Smouldering resentment of discharged men

[The Luton Reporter: Tuesday, November 13th, 1917]

Mayor John Staddon 1915-1917

  • Retiring Mayor John Staddon, a first named target of DS&S resentment in 1917.

Keen resentment is felt by members of the Luton and District Discharge Sailors' and Soldiers' Association concerning what is regarded as the apparent indifference of those in authority locally to their claims to recognition.

Speaking at a meeting at the Franklin Restaurant on Tuesday night [November 6th, 1917] the Chairman, Mr Herbert W. Booth, said this was a movement which was about to become international as well as national, and yet when it was suggested by the Executive that the Mayor of the town should identify himself with it, Alderman Staddon wrote: "I cannot bring my mind to believe that you are really on the right road in regard to the formation of this Association. It does occur to me that this movement will create overlapping with efforts already in existence in regard to discharged soldiers and sailors."

If that was the mind of the Mayor of Luton he was lacking in foresight, and was certainly out of touch with the fact that the old order was changing and would have to give place to the new, said the Chairman.

Alluding to the registration of the Association under the War Charities Act, Mr Booth said this step was taken simply and solely that when they appealed for funds the people of Luton should be satisfied and properly safeguarded and assured that discharged men were as honest as the Mayor of Luton when he appealed for the Red Cross Society - (applause) - and equally worthy of public support.

It was a matter of great regret that so far their hopes has materialised in only a small degree. It was possible their appeal was inopportune, but they had not asked Luton to do more than had already been done by other towns for their discharged men, and under those circumstances they might not unfairly assume that Luton, compared with other towns, was lacking in appreciation of the services and sacrifices of discharged men.

In order that workers especially might have an opportunity of showing their appreciation it was agree to take steps to organise a flag day, but the reply of the Mayor, through the Town Clerk, was that he could not assent to their holding a flag day on November 10th, as it had been the practice not to have more than one flag day each month, and the Salvation Army Day [advert, right] would be held in the middle of November, and there were several other days for which arrangements had still to be made in response to long-standing appeals.

From this it would seen that the claims of discharged men who had fought and bled for their country were last to be considered in Luton. It clearly showed voluntary service and sacrifice, even in this war, were not appreciated as they were glibly promised they should be when they enlisted, and should the occasion ever again arise any appeal for voluntary service would leave them absolutely cold.

Never again in the history of this Empire should men volunteer - (applause). All men should be conscripted and no man, Government or municipal official in a 'cushy' job though he be, should escape the net in that matter.

It had been said that a nation had the Government it deserved, and he supposed the same applied to a town, but it was hard to believe that the mandarins and bureaucrats of that mutual admiration society which met at the Town Hall represented the people of Luton. Such a decision as that before them was only what one would expect from mandarins and bureaucrats who, secure behind the skirts of D.O.R.A. [Defence of the Realm Act], misrepresented the people, played the old party game and provided funk holes for fit eligible officials with cushy jobs and fat salaries - (applause).

An incident in connection with the Association's appeal was described by Mr Booth as ranking with the incident of the widow's mite recorded in the Bible. It was a letter received from eight little children from Mountain Ash, Limbury, enclosing a postal order for 10 shillings for the club for discharged soldiers, and he hoped the fact would be published far and wide - the prosperous and important town of Luton, its chief citizens, manufacturers, traders, churches and brotherhoods, and public men put to shame by eight little children - (applause).

Those eight little children were makers of history. Their letter should be framed and exhibited publicly, and when the Association secured their club, as they certainly would, he suggested it should be opened not by any public personage, but by those eight little children - (applause).

Complaint was also made concerning the refusal of the Secretary of the local War Pensions Committee to afford opportunities for discharged men to consult him on some stated evening in the week. The Secretary stated that if men would send him a message he would endeavour to meet them, but Mr Booth said that was not good enough. The Secretary was paid for his work from public funds and must therefore study the convenience of the men for whose benefit these committees had been formed.

The membership of the Association was reported to have increased roughly at the rate of 20 per week, so that at the end of the month they had no less than 80. This membership, it was stated, had been achieved without assistance from any official or semi-official sources, or from any public men of the town, and is thoroughly democratic, as is the executive. The claims of party have not been in any way considered, not has there been any endeavour to provide for any equalisation of party representation.

"We all have nothing whatever to do with party politics as such," said the Chairman, "but we do intend to become political, and we shall be a political force which will have to be reckoned with."

Mr Booth was reported to have secured second place on the list in the election of the new executive committee of the National Federation, to which the Luton Association is affiliated.

In reply, the by then ex-Mayor [Alderman John Staddon] said at the Mayor-making ceremony for Council Charles Dillingham the following Friday [November 9th] that he was thick-skinned enough to take no notice to the criticism offer with regard to the flag day proposal. He stated that there was still a long list appeals which he had been unable to deal with fairly and which he was therefore going to hand over to his successor.

In addition to those, an application was made by a new society formed within the last few weeks for discharged soldiers [The Comrades of the Great War], expecting a flag day and naming a date within about three weeks. He had done his duty to the public and the institutions for which he had collected, and why should a society formed six weeks ago come and shut out all others on the list? All he said was that while he was Mayor it could not be done.

He had put off the Salvation Army for eight months, and it was a society that was doing a grand job for the men in the fighting line. Men who had been discharged were being looked after in certain directions, and if they were not receiving the attention they needed it was for the Government and the War Pensions Committee to deal with the matter, and hot charity. Therefore he refused their application, and he gave them a proper and reasonable reply.

But there were men who were so ready to get up and criticise what anyone did without taking the actual fact in detail.