Spies and the potential threat from spies had Luton on high alert in the early weeks of war. And there were three incidents in which shots were fired, two involving soldiers and one seemingly aimed at them. There were also two incidents, which had they not been treated so seriously, might in hindsight have seemed amusing.
Stories from The Luton News - Thursday, July 30th, 1914
“War!” Not a screaming headline in the Luton News, more a whispered aside in the top left hand corner of page 8. Yes, it was reported that Austria had attacked Serbia ("Servia") and food prices in Vienna had rocketed. But British housewives were assured there would be no food shortages, though prices may be increased.
It was very much the calm before the storm in July 1914. Our diary blog starting next Wednesday will reveal Luton's transformation from a quiet, peaceful town into one on a war footing, each week bringing together extracts from contemporary stories in The Luton News.
Beginning on July 30th, this blog will feature a week-by-week diary about Luton people and events throughout World War 1, based on stories in The Luton News (LN) and, from November, the Saturday Telegraph (ST). The weekly Wednesday release will coincide with the Thursday publication dates of The Luton News 100 years earlier.
The fascinating part of researching World War 1 stories for this site is you are never quite sure what may turn up next - or when or where.
For instance, I had never heard of Violet Golding, one of the people featured. As a 16-year-old she lost a finger and thumb of her left hand and suffered burns to her arm in an accident at the George Kent's munitions factory at Chaul End in 1917. She received a medal for her courage in returning to work there three months after the accident.
It was six o'clock on a calm, sunny Saturday morning in August 1920. The Great War had ended nearly two years earlier, yet suddenly there was a terrific explosion such as had never been heard before in Luton.
One of the deaths reported to have occurred at Wardown Military Hospital in July 1915 was that of 24-year-old Second Lieut Hugh Anthony Bertlin, who died after the motorcycle he was riding was in collision with a car near the Chequers pub in Houghton Regis.
A “Dead Man's Penny” bearing the name Frederick Applebee mystified a resident of Jersey who had played with it there as a boy. His father could not remember how he in turn had come by it originally, according to The Luton News (April 28, 1999).
Apart from a studio photo of him and his two brothers in uniform, I have not managed to find out anything about my own grandfather's World War 1 service. And it's more than 50 years too late to ask him now.
Veteran Albert Edward Dye also came close to an unrecognised end, even though just before his death in September 2004 he was one of only a few UK survivors of 1914-18 combat – possibly by then the oldest at the age of 107.
Only one thing could have been more distressing for the bereaved families of soldiers killed in WW1 than the loss of a loved one – the fact that the body was never found.
So many war memorials list the names of servicemen with no known grave. But in 2000 one Luton family learned that their grandfather/great-grandfather's remains had been found by an amateur archaeologist excavating in a previously unploughed field in Belgium in 1999 – 85 years after he fell.