Figures released at the end of World War One revealed that about 3,000 women and girls had come to Luton to join local counterparts in dangerous work at munition factories. They had arrived from as far west as Cornwall and Devon and as far north as Edinburgh and Glasgow, and some even from Ireland.
At the end of the war about 1,000 of the arrivals quickly returned to their home towns and cities, leaving the remainder to try to find work or receive unemployment allowances until they did so.
For the policy of the Skefko Ball Bearing Co Ltd adaptation is perhaps hardly the correct description, for the Company sum up the position in this way: “Before the war we made ball bearings, during the war we've made ball bearings, and now the war's over we're going on making ball bearings”.
It would be going little beyond the care truth to say that the Commercial Cars Works are so equipped and installed, and so self-centred, that materials enter at one end of the big range of shops and three-ton motor waggons, of the type which during the war became such familiar objects in our streets, emerge from the other end. For this practically is the case; and a tour of inspection with the Deputy Works Manager ended on a note of admiration at the splendid system of organisation which operates through the whole concern.
With an end to hostilities in 1918, industry faced the prospect of switching from four years of war-time production to peace-time working. In an interview with The Luton News (January 23, 1919), Mr Thomas Mackenzie, Secretary of Vauxhall Motors Ltd, was optimistic about what the future held and said:
Mr Hearn, manager of Messrs Brown & Green Ltd, Windsor Street, gave an outline of the varied materials the firm have turned out during the war. They commenced in 1915, and from gas valves turned to shell adapters. At that time they had about 50 employees.
Rifle and hand grenades were next turned out in large quantities, and then added to the listwas submersible mine work for catching submarines. Aircraft parts were made subsequently, as well as pistols for aeroplane bombs in very large quantities.
One of the most interesting branches of war work carried on a Luton was that of the manufacture of aeroplane propellers, at the establishment of Mr Edgar L. Barber, Bury Park Road.
A tour of his premises was extremely instructive, said The Luton News (January 30th, 1919). One saw the whole process, dating from the time the planks of walnut are carried into the shop in the rough state until they emerge again in the form of the finished article.
The introduction of modern machinery always has the effect of ousting the picturesque and beautiful, and we are sorry to hear that an instance of this unfortunate fact will shortly be experienced in Luton, said the Tuesday Telegraph (January 14th, 1919).
Among provincial firms which rendered splendid service to the national cause during the war, the Davis Gas Stove Co, of Dallow Road, Luton, is entitled to rank highly, said an article in The Luton News (February 20, 1919). And the firm are displaying great energy and business acumen in preparing for the trade boom which is commonly anticipated when the national activities have settled down following the transition from a wartime to a peace regime.
A war memorial at Luton Conservative and Unionist Club, Market Hill, was unveiled on May 3rd, 1922, by the Duke of Bedford. It had cost 66 guineas and contained the names of 27 members who had given their lives during World War One.
The memorial was on the wall of the main hall at the foot of a staircase. It was fashioned in English oak with richly carved panels on either side of a representative of a rose, shamrock and thistle, with a centre panel of repousse bronze copper.
The memorial placed in the Wenlock Chapel of Luton Parish Church to the memory of the late Second Lieut Alex Pigott Wernher, Welsh Guards, was unveiled on Saturday, January 18, 1919, by Col Murray Thriepland DSO, Commanding Officer, and dedicated in front of a large congregation.
The Luton Co-operative Society War Memorial that was originally displayed in the New Bedford Road department store was found a new home at the Royal British Legion Club in Marsh Road, Leagrave, in 1993.
The memorial had originally been unveiled in 1946 with the names of Co-op employees from both world wars. It was safely removed following the closure of the store in the 1980s and was eventually found a home with the Royal British Legion. The First World War names on the memorial are (links in yellow offer more detailed information on individuals):
Prominent local businessman and auctioneer Hugh Cumberland unveiled the war memorial at St Matthew's Church, High Town, in November 1921. It was dedicated by the then Vicar, the Rev D. A. Jaquet.
The memorial, containing over 150 names, retains a prominent position of respect in the church. The slideshow, below, includes a picture published in the Tuesday Pictorial of the Rev Jaquet and the memorial following the dedication. The inscription reads:
The Luton Borough Police WW1 memorial, as featured in Tom Madigan's book, The Men Who Wore Straw Helmets (The Book Castle 1993). Unfortunately, the memorial seems to have been lost.
Sixteen members of Luton Borough Police Force saw armed service in World War One. Fifteen returned, some having been wounded, but the sixteenth was L-Cpl James Chandler (P/10790, Military Police Corps), who died on February 26th, 1919, from pneumonia in hospital in Cologne while serving with the army of occupation on the Rhine.
Fifty men employed by the J. W. Green brewery in Luton served in the Army during World War One, of whom eight made the supreme sacrifice. Their names were included on a roll of honour and read out at a welcome home dinner for returning men at the Plait Hall on Saturday, November 22nd, 1919. Contained on the list were the following names (deceased soldiers are highlighted and were included on the firm's war memorial):
The Great War was a conflict like none that had gone before. Mechanisation produced new types of horrors both on the battlefield and at home, where civilians were under attack from the air for the first time and faced the threat of food shortages due to submarine attacks on shipping. Here are examples from the Wardown House Museum collection of posters directed at encouraging economy in the use of food.