Escape on the last train from Hamburg
Mr W.T. Lye, J.P., of Leagrave Hall and of the well-known Luton firm of bleachers and dyers, is to be congratulated on the fact that he and Mrs Lye, with their son and daughter, Mr Ernest B. Lye and Miss Lye, and an Irish lady friend, have been able to return to England from Germany.
They had a very narrow escape of being stranded in what is now an enemy's country. They got away by the last train which was allowed out of Hamburg, and reached Leagrave on Sunday morning.
The party had spent a very pleasant holiday cruising around the coast of Norway and beyond in the Victoria Luise, a German vessel which is the largest liner that is used for cruising.
Of the 526 passengers, about 450 were Germans and the remainder all Americans, with the exception of Mr Lye's party, who were the only English people, beyond an English tutor to a Russian family. There were to have been more English people on the second cruise.
Mr Lye's party left Leith, in Scotland, on July 7th (The Luton News then carried a lengthy report of the places they visited along the Norwegian coast).
"At Gudvangen, which is a town in one of the largest fiords, we heard that the German Emperor had left that morning on receipt of serious news. It was the first indication we had of the strained relations between the European Powers.
"Coming south, after visiting most of the fiords, we were continually receiving wireless messages. The German Ambassador to Roumania was on board, and that, of course, led to more messages than would otherwise be the case. He expected he would have to leave us at Bergen, but his Government informed him that he could wait and land at Hamburg.
"We arrived at that port last Thursday in a thunderstorm - an incident that seemed ominous to us. We found the town in a very excited state. It was exceedingly difficult to get a cab to the hotel.
"We were assured on our arrival that everything was in order for us to go to Southampton on the Imperator next day, so we felt somewhat at rest.
"At breakfast on Friday morning the news was sent to us by the company that it was not certain we should sail on the Imperator, but that we could wait without disquietude, and they would let us know definitely at four o'clock. At that time we learnt that martial law had been proclaimed, and the definite news we received was that the Government had stopped all steamers.
"Unfortunately, all out luggage was at Cuxhaven, 20 miles away. We made anxious enquiries about the possibilities of getting back to England some way or other and found that the only method would be to leave by the 11.30 express on Friday night - the last to take passengers out of Hamburg for Flushing,
"We had no luggage and we had to buy fresh tickets, the others being useless, but we were glad to get away under any circumstances. The train left three-quarters of an hour late in tremendous confusion, few people knowing where they were going and not caring greatly so long as they got away. The place was crammed, and it was only after a lot of struggling that we got into a carriage.
"The moment we started we were under military observation. Soldiers were on the platform of every station we passed through. Every bridge was guarded and mined. The big frontier viaduct across the Wesser was also mined, and soldiers were ready with electric fuses. It indicated to us just how quickly Germany had mobilised.
"The express was stopped at least six times for purpose of control by military, and at one place we were kept waiting an hour. They did not examine us individually.
"In Holland the railway was well guarded by Dutch soldiers. The express arrived at Flushing about four hours late. We then went aboard and ploughed through a calm sea, arriving at Queenborough on Saturday evening at 7.40, only about a quarter of an hour behind time.
"While on the boat we sent a wireless message to Leagrave, so that enabled everything to be ready for what would otherwise have been our unexpected return. We left St Pancras soon after 11pm.
"We were indeed fortunate in getting through, for some people had most unpleasant experiences."
Mr Lye and his party arrived in England with very little money and only the clothes which they wore. Mr Lye did not seem hopeful of recovering his luggage, but was very thankful to have got back.
As to the effect of the European war on local business, he said: "I think it will be very adversely affected until something very decisive has occurred. Fortunately for Luton the period at which this calamity has come is in the slack season."