Hoo sports day for ex-servicemen

Lady Wernher and ex-servicemen, Hoo sportsday 1919

  • Lady Wernher and ex-servicemen at Luton Hoo sports day, August 16th, 1919.

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

On Saturday all roads from Luton led to Luton Hoo. From the day when Lady Wernher, our generous Lady of the Manor, intimated her desire to act as hostess to the gallant sons of the borough who have fought the good fight and have been spared to return, the keenest possible interest has been displayed by the whole town in the successive stages of the arrangements for a vast gathering.

When the great day arrived on Saturday, the most sanguine expectations were more than realised, and it is almost superfluous to say that the function will remain vividly imprinted on the minds of all who were privileged to participate.

All the circumstances leading up to a unique assemblage were such as to invest it with a glamopur not only exceptional, but thoroughly deserved. All up and down the country, practically wherever peace celebrations have been conceived, the authorities have shown wisdom and tact in realising that the men around whom, in the main, the jollification should centre were those whose sacrifice and gallantry had made peace possible.

And if it be rather ub the nature of exaggeration to say that Luton proved itself the exception so far as was concerned the recognition of this elementary principle, it is certainly true to point out that little more than lip-service was paid to the ideal.

The entertainment of the town's discharged and demobilised men was, in plain language, “turned down” because in their wisdom the City Fathers (or that section who held the seats on the Peace Celebration Committee) decided it was too big a proposition.

The discharged men, for their part, made it absolutely clear that they were prepared to give first place to the children, if arrangements were made for this section of the community to be feted on an adequate scale. Again the Committee decided this was too big an undertaking – though they revised that attitude later.

It would not be difficult to point out that, if the situation made demands which were too heavy for the Committee as constituted, a reasonable policy would have been to have invited the assistance of representatives of the various interests affected. Whether this course commended itself to our councillors, or was even considered by them as a practical step, it is not possible for us to state.

The fact which is clear, however, is that nothing of the kind was done. Not until a late stage was any provision made to take the public into the confidence of the Committee – though the public were most intimately concerned – and even then the initiative came from the local Press.

Justly or otherwise – and, in out opinion, more the former than the latter – the common people came to the conclusion that the peace festivities in Luton were being conceived by a “close corporation,” that they were being organised for the glorification of the few rather than for the entertainment of the many, and that they showed every sign of proving little better than a “wash-out”.

History has recorded how completely the public view was borne out – how, in fact, they were characterised by unprecedented disaster. History will, beyond doubt, eventually apportion blame where blame is due; but in the meantime the average Lutonian has arrived at certain conclusions on the point. The nature of these conclusions is by no means a secret; they are known to all who care to observe.

There may be some among our rulers – we have every reason to believe there are – who are adopting the “ostrich policy” in a child-like belief that what they cannot see does not in fact exist. But it will, we think, require a great deal of persuasion before the public mind is cleared of the convinced impression that vision, coupled with reasonable regard for essentials on the part of the responsible Committee, could have saved out town from the stigma which has fallen upon it.

The people's just claim is that they were never consulted – that they were never given an opportunity to say whether they were prepared to raise funds for this exception day on the scale which was necessary. They say, and rightly, that the town's record during the war is convincing proof that its citizens have never fallen short of a proper standard when money has been required for a good object.

There can be no suggestion that the recognition of the discharged men was other than a good object, and there is no reason to assume that, for the first time in such matters, the common people would have done anything but “their bit”.

The public memory is proverbially short – but it is not so short that it will readily forget these factors.

It is refreshing, then, to turn to what actually did happen on Saturday – to record what was proved to be possible when many minds are working in harmony for a common end. As we have observed on a previous occasion, Lady Wernher first decided that she would be responsible for the invitation to a peace celebration. From that moment onward, she asked the co-operation of the men who were to be her guests. It was an attitude suggestive of broad outlook, tact and vision – and it achieved the desired purpose to the utmost extent possible.

Strong committees were set up to represent the several organisations – the DS&S, the Comrades of the Great War, the Luton Hoo estate employees, and those men who were attached to no association. Working with energy, and being met with sympathy and cordiality by Lady Wernher and her agent Mr James Baker, all difficulties vanished as mist before the rising sun, and a programme was evolved calculated to appeal to the most widely-varied taste.

It was in this spirit that her Ladyship approached a task which had been declared by the Town Council to be too big a proposition. It was because of that fact that she was able to invite and provide for a gathering of ex-servicemen numbering close upon 6,000, and so to extend her invitation that the men were joined in the evening by their wives or other lady friends, bringing the total of those who found pleasure and recognition in the beautiful Hoo park to the region of 11,000.

It was an unprecedented day and an unqualified success. From start to finish there was not a dull moment, and it was plain to everyone present that Lady Wernher and members of her house party enjoyed the function to the full. Here Ladyship was here, there and everywhere among her army of guests. Major Harold Wernher was happy in the extreme among “old soldiers” once more.

The whole spirit of the gathering was one of camaraderie and friendship, and the viewpoint which dominated it from the outset was finely expressed by those at the Hoo: “The men we are doing it for are worth doing everything for.”

The lady guests were also catered for on a generous scale, and for them – as for those men who were not of an athletic turn of mind – there were band performances and concert programmes at intervals.

The distribution of prizes was another interesting feature of the day's proceedings; and an attractive addition was the presentation to half a dozen local heroes of British and Allied decorations won in various theatres of war. This was something which turned all minds for a moment to the gigantic struggle in which the Empire had been involved and lifted the festival to a plane above that of a mere jollification.

Whilst no formal resolution of thanks could express with any degree of adequacy of feelings of gratitude and regard felt for Lady Wernher by the huge assemblage, the cheers with which the proposition was endorsed gave an inkling of the people's opinion. They were indeed tremendous.

Her Ladyship's reply was finely phrased; and while it disclosed the donor's appreciation of and fellow feeling for the men of the town who have helped in bearing the heat and burden of the day, also contained an appeal which was most appropriate and which we are confident will not fall upon deaf ears. It is up to those who are welcomed, indeed honoured, guests on Saturday to demonstrate that they are deserving of the high opinion held of them by Lady Wernher. For our part we have no fear that out great-hearted neighbour will be disappointed in this respect.


Related items from the Hoo sports day:

Hoo extends a welcome to ex-servicemen: Click here.

Feeding the 5,000-plus at the Hoo: Click here.

Six heroes receive their medals: Click here.

Hoo sports day prizewinners: Click here.

Vote of thanks to Lady Wernher: Click here.

Hoo day entertainers and organisers: Click here.