When the Watford Observer hit the streets on August 8, 1914, it looked like any other edition, with a front page full of small ads offering the usual goods and chattels.
But once you got inside, there was only one topic of conversation.
“The loyalty and patriotism shown by West Herts at the time of the Boer War remains a splendid memory,” wrote the editor in his leader that week.
“The spirit which prevails today among every section of the community, is even more fervent and more magnificent. We in West Herts may well be proud of that fact. But it would perhaps be well to pause for a moment to consider what the present crisis means to this district as to the country at large.
“What must be shown now – and we do not doubt for a moment that it will be shown – is a patriotism which enters into the daily life of everyone, rich and poor alike.
“There is sacrifice ahead for all of us. This conflict which has been forced upon England will bring trials and tribulations from which none can escape. There must be on every side, a complete disregard of petty selfish interests. Those who are not bearing arms in their country’s cause will serve England best by joining hand-in-hand to see that the burdens which must fall on the poor, fall as lightly as possible.
“We are glad to publish this week several letters which show that already public-spirited and patriotic men and women in this locality are stirring. Lord Clarendon, as Lord Lieutenant of the County, has issued an appeal; Lord Ebury has offered his hearty co-operation; Mr W.F. Goodrich (chairman of the Watford Urban District Council) has lost no time in calling a special meeting of the council; several parties of ladies have expressed their eagerness to set to work in the special field which is open to women.
“It is intended, we understand, to call a town's meeting in Watford and undoubtedly that is the proper course to adopt. It is most essential that all voluntary effort should be properly organised. Only in that was can overlapping be avoided. Even if several schemes are put on foot, the workers should come under some central control and the matter may easily be arranged by adopting something like the committee system which obtains in public life. West Herts must and will rise to her manifest duty.
“It may seem a pity just now to introduce a discordant note, but certain unpatriotic conduct ought to be referred to so that there may be no repetition of it.
“Unfortunately a number of people in the district have got into something approaching panic over food supplies. At the beginning of the week there was an extraordinary run on the stores of grocers and provision dealers. In one or two instances shops were closed early to avoid an absolute depletion of stock.
“The natural consequence was a rise in prices. It is to be hoped the absolute folly of the scare is seen. Apart from the official assurances that there can be absolutely no danger for months to come of any failure in the national food supply, the people who lost their nerve so incomprehensibly should have possessed more common-sense.
“Some of the poorest who live from hand to mouth and do not thoroughly understand the situation, may be pardoned for their fright; but we have to say to those well-to-do people – and they were fairly numerous – who brought motor cars to the shops and drove away with sacks of flour and hundredweights of grocery, that their conduct has been highly discreditable. They have shown an utter lack of patriotism and a total disregard for the welfare of others.
“Some of the traders have been blamed for putting up prices. They say the raids made by the public, together with an advance in wholesale prices, are really responsible. That is true to some extent, but if the grocers themselves had kept their heads and refused to supply people who demanded goods out of all proportion to their present requirements there would have been very little trouble.
“Fortunately reflection appears to have convinced them of the necessity of only fulfilling normal orders. It is to be sincerely hoped we shall hear of no further instances of conduct which every right-thinking man must deplore.”
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