Monday, 31 December 2018

The End

After more than four years this blog has reached the end of its journey through the First World War in Bedfordshire. We hope that our readers have enjoyed following the journey with us, and that it will serve as a record for the future of the experiences of the county on the Home Front.

The final event of our commemoration of the First World War will be Remembering the Fallen, an exhibition in the reception area of Bedfordshire Archives. This will run from Friday 11th January until Wednesday 3rd April, and will look at war memorials in the county, ranging from the typical stone structures and memorial plaques to memorial halls and other public amenities. Entry is free during Bedfordshire Archives’ normal opening hours.

Friday, 28 December 2018

Bedford Soldier Describes Experiences in Germany

The ‘Black Hole’, Lille (Fort MacDonald)
[Imperial War Museum Art.IWM ART 3760 reproduced under IWM Non Commercial Licence]

Saturday 28th December 1918: Men who have returned to Bedfordshire after spending time  as prisoners of war in Germany have been telling of their experiences. Corporal Sydney Beddall of the Bedfordshire Regiment, son of Mr. and Mrs. William Beddall of 49 Park Road, Kempston arrived back last week after spending nearly twenty months in captivity. He was taken prisoner in April 1916 during the battle of Vimy Ridge and was sent to Fort McDonald, which has been described by other prisoners as the ‘Black Hole of Lille’. He spent only five days there but witnessed appalling conditions. Over one hundred prisoners were packed into a single cell, leaving them no room to turn round and with only a small hole near the roof for ventilation. It was “indescribably dirty and verminous”,and impossible to lie down due to lack of space; sanitary arrangements were “shocking”. The prisoners were allowed out for five minutes’ exercise once a day, and their died consisted of half a slice of black bread each day, with a quantity of mangold wurzels, sliced and partly boiled in water but inedible, with the liquid from the vegetables all they had to drink. During his time there three fellow prisoners died.

Corporal Beddall was then sent to Marquion near Cambrai, where the prisoners were put to work clearing away German ammunition dumps and railway lines as the British advanced. They were “practically worked to death, and more than half starved”, starting work between 3 and 4 a.m. and continuing until late in the evening. As the British advanced the prisoners were moved back to Devain, where they received their first bath. Corporal Beddall was then told that as a non-commissioned officer he was not obliged to work and that he may be transferred to an easier camp, but was unable to get further information. He deliberately opened a superficial wound on one of his fingers, leading to blood poisoning and admittance to hospital where treatment was better.

After he was discharged he was transferred to Dulmen Camp, where the state to which Germany had been reduced was obvious. The Germans were in a state of semi-starvation, and children would come round the barbed wire enclosure and beg biscuits from prisoners who had received a parcel from England. The Germans would also give almost anything for a tablet of soap. The camp was “filthy beyond description”, and the prisoners were put with Russian prisoners who were infected with typhus. Parcels sent by Prisoners of War Associations in England were extremely welcome, especially those received from the Bedfordshire Prisoners of War Fund. He was next sent to Cottbus, where rumours that the war would soon end meant that the prisoners received better treatment and were allowed more freedom. When news of the Armistice arrived the men were told they were free to leave. A party of 750 prisoners were sent to Altdamm on the way to Stetting. The camp was filthy and verminous, with no blankets for the men. They refused to stay there and rushed the gates; 1400 men marched to Stettin, from where they were taken to Copenhagen and embarked for Hull.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard, 28th December 1918

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

A Subdued Christmas

Leighton Buzzard Post Office, Church Square c.1915 [Z1306/72/3/5]

Wednesday 25th December 1918: Christmas is being celebrated very quietly in Leighton Buzzard. The loss of so many men since last Christmas, and the absence of so many other still with the Armed Forces, has dampened spirits. The bells of All Saints Church have been rung every evening this week, a welcome sound after previous Christmases when the bells were silenced. There are relatively few visitors in the town and, unusually in recent times, very few soldiers in the streets. At Leighton Buzzard railway station there has been slightly more passenger traffic than last year, but considerably less parcels traffic, most of the usual contents of Christmas hampers being either rationed or unobtainable. The shopkeepers have been busy this week, and there has been a revival in the use of Christmas cards, making work for the staff of the Post Office. The mail on Monday of last week was one of the largest in bulk ever sent from Leighton Buzzard, with eleven letter bags despatched on the evening mail train.

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer, 31st December 1918

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Dunstable Man Killed in German Prison Camp

High Street North, Dunstable c.1910 [Z1306/36/8/8]

Sunday 22nd December 1918: A fellow prisoner reports that Private James Baxter, the husband of a Dunstable woman, was murdered at the end of September by a guard at the German prison camp where he was held at Freiburg. Private F. Bungay of the North Staffordshire Regiment reports that “While we were working the guard yelled out to Baxter, who, having a slight cold, did not hear at once, but he afterwards started to run, and being weak from want of food, stumbled at the bank. The guard then went forward and beat him with the butt of his rifle, and then shot him through the back, the bullet reaching his heart. It was awful to see a chum murdered in cold blood like that.”

Private Bungay hid behind some bushes and saw the guard leave to give the alarm and fetch the doctor. While the guard was gone he took out Baxter’s pocket book to get his address; he found a photo of Baxter with a child but had to put it back again. The affair was hushed up and guard claimed he killed Baxter in self-defence, but Bungay insists this was a lie as Baxter had his back to the guard. Private James Stewart, who has just returned to his home in Perth, says that when he arrived at Freiburg soon after the matter was being widely talked about at the camp; a number of prisoners told him that Baxter had been set upon by the guards after being accused of picking and eating blackberries he was gathering for the Germans to make tea from. Pioneer Baxter served his apprenticeship as a lithographer in Dundee, but joined up at Bedford in August 1917. He leaves a widow, the daughter of Mr. J. H. Proverbs of High Street North, Dunstable, and a young son.

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer, 24th December 1918

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Serbian Relief Appeal

Old Leighton Buzzard Library (formerly Temperance Hall, now Lecton House), Lake Street, 1956 [Z1432/2/1/23/64]

Wednesday 18th December 1918: We have reported on several occasions the work being carried out by the Leighton Buzzard War Hospital Supply Depot, most recently in February when the Secretary received a letter of thanks from the Edmonton Military Hospital. The women of the town have been asked to continue their splendid work, this time for the benefit of the Serbian Relief Fund. Two women from the Belgravia Workrooms, the Central War Hospital Supply Depot, have addressed a meeting at the Temperance Hall where they congratulated Leighton Buzzard on sending the best needlework of any depot. They trusted the town would not fail now when their efforts were so badly needed by Britain’s Serbian allies. One worker who had kept a hospital and a soup kitchen going in Belgrade for 3½ years had reported that everything had been deliberately broken up by the Austrians. The work of reconstruction specially entrusted to England was the care of returned prisoners of war and the provision of hospitals. This had persuaded them to extend the work the Supply Depots had done during the War. They hoped that Leighton Buzzard workers would continue to help “as a thank offering for having been spared the horrors of invasion”.

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer, 17th December 1918

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Ideas for a War Memorial

Linslade War Memorial, c.1920 [Z1306/74/2/3]

Sunday 15th December 1918: Now that the War has come to an end, consideration is being given to appropriate ways to commemorate both those who lost their lives in the conflict, and those who served in the Armed Forces. The Vicar of Linslade has been thinking over this matter, and has written the following piece for this month’s parish magazine:
“When we have got over the next excitement of the Election we must try to settle down again, and prepare a welcome for our returning soldiers and sailors. We shall also have to think about plans for a suitable memorial to those who have given up their lives for us. Before this appears in print I shall have consulted the Church Council on the subject. I suppose that whatever general memorial is set up we shall think it right to have one also in the Parish Church, which is the only large public building in the place, and I think there ought also to be a permanent Roll of Honour, with the names of all those from the parish who have served in the Army, Navy, or Air Force. What forms these memorials shall take must be carefully considered, and I shall be glad to receive suggestions to submit to the Church Council.”
Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer 17th December 1918

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Bedford Soldier Dies of Flu in France

Old Town Hall, St. Paul’s Square, Bedford 1904 [Z1306/10/58/6]

Thursday 12th December 1918: Mr. and Mrs. Walter Grant of Rose Mount, Clapham Road, Bedford, have received the sad news their son Charles Alfred Richard Grant has died in France of pneumonia brought on by influenza. He joined a Mechanical Transport Company of the Army Service Corps in 1915, served for three years without being wounded, and was expected home for Christmas. An old boy of Bedford Modern School, he was an expert swimmer and played regularly for the Bedford Rugby Football “A” team. After joining the Army he became honorary secretary of the Mechanical Transport Rugby Club and arranged a match against an Australian XV which raised a large sum for the Lewisham Red Cross Society. Before the war he worked for nine years as assistant auditor in the Finance Department of the Bedford Corporation. In a letter of sympathy the Town Clerk writes:
“By his death the Corporation have lost a good and faithful servant, and I a valued friend. His work at the Town Hall left nothing to be desired. His painstaking, careful, and accurate work stands recorded in the books of accounts at the Town Hall for many years, while his courtesy, strict attention to his work, and  his willingness to assist anyone who needed help or advice endeared him to all in the office. His example was always for good, and he maintained strictly the good reputation of the Town Hall staff. Such a man will be hard to replace indeed. He will always be remembered by the whole staff with affection and esteem.”
A memorial service will be held for him at Holy Trinity Church this afternoon.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard, 13th December 1918

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Civilian Prisoner Returns from Germany

Ruhleben Prison Camp, 1917
[Imperial War Museum ART 522 reproduced under IWM Non Commercial Licence]

Monday 9th December 1918: Cyril J. Hopkins, the son of Mr. J. B. Hopkins of Broad Oak Farm, Leighton Buzzard, has returned home after spending four years as a civilian prisoner at Ruhleben in Germany. When the War started Mr. Hopkins was working in Berlin for electrical engineers A.E.G.  Initially he was ordered to report to the city’s principal gaol every third day. This continued until the end of October when the head of A.E.G announced that he was receiving many anonymous letters complaining that British employees were taking the bread out of the mouths of Germans. The British workers were then dismissed without notice. On November 6th British people living in Germany were taken to the main prison at Alexander Platz, a move which was claimed to be in retaliation for the internment of Germans in Britain.

On the afternoon of the same day he was sent by train to Ruhleben, where the prisoners were kept in uncomfortable conditions in the racing stables. The beds were dirty, and some were without blankets for months. Six men were crowded into each horse box, but thanks to exchanges of prisoners with England this number eventually fell to four. Food was at first provided by a Jewish caterer with an allowance of 6½d per head, but this was soon reduced to a daily ration of one-fifth of a loaf of heavy war bread, coffee without sugar or milk for breakfast, and thin potato soup with a little meat in it for dinner. Sometimes there was also a piece of blood sausage. Fortunately these meagre rations were supplemented by food parcels from England. The camp was extremely cold, with poor heating only turned on for short periods. In winter it was necessary either to walk about or to stay in bed to keep warm.

English newspapers were smuggled into the camp, and German newspapers were also available, leaving the prisoners in a better position to judge the progress of the war than those at home. They realised that German power was weakening, and that the morale of German soldiers was low. Last winter the state of things in Germany became “almost intolerable”. After the Armistice the former prisoners were taken by a “very cold and dirty” train from Ruhleben to Sassnitz on the Baltic, where they were handed over to the Danish Red Cross and taken to Copenhagen. When they reached Leith in Scotland they were surprised by the “colossal” reception they received. Like all repatriated prisoners, Mr. Hopkins feels a little bewildered by the sudden change, and has no desire to see Germany again for a very long time!

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer 10th December 1918

Thursday, 6 December 2018

1st Leighton Buzzard Girl Guides

Mrs Laura Lawson Johnston, Girl Guides County Commissioner [X698/9/5]

Friday 6th December 1918: The 1st Leighton Troop of the Girl Guides, which was started in May by Mrs. Reeve of “Athelney”, Albany Road, has held its first enrolment meeting in the Church Room at Leighton Buzzard. Thirty six smart and enthusiastic guides paraded before the County Commissioner and the District Commissioner for North Bedfordshire, giving a well-trained and disciplined display of drill and marching. Unfortunately the proceedings were disrupted by the bad behaviour of a number of children who live near the hall.

The officers of the troop were formally invested with badges and colours by the County Commissioner, Mrs. Lawson Johnston. The newly enrolled Captain W. Flemming in turn enrolled two patrol leaders and two corporals. The company sang songs, demonstrated marches and dances, and signalled a greeting to the County Commissioner – who confessed that despite the best efforts of her daughter to teach her she had not managed to learn to read signals. In an address to the Girl Guides she reminded them that they had a great responsibility, especially the older girls, to help to train their younger sisters to be good girls and good citizens. She asked them to maintain the very high standard they had set themselves as Guides, and to show people who knew nothing about the work what it meant to be a Guide by their behaviour. She ended by telling them to “always be jolly, but also remember their responsibility and duty to their homes and their parents”.

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer, 10th December 1918

Monday, 3 December 2018

Christmas Party for Fatherless Children

Sketch of Waller Street public baths from Borough Engineer’s plan,December 1910. 
During the winter the baths were boarded over to provide a Winter Assembly Hall [X558/6/108/4]

Tuesday 3rd December 1918: Although the War has ended, many local people still have to live with its consequences. This is particularly true for the families of those who paid the ultimate price. In order to bring a little joy into the lives of Luton children who lost their fathers during the War a special Christmas tea party is to be held for them. Mr Harold V. Hoy of the Ivy Leaf Club in Park Street, Luton is appealing for mothers of children below school age to send in the names of their children so that they can be issued with tickets: 
“I wonder if you would be so good as to make it known in your columns that the Luton and District Discharged Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Association are giving a tea and concert on December 23rd at the Winter Assembly Hall to the fatherless children of our fallen brothers, and, if funds permit, a small present for each child. We have asked the schools to help, by giving us a list of these children at school, but we regret it does not cover the whole field. If the mothers of children who do not attend school will send in their names to me I will add them to the list for tickets to be sent to them.”
Source: Luton News, 5th December 1918

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

News of More Casualties

Beaudesert Boys’ Council School 1913 [Z50/72/21]

Thursday 28th November 1918: Tragically the end of the War has not meant the end of bad news for the families of soldiers. News of two men killed in the very last days of the fighting has now reached Leighton Buzzard, along with confirmation of the death of a third, and a report that a fourth man has died from the effects of influenza. Private Leslie Johnson, the nephew of Mr. Thomas Munday of Bridge Street, was killed on November 4th. He had worked in the Income Tax Office, London, but took up farming owing to ill health and for a short time was employed in the local area. He joined up at the age of just 17. His brother, Charles Rowland Johnson, the son-in-law of Mr. Henry Chapman Furlong, was killed in October 1917.[1]

Private Tom Hyde of the Middlesex Regiment was killed in action on 7th November, just four days before the signing of the Armistice. The chaplain of his battalion has written to his wife telling her that her husband was killed instantaneously by a shell and suffered no pain. Private Hyde was the son of Mr. and Mrs William Hyde of East Street, where his wife and child now live at number 28. Before joining up he worked for Mr. W. G. Willis, builder. A year ago he was wounded in the knee, and as the joint remained stiff he was sent to Ireland on garrison duty. During the last “push” he was again sent out to France. He was 27 years of age, and a member of the Leighton Buzzard Excelsior Band.

Private R. Miles of the 8th Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry, formerly a Trooper in the 17th Lancers and the Bedfordshire Yeomanry, the son of Richard and Annie Miles - now of Leighton Buzzard but previously of Wicken in Northamptonshire - had been reported wounded and missing. He has now been officially reported killed. His elder brother was seriously wounded on the Somme.[2]

Sapper Samuel Walter Stevens of 12, Plantation Road, was serving with the Royal Engineers when he was admitted to a casualty clearing station in France on 8th November. He died on the 13th from pneumonia following influenza. Sapper Stevens was an old boy of Beaudesert School and worked for Messrs. Adams and Whiting as a bricklayer before joining the Army in 1915. After nine months’ service in France he was operated on for appendicitis; he returned to France after recovering from the surgery. He was 28 years old and leaves a wife and young daughter.

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer, 26th November 1918

[1] Charles Rowland Johnson of the 1st Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment died on 17th October 1917, aged 32. His wife, Jessie Frances Johnson, was living at 14 High Street, Leighton Buzzard. His brother is listed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as Martin Leslie Johnson, aged 19. In 1911 Charles Rowland Johnson was living at 18 Bridge Street, Leighton Buzzard, with his uncle Thomas Henry Munday and working for him as a jeweller’s assistant.

[2] Apparently Reginald Miles of the 8th Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry, whose death on 15th October 1917 is recorded on the Tyne Cot Memorial.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Street Lighting

Stags Head Public House, with lamp post on corner of Old Road and Wing Road, Linslade c.1906 [Z50/74/28]

Monday 25th November 1918: The ability to raise window blinds while the lights are lit is an unaccustomed pleasure to those who have been afraid of prosecution for lighting offences for so long. Even before the Armistice was signed preparations were being made to re-light the towns of Leighton Buzzard and Linslade. The contract between Leighton Buzzard Urban District Council and the Gas Company had been allowed to lapse during the War, and negotiations towards a new agreement are progressing. It is anticipated it may take some time before the lights there can be put back into working order. However, in Linslade a fixed sum for the upkeep of the lamps was paid by the Council during the war, and it has therefore been possible to get the lights back on more quickly. Since last Friday Linslade residents have been enjoying the benefit of lit street lamps, with around fifty per cent of the former number now back in use.

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer, 19th and 26th November 1918

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Relaxation of Food Control for Christmas

Yirrell’s butcher’s shop, Old Road, Linslade c.1900 [Z50/74/15]

Friday 22nd November 1918: Although the War has now ended, the food shortages it caused will take some time to resolve. However, the Ministry of Food is trying to make it possible for people to celebrate Christmas on a much larger scale this year than last. It has announced that during the week before Christmas everyone will be able to obtain double the usual ration of butcher’s meat, and double rations will be served in all restaurants; between December 16th and January 4th any amount of poultry and game can be purchased without coupons, and it is hoped that there will be a good supply of turkeys.

Twenty thousand tons of apples are expected to arrive imminently from Canada, and the price of fruit is already considerably lower than it was last week thanks to the Ministry’s pricing Order. The Ministry anticipates that a large supply of oranges will be available before Christmas, and that there will also be a supply of nuts from Spain. There is still a shortage of dried fruit; a distribution of currants, raisins, and sultanas will be made over the next few weeks, averaging not more than half a pound per person. It is also expected that loaves of white bread will be available again by Christmas. 

Source: Bedfordshire Standard, 22nd November 1918

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Appeal for Old Clothing for Belgians

20-22 Lake Street, Leighton Buzzard 2008 [CR/PH]

Monday 18th November 1918: Back in March 1916 Charles Piron, a Belgian refugee now living at 20, Lake Street, Leighton Buzzard, was able to secure the donation of waterproofs for a friend serving in the Belgian army as a volunteer . He is now organising an appeal for old clothing to relieve the needs of his compatriots in evacuated districts of Belgium. He writes:

“May I thank the residents of Leighton Buzzard and Linslade for their cordial initial response to my appeal for old clothing for Belgians in the evacuated districts. I have already been able to despatch two bales of clothing, and the donors may rest assured that every article in those bundles will be used to relieve real and poignant distress. The Girl Guides have promised to assist in the future collection. May I therefore ask any person who can spare old clothing (including underclothing), hats, boots or shoes, to send me a postcard, and I will do the rest with the aid of the Girl Guides. If I could only make everyone understand how terrible the need is, there would be a ransacking of wardrobes, I am sure, in hundreds of homes. Nothing is too old, or too worn out.”

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer, 19th November 1918

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Joy Day at Queen's Engineering Works

Canteen staff at W. H. Allen’s Engineering Works, Bedford 1918 [Z1306/10/6/23]

Wednesday 14th November 1918: Celebrations of the Armistice at Bedford were marked by flags flying across the town, the ringing of church bells and the closure of most of the town’s factories. One military band paraded through the streets and another played near the Swan Hotel. Fireworks were let off in the town both on Monday and Tuesday nights, when the crowd joined in a hearty rendition of the Marseillaise in French accompanied by the Salvation Army band. The main terms of the Armistice were posted in the window of the Bedfordshire Times on Monday evening, evidence of the complete triumph of the Allies. At  8 p.m. an official thanksgiving service was held in St. Paul’s Church

At W. H. Allen’s  Queen’s Engineering Works a “joy day” is being held today. The Works is decorated with the flags of all the Allies, together with a huge Union Jack. This morning saw a ladies’ football match, followed by a match between the Works and Queen’s Park Rangers, and this evening a social and dance will be held in the ladies’ dining room at the Works.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard, 15th November 1918

Monday, 12 November 2018

The Dawn of Peace

St. Mary’s Church, Luton c.1905-10 [Z1306/75/3/2]

Tuesday 12th 1918: The news of the Armistice arrived at Luton yesterday morning in time for special newspaper editions to hit the streets soon after eleven o’clock. At 11.10 the Mayor appeared on the balcony of the Town Hall  and announced the signing of the armistice and the cessation of hostilities to rousing cheers. The National Anthem was sung, followed by a verse of the hymn “Praise God from Whom all blessings flow” and a rousing “three cheers”. By noon the main streets were filled with “shouting, smiling, joyful people”, undeterred by the rain. The local authorities met and announced the withdrawal of lighting restrictions, and by evening the town was a blaze of light. Services were arranged at all the churches and bands played outside the Town Hall, in Park Square, and at the Volunteer Club. The streets remained packed with people until midnight.

Today has been declared a public holiday and a civic service of thanksgiving was held this morning at the Old Parish Church, attended by the Mayor and Corporation along with representatives of all the public bodies in the town. The largest civic procession seen in Luton took place from the Town Hall to St. Mary’s, passing along streets lined with crowds. During the service the King’s message to the Services was read to the congregation by the Mayor. A collection was taken for St. Dunstan’s Hostel for the Blind, and the service closed with a blessing from the Vicar and the National Anthem.

Source: Luton News,14th November 1918

Sunday, 11 November 2018

The War is Over!

Leighton Buzzard’s First War Memorial, 11 November 1919 [Z50/72/131]

Monday 11th November 1918:  The War is over! After premature reports of victory last week people seemed afraid to believe the news that the Armistice had been signed, and there is a sense not just of celebration but also of bewilderment that this day is one of such momentous importance. The crowds who have turned out to celebrate in Leighton Buzzard and Linslade have been quite modest. The War has taken a heavy toll on both towns, with many dead and many more still serving overseas. Among those left at home the munition workers “mafficked”, Morgan’s Band played in between bouts of rain, and the Church Lads’ Brigade Bugle Band has been out in the streets. Union Jacks are flying, although a surprising number of people seem unaware of the correct way to fly the flag, with many hanging upside down. At All Saints Church in Leighton Buzzard and in all the villages around bells are ringing out the good news, although many of the ringers are novices with rather more enthusiasm than skill.

The chief feeling in the towns has been of relief and thankfulness. Services of thanksgiving have been attended by large numbers, many of them not regular churchgoers. At All Saints Church a packed congregation was present at a shortened  version of Evensong which ended with the hymn ‘Now thank we all our God’, a verse of God Save the King, and the Marseillaise. The Vicar, Reverend G. F. Hills gave a short address based on the words from 2 Kings, 9:17, “Is it peace?”, ending with the hope that the returning men would find a different and better world. At St. Barnabas Church in Linslade a spontaneous service of thanksgiving was attended by the special constables, the Church Lads Brigade, and people of all religious persuasions. Services have also been held at Hockliffe Street Baptist Chapel and the Wesleyan Methodist Church.

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer 19th November 1918

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Luton Medical Services Overwhelmed by Influenza

Bute Hospital, Luton 1914 [Z1130/75/5/2]

Friday 8th November 1918: Luton has also been hit by the influenza epidemic, leaving local doctors utterly overwhelmed by the large number of cases. All those doctors who have not themselves been taken ill are working from early morning until late at night to cope with crowded surgeries and are able to do no more than issue medicine and general advice. The Luton Medical Officer, Dr. Cox is concerned that this epidemic seems more virulent than the previous one, with more complications brought about by the illness. This has led to an increase in the number of deaths from about twenty a week ago to a total of fifty, all of them adults. Although the effects appear to be less serious in children the schools have all been closed and are likely to remain so for the time being. Restrictions on churches and places of amusement have also been introduced in an attempt to reduce opportunities for infection. About 600 workers have been absent from George Kent’s and about 200 from the Diamond Works due to the illness, but it is hoped that the spread of the disease in industrial establishments has been halted and matters are improving. Dr, Cox has also expressed a belief that the epidemic has now reached its peak and that the number of new cases is falling.

Source: Luton News, Source: Luton News, 24th October and 7th November 1918

Monday, 5 November 2018

Luton Soldier Killed While Waiting for Leave

 A float by the Davis Gas Stove Co. Ltd., Diamond Foundry, taking part in the Luton Peace Day parade on 19th July 1919 [Z1306/75/19/19]

Tuesday 5th November 1918: The parents of Sapper William H. Trotter have received the following letter informing them that their son had been killed as he waited for a medical pass before coming home on leave: 
“He was granted leave on October 7th, and proceeded to the medical station to pass the doctor and while waiting there he was killed outright by a shell. He was buried the same day where he fell, near Passchendaele. I can assure you that the loss of your son is greatly felt by the whole of my company … A cross will be erected over his grave by his comrades.”[1]
Sapper Trotter was educated at Surrey Street School in Luton and was employed at the Diamond Foundry before the War. He was a member of the Mount Tabor Primitive Methodist Church, won prizes for cross country running and was a member of the St. John Ambulance Society. He volunteered to serve with the East Anglian Royal Engineers in April 1915 and went out to France in autumn 1917.

Source: Luton News, 7th November 1918

[1] It would appear that Sapper Trotter’s body was subsequently moved as he is now buried in the Tyne Cot Cemetery at West-Vlaanderen, Belgium.

Friday, 2 November 2018

Father and Son Flu Deaths

New Road, Linslade c.1900 [Z1432/3/13/1/4]

Saturday 2nd November 1918: A Linslade father and son died from influenza within hours of each other on Friday. William Robinson, aged 42, was taken ill about three weeks ago, but returned to his work as a carter before he had fully recovered and suffered a relapse. Meanwhile his son, William Leslie Robinson, had also contracted the disease; he died just a few hours before his father. The family’s youngest child is also gravely ill, and his mother has had to take to her bed due to the stress of constant nursing. A fund to relieve the immediate needs of the family has been opened.

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer, 5th November 1918

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Influenza Causes Bedford Schools to Close

Ampthill Road School, Bedford 1922 [Z1306/9/2/14/1]

Tuesday 31st October 1918: The outbreak of influenza in Bedford has resulted in very poor attendance at local schools. By the middle of October as many as 50 percent of pupils at the Queen’s Park and Goldington Road schools were absent and all elementary schools in the town were closed. They subsequently reopened but the situation is now so bad that they are to close again from today and remain shut until November 11th. There is also considerable sickness among the teachers, with at least seventeen now absent. Some are reported to be very ill, and Mrs. Davis, a teacher at the Priory Schools, has died. The Borough Education Committee has also asked that all Sunday schools should be closed and that picture palaces should refuse admission to children under the age of fourteen while the epidemic continues. Picture palaces and theatres have also been put out of bounds for the troops. Dr. Willmer Phillips, the School Medical Officer recommends that people get plenty of fresh air and avoid going into stuffy places. Anyone feeling at all feverish and then chilly should go straight to bed. Due to the epidemic the out-patients department of the Bedford County Hospital has been closed until further notice.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard, 18th October and 1st November 1918

Monday, 29 October 2018

Sailor Adrift in Red Sea for 101 Days

Steamers at Perim Harbour c.1910 [Wiikimedia Commons]

Tuesday 29th October 1918: After fire broke out in the engine room of his ship Second Engineer Edward Banks, the nephew of Abel Bunn of North Street, Leighton Buzzard, spent 101 days adrift in the Red Sea. In a letter to his uncle he describes the experience: 
“The fire in the stoke hole burnt for six hours. After a struggle we managed to get it out, but that was not the end of our trouble; the fire burnt a pipe from one of the sea cocks and slowly filled the stoke hole and engine room with water. This put the damper on us for getting steam from the main boilers, so we had to set to and convert the donkey boiler (which is in ‘tween decks) from oil to coal. When we got this finished there was 25 feet of water in the engine room, but after a struggle and plenty of wading, about up to our necks in oil, fuel and water, we managed to get one of the pumps going, and pumped the engine room and stoke hole dry. What a mess things were in! We had to set to again and clean up a bit and to get the fires away again. This took us about six days and we drifted 90 miles out of the track of shipping and had some very narrow escapes of going on to the rocks. The dynamo was destroyed by the fire and water so that we could not send out a message by wireless for help. 
After a few days and nights of work we managed to get all ready to make for the nearest port, but just two hours before we were ready to start another fire broke out in the stoke hole, more fierce than the first, and burnt for 48 hours. And, by jove, it did blaze: some parts of the engine room were white hot. Even the ship’s sides in places were red hot, and the decks you could not walk on. It was a good job we were not loaded with benzene (as we have been) or we should have gone up.
This fire eventually died out: we could not do anything but just let it burn. When we were able to get down to the engine room the damage was so great that we could not do anything to get into port under our own steam … When we found we could do nothing the Captain asked for volunteers to sail in the small boat into the track of shipping and hail one of them to come to our assistance; we all volunteered to go, but only four were chosen. The first night they were out a strong gale sprang up and they had a pretty rough time of it. They managed to get to an island (with a lighthouse) in a very exhausted condition, and to the first steamer they passed they signalled, asked the Captain to wireless the position to the gunboats who were looking for us. It was not long after before one of the gunboats came alongside us and towed us to Perim. He was just in time as we had only two days water left, and we had been on our whack for some time. I am pleased to say I am none the worse for my experience.
Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer, 29th October 1918

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Luton Munitions Workers Awarded OBEs

MBE medal, 1918 [Wikipedia]

Sunday 27th October 1918: A ceremony has been held this afternoon at Luton Town Hall, at which Order of the British Empire medals were presented to three employees of George Kent Limited by the Lord Lieutenant of Bedfordshire, Mr. Samuel Whitbread. All three were awarded for the great courage shown by the recipients during an accident which took place at the works in March. The O.B.E. Is a new award, established last year at the instigation of the King to honour all those men and women who have provided conspicuous service to the Empire as civilians or in military supporting roles. The recipients of the medals are:
  • Samuel Beddall of Harris Villa, Chiltern Road, Dunstable, who at grave personal risk twice entered a burning room and rescued three workers, in spite of dense fumes and personal injuries.
  • Herbert Thomas Honnor of Naseby Road, Luton,for courage and high example in rescuing two fellow workers on the occasion of a fire in a factory.
  • Alexander McKay Pattison of Dordans Road, Leagrave, also for courage and high example at a factory fire. Though suffering from burns he rendered important assistance to several women who were in great danger.
Source: Luton News, 31st October 1918

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Flu Epidemic Kills Three at Toddington

High Street, Toddington c.1910 [Z50/126/27]

Wednesday 23rd October 1918: Toddington has been badly hit by an epidemic of influenza, with over 150 cases. Both the schools have been closed and almost every family has been affected. At least four people have died in the past week, and many others are dangerously ill after developing pneumonia or pleurisy. Mr. George Clarke, a chimney sweep and market gardener of Leighton Road, died on Tuesday morning after being ill for a week. He was a member of the Toddington Primitive Methodist Church and was well known locally as his occupation took him round all the nearby villages. The Wesleyan Methodist Church lost an active worker and supporter in Mrs. Martha Neale, of St. David’s, Toddington. She conducted a large Society Class at the Church and was a Sunday School visitor, and was known for her “genial and benevolent disposition” . After a short illness she died of pneumonia on Thursday evening. Her death has added to the grief of her family, who have suffered other recent bereavements. Mr. Albert Fountain, a farmer at Cowbridge Farm, also died on Thursday after a very short illness; his wife and child are also dangerously ill. The combination of influenza and pneumonia also took the life of Charles T. Evans of Luton Road.  

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer, 22nd October 1918

Friday, 19 October 2018

Landlord Ordered to Repair Cottage

Stanbridge Village c.1909 [Z1306/108/4]

Saturday 19th October 1918: A soldier’s wife is refusing to pay rent for the cottage in which she is living in Stanbridge until repairs are carried out. The cottage is one of a row belonging to Mr. George Olney, and its poor condition had already been brought to the Council’s attention two years ago. There are large holes in the bedroom floor, and she is concerned that her children could fall into them. The matter was again reported to the Council, whose Surveyor declared that action should be taken to ensure that the woman and her children could live in reasonable comfort. The landlord has been given two weeks to make repairs. If this is not done, the District surveyor will carry out the work and recover the cost from him

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer 22nd October 1918

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Farmers Refuse to Apply for Permits

Market day at Leighton Buzzard 1909 [Z1306/72/10/9]

Wednesday 16th October 1918: At a meeting last night of the Leighton Buzzard Branch of the National Farmers’ Union it was decided that they would all refuse to comply with instructions to apply for permits to feed damaged corn and screenings to livestock. It was considered that this was just another “ridiculous and arbitrary order” being imposed on farmers by Government Departments; it appeared that every week some new order came into force, “generally more ridiculous than those that had gone before”. Under this new plan two officials were to be appointed in each area – some of whom “did not know barley from wheat” – to receive samples and send them to London for a permit, which might take a week or two to arrive. This sub-standard corn was absolutely necessary for feeding livestock, and it appeared the Government did not trust farmers to know their own business. All other branches of the National Farmers’ Union in the area are believed to have passed the same resolution

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer 22nd October 1918

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Munition Worker Fined for Drunkenness

Waller Street, Luton c.1905 [Z1306/75/10/60/3]

Monday 14th October 1918: Amy Lawson, aged 25, a munition worker lodging at 63 Church Street, Luton, has pleaded guilty to having been drunk and incapable in Waller Street last night. Police Sergeant Matsell said that he had found her helplessly drunk at 11.30 p.m. He lifted her up but found she could not stand, and with the help of Inspector Janes he got her to the police station. Miss Lawson is a single woman from Rochdale working at George Kent’s, who has been lodging in Luton for eight weeks. She expressed her sorrow for being in such a position and agreed to enter into a bond to abstain, however she was a “frequenter of public houses” she was fined ten shillings and no bond was imposed, the magistrate appearing to be concerned that it would simply lead to her getting into more trouble.

Source: Luton News, 17th October 1918