Luton WW1 diary: August 6th, 1914

Stories from the Luton News - Thursday, August 6th, 1914

5th Batallion Bedfordshire Regiment march into Luton town centre

"Europe in a blaze...Seven nations at war...Belgium invaded by Germany...Britain to the Rescue". The Luton News gave its readers the story so far as Europe plunged into war and the Luton, Dunstable and Leighton Companies of the 5th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment prepared for active service.

Yesterday, the Companies left in full marching order for Bedford, awaiting instructions to move to some point on the East Coast. Sharp at 12.30 they paraded in George Street, where all traffic was stopped for the time being. It was the first time Luton had seen its voluntary force turn out prepared for active service and crowds of people assembled in the streets to see them leave.

But there were no civic dignitaries to see the troops depart. The Luton News reported: "It is a matter of some surprise that there was no speech-making. When just a selected few of the old Volunteer force left for South Africa they had a formal send-off. Yesterday, when the whole force turned out and left the town, there was nothing of this kind. It is true the Mayor and Deputy Mayor were away, but among those assembled just outside the Town Hall there were certainly one of two whose words would have carried weight."

As the troops marched by way of Manchester Street and Bridge Street to the Midland Station they presented a striking sight, even though there were recruits who had not yet got uniforms and marched in civilian attire - including at least one in a bowler hat. The 16 officers and about 450 men departed at 1 o'clock by special train from Midland Station with the Luton Red Cross Band playing them off - the 5th Beds Band had already "gone out of existence".

« The 5th Beds had returned from their annual camp at Ashridge on Monday, marching back to Luton through four hours of pouring rain. All day on Tuesday the rank and file were about the town in uniform, waiting for the call to duty, while the officers were very busily engaged in preparations for mobilisation.

« Last night the men of the Eastern Mounted Brigade Field Ambulance, who had been doing duty with the 5th Beds at Ashridge Camp, were billeted in various places in the centre of Luton, and today Colonel Cross and other officers are busily engaged completing the preparations for moving off. All necessary horses are being got in, and it was anticipated that tomorrow will see the unit - six officers and 100 men - absolutely ready to leave at a moment's notice. It is understood that their service will be utilised in East Anglia, their duties to include supervision of food supply to troops and camp sanitation.

« The Luton News apologised that it was unable to carry pictures of the departure. "Photographs of the 5th Beds leaving Luton were specially taken for us by Mr W.H. Cox and delivered to us with his customary smartness, but the process blocks which should have arrived from London this morning cannot at present be traced."

« Control of the railways had been taken over by the Government with cheap ticket facilities withdrawn. Passenger services from Luton were being maintained but modifications could become necessary later. But Saturday's annual Temperance health trips to Yarmouth and Lowestoft had gone ahead involving two heavily-laden trains of Luton folk.

« Meanwhile, in Belgium, engineer Mr William Weatherhead, of Dumfries Street, Luton, faced fighting crowds to board a ship home from Ostend. And in Paris Mr H.W. Kingston, a director of hat manufacturers Carruthers Bros, of King Street, Luton, struggled to get home by train and ship.

Luton JP Mr W. T. Lye, of Leagrave Hall, was in Germany when hostilities broke out. With his wife, son and daughter they had a narrow escape, catching the last train allowed out of Hamburg. Also escaping from a pleasure trip to Germany was "a gentleman who, if he permitted his name to be mentioned would be known to thousands of people in Luton and South Bedfordshire".

« A telegram had been received enquiring whether any member of Luton St John Ambulance Brigade would be prepared to volunteer for service abroad if required.

« In Luton, food prices were starting to rise. The grocers' section of the Luton Tradesmen's Association agreed to form a special committee to meet daily to deal with rises in prices and advise members so that all shops may be managed on the same basis. And the Luton Master Bakers' Association decided that in view of the fact that four had gone up "by leaps and bounds" the price of bread would be raised by a halfpenny per quartern loaf. The cost of sugar, lard and cheese and condensed milk had all gone up, but at least there was no sign in Luton of the food riots experienced in Hitchin.

« Representatives of the Government were in Luton and district requisitioning horses for military purposes. It was understood they had also requisitioned motor vehicles from Commercial Cars Ltd.

« At a domestic level, a man of no fixed abode found drunk and incapable in the gutter in London Road was sentenced to seven days hard labour.

« The same sentence awaited a man found guilty of "sleeping out without visible means of support" in some straw in Langley Place. He had 12 previous convictions.

« As Luton Town players gathered at their ground ahead of the new season, there was a new face among them. F. Lindlay, 24, who played the previous season for Newport County, "stands 5ft 10ins and weighs about 11 stone". He had previously played for Sheffield United.

« With all the telegrams and other urgent messages sent about the country in preparation for an enormous war, the Post Office has necessarily had a rushing time. At Luton everything went on as in normal conditions until information was received that mobilisation letters had been posted. Special steps were successfully taken to get these included as they came through, and when this was not possible special messengers were sent out to make the deliveries.

Offices that usually open for a time on Sundays were kept open all day last Sunday in order to deal with the business relating to Naval Reservists, who were the first to be called up. The messages came through late on Sunday and were delivered the same night by special messengers, so that the man who had to go to Lilley and Stopsley probably did not get to bed very early.

The head office and all the town and country money order sub-offices were open all Tuesday night and last night to cash Reservists' cash orders. Telegraph officers were also kept open.

« The Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association issued an appeal for funds to cope with stress and distress at home. "The men are doing their part. Ours is to see that the homes of the families they have left behind are maintained in their absence," wrote President Madeline Whitbread in a letter to the Luton News.

« The newspaper's editorial accused Germany of a callous indifference to every other consideration than that of force, leaving the British Government with no alternative but to join in the conflict.

"Reservists and Territorials have responded to their country's call with the readiness and enthusiasm which might have been so expected, and it now remains for the people generally to do what they can to assist the common cause.

"Unfortunately, trade will suffer so greatly that there must inevitably be a considerable amount of unemployment, and with rising prices, privation and distress will naturally follow. Happily, our food supplies are ensured for a long time, but, unhappily, the thoughtful thoughtlessness of the well-to-do in laying in large stocks of provisions has already sent up prices to a much higher point than the circumstances warranted.

"The best way of helping in the present crisis is to go about our business as usual, to waste nothing in the way of food, and to only purchase sufficient for ordinary requirements. Panic purchases mean high prices, and high prices mean starvation for the poor."