What the Luton News hailed as one of the most interesting of Society events took place on July 20th, 1917, with the wedding of Major Harold Augustus Wernher, second son of the late Sir Julius Wernher and Lady Wernher, of Luton Hoo, and Countess Anastasia (Zia) de Torby, elder daughter of the Grand Duke Michael Michailovitch of Russia and the Countess de Torby.
Just before midnight on Sunday, July 9th, 1917, disaster struck the Dreadnought battleship HMS Vanguard as she lay at anchor in Scapa Flow in the Orkneys. An internal explosion ripped through the vessel, which sank almost immediately.
A strike by engineers engaged in the munitions industry that had begun in Rochdale, Yorkshire, and spread to other parts of the country, had reached Luton by May 1917, leading to a flashpoint involving soldiers at the Labour Club in Bute Street on Friday, May 11th. The Luton Reporter newspaper took up the story:
A touch of the last century was imparted to the smart military wedding solemnised at Luton Parish Church on Saturday afternoon [April 21st, 1917] when Miss Helena Agnes Merchant, daughter of Councillor and Mrs Walter William Merchant, of 55 Brook Street, was wedded to Lieut Robert Henry Johnston, who is well known in the military element now so busily engaged in this district.
Lieut Johnston is a practical engineer of marked ability, and prior to the war was in South Africa holding a good position in his profession.
Two men died and a third was badly injured as the result of an accident at the Chaul End munition works of George Kent Ltd on Monday, January 8th,1917.
The victims were labourer Horace John William Crump, of 90 Ash Road, Luton, a married man with several children, and Herbert Andrews, aged 17½, from Cold Harbour, Harpenden. The injured employee was Harry Rowe, also 17, of Luton Road, Toddington.
At about 11.30 on the morning of December 28th, 1916, occurred the worst accident in the 24-year operation of Luton's trams.
Despite the best efforts of driver Alfred Lloyd, his tram sped down the Midland Road hill and failed to make the sharp turn at the Old Bedford Road junction and crashed into an earth bank next to the Midland Railway bridge. Mr Lloyd, a father of six children living at 7 Victoria Street, Luton, was trapped in the wreckage and had to be freed before being taken to the Bute Hospital.
On the afternoon of Saturday, December 16th, 1916, amidst a widespread demonstration of mourning and sympathy, the funeral took place of the late Chief Constable (Mr David Teale). The scenes were most impressive.
The members of the Corporation, the magistrates and others met at the Town Hall, and meanwhile the police force formed up at the Court House.
Luton was yesterday [October 29th, 1916] included in the itinerary of an official tour undertaken by Field Marshal Viscount French as Commander in Chief of the Home Forces, in which the Volunteers of Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Northants, Leicestershire and Derbyshire were inspected and impressed the Field Marshal with the important part they are to play in scheme of national defence. It was a strenuous day for Lord French, involving inspections at St Albans, Luton, Kettering, Leicester and Derby.
Following upon the big fire at Wrest Park has now come one of the most devastating fire which Luton has ever experienced. In the early hours of Wednesday morning [September 20th, 1916] one half of the extensive premises of the Davis Gas Stove Co Ltd, known as the Diamond Foundry, was burnt down to the ground.
Buildings on about two acres of ground have been absolutely gutted, stores have been totally destroyed, and the damage will amount to many thousands of pounds, estimated at over £30,000. But fortunately there were no serious injuries.
Up to 200 wounded soldiers were safely evacuated by V.A.D. nurses from Wrest Park mansion when a devastating fire broke out on Thursday, September 14th, 1916, at the stately home that had been in use as a military hospital since November 1914.
Damage initially estimated at around £10,000 was caused at the country home of Lord Lucas, which was extensively damaged. Any furniture, paintings, books and other valuable items that could be rescued were placed in specially erected marquees.
Wedding bells rang out at the Parish Church yesterday (Wednesday 9th August 1916) for Miss Eila Cumberland, the only child of Mr and Mrs E. Anthony Cumberland, of 'Greenhurst', Hart Hill, Luton, and Captain James Ernest Sutcliffe Smith, of Bacup, Lancs. The bridegroom's family is prominent in the industry of Lancashire, while the bride has been a member of the Wardown Military Hospital staff, and her father is senior partner in the firm of Messrs J. Cumberland and Sons, auctioneers and estate agents.
Well over one million men on all sides perished or were wounded in the Battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest battles in history that spanned five months from July to November 1916. Men from Luton and nearby villages naturally played their part, many making the ultimate sacrifice.
Initially using contemporary Luton newspaper reports, including published casualty lists and stories of local men who lost their lives - and backed up by recognised authoritative sources, this is an attempt to build up a comprehensive roll of honour devoted specifically to the Somme in 1916.
The exhibition of Lord Kitchener's original letter (calling for another 300,000 men for the New Army) in a large marquee in front of the Town Hall on Monday [July 17th, 1916] almost approached the dignity of a public function.
No fewer than 470 girls employed at a Luton factory lost half a day's pay yesterday [Friday, May 26th, 1916], and the firm lost the labour. At one o'clock, when the girls employed in a certain department should have gone to work, they ranged themselves inside the gates and discussed an incident of which we give their version below.