]

The war is beginning to affect life in the market town of Leighton Buzzard now that Territorial soldiers have been billeted there. The Wesleyan Sunday School in Hockliffe Street has been open during the week for the men to use for recreational purposes with an entertainment has been laid on for them every evening. The Corn Exchange in Lake Street has been turned into a hospital with the help of the Leighton Red Cross and has been operating with a staff of ladies from the Leighton Voluntary Aid Detachment. The dozen inmates are all suffering from either minor illnesses or injuries suffered while on duty. The soldiers are due to leave today and it is expected that the patients from the Corn Exchange will be taken to the Military Hospital in Bedford.

Source: Luton News 20th August 1914

Monday, 18 August 2014


Map of Luton c.1916. Red and blue shading shows areas allocated for billeting [WW1/VA4/2/1]

Tuesday 18th August 1914 (Luton): Billeting officers have been round Luton finding places for Territorials who are being billeted in the town. Some of the soldiers have been placed in public buildings and others are being sent to private houses. Most people are happy to help, but a few have tried to avoid billeting men despite having plenty of room. One woman told the officer who visited her she could not take any soldiers as her children were suffering from measles. When he mentioned this at the next house, he was told by the occupant that her neighbour had no children! The billeting officer then marked the offender down as a billet for six, telling her that he had six men who had just had measles so would not be at risk of catching them from her family. Anyone who provides a billet gets paid three shillings for an officer and nine pence for a soldier. The soldiers are doing their own catering, but there are also fixed payments for any meals provided by the house owner.

Source: Luton News 20th August 1914

Sunday, 17 August 2014

"I Could Cook for the Chaps"

Crimean War cannon on the Bedford Embankment, c.1906. The cannon was removed and scrapped during the Second World War [Z50/9/91]

Monday 17th August 1914 (Luton and Biggleswade): A recruiting office has opened at the Volunteer Club in Park Street, Luton where men can sign up to join the new army being raised by Lord Kitchener. Men whose teeth are too poor to be accepted into the army are being given free use of the dental clinic so that they can be passed fit by the recruiting officer. Once accepted they are sent to Bedford for a full medical examination. 

A story has been going round about an old soldier from Biggleswade, George Smith. A veteran of the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny, he wants to go with the Expeditionary Force despite being 82 years old. He admits he is too old to fight, but says “I could cook for the chaps: I could make a pie or pudding with any of them”.

Source: Luton News 20th August 1914

Saturday, 16 August 2014

A Nasty Accident

Architectural drawing of Bute Hospital frontage, c.1902 [Z1306/75/5/1]

Sunday 16th August 1914 (Luton): A Territorial transport driver, Fred Dickinson, has been brought in to the Bute Hospital unconscious with a smashed hand and a badly cut head.[1] He had been driving an ambulance wagon, and while he was unharnessing one of the horses it bolted and knocked him down. The hospital has been exceptionally busy all week with nearly twenty soldiers from the Territorials and Yeomanry admitted with pneumonia. Although it is August the poor lads have suffered badly from having to sleep on damp floors.

Source: Luton News 20th August 1914

[1]The Bute Hospital was the forerunner of the Luton and Dunstable University Hospital, built on land in Dunstable Road donated by the Marquis of Bute. In 1902 it had forty beds.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Arrival of the Highlanders

Highland troops in Bedford, 1914 [Z68/2]

Saturday 15th August 1914 (Bedford): Today there has been great excitement in Bedford with the arrival of the Highland Territorials in the town. The Scotsmen made an extraordinary sight as they marched along in their green tartan kilts and red jackets singing some of the great songs of Scotland. These included Annie Laurie, The Land of the Leal and The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond. Groups of Boy Scouts helped to guide the soldiers to their billets where they were given cups of hot cocoa. One Highlander was heard to say their journey had been so long that “another hour or two and we must have been off the map!” Although the men had been travelling for eighteen hours they still had the energy to spend the afternoon enjoying themselves on the river. They took out every boat and punt they could find but some obviously lacked experience of the water. Two men fell in after a collision between two boats, and there were a number of abandoned punt poles sticking out of the river. The soldiers were extremely noisy, but their broad Scottish accents meant that much of what they were shouting about was incomprehensible to the local bystanders. 

Source: Bedfordshire Times 21st August 1914

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Sing-Songs in Public Houses

Group of people in a wagonette outside the Globe Inn, 26 Union Street, Luton c.1914 [Z50/75/246]

Friday 14th August 1914 (Luton):  While the country faces up to wartime there is talk that some restrictions should be put on the opening hours of public-houses and beerhouses to reduce drunkenness. Some people would also like to see other attractions of the public-house curtailed, as show by this letter to the Luton News: 
Sing Songs in Public-Houses
Sir. – May I be allowed through your useful paper to suggest that the above be prohibited as long as the war lasts. There are many reasons to put forward why they should be. First is, that they entice husbands and fathers to stay away from home night after night spending what the children ought to have upon their feet, or what ought to go towards providing for the bad time that is fast coming. Many families could hold out months longer when poverty begins if husbands were more careful; and again, when our partners emerge from the public-house, more or less muddled, they are apt to become a nuisance, if not dangerous to their own neighbourhood, as their beery patriotism often demonstrates. In conclusion, Sir, I am not a temperance faddist, but I think during these serious times that we are embarking upon, any and everything that entices the married man to spend his money wastefully and recklessly should be curtailed. Yours truly,
“A Mother of Seven”
Source: Luton News 13th August 1914

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Women's Registration Bureau

Thursday 13th August 1914 (Bedford):  A Women’s Registration Bureau has now opened at the Modern School. The Bureau is taking applications from any women who want to volunteer to help with the war effort. A list is being kept of how many hours a week ladies are able to work and which of the following tasks they are willing to carry out:

• Nursing (only trained or partly trained nurses, or those with home experience can apply)
• Domestic – cooking, house work, laundry etc
• Secretarial
• Languages
• Visiting as inspectors or disbursers
• Needlework
• Messengers (to use motor cars and motor cycles)
• Medical dispensers

The Bureau already has 600 volunteers, though as 490 of those are for needlework it seems the talents of the ladies of Bedford are not quite as varied as might be wished.

Source: Bedfordshire Times 14th August 1914

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

White or Brown?

Photographic postcard of a group of army cooks, with trays of bread entitled Awaiting Orders to cook the Kaiser, by J T Welch [Z835/18/1]

Wednesday 12th August 1914It is being suggested that the public should eat bread made from wholemeal flour rather than white bread. Eating wholemeal or brown bread would reduce waste and would be an effective way to help limited flour supplies stretch further. Another advantage is that wholemeal bread is said to be healthier because it contains the wheat “germs”.

Source: Luton News 13th August 1914

Monday, 11 August 2014

A Disturbance in Dunstable

Poster issued following the Dunstable Riot [SJV11]

Tuesday 11th August 1914 (Dunstable): Food prices are still a source of discontent and there have been accusations that some grocers are profiteering and charging more than they should. Suspicion that prices are being put up unnecessarily led to a disturbance in Dunstable last night.

A crowd of over a thousand people gathered in High Street North. To start with they were quite good humoured, singing patriotic songs. Then the mood turned angry. A brick was thrown through the plate glass window of Mr Mowse’s grocer’s shop and was followed with a shower of stones.[1] All the windows in the front of the shop and house were broken. The police lost control and there were threats to loot the shop. Major S J Green, the commander of C Squadron of the Beds Yeomanry drove up in his motor car and spoke to the angry crowd. The Major was greeted with cheers, but after he left the mood turned nasty again and more stones were thrown before the mob finally broke up and went home at around one o’clock.

Another crowd gathered early in the morning, this time to see off Major Green’s Bedfordshire Yeomanry Squadron from the LNW railway station. His men had mobilised in Dunstable on Thursday and had been billeted in Messrs. White’s mineral water factory since. While the Yeomanry were at Dunstable many young men applied to join them, but they were turned away because the Squadron was already at its full war strength.

Sources: Luton News, 13th August 1914 and 29th October 1914; correspondence file SJV11

[1] A police report on the incident dated 7 November 1914 explains the grievance against the shopkeeper, Ernest Mowse of 81 High Street North:
There was a strong feeling amongst the people against Mr Mowse, on account of him having raised the prices of his goods, and it having been reported that he said he could do without the trade of the poorer classes. Mr Mowse also did a little wholesale trade with some smaller shop-keepers, and it was stated that he had been round and got them to raise their prices also. The feeling of the people were entirely against Mr Mowse only.
A claim was made for payment under the Riot Damages Act of 1888 by the Luton Mutual Plate Glass Insurance Association Ltd which had paid for repairs, but this was refused on the grounds that the Riot Act had not been read and the incident could therefore not be classified as a riot. 

Sunday, 10 August 2014

German Prisoners

Officers of the Bedford Division at Gadsby Street, 1925 [QEV20/7]

Monday 10th August 1914 (Bedford) - In the few days since war broke out Bedford has been full of bustle and excitement. The Territorial soldiers of the 5th Bedfordshire Regiment have been billeted at the Goldington Road schools since Wednesday, except for those men who live in Bedford who have been allowed to stay at home. Today two Germans were captured at Clapham. At first rumour had it that they were spies but it seems this was not the case. When the Borough police were told Germans had been spotted Police Sergeant Wheatley was sent on a bicycle to look for them. By the time he caught up with the men they were outside the Borough limits so he fetched the Clapham constable, PC Jefferies. They stopped the two young Germans and took them to the police station at Gadsby Street. It appears the men had been in Liverpool working as a waiter and a barman. They had travelled to London to try to get a boat home, but when they were unable to do so they decided to return to Liverpool. Superintendent Anniwell spoke to the military authorities and the men were taken to the barracks as prisoners of war. 

Source: Bedfordshire Times 7th August 1914 and 14th August 1914

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Missing Horses

RAMC band marching in Bedford 1914 [Z1306/12/5/41]

Sunday 9th August 1914 (Luton): Since the war started the army has been commandeering the horses it needs from the town. Requisitioning parties have been at work all week, and have not always shown much regard for the owners' feelings. A local doctor had his horse seized from outside his door: its hooves had been branded even before it was moved away from the house. 

Some organisations have been more successful than others. The Royal Army Medical Corps found itself in particularly difficulties. Representatives of the RAMC had been round the town and sourced all the horses they needed but had not actually requisitioned them. When they went back to claim the horses they found other parts of the army had got there first. In the end the RAMC were forced to leave town without the animals they needed.

Source: Luton News 13th August 1914

Friday, 8 August 2014

Motorcycle Volunteers

The Manton family with a motorcycle in the backyard of the Hop Pole,Cauldwell Street, Bedford.[1]  [Z50/142/809]

Saturday 8th August 1914 (Luton): A group of motor cyclists left Luton this morning to attend a rally at Wimbledon Common in response to a Government appeal for volunteers. An enthusiastic crowd gathered to see them off from the Town Hall at midday. Some have been sent on patrol work, and others have been distributing Police proclamations from Scotland Yard to various parts of the country. 

Source: Luton News 13th August 1914

[1]The man on the motorcycle in this picture, Henry Hector Manton, became a sergeant in the Army Veterinary Corps. He was killed on 12th January 1917 aged 22 and is buried at the Heilly Station Cemetery, Mericourt-L'Abbe. He was the son of Henry and Kate Manton of the Hop Pole, Cauldwell Street, Bedford. 

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Boy Scouts At Work

Officers of the Sharnbrook Division, 1920. Inspector John Wilfred Bliss, front row centre [QEV20/6]

Friday 7th August 1914 (Sharnbook): 
Inspector Bliss of the Sharnbrook police station has asked Boy Scouts from the villages to help the police by taking messages.[1] Four are to report to the station at 10 a.m., four more at 2 p.m. and another four at 6 p.m. Those with bicycles are to take them along. Many of the boys are already wishing they were old enough to join the army. No doubt they will feel that being a Boy Scout is the next best thing.

Source: Bedfordshire Times 7th August 1914

[1] The newspaper report says the Scouts were to report to the Police Superintendent, but at this time Sharnbrook’s senior officer was Inspector John Wilfred Bliss (Beats, Boots and Thieves, Des Hoar and Richard Handscomb, p.96). Boy Scouts were used across the county to take messages, run errands and guard premises.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Food Prices

Luton News, 6th August 1914

Thursday 6th August 1914 (Luton): The biggest worry for women in this first week of the war is how to make the housekeeping money stretch. Food prices have already started to rise. No wheat is coming from Russia and England cannot be sure of supplies from America. Wheat prices have risen 30% in a week and all the bakers have agreed to increase the price of a quartern loaf by a halfpenny. Lump sugar has gone up from three pence to five pence. If this continues people will soon not be able to afford to put sugar in their tea. Lard, cheese and butter have also gone up, and condensed milk has doubled in price. Today's local newspaper included a notice posted by the Luton Tradesmen’s Association warning people against buying too much and stockpiling food. Perhaps they should do the same as the Bedford tradesmen who have agreed not to fulfil unreasonably large orders and have promised not to put prices up until they are compelled to do so. It is all very well for those folks who can afford to buy enough to hoard extra food, but many wage packets cannot stretch that far. At least the butchers have promised to try to keep their prices down.

Source: Luton News 6th August 1914

Tuesday, 5 August 2014


'We're Doing Our Duty' postcard [Z1306/75/16/42]

Wednesday 5th August 1914 (Luton): The South Bedfordshire detachment of the Bedfordshire Regiment Territorials mobilised this morning and has left town to much excitement. B and C companies assembled at the Plait Hall, F company were sent to the Assembly Hall, and G company to the Corn Exchange. The Territorials paraded through town with flags flying, and F Company left the Town Hall to be greeted by a cheering crowd waving hats and umbrellas. Once they had been joined by the other companies there were nearly five hundred men. Some were former soldiers who had only joined up this morning and did not yet have their uniforms. One was even wearing a bowler hat! 

The soldiers marched down George Street, then along Manchester Street and Bridge Street to the Midland Station where they left for Bedford on a special train. The 5th Bedfordshires’ own band has been disbanded but the Red Cross band stepped in to the breach and marched in front of the men. There was some angry muttering in the crowd about the town authorities and their failure to provide an official send off. The Mayor and Deputy Mayor are both away, and it seems nobody could be found to step into the breach.

News has spread that the Government has taken over the railways. Although trains are still running from Luton it is expected that the service will have to be cut as so many railway employees are reservists and are leaving to join their regiments.
Source: Luton News 6/8/14

Monday, 4 August 2014

On the Edge of War

The Post Office in Cheapside, Luton with a horse and wagon outside, c.1908-1914 [Z1306/75/10/12/4]

Tuesday 4th August 1914 (Luton): It appears almost certain that within hours Great Britain will be at war with Germany and its allies. An ultimatum has been issued by the British government that will expire at 11p.m. tonight. Since Germany has already declared war on Russia and France and refuses to accept the neutrality of small, helpless Belgium it is surely inevitable that Britain will also be forced to declare war. 

In Luton today it would be easy to imagine that the war had already begun. The town is full of soldiers in uniform as reservists leave to rejoin their regiments. An announcement has been made that the General Post Office will stay open all night to give the reservists an opportunity to withdraw any money they need before they leave. The Territorial (volunteer) soldiers of the Fifth Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment have been at their annual training camp at Ashridge, but yesterday they were ordered to break camp and march back to Luton. They marched for four hours in the pouring rain, arriving back in town soaked through. The South Bedfordshires were told by their commanding officer, Major Brighten, to go home for the time being, but this morning they were ordered to mobilise.

Source: Luton News 6/8/1914