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The Great War News from Lancaster in 1914

21st August 1914

These pages include reports from the local press in Lancaster and district from August 1914.


The week has been much quieter in Lancaster from a military point of view than the two preceding ones. With the departure of the 5th Battalion King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment) on Friday military fervour seemed to reach its climax. Officers and men were in excellent spirits, and they received an enthusiastic send-off. They were assured of the sympathetic support of the civilian population, and the men knew that their wives and children or dependants would be cared for in their absence. Wonderful restraint was exercised by the wives and mothers of the soldiers, but there were one or two sad and pathetic scenes. The prevailing note, however, was optimistic, and as the trains steamed out of the station cheers were given by the soldiers and the civilians in unison.

Meanwhile recruiting is proceeding apace, and a recruiting room has been opened in the old Town Hall, which has proved very convenient. The response made to the call for suitable young men has been most encouraging. Major Burdoch, the recruiting officer, at the week end made an appeal to local owners of motor cars to loan them for the purpose of bringing in recruits from the country districts. Many people quickly responded to the appeal, and during this week motor cars in charge of military men have been seen in various parts of the district. The cars are marked “Recruiting cars,” and they have proved very useful.

The official intimation published at the week end that Lord Kitchener looked with some disfavour upon the enrolment of men as civic guards, as likely to interfere with the recruiting for the special army, caused some dismay in Lancaster. The “Mayor’s Own” had grown into a numerous and satisfactory body, and had already been formed into companies. The parade at the Giant Axe field on Friday night proved that the members of the guard were in earnest, that they took their duties seriously, and were particularly anxious to be drilled into shape. The readiness with which they submitted to discipline, and obeyed the words of command, were favourably commented upon by those who saw the parade.

The feeling on Saturday was one of disappointment, especially if the notice meant that the formation of civic guards was to be discouraged. The modified statement issued on Monday led to a corresponding feeling of satisfaction, and enrolment has since gone on. Care of course is taken not to encourage young men who should join the regular army to become members of the civic guard, which is mostly composed of trades people and others who are obliged to remain in or near Lancaster, however eager they may be to take up arms in defence of the country. By becoming special constables they have shown that they are not shirking their duty.

The duties of the special constables are distinctly arduous. Something like sixty or eighty men are on duty each night as sentries at different places, and the call comes frequently to the available men. Without in any way desiring to interfere with the action of the authorities, we venture to make the suggestion that too much work has been undertaken, and placed upon the special constables. Night work is a very tedious and trying business, and it is important that the men should not lose heart or get slack.

The point is whether it is really necessary to place sentries at so many places. The railway bridge over the Lune, Skerton Bridge, and other similar places must be guarded, because they are vulnerable, and any harm done to them would seriously interfere with the working of the London and North Western Railway and the road traffic north and south. It seems hardly necessary to provide guards for small culverts and obscure bridges, because it is hardly likely they would be the points of attack. If, however, a small bridge was destroyed or damaged, no serious delay would be occasioned, because in these days temporary bridges can be erected in a few hours.

If the places to be guarded were reduced in number, the call would come less frequently to special constables to be on duty, and this would relieve them very much. We think the relief would be very much appreciated now, and the desire for relief will grow as the nights grow longer and colder, and when the weather breaks down. It is very desirable that voluntary duties, undertaken from patriotic motives, should not be allowed to become irksome of unpleasant. If it is really considered necessary to guard all the places to which sentries are now nightly sent, then it is clear a much larger number of special constables is needed, so as to spread the work more effectively.

Extensive powers are given to the military and naval authorities in the country by an Order in Council making regulations under the hurriedly-passed Defence of the Realm Act. The ordinary avocations of life, and the reasonable enjoyment of property, it is announced, will be interfered with as little as possible, but the “competent authorities,” and persons authorised by them, may take possession of any lands or buildings, gas, electricity, or water works; cause buildings to be destroyed; more property from one place to another; order the inhabitants to leave any specified area, and do other things which may be considered necessary for the security or the public and the defence of the realm. This is an approach to war is martial law, and should help the public to understand what “a state of war” means.

It is not alone what people do or leave undone that constitute offences under this Act. There are some things that people may not say. For instance “the spreading by word of mouth or in writing of any reports likely to create disaffection or alarm among his Majesty’s forces, or the civil population” is an offence. It will be seen it is not a question of who first invents or starts a wicked rumour, for the Act deals also with individuals who spread such reports. That such action is necessary will be obvious to thinking people, and very great restraint should be exercised by everybody. Gossip mongers, especially those in Lancaster who delight in spreading scare rumours and foolish suggestions, must be severely “sat upon.”

It is necessary to say this, not only because of the personal danger to the gossip mongers, but because of the wickedness of their action at the present time. A valued correspondent sends us a well authenticated instance of a story told and repeated in trading circles which, if true, would have caused poignant grief to many Lancaster people. Indeed, the spreading of the rumour, which rapidly developed into “a fact,” did cause alarm in many homes from which local soldiers have recently parted. Happily our correspondent was in a position to give the rumour an emphatic denial, but rumour dies slowly. This was “spreading” a report likely to “cause alarm among the civil population, and was therefore a punishable offence.

There has been wonderful calmness in Lancaster during the week. Matters have almost resumed their normal state. Business is being carried on as usual, although there is much less doing than up to three weeks ago; food prices are normal, except in regard to one or two commodities, and there is no panic buying. In this connection an instance has just come to light that may cause a smile. During the time that provision shops were besieged by anxious purchases eager to lay in stocks, and whilst assistants were perspiring as they supplied almost wholesale orders for bacon, sugar, flour, meal, and the like, and whilst customers were excitedly elbowing each other to get near the counters, and too anxious to secure supplies to wait their turns, a well known lady entered a leading shop, and with an air of unconcern, except perhaps a little surprise at the unwonted crowding of the shop, pressed forward to the counter, and addressed a worried and over worked assistant with the remark “Can I have a small pot of bloater paste, please!”

The effect was electrical. It relieved the situation, for everybody in the shop felt it was an anti-climax, and saw the humour of it, The shopman almost collapsed with surprise, and customers gave way to laughter. The inconsequence of the lady was in no way simulated: her surprise at the effect of her small purchase was as great as that of the customers and the shopman, and she laughed as heartily as the rest. But, unconsciously to herself, she did good service, for it showed people in a way that perhaps nothing else would have done to what foolish lengths panic was leading them. The panic buying was happily a phase that soon passed, and those people who laid in stocks at enhanced prices are now sorry for their alarm and their unwise stampede.

The secrecy observed last week as to the movements of the expeditionary force came to an end when the press bureau issued the statement that the force was on French soil. The smooth way in which the force, with baggage, guns and impedimenta, was sent across the sea was a triumph of organisation. The rapidity with which the men were got on board waiting transports a the ports of debarkation – mainly at dead of night – was only equalled by the quantities with which the huge ships glided away into the darkness. The main line railways are now almost normal, and the scheduled trains are running to time. Many summer trains have been cancelled, but cheap bookings and excursions have been resumed.

One of the unpleasant local features is that practically all the cases brought before the police courts in the borough and county during the week were men and women charged with drunkenness or disorderly conduct. At a time like the present, when people are at high tension, the conduct of some of the men brought before the magistrates was particularly trying. The excuses of others – that they were reservists, on the way to the depot of their regiments, and had been “treated” by friends, or were having a jollification before taking up arms – were quite out of harmony with the spirit in which they country has taken up the struggle. The defendants received no sympathy, nor were they entitled to any under the circumstances.

So many “drunks” in one week has led to the suggestion that for some time at least public houses might very well be closed earlier each night, or open later each morning. Magistrates have no legal power to order the closing of public houses at say nine o’clock each night, but there is such a fine spirit of sacrifice and self abnegation existing, that publicans may be quite ready and willing to meet the wishes of the magistrates to bring about “early closing”. There is no general disorder; indeed, the streets are practically deserted by ten o’clock each night, and quiet and calm generally prevail.

People continue to show their patriotism by wearing red, white and blue favours, and motors and horse drawn conveyances and other vehicles are adorned with small national flags. It is somewhat ironic that most of these flags have been made in Germany, and they are most incorrectly in drawing and colouring. It is a pity we should need to show our patriotism by inaccurate flags made in the enemy’s country, but the exigencies of commerce during the past few years led to Germany capturing the trade. In one of two instances the small union flags have been waved upside down, through being wrongly attached to the staff. Britishers ought to know not only the characteristics of the national flag, but also the correct side up. Patriotism, however, is a sentiment, and is not unduly affected by small errors.

In these times the ordinary law must necessarily be interpreted in a modified way. Education committees exist for the purpose of seeing that children attend school regularly, and to take proceedings against parents who send their children to work as well as against people who employ the children when they should be at school. But Mr Garnett, the chairman of the South Lonsdale Education Committee, presumably with the approval of his committee, has taken a wise and sensible course. Mr Garnett announced on Saturday that no action would be taken in regard to children bona fide employed in assisting to get in the ripened grain, even though the schools are open. It is necessary that the harvest should be housed, and made the most of, and if country children can help in this national duty it is well they should be allowed to do so. Such help will no doubt be much appreciated by farmers.

Fifth Battalion of the King’s Own
Departure from Lancaster

The Territorials who returned to Lancaster on Wednesday had not a long stay in the town, receiving orders on Friday morning which resulted in their en-training at noon that day. Large crowds assembled near the Green Ayre Station and other vantage points en route to the Castle Station, and the men were given a hearty send off. The battalion was under the command of Lord Richard Cavendish, and mustered about 1,100 strong. Amongst the officers the medical profession was represented by Captains Bingham and George, and Lieutenant Deed represented the Royal Grammar School. The other officers included Major Bates and Captains Young, Eaves and Fawcett, and Lieutenants Singleton and Lloyd Evans. Amongst the large crowd on the platform at the Castle Station were Sir Norval Helme MP, the Mayor (Mr W Briggs), Mrs Briggs, and Mr Noel Briggs, the Town Clerk, (Mr T Cann Hughes) and Mrs Hughes, Mr H L Storey, Mr F Seward, Mr A W Hunt, Mrs Bingham, Major Burns Bell TD, and Alderman Jackson. The first train load left at 1.5pm amidst cheers from the spectators, detonators having been place on the lines and adding to the noise. The second detachment left at 1.39 amidst similar demonstrations, all the men appearing in the best of spirits. Many recruits were amongst the latter section, and some of them presented a curious appearance with full uniform except caps and belts. These deficiencies will be rectified later. Lord Richard Cavendish stated that he thought Lancaster had responded to the call in a splendid manner. There were one or two sad scenes in the streets and at the Wagon Works before the men started – as the wives and children bade farewell to their husbands and fathers, and mothers and sisters bade “God speed” to their sons and brothers. Large numbers of people gathered on the line side south of the Castle Station, and cheered the departing officers and men, who responded as the train passed along.

The Battalion on Duty

In a letter received during the week the writer says:- On the push all the day through has prevented me dropping you a line giving our movements. We landed safely about 9 p.m. and put up for the night in a field. It was dry, and not at all bad. Early next day (Saturday) we were on the move posting companies all along the line from ---- in the west to ---- in the east each company having a section of some miles to guard.

The men are quite happy and doing their work well, and the officers are, some of them, in clover. Everybody is extremely kind. Cottagers give the men hot water and tea, and the better to do folk send eggs, ham, tobacco etc. All along the line it is – “We don’t want you to send us rations. We get more than we can eat.” In fact, they are having the time of their lives.

But guarding railways is a tedious and tiring job. Sentry go day after day and not allowed to leave the post is a real test of a soldier’s discipline. They all take their job very seriously, and it is quite a common thing to fire on those who prowl around at nights – mostly poachers. Blackpool men drew first blood. On Sunday night a couple of poachers were stirring, and as they would not halt, a few rounds followed them. The result next morning – a dead horse. The Germans haven’t claimed it yet.

We are all very happy and gluttons for work. All is working smoothly, never a “grouse”; and a more patriotic lot than the 5th King’s Own the British army does not know.

Recruiting in Lancaster

Lancaster, in common with all England, has nobly responded to Lord Kitchener’s call to arms. In addition to the Territorials, which were quickly at full strength, and the large number of army and special reservists drawn from the county town, larger numbers of recruits were instantly forthcoming when Lord Kitchener’s appeal became definitely known. Up to Wednesday over 400 recruits had enlisted at the barracks and the old town hall recruiting office, and are on the whole a fine body of men. The men were immediately started on a stiff training to get them into something like ship shape order before forwarding them to central training camps. On Monday a small party of recruits under a sergeant left for Saltash, and a detachment of 150 proceeded there on Tuesday, whilst a similar number went yesterday. These men were all three year men, over thirty years of age, those under that age being at present retained at the depot. An advance party is shortly to proceed to Salisbury Plain to take over the camps there and to make arrangements for the arrival of the recruits, who are to be sent in batches of a hundred each.

About 100 recruits were forwarded to Saltash on Wednesday evening, and they received a good send off as they marched from the barracks to the station.

On Wednesday afternoon and all day yesterday recruits enlisted in large numbers, the recruiting sergeants having an arduous time. The total number was brought to well over 500 by yesterday’s additions.

It is announced that General Sir Archibald Hunter, KCB, Lancaster’s honorary freeman, will command the division of “Kitchener’s Army” at Salisbury Plain. This is very gratifying to Lancastrians. Up to yesterday no fewer than 450 had enrolled in the new battalion of the King’s Own.

Lancaster as a Remount Centre

Lancaster is one of the remount centres, and all horses purchased in the district are first sent there for final inspection and treatment before being passed on. They are located at the Artillery drill shed in Dallas Road. Shoeing is carried on early and later, and horses arrive each day. It is announced that any respectable person can have the use of one of the horses in return for its keep so as to keep them exercised and in good hard condition.

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