Hoo extends a welcome to ex-servicemen

Luton Hoo house guests, sports day 1919

  • Lady Wernher and her sports day house guests.

[Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph: August 19th, 1919]

Across the gates at the Park Street entrance to Luton Hoo was a great red streamer with the one word. “Welcome” - and “Welcome” was the underlying spirit of everything connected with the ex-servicemen day's festivities. The entrance gates were also festooned with laurel.

The ground of the festivities was laid out about half way between the gates and the mansion, and in the bright sun of Saturday afternoon it suggested, even from a distance, that there were good times in store.

For a week the Luton Hoo estate staff had been laying out the estate grounds, where four sets of events were to be run simultaneously; erecting bandstands and concert platforms; and in other ways making preparations for the pleasure of a big crowd. Having done this, the sports officials were invited on Friday evening to pass judgment on what had been done, and to offer criticism, but everything had been done so well that no criticism could be offered.

Cricket and sports began at 2.30, by which time Lady Wernher was on the sports ground. With her were Major H. A. Wernher and Lady Zia Wernher, Lady Medina, Lord Louis Mountbatten, Count M. de Torby, Sir Charles Russell, Hon Mrs Victor Stanley and Miss Stanley, Major C. Craufurd-Stuart DSO, Capt Arthur Critchley-Salmonson DSO, Miss Pryce, Miss Henderson, Miss Stewart, Miss Jennings, Miss Cochrane and Mr Ernest Gape.

For their convenience a special stand was provided at one end of the enclosure, and most of the events finished near this stand; but the gentlemen were busy for a large part of the time assisting in starting or judging various events, and the ladies were also moving about the enclosure to see things at closer quarters.

Even when the programme commenced there was a big gathering, and this increased considerably during the afternoon. Programmes and cigarettes were distributed to the men as they arrived, over 7,000 packets of cigarettes being provided.

The Luton Red Cross Band and the Comrades' Band occupied the two bandstands in the sports enclosure. The Red Cross Band started punctually at 2.30, and playing alternately, the two bands provided an almost continuous performance of music until the end of the sports.

On either side of the bandstands two excellent sports tracks were laid out, complete down to the smallest detail. Large noticeboards showed the section competing on each track, and smaller notices indicated where every competition began and ended.

For convenience of organisation it was necessary to have these four sets of sports – Luton Hoo, Federation, Comrades and Unattached. There was no shortage of entrants for the sports. The record entry in any one sectional event was 67 for the 100 yards flat handicap, and on all four grounds numerous heats had to be run.

There was no time scheduled for the sports beyond that fixed by the evening programme, which was to commence at 6.15 with a presentation of military decorations. Things were managed so nicely, however, that by going on continuously and not stopping for tea, it was found possible to complete the sports programme about ten minutes before the time fixed for the presentation of medals. This end would not have been achieved but for the fact that things were organised so well, and competitors were always ready to toe the mark when called on. The many heats did not permit of time being wasted, and things were kept going very briskly.

Special competitions were arranged for disabled men, and it was a noticeable point that of the silver cups included among the prizes the two finest were allotted to the competitions for disabled men. These men were taken to Luton Hoo by car, and special seats were provided for heir comfort.

There was also a special little platform with a seat for one – Mr S. Ellingham, of North Street, Luton, who saw service in the Crimea, India and China, has seen Britain conclude peace on five occasions, and left the Army before many of hose who made themselves eligible for Saturday's gathering by fighting in the great war, were born. He had a brave array of medals, and throughout the afternoon held quite a little court. Lady Zia Wernher and others of the house party went to him to chat about his experiences in the days of long gone by and to him, as to many others, Saturday will undoubtedly provide some treasured memories.

In all sections of the sports there were three flat handicaps, a sack race and tilting the bucket. For Luton Hoo people, however, as not only the ex-servicemen employed on the estate, but all the employees and their wives and children were being entertained, some extra competitions were added – a race for girls, one for boys and one for veterans.

The sack races and the tilting competitions were especially enjoyed by the house party, and there was great fun among the general spectators when Lady Wernher decided, and Major Harold Wernher announced by megaphone, that there would be a special sack race for the members of the house party – the gentleman members, he added. Sir Charles Russell was given a big start in this, and although he fared like a good many more and had a tumble, he was later called up with the winner, Lord Louis Mountbatten, to take a prize. When the crowd saw that they were dolls they went almost wild with delight.

After the sectional events had been completed there were inter-contests, and the whole sports programme was one which was attractive alike to competitors and spectators.

In a cricket match, a team composed partly of Luton Hoo and partly of unattached opposed another made up of DS&S and Comrades. The conditions provided for each side o be limited to a maximum of an hour's batting, and there were prizes for each member of the winning team, and also for their umpire and scorer. Luton Hoo and Unattached won by 44 to 25, largely owing to the bowling of J. M. Lyon (Luton Hoo) and F. G. Mullett (Unattached).