Luton WW1 diary: August 20th, 1914

Stories from The Luton News - Thursday, August 20th, 1914 1914 Troops billeted in Luton outside 34 Shaftsbury Road

The billeting of visiting soldiers in their homes was not universally welcomed by Luton housewives.The Luton News recounted "some amusing stories - more or less true," including that of one reluctant housewife who said she could not take in soldiers because her children had measles. When a neighbour revealed to the billeting officer that the women didn't have any children, he went back to chalk '6' on her door - imposing double the number that might normally have been billeted there. And all six, he said, would already have had measles!

A '6' was also chalked on the door of a woman who pretended to be not at home, But the billeting officer had spotted her peeping through the curtains. The military were obviously not prepared to take "no" as an answer when it came to billeting.

There was a need for plenty of billets because a large body of Territorials had come to Luton for training. They all arrived by train, some having the use of a special siding in the Midland coal depot, while others detrained at Leagrave and Chiltern Green and marched in. It is understood that their stay in Luton will be of considerable duration. No details of the forces or their training would be reported following a request from the Admiralty and the War Office not to reveal information on any military or naval movements.

  • Saturday night always sees the central streets of Luton very full, but last Saturday the crowd was exceptionally big, increased by people keen to see the troops. Some troops arrived late in the day, frequently whistling or singing some popular song as they marched through the streets.
  • The General Officer commanding the troops in Luton said he was very pleased with the manner in which the soldiers had been received in the town. And there was a lot of patriotic support for them.
  • At the Wellington Picture Palace film of marching cavalry of all nations was shown - "there were hearty cheers for our British troops and equally vigorous hisses were accorded German soldiers."
  • In turn entertainment was provided for the visiting troops with free concerts given in venues such as the King Street Lecture Hall, Waller Street Hall and Luton Parish Church. On the Moor, off New Bedford Road, the Midland District Union of YMCAs provided a refreshment tent for them with "a very good cup of coffee for one penny" plus minerals and cake. A piano was available for soldiers to provide their own entertainment. They had already given local music shops a busy time by buying mouth-organs, flutes, piccolos and similar instruments for off-duty entertainment.
  • A visiting Territorial Band gave a Sunday concert at West Ward Recreation Ground. Regiments agreed that further similar concerts would be held at Wardown and possibly Park Square.
  • Recruiting for Lord Kitchener's new army of 100,000 was "proceeding fairly briskly" at the Volunteer Club in Park Street, Luton. But 20 visiting Territorials were in Luton's Bute Hospital suffering from pneumonia, attributed to them sleeping on damp floors.
  • Richard Bentley, a transport driver drafted into Luton, met with a serious accident whilst out driving on Tuesday. His horse bolted and threw him, fracturing his right leg and cutting his head. He was taken to the Bute Hospital at once by members of the horse ambulance. And Territorial transport driver Fred Dickinson was rather badly injured while unharnessing horses at Luton on Sunday. One of the animals bolted and knocked him over, causing a smashed hand and a deep cut across his head. He was taken unconscious on a stretcher to the Bute Hospital.
  • Temporary hospitals have been opened in the grounds of the Children's Homes and at Wardown by members of the Territorial ambulance in order to deal with slight cases.
  • The South Beds Detachment of the 5th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, are getting through some hard training. They have moved this week from the locality in the eastern counties to which they went when they left their home county, but they are still in that area and making themselves fit. The one direction in which they are suffering is in the damaging effects of hard marching on their boots. They are getting pretty well worn to pieces, and if the efficiency of the battalion is to be kept at a point which will enable them to do credit to Bedfordshire, something will have to be done by the War Office, the Territorial Association or by local effort to remedy this state of things.
  • One of the privates of the Territorials wears a monocle, or he did, while on the march on Monday. But is was of blue cardboard.
  • At a meeting of the Executive of the Luton Free Church Council on Friday, a resolution was passed urging upon the magistrates the desirability of closing all public houses at an earlier hour.
  • Mr F. R. Cook, of 74 Ashburnham Road, returned from Malta on a ship that had had to sail without lights at night and at full speed to elude enemy ships in the Mediterranean, Bay of Biscay and English Channel.
  • Luton Town Football Club was to donate gate receipts from its pre-season practice match on Saturday to the Prince of Wales' Fund to offer relief for distress arising from the war. It had been feared the match would have had to be played on the old ground at the corner of Dunstable Road and Hazelbury Crescent as its Ivy Road [Kenilworth Road] pitch had been earmarked for use by mounted troops.
  • Sunday schools had to be cancelled at the weekend as most of the buildings in which they are held were being used for military billeting purposes. Salvation Army services on Sunday were held at the Wellington Picture Palace.
  • A Council committee has been appointed to deal with the distribution of soup to the needy. It was learned that two bullocks a day were being killed at the Modern School to meet the demands of the troops quartered there. Only the meat was taken, and as a quantity of very nourishing matter remained it was thought this could be put to good use. The soup was to be made and distributed at the Baths, supplemented by vegetables and other ingredients supplied by generous people in the town.
  • A ladies' meeting, presided over by Mrs J. W. Green, was held on Saturday to consider the formation of a ladies' working party to make articles for the soldiers and sailors, and generally assist the movement now in progress to provide comfort for the men who are serving their King and country.
  • Mr B. B. Franklin informs us that in view of the war and the possibility of unemployment, a number of landowners in the district whom he represents, such as Luton Suburban Estates Ltd, and those concerned at opening up land at Turner's Knoll, Leagrave Road, Biscot Mill Estate etc, have agreed to offer to Luton men suitable land for allotments rent free for one or two years on certain conditions.
  • It is anticipated that the Home Counties Band Contest, which has been won by the Luton Red Cross Band ever since it was instituted, will not be held this year, as so many members of the bands interested are called up for service.
  • From today, the Great Northern Railway are reinstating practically all their excursion facilities from Luton.
  • Registration is now compulsory for Austrians and Hungarians residing in this country. The penalties for non-compliance are the same as in the case of Germans [£100 fine].
  • Captain C.H. Wolff, 4th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, has just joined the Military Wing of the Royal Flying Corps at South Farmborough. He has been connected with the Bedfords for about 14 years and served with them in the South African War, 1901-1902, including operations in the Transvaal, Orange River Colony and Cape Colony (Queen's Medal with five clasps).
  • The Institute at Messrs Davis' Works in Luton is among buildings promised for use as temporary hospitals, but the offer was made before the hall was taken over by Territorials.
  • While a picture showing scenes of Army and Navy life was being exhibited at the children's matinee at Wellington Street on Saturday, the children forming the audience sang "Rule Britannia" with such energy that it could be heard some distance down the street.
  • A sentry fire two shots while on duty at the rear of Luton Waterworks late on Tuesday night when a man's head appeared twice over a wall. A search failed to find any sign of an intruder but the number of guards was to be doubled in future from four to eight as a precaution.
  • The item of news of supreme interest to us this week is that the British Expeditionary Force, numbering thousands of men, has been landed in France. That difficult operation, extending over many days, was carried out without a single casualty and in a manner different from all previous scenes when English troops went to war. There was no cheering and no formal farewells. Most of the troops left their depots at night. The utmost secrecy has been observed because of any advantage that might otherwise have been given to the enemy.