The news that Great Britain is involved in a war the consequences of which, probably, will be more momentous and far-reaching than those of any conflict yet recorded by our historians, has been received by the people of West Herts in a spirit worthy of the traditions of this race.
There have been no boastful “jingo” displays; no mafficking; no frantic waving of the Union Jack. Everywhere there has been a grave determination to do all that can be done to assist the Government and to mitigate as far as possible the necessarily terrible consequences of a struggle in which half the world is concerned.
The one question all people have been asking is: “What can I do to help?” Everyone desires to do something and without doubt many men who have, perhaps a trifle enviously, watched Territorials responding to the Mobilisation Order, have realised with some reluctance that at the present moment at any rate the chief service they can render to the State is remaining calmly at work and preventing a collapse of the civil and commercial life of the country.
The Territorial troops here have been recruiting in the last few days, but only to a limited extent and a preference has been given to men with previous experience or special qualifications. Obviously at this moment a host of untrained recruits, however ardent to serve their country, would be an embarrassment rather than help. Doubtless, if more men are needed, arrangements will speedily be made to train those who at present could only leave their work at inconvenience to the general community.
There are many ways in which men and women will be able to aid their country at this crisis, and it is evident that in Watford and West Herts there will be no lack of volunteers.
Centres of interest in Watford since Wednesday have been the Clarendon Hall, the headquarters of the Territorial Artillery, and Watford Junction, at which station the departing capital reservists and territorials entrained. From an early hour on Wednesday the Clarendon Hall was the scene of great activity, and the coming and going of Territorials was watched by large numbers of spectators. Inside the Hall the men quietly waited for what instructions came along. The first military movement at Watford Junction took place with the departure of about 100 Watford infantrymen of the Hertfordshire Regiment, who left a few minutes before 10 o’clock for Hertford. They were joined at St Albans by another detachment of similar strength.
A good number of people were admitted to the platform while the railings in the bridle path were lined with spectators who gave the men a rousing send-off. Throughout their day, in every part of town, Territorials could be seen leaving their homes. About mid-day an advance guard of the Herts Battery of the RFA left Watford.
The “A” squadron of the Herts Yeomanry have been billeted at the Victoria Schools since Tuesday night. They will remain there till orders are received to go to some station. A Yeoman who came from the Isle of Wight on Thursday evening brought the news that all visitors were being sent out of the island which was strongly fortified.
Officers in the district with the assistance of the police, have been exceedingly busy securing horses and motor lorries. A subsidy was paid some time ago to various owners for the right to acquire the lorries. Four belonging to Messrs Benskins have been taken. Notices have been served on owners of suitable horses stating that “His Majesty having declared that a national emergency has arisen, they are impressed for public service.”
If owners do not regard the price offered as fair they may appeal later to the County Court, but they may not hinder delivery of the horses.
A very great responsibility rests on those who select the horses which will be ridden by men in the territorial force. We have already heard of one “patriot” who has made a profit of £20 by selling to the military authorities a horse which he knows to be thoroughly vicious.
Many motor ‘buses have been taken and converted into transport lorries.
It was announced at Tring Show that the Hon. A. Holland-Hibbert, who is known as one of the leading members of the Herts County Council and one of the most practical men in the county, was buying up all the horses he could for the government and that he had secured practically every hunter in the show.
Owing to the war the various troops of Scouts in the neighbourhood have been obliged to cancel all arrangements for camping on the sea coast. A St Albans Troop, which was in camp at Cromer, has been recalled.
The County Commissioner has offered to place 1,000 Scouts at the disposal of the Chief Constable for Herts, to be used for the purpose of guarding the railway culverts, bridges and telegraph lines, or for carrying dispatches.
The passenger service on the railways, which have been taken over by the Government, and are now so much occupied with the movements of HM troops, have not yet been affected locally much as might have been expected.
The excellent service to Euston is well maintained, but the following notice is displayed by the London and North-Western Railway Company upon their stations: “The London and North-Western Railway Company give notice that the passenger train service will be reduced and varied as circumstances require until further notice. The Company will not be responsible for any delay which may occur or for any loss incurred in consequence.”
Notice, however, has been given to local firms that goods traffic is suspended. Goods can still be sent, but prompt delivery is not guaranteed. Many are deploring the fact that the Continental mail service at present seems practically suspended. Residents here whose relatives are in the French Army are greatly concerned. The inland service remains good.
The fact that the telegraphs are in the hands of the military has led to considerable delay in the ordinary telegraphic service and a large number of wires despatched to Watford have been sent by train.
Wild scenes were witnessed at Hitchin on Wednesday night, when a crowd of some 2,000 people attacked the private residence of Mr W,B. Moss, the principal of one of the largest firms of provision merchants in Hitchin and district.
The crowd smashed the windows of the house, pulled up rose trees in the garden and damaged the lawns.
Extra police were hurriedly drafted into the town by motor car. Supt Read attempted to quieten the disturbance and eventually he fetched Mr Moss from his house in order to address the crowd.
Mr Moss was at once the object of a hostile demonstration. He promised that the price of provisions should be in the morning as before the crisis.
The crowds afterwards paraded the streets and smashed a large plate glass window of Mr Moss's High Street grocery stores. It was midnight before the streets were quiet.
[From the Watford Observer of August 8, 1914]
COMING SOON: Correspondence