Council chairman W.F Goodrich’s desire to bring the town together in a special meeting didn’t have to wait long.
As the Watford Observer of the following week, August 15, 1914, reported:
“On Tuesday evening there gathered in the council chamber an assembly which was thoroughly representative of the public and social life of Watford.
“Men and women in every walk of life, wealthy and poor, of every shade of political and religious opinion, came together with one object – to organise charitable effort and personal service.
"Apart from all considerations of the war, it can surely only be for good that members of the nobility and Socialists, Church of England clergymen and nonconformist ministers, employers and employed, should meet thus to exchange views and to throw themselves heart and soul into a great patriotic movement.
“Of course the Watford meeting is but one of hundreds of a similar nature which are being held throughout the country, but it is a matter for supreme gratification that this local exhibition of a common pride of race, a common love of country, should have taken place.”
By the following week, the deprivation and sadness of the war was starting to bite.
In the paper of August 22, 1914, the Editor wrote in his leader: “On the day a nation goes to war there usually occurs what is described as ‘a great outburst of patriotism’; it is in the weeks that follow that the depth of that patriotism is measured.
“As each day passes now, we realise more and more vividly the sorrows this war will bring to us but the spirit of the people of West Herts, as of the nation as a whole, remains the same.”
He continued: “It is indeed inspiring to see the whole community preparing steadily to shoulder, as far as possible, the terrible heavy burden the war will place upon us.”
By this stage, just a couple of weeks in, the Relief Fund had brought in £1,857 6s 9d from the people of the area. There were some fears as to whether pride might prevent those most in need from getting any benefit from this cash. It was made clear that the distribution of the money was not “charity”.
“Assistance will be given solely to those whose distress is directly caused by the war and they need not have the slightest fear that any stigma of pauperism or charity doles will rest on them. On the contrary, they will be honoured all the more in that they will suffer cheerfully in their country’s cause.
“In Watford, probably the difficulty in the main will be unemployment and it is hoped that in many cases it will be possible to give work rather than money. One thing is certain: the administration of relief will be systematic and complete.”
At this stage, it was still felt that victory would be swift and ours. By the following week, things weren’t looking so clear. Despite the restrictions of the Defence of the Realm Act, passed in August 1914 to prevent anyone “by word of mouth or in writing spread[ing] reports likely to cause disaffection or alarm among any of His Majesty’s forces or among the civilian population” the Watford Observer was able to report “disquieting news of the mighty conflict on the Franco-German frontier”.
It seems that the British Expeditionary Force had held its ground “with the utmost gallantry” but that the Allies had been withdrawn to defensive positions.
“Those who imagined that both in the East and the West the Germans would swiftly be crushed, perhaps annihilated, have had a rude awakening,” the Observer reported.
“Though we hope and pray the Kaiser’s forces may now be driven back, we have to realise there may come to us a ‘Black Week’ even worse that that which appalled us so soon after the opening of the war in South Africa.”
But what of the men of West Herts? the paper asks.
“Many already are in the field with the regular army or the territorial force, but are the others going to falter at a moment when there has come to them a clear call to take their place in the Army which will be needed to strengthen the British Expeditionary Force and replace losses which, it is feared, must be terribly heavy? Lord Kitchener [Secretary of State for War] has called for men in order that ‘reinforcements shall steadily and unceasingly flow out until we have an army in the field which, in numbers not less than in quality, will not be unworthy of the power and responsibilities of the British Empire.’
"West Herts, we feel confident, will do its share in giving him the men the nation needs. The young men of West Herts have to choose between the Army of their country and the Army of Shirkers.”
Young men came forward in their droves with more than 500 joining within the next week in Watford alone. By September 19, 1914, the Watford Observer was publishing a local “Patriotic Roll” containing the names of men from the West Herts district who responded to the call. It went on and on.
“No one can glance down the hundreds of names without feeling a glow of pride,” the paper declared that week. “Never in living memory has England been such a united nation; even in this short time out of terrible evil has come good.”