The War was beginning to take over both the local and the national news. In this ‘100 Years ago’ column I will try to outline each month the events that were happening at the front and their impact on the lives of the villagers left behind and those who went to serve directly. The attitudes expressed in the paper will show us the hopes of the people at the time without knowledge of the final outcome and as the story unfolds month by month we will see the true horror of the whole affair.
The Crow had its own resume of the events that were happening in Europe. An editorial stated that war seemed inevitable caused by the murder of members of the Austrian House by alleged Serbian complicity.
In August 1914 the Germans made an ultimatum to the Belgians and although there was no immediate reaction German troops had advanced on the opposite front eastwards to within 140 miles of Warsaw. The British government had said that if the Germans invade Belgium we will consider ourselves at war. Germany declared war on France. The British Navy was mobilised and prepared to defend the French Coast. The King intervened and contacted the Kaiser and Czar to try to avert conflict but to no avail. Hostilities began, the Germans invaded Belgium suffering many casualties and a British naval ship was sunk by a mine. Britain would be at war from 11pm on 4th August. The Government acted immediately voting money to increase the size of the Army and Navy.
In Ashwell a mobilisation order was posted. The Territorials went off to Hertford the very next morning and all the Ashwell Army Reserves were called up. By the end of the month the paper published the famous advertisement of Lord Kitchener’s call to arms: Your King and Country Need You! It asked for all men aged between 19 and 30 to volunteer for 3 years or until war is concluded.
All this activity made the population very uneasy. There were panic prices in the food shops and the Bank rate went up quickly from 4 to 8 to 10%. A letter from the Royal Horticultural Society was published asking all to plant food crops on any spare land.
The village soon became involved. The Scouts were mobilised into action. They listed all the food growing, the forage and animals in a 2 mile radius of Ashwell. They began guarding telegraph lines, arches, culverts and the railway line. Many people were also inspired to contribute to relevant charities. Mrs W A Fordham and ladies raised £12-14s for the Red Cross and the Congregational Church collected £4-12s for the Prince of Wales National Relief Fund.
Meanwhile ordinary village life and death went on at its own pace.
Two cricket teams came out from London the GNR XI (Great Northern Railway) and the employees of Barretts Sweets. The Football Club had a meeting in the Bushel & Strike Assembly Rooms to prepare for the new season.
Several deaths were reported. Mr Charles Waldock, 83, passed away while being looked after by his son, Arthur who lived in Romford. Ester Pickett, 58, died on the 20th August and Mr Benjamin Covington died following a painful illness. He was the ‘highly respected landlord of the Stag Inn. (Which was on the High Street opposite Days Bakery) He had also earlier worked as a foreman for Messrs Bowman & Kitchener, and then Mr W A Fordham. It was only last month that we reported a grand reception at the Stag which was hosted by Mr Covington and his wife. Was it held because he was already ill or was he struck down very quickly?