These are the men who inspired 'N-T-F' - a weekly journal published locally during part of World War One to raise funds to enable parcels to be sent to prisoners of war. They regularly caught the 9.35 pm train from Luton to Harpenden - hence the title 'N-T-F' (Nine-Thirty-Five). The weekly publication, initially sold on Thursdays (later on Wednesdays), carrying features such as 'Munition Girl's Diary' and a serialised story.
'N-T-F' was launched in June 1916, and by 1917 it was being advertised regularly in The Luton News and regular donations were reported being made to the local prisoner of war fund. With the end of the war 1918 it was decided to close the publication, but in November that year The Luton News acquired the title. With the launch of its Tuesday Telegraph, the name 'N.T.F.' was incorporated in the masthead.
The Tuesday Telegraph later became the Tuesday Pictorial when The Luton News decided to produce a picture-led newspaper thanks to upgraded facilities at its Manchester Street-Alma Street premises. Previously photographs had had to be sent to London for processing into metal plates, with an inevitable delay and expense as images went back and forth.
The history of the 'N-T-F' - plus a picture of the men behind it – was published in the November 30th, 1918, edition, when first published by Gibbs & Barmforth, owners of The Luton News. It read:
The initials 'N-T-F' stand for 9.35pm train from Luton to Harpenden, on which the project was conceived in June 1916. The Saturday Telegraph had published an article in which one prisoner asked for a Bible, and several asked for bread. The matter was taken up by Mr Rex Newham, Mr Archie Deller, Mr Harry Tompkins and Mr J. J. Hunt, who were then joined by Mr Hardy.
"A sheet of typewritten fun was produced, and this was handed round in the train at “4d a peep,” and so heartily was it taken up that another was produced the following week, but before it was produced there were so many demands that it was decided to print 50. Before the order was executed, 200 copies were ordered, and [Luton store owner] Mr Percy Gibbons offered an advertisement.
"George Worker promised to sell some at Messrs Kent's works, and then everything went well for a week or two, and the number grew. By Christmas we had raised about £30, but not without difficulty, for here and there was opposition, and but for the encouragement of Luton Town Clerk (Mr William Smith) and Councillors J. T. Dales and R. P. Graham, of Dunstable, we should probably have given up the ghost.
"But the Town Clerk was hon. Secretary of the Luton Borough Prisoners of War Fund, and he knew better than anyone how much the money was needed, and he urged us to go on. The result was a continuance, and favours came oftener than rebuffs, the circulation grew and grew, and the paper gradually increased in size as follows:
"And with the increase in size came a demand for an increase in quality. Our readers asked for a higher tone than pure fun, and we gave it. We began to rope in gentlemen of local importance, and so we gained influence, until in January 1917 we were selling 2,400 copies and had a 24-page paper.
"The paper shortage caused important changes in the cost of production, but our readers held on, and so we reached the 3,000 mark at which we stand today. We never increased the price, however, and it will not be increased now. We got the benediction of Sir Douglas Haig, the gratitude of the prisoners, and the thanks of the Luton Borough Prisoners of War Committee, on which body we were allocated a seat, and by concerts and other functions we were able to swell the funds.
"And now the 'N-T-F' opens another chapter, or, we had better say, another book commences. It will be under the direction of Messrs Gibbs & Barmforth, proprietors of The Luton News. Instead of the voluntary contribution as of old, it will be distributed to newsagents, and it is safe to assume that where you are able to get The Luton News and the Saturday Telegraph you will be able to get the 'N-T-F'."
[Two examples of 'N-T-F' front pages are reproduced - a special souvenir from November 1918, and an earlier edition from April 1917. The souvenir edition is viewable as a pdf file (from panel, top left).]