THEY CALLED US TO ARMS
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LETTERS TO TRING: THE GREAT WAR 1914-19



Compiled and edited
by
Wendy Austin


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CONTENTS

NOTES ON THE PROGRESS OF THE WAR:
1914-1919

LETTERS FROM THE WESTERN FRONT

LETTERS FROM OTHER THEATRES OF WAR

LETTERS AND PARCELS

LETTERS FROM CLERGYMEN

LETTERS FROM THE ROYAL FLYING CORPS AND
THE ROYAL NAVY

THE GERMAN CONNECTION IN TRING

FOLLOWING THE ARMISTICE

MEMENTOES OF THE GREAT WAR

TRING CRESTED CHINA SOUVENIR WARE

PIP, SQUEAK AND WILFRED

TRING
S WAR MEMORIAL

OTHER LOCAL HISTORY TITLES
RELATING TO TRING


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FOREWORD

 

This booklet is intended as a small tribute to the men and women of Tring who served in the Great War.  I am aware that its content is patchy, nevertheless I hope it gives a flavour of the spirit and thinking of that dreadful time.  It is impossible to list every name, for during the four years of conflict more than 500 are recorded as playing some part in the armed forces, of whom more than 110 were killed in the line of duty or died later from the effects of wounds or disease.  The 107 names inscribed on Tring War Memorial bear testimony to the War’s impact on the town, although Tring’s losses are a fair average for the country overall.

To provide background, the first chapter comprises notes on the progress of the War during its five years; this is followed by extracts from letters sent to Tring from the various theatres and the various services.  Undoubtedly all serving men and women wrote to their loved ones and friends, but after almost a century few letters survive, while those still treasured among family possessions are difficult to trace.  In most instances it cannot be said that the letters are particularly interesting; the young men who wrote them, some only teenagers, were probably unused to letter-writing and at any rate the censor did not allow soldiers at the front to say where they were or what they were doing.  A sample of letters sent to Tring by the commanding officers of those who died are also included, as is some relevant correspondence written to or by civilians living in the town; some are mere fragments while others cannot be traced to a particular individual.

The booklet could not have been compiled without the generosity of Jill Fowler, Ann Reed, and Mike Bass who shared their researches with me; and also the late John Bowman who amassed a great deal of information on the Great War, especially regarding the men from Tring who fell.  I also acknowledge with thanks the help of John Fountain, Susan Gascoine, the late Heather Pratt, the late Alan Rance, the late Don Riddell, Frances Warr, the staff of Aylesbury Local Studies Centre, Tring Local History Society who lent some items from its collection, and Ian Petticrew who proof-read the text.


W.M.A.

Tring, November 2014.

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Issued by Tring Urban District Council to all men of the town
who served in the armed forces.

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NOTES ON THE PROGRESS OF THE WAR:
1914-1919


1914: the political events leading up to the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on 28th June are long and complex. Suffice it to say that although this event triggered the Great War, it did not result in Britain’s immediate involvement. This came on 4th August when, following Germany’s attack on France through Belgium, Britain, having chosen to honour its obligation to defend Belgian neutrality under the terms of the 1839 Treaty of London [1] — declared war on Germany.  By this time Germany was already at war with Russia and had allied itself with Turkey.
 

Hunters owned by William Mead of New Mill, requisitioned
for War Service on 4th August 1914.

Postcard sent from Halton Camp.

Postcard sent from Halton Camp, where the mud was seen as a joke.


Following the commencement of hostilities, reservists were soon reporting to their naval and army establishments.  Men of the Territorial Army (primarily a home defence force) mustered at their local drill halls and volunteers were requested to sign for service where required.  One of the first direct impacts on the town came very shortly afterwards, on the day of the annual Agricultural Show held in Tring Park, when horses of every size and breed were numbered and catalogued ready for war.  Two weeks after the Declaration, Lord Rothschild made known to his employees on the Tring Park estate that it was his wish that every unmarried man of a suitable age should offer his services.  About 20 men from the gardens, timber yard, the Home Farm and other departments journeyed to Aylesbury to join Lord Kitchener’s Army.

Field Marshal Lord Kitchener was a distinguished colonial administrator and Army officer who won fame for his imperial campaigns in the Sudan and South Africa. Following the outbreak of war Herbert Asquith, the Prime Minister, appointed Kitchener Secretary of State for War, and to him fell the task of organising what became the largest volunteer army that Britain — and indeed the World — had seen.  Following his appointment, Kitchener set out to supplement Britain’s small regular army by calling for 100,000 volunteers to strengthen the British Expeditionary Force, then engaged in supporting the French and Belgians against the Kaiser’s Army. [2]  Having achieved this target in the first few days of the proclamations, preparations were then made to recruit a further 100,000 men.  Local newspapers displayed advertisements urging men aged between 19 and 38 to enlist quoting Field Marshal French, then Commander-in-Chief – “It is an Honour to belong to such an Army”.



On the 8th August 1914, The Defence of the Realm Act was passed giving the Government wide-ranging powers during the period of hostilities; for example, to requisition land and buildings needed for the war effort, and to make regulations creating criminal offences, such as discussing naval and military matters.  And in an effort to curtail excessive drinking, alcoholic beverages were watered down and pub opening times were restricted to noon - 3pm, and 6:30pm - 9:30pm.

In September, it was rumoured locally that a new army division was to be formed at Halton Park, which had been offered to the Crown as a further Rothschild contribution to the war effort.  A tented camp was hurriedly erected on what is now the airfield and men began arriving from Northumberland, Durham and Yorkshire to form the 21st Division.  Due to a very wet autumn the camp soon became waterlogged and the soldiers had to be moved out and billeted in any available accommodation; 3,000 were housed in Tring, mostly with local households.  The billeting rates paid for soldiers were generous for the time and no doubt supplemented the income of townspeople that had been lost when so many of the male population had volunteered for service . . . .



From: The Bucks Herald, 19th December 1914:


The continued presence of military in the district is proving a boon to Tring, for it means the circulation of money and the provision of employment. Tradesmen were looking forward to a very slack time this winter, but the fixing of the Headquarters of the 21st Division in the town and the billeting of something like 3,000 soldiers has falsified this apprehension . . . .


The school in Tring High Street was commandeered and the pupils moved to various locations in the Town.  Boys went to the Church House and Market House, girls to the Lecture Hall in the High Street Free Church and to the Western Hall (now the site of Stanley Gardens), while infants were sent to the Sunday School room in the Akeman Street Baptist Chapel.  Further along the street the YMCA building in Tabernacle Yard was opened as a writing and reading room for soldiers, for whom bathing facilities were installed in the Museum outbuildings.  The Victoria Hall and Gravelly School (at the top of Henry Street) were converted to medical and hospital accommodation.


A bath parade in Akeman Street.



1915: the year began with the population being alerted to a new form of attack — by aerial bombardment. This from The Bucks Herald, 30th January:


PRECAUTION AGAINST ZEPPELIN RAIDS. — The police, acting on instructions from the County Constabulary authorities, on Tuesday issued orders to the residents to lower all lights at night and to dispose as far as possible with outside illuminations. The street lamps were not lit, and the streets presented quite a gloomy appearance. These precautions are being taken in view of a possible raid by Zeppelins over the district, but it is explained that such a raid is very unlikely to take place so far inland. The special constables are out at night watching for any signs of the approach of aircraft.


From: LIEUT. COLONEL LORD CROFTON, 13th Northumberland Fusiliers, to Mrs. Anderson of Westbury, Tring, after some of the Division had left for France:


France, 9th January 1915.

Dear Mrs. Anderson,
I am writing on behalf of the NCOs and men of this Battalion to thank you and the Tring friends of the Battalion for the cigarettes and chocolates which were so very much appreciated by all, not only for themselves, but for the kind thought which prompted the Tring people to send them, and to think that the Battalion is not forgotten, as the Tring people will certainly never be forgotten by the Battalion for all their kindness to everybody.  I am afraid you will have thought that no acknowledgement was coming, but to tell you the truth the things only arrived the day before yesterday.  With best wishes from the Battalion to everybody at Tring, and again many thanks,

Yours truly,
                                    CROFTON,

Lieut. Colonel commanding the 13th Northd. Fusiliers.

 

On Saturday afternoon Field Marshall Lord Kitchener, Secretary of State for War, paid a brief visit to Tring for the purpose of inspecting various contingents of the 21st Division who are training in the neighbourhood.  The greatest interest was manifested in the War Secretary's visit . . . . Lord Kitchener inspected as many Battalions as the time at his disposal permitted, and afterwards the troops who has been inspected marched past the saluting point, where the War Secretary stood with the Staff Officers.  On leaving the parade ground he was cheered loudly.

Bucks Herald, 27th March 1915.

 


In Tring, various groups of ladies began knitting ‘comforts’ for the troops, for it was quickly realised that scarves, gloves and balaclava helmets were welcomed by those in the trenches.  From: MRS. C. M. WILLIAMS to The Editor, The Bucks Herald:


Pendley Manor,
Tring, Herts.
3rd June 1915

Sir,
I have received a very urgent appeal from the Herts. Red Cross for thin flannel or cotton nightshirts.  They are in great need of these articles at the present moment for hospitals in the county.  It is thought inadvisable to hold work parties in the summer, but many may be willing to work at home for this object.  I shall be glad if any who are able to help will come to Pendley Manor at 8 p.m. on Wed. next to discuss the question.

Yours faithfully
                                (Mrs.) C. M. Williams


By the summer, the 21st Division had all left Halton Camp and were in action around Loos and La Bassee.  The Camp then became the training ground for the East Anglia Regiment. In that year a number of local men served in the disastrous Gallipoli campaign, [3] as well as being part of the combined force of French and British troops that had occupied Salonika and moved into Thessaly and Macedonia in support of the retreating Serbian Army.  The casualty lists grew depressing long; almost every family in Tring had a relative who had been killed or was missing, wounded or taken prisoner, or had a friend or neighbour who had suffered in this way.

By now the Front had settled into a line of trenches that was to remain little changed until 1918.  This system varied from an elaborate mishmash of deeply excavated trenches in the Arras/Somme area, to built-up defences in the flat coal-mining areas around Vimy/Lens/Bully and the Ypres Salient, where the water table was a mere two to three feet beneath the surface.  Large numbers of sandbags were needed for these defences — it is estimated that each division of 15,000 men would need over one million bags a month — together with wattle hurdles, chestnut paling and withy fascines.  Voluntary women’s groups were organised from North London collecting points to make sandbags, the purchase of hessian in the Home Counties being undertaken locally, and by September, 10,000 sandbags a day were being despatched to the Front.  The collecting point in Tring was Hazeley in Station Road, the home of Miss Helen Brown.


1916: saw the Military Service Act come into operation, which allowed the workforce to be directed as required to support the war effort.  Local tribunals were established to grant exemption for men with large families, men and women who held essential jobs, and men running family businesses and farms.  For those for whom the tribunals’ pronouncements were unacceptable, there was recourse to an area appeal board.


Myryl Smith of Tring ploughing a field off Icknield Way.
Goldfield Mill is left background.

 

By now, the shortage of food caused by the German submarine campaign was affecting the population. [4]  Supplies were not only limited, but prices were abnormally high.  Encouraged by the Government, steps were taken at local level to increase the production of vegetables, with every available piece of vacant land being placed under cultivation, including more areas becoming allotment gardens. [5]  The shortage of labour on the land was circumvented by the formation of a women’s volunteer force, ‘The Women’s Land Army’ (a recruiting rally held in Tring in June 1918 attracted young women to a gathering outside The Britannia public house, where some rousing addresses were delivered by local worthies, followed a march through the town).  Women also played a vital part in Post Office work (post women were seen in Tring for the first time) and women were also directed into munitions factories.  Felling of the Chiltern beech woods began to provide pit props and duck boards for the trench systems in France, and three forestry engineer units were put to work in the area, one being Australian.  The consumption of timber at the Front was so great that a special port facility was built on the River Seine at Rouen solely to address the need.  The meadows in the Vale of Aylesbury were in great demand for the provision of fodder for horses, many thousands of which were used for transportation and supply by the army, both at home and in France.

On 19th March, the Church Council discussed building a War Memorial [Appendix] to commemorate the young men of the town who had given their lives.  It was suggested that the memorial should take the form of a crucifix similar to the roadside shrines familiar to all soldiers who had served on the Western Front.  War savings groups were formed under the auspices of the National Savings Committee, and street marshals collected pennies for stamps which were affixed to cards.  When full (15s. 6d) they were exchanged for a certificate worth a pound sterling in five years.


Bucks Herald advertisement, 1916.


The Royal Flying Corps moved into the north camp at Halton and a flying field was established with an Australian Squadron.  The training organisation was concentrated in the new workshops being built by German prisoners of war under the direction of the Royal Engineers.

From the 31st May to 1st June, the Battle of Jutland was fought between the Grand Fleet commanded by Sir John Jellicoe and the German High Seas Fleet commanded by Vice-Admiral Reinhard Scheer.  It was the largest naval battle of the war and the only full-scale clash of battleships, with both sides claiming victory.  Although the Royal Navy lost more ships and twice as many men as their opponents, the High Seas Fleet was forced to retire, never again to venture to sea in force.  Germany now turned its maritime war effort to unrestricted submarine warfare, with great effect.


Bucks Herald advertisement, 1917.


On land, the Western Front extended some 400 miles from the Swiss frontier to the Channel coast; stalemate had been reached.  Preparations were made for a major campaign on a 25-mile front in the area north and south of Albert, its chief aim being to divert German resources away from Verdun where the French Army was under great pressure.  The ensuing Somme Offensive (the ‘Big Push’) raged from July to November; the outcome was inconclusive with both sides suffering huge casualties. [6]  During this period yet more names were added to Tring’s Roll of Honour.
 

On 30th May, London was bombed for the first time, the Zeppelin raid killing seven and injuring thirty-five — a portent of things to come.  On the 3rd September, a Zeppelin was reported over Tring; this from The Bucks Herald:
 

“ZEP” SCARE. — Soon after midnight on Saturday a warning to prepare for an air raid came through.  Specials and firemen were at once called out, and at the military hospital preparations were made for the reception of casualties.  How near the Zeppelins came to Tring is uncertain, but the light from the one that was set on fire and which fell at Cuffley was distinctly visible in the town illuminating a wide area, and the noise made by the engines was plainly heard.  It was 4.40 on Sunday morning before the danger was reported over, and the tired specials and others were permitted to return to their beds.


1917: in April, a British offensive commenced in the Arras area of the Western Front during which the German army was pushed back resulting in the capture of the Vimy Ridge by the Canadian Army Corps.

By May, the German submarine campaign was causing serious losses to British merchant shipping and to our vital imported food supplies.  So critical was the position that the King issued a Royal Proclamation exhorting the population to exercise the greatest economy in the use of all kinds of grain, including that used to feed animals.  Householders were asked to reduce their consumption of bread by at least a quarter and only to use flour for making bread.


British freighter SS Maplewood being sunk by German submarine U-35 on the
 7th April 1917.  In all the U-35 sank 224 ships for a total of 539,741 gross register tons.


Women were already serving in various nursing services, such as the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) and Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps (commonly known as the QAs).  To these units the Navy and Army now added their own female services, the Womens Royal Naval Service (Wrens) and Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACs) to take over such duties as driving vehicles, catering and clerical work, in order to release men to fill the increasing gaps in the fighting forces.

On the 6th April — following the sinking of American ships in what Germany classed as ‘war-zone waters’ — the U.S.A. declared war on Germany and on the 26th June, 14,000 U.S. infantry troops landed in France to begin combat training.


German Gotha heavy bomber.


The 25th May saw the first German aircraft (as opposed to Zeppelin) raid.  The target was London, but cloud cover caused the ‘Gotha’ bombers to divert to targets on the S.E. coast; this from The Times:


Heavy casualties — 76 killed and 174 injured — many of them women and children, were caused by a German air raid on a big scale on the South-east Coast on Friday evening. Nearly all the casualties were in one town [Folkestone], the name of which is not given in the official report of the raid.  The German official report mentions Dover and Folkestone.  On their return journey across the Channel three of the German aeroplanes were brought down by fighting squadrons of the Royal Navy Air Service from Dunkirk.


On the 13th June, a daylight attack on London killed 162 civilians, the highest death toll from a single air raid on Britain during the Great War.


1918: the Bolshevik Revolution resulted in Russia ceasing hostilities with Germany in March, thus allowing thousands of German and Austrian troops to be moved to the Western Front.  Later in the month the now strengthened German army under Ludendorff launched a major offensive in the West.  With American troops still to join battle, the Germans advanced rapidly, crossing the River Somme and pushing the French back towards the Marne, but the German offensive gradually petered out and by July the tide had begun to turn.  A concerted Allied counter-offensive drove the Germans back beyond their starting point. German military morale began to crumble, exacerbated by the huge manpower and economic might that the U.S.A. brought to the conflict.

On 1st April, the Royal Air Force was formed from an amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Navy Air Service (RNAS).  As aircraft developed, the RFC had taken an increasingly offensive stance in which enemy lines of communication were targeted; even industrial complexes in the Ruhr and Saar areas came under aerial attack.  During the last five months of the War, British aircraft dropped a total of 550 tons of bombs (including 390 tons dropped by night) on German targets for the loss of 109 aircraft.


World War I. British bomber, the Airco DH. 4.


By now the German nation was being worn down by lack of food resulting from the British naval blockade, which together with the appalling casualty lists was causing strikes and demonstrations across the country, and there was growing fear of a Russian-style revolution.  With the country rapidly becoming ungovernable, Germany sought an armistice, which was concluded on 11th November.  Vast crowds gathered in Trafalgar Square to celebrate the victory, but when news of the Armistice reached Tring there was not the great burst of jubilation that might have been expected.  Over four years of bereavement, hardship and privation had left behind a mixture of emotions as well as uncertainty about the future, and no-one was foolish enough to imagine that everything could revert to how it had been before the conflict.  A brief account of the receipt of the news was reported in The Bucks Herald of 16th November:


THE ARMISTICE – Expectant knots of people were in the streets [of Tring] during Monday morning awaiting news of the signing of the Armistice, but it was not until just before eleven o’clock that the first definite news arrived in the shape of a phone message from the YMCA Headquarters.  As if by magic, flags appeared from windows of adjacent residences, and shortly after the incessant blowing of whistles at Aylesbury was heard, which confirmed the receipt of the glad news.  The official Press Association telegram was posted outside the branch office of The Bucks Herald and the streets were quickly thronged with flag-bearing youngsters, while older people were congratulating each other on the conclusion of the long period of trial through which the country had been passing.  There was very little excitement in the town, the news being received with grateful calmness, due no doubt to the grievous losses experienced by so many families.  Streamers of flags were hung across the street, and by afternoon the town presented a festive appearance, the bells ringing out a merry peal soon after noon, and again in the evening, after a thanksgiving service in the Parish Church.  A service of thanksgiving also took place at the Akeman Street Church.



1919: although the Armistice marked the end of fighting, six months of negotiations between Germany and the Allied Powers were to follow before a peace treaty was concluded.  The Treaty of Versailles was signed on 28th June 1919, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the event that led to the catastrophe.  The terms imposed on Germany included substantial territorial concessions and the payment of heavy reparations, and the Treaty was only ratified by the German government with great reluctance.  Whether the Treaty terms were excessively harsh remains a subject of debate among historians, but what is clear is that the resentment they caused in Germany led to the eventual rise of the Nazi Party; as Field Marshall Foch put it, “This [the Treaty] is not peace. It is an Armistice for twenty years.”


The “big three” - Prime Minister David Lloyd George of the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau of France, and President Woodrow Wilson of the United States attend the Versailles Peace Conference, 1919.


At home, the joyous mood in the country following the end of hostilities was short-lived.  Many soon realised that post-war Britain did not seem like a country that had just experienced a great military triumph, for various political, economic and social problems ensured that the our nation’s return to peacetime conditions was not to be a quick and easy transition.  Although demobilisation was relatively unproblematic, the end of the war witnessed many workers becoming involved in strikes, and by 1921 unemployment reached its highest point (11.3%) since records began.  Staple wartime industries such as coal, ship-building and steel contracted, and working women were forced to relinquish their jobs to returning soldiers.  During the conflict, Britain incurred debts equivalent to 136% of our gross national product — our major creditor, the U.S.A., was soon to emerge as the world’s leading economic and military power. [7]

 

Tramp of feet and lilt of song
Ringing all the road along.
    All the music of their going,
    Ringing, swinging, glad song-throwing,
Earth will echo still, when foot
Lies numb and voice mute.

    On, marching men, on
    To the gates of death with song.
Sow your gladness for earth’s reaping,
So you may be glad, though sleeping.
    Strew your gladness on earth’s bed,
    So be merry, so be dead.

Captain Charles Sorley [8]


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LETTERS FROM THE WESTERN FRONT
 

Kill if you must, but never hate,
    Man is but grass and hate is blight;
The sun will scorch you soon or late,
    Die wholesome then, since you must fight.

Captain Robert Graves


From: BOMBADIER PERCY SEABROOK, 35th Brigade Royal Field Artillery, one of four sons of Edwin Seabrook, of Albert Street, serving in the Army or Navy:


8th December 1914


Dear Mother and Father,

Just a few more lines in answer to your letter.  I am glad to know you are still well.  I am well at the time of writing, only wet through to the skin.  It makes the third wet shirt in 24 hours, but we take no notice of that now.  We have got used to it by this time.  We have had some very bad weather here lately, but I hope it is finished for a bit now.  We are still in the same place – been here for nearly three weeks – and I cannot say when we are moving again.  But I expect there will be a sudden move shortly, as soon as everything is ready.  It doesn’t do to strike until everything is ready.  You say in your letter – shall I be home for Christmas?  I may be home 12 months come Christmas, but I would like to be home for this all the same.

Well, I am in the best of spirits up to the present, and although I don’t much care about again going through the same as we have been through, if we have to, we can do it again with a good heart.  You can read of my Battery in the Daily Mail of Nov. 26th.  The heading is “Sticking to the Guns” and “The Heroic Defence of -------” by a Single Battery commanded by Major Christie.”


I remain, your affectionate son,
                                                     Percy Seabrook


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From: PRIVATE W. G. MUSTILL, of Cow Roast Lock, Tring, serving with the 1st Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers.  Taken prisoner of war, Private Mustill had been severely wounded, losing an eye and having one arm badly damaged.  Repatriated to Alexandra Hospital, London, he wrote home:


I am back again in dear old England.  I arrived at Folkestone at 6 p.m. Wednesday, and came up to London to hospital.  We stopped at different places on the way home, picking up men by ones and twos.  We were very glad when we were out of Germany and amongst friends in Holland.  It was like waking up after a dream, even to me, and I had been luckier than most of the others, as I had left a good hospital and the others came from prison camps.  We had a very rough passage home.  I shall be a little time yet as I am getting my arm put straight.  There are about 150 of us sent home in exchange for Germans; we were at the same station as the Germans in Holland.  They were all in new kits, but our chaps were in any old things.  We have had the King and Queen to see us.  We are very fortunate to be home, although some of us are maimed for life.  I shall want an artificial eye before leaving the hospital.  There are half a dozen young fellows home who have lost both eyes, so I am fortunate . . . .


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Private Frank Edgar Marcham was 22 years of age when he was killed.  He was the son of Fred Marcham of ‘Oakleigh’ Western Road and had been employed by the local coach-builders, Messrs Wright and Wright.  He and others were chopping wood in a stable to take back to the trenches when a shell, probably intended for the Battalion Headquarters, exploded just inside the doorway.  Marcham and three of his companions were killed instantly and Fred Rodwell, son of Mr W. J. Rodwell of Tring Brewery, lost an eye and sustained other injuries.  Frank is buried in the Guards Cemetery, Windy Corner, Cuinchy, France.


1st Herts. Regiment, British Expeditionary Force
2nd April, 1915.

Dear Mr. Marcham.
You will I am afraid have heard by now of the death of your son.  May I take this opportunity of conveying to you the deep sympathy of the officers and men of his Company in your great loss.  He was hit by a shell at about 2.30 p.m. on the 29th March, and died at once.  I think he did not suffer at all, as his death was practically instantaneous with his being hit by the shell.  He was buried by a clergyman in a grave that was properly made, and can easily be identified after the war is over.  At all times he was cheerful, and his loss will be much felt by the Company.  I can only hope that in time you may draw some consolation from the fact that he died as an Englishman would wish to, serving his King and country.

Yours sincerely,
A. M. F. SMEATHMAN, Captain.


The Guards Cemetery, Windy Corner, Cuinchy, France.


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A letter published in The Bucks Herald on 4th December 1915, turned out, with hindsight, to be a particularly sad document.  It related to CORPORAL WILLIAM SPINKS, D.C.M., 1st Battalion, Hertfordshire Regiment, son of Harry and Charlotte Spinks of Bunstrux Cottages, Tring.  It read:


Your Commanding Officer and Brigade Commander have informed me that you have distinguished yourself by conspicuous bravery in the field on 27th September. I have read their reports and, although promotion and decorations cannot be given in every case, I should like you to know that your gallant action is recognised and how greatly it is appreciated.

W. J. Horne
                  Major-General, 2nd Division


In November 1916, less than a year after being awarded of the D.C.M., [9] the following account appeared in the Tring Parish Magazine:


Sergeant William Spinks, D.C.M., Hertfordshire Regiment, was a soldier of the best type.  Long before the war broke out, he heard the call of his country and joined the Herts Territorials; and, before that, had done his drills in the Church Lads’ Brigade.  Early in the war he was sent to France, and took his place with that ‘Contemptible Little Army’ which wrought such wonders, and endured such hardships, and to which we can never be too grateful.  So excellent was his service that he made, in time, a sergeant, and for a very plucky bit of work on 27 September 1915, he received the D.C.M. . . . .


William Spinks died, aged 25 years, killed by a German trench mortar bomb; he was buried in a small military cemetery at Auchonvilliers, France.  The name of William’s brother, LANCE CORPORAL CHARLES EDWARD SPINKS, is also engraved on the Tring War Memorial.  Charles enlisted in the Hertfordshire Regiment in 1915, later being transferred to the 7th Bedfordshire Regiment.  Aged only 22, he was killed by a sniper, his death being all the more tragic for his two sisters and younger brother, for both his parents died within 18 months of William.  Writing to The Bucks Herald after his death, one of his friends says:


He was hit by a bullet on the night of 11th January [1918] and died almost immediately.  I took it to heart as much as if he had been my own brother, as we have been together practically for the last 18 months, side by side in most of the big battles.

It was hard lines for him, as he was not wanted for the trenches until the last five minutes.  He was buried in a cemetery
[Artillery Wood Cemetery, Boesinge, Belgium] in as good conditions as can be expected.


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Published in The Bucks Herald on 11th December 1915 – from someone who described himself as ‘A Tring Tommy’ on the Western Front.  PRIVATE GILBERT SLADE, Army Service Corps, was a baker’s assistant in civilian life and the son of Mr. A. W. Slade of Longfield Road, Tring:


Dear Sir,
To give you news is out of the question, for two reasons.  First that the Censor is a particular chap, and second that we get here very little news.  Winter is fast settling upon us and well we know it.  The comforts of the bell tent are very limited, and we house-dwellers of England care none too much for the canvas mode of living.  But we smile through it all, and look to a time when we shall be able to return to Merrie England, and settle down again the better Englishmen for being able to take our part in the war for freedom, and for having realised our duty and responded to it at the most critical period of the nation’s history.  We get along very well with the Belgians and the French; but of course we are not expert linguists yet, and never shall be.  Suffice it to say we can make our needs understood and that means much.

Yours sincerely,
Gilbert Slade,
‘One of the Tring-ites’

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The story of Edward Barber, the town’s only holder of the Victoria Cross, has been told many times.  An exceptionally daring young man, he won his award for most conspicuous bravery at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle on 12th March 1915, when “he ran speedily in front of the Grenade Company to which he belonged and threw bombs at the enemy, with such effect that a very large number of them at once surrendered. When the Grenade Party reached Private Barber, they found him quite alone and unsupported, with the enemy surrendering all around him.”  Edward was later killed by a German sniper without learning of the honour that had been bestowed upon him.  Because his body was not recovered, his name is recorded on the Le Touret Memorial, France.  Private Barber’s Victoria Cross is displayed at The Guards Regimental Headquarters at Wellington Barracks, London.

From: HIS MAJESTY KING GEORGE V. to the parents of PRIVATE EDWARD BARBER, V.C., 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards.


To: Mrs Sarah Ann Barber, Miswell Lane, Tring.
Buckingham Palace,
9th March 1915.


It is a matter of sincere regret to me that the death of Private Edward Barber deprived me of the pride of personally conferring upon him the Victoria Cross, the greatest of all rewards for valour and devotion to duty.

George R.I.


Mr. and Mrs. William Barber experienced more grief when their youngest son, PRIVATE ERNEST BARBER, 1st Battalion Hertfordshire Regiment, was reported missing after an engagement on 31st July 1917.  He had been taken prisoner and did eventually return home, but died from his wounds in September 1920.


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An account relating to LANCE CORPORAL FRANK KITCHING, Northumberland Fusiliers, was published in The Bucks Herald, on 1st July, 1916:


News has been received here that Lance Corp. Frank Kitching has had the Distinguished Conduct Medal conferred upon by the King.  Lance Corp. Kitching married Miss Poulton of Western Road while the 21st Division was billeted in Tring.  Referring to the award, the Regimental Magazine says “…….. Lance Corp. Kitching of the Lewis Gun Detachment has been awarded the DCM.  During a heavy bombardment he was twice blown up but each time returned to his gun.   He must have napooed [sic] a lot of the enemy with his accurate fire.


Mrs Kitching received the following letter:


British Expeditionary Force,
25 May 1916.

Dear Mrs. Kitching,
I am writing to you inform you that your husband has been awarded the D.C.M. medal for his gallant conduct on Sunday 30 April.  Please convey to him the congratulations of all officers and men of this Battalion and especially of the Machine Gun Section.  We are proud of him.  I was sorry he was wounded but pleased to know his wounds are not serious; and we trust he will soon recover and be able to re-join us out here. . . . .

Yours sincerely,
John McKinnon


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Memorial plaques to William and Charles Spinks.
Issued by the Government to relatives of all who died in the war, they were nicknamed
Dead Man’s Penny, Death Penny, Death Plaque or Widow’s Penny.

Above, Private Edward Barber, V.C.,
1st Battalion Grenadier Guards.

Left, Private Sidney Fountain, 1st Battalion, Cambridgeshire Regiment.

The beginning of Sydney Fountain’s letter to his parents.

An example of a typical Christmas card sent from the Front . . . .
from Sidney Fountain to his parents in 1917.

Tommies keeping in touch with their loved ones.


Several Tring men fell during the course of the protracted battle on the Somme in 1916, among them 2nd LIEUTENANT ANDREW CRANSTOUN BROWN, 8th Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment.  Killed in action during what was termed ‘The Big Push’, he was the 21-year old son of the late Dr. James Brown of Aylesbury Road, Tring, who had died early in the war.  He is buried in the Danzig Alley British Cemetery, Mametz, France, and is also commemorated on his father’s memorial stone in Tring Cemetery.  Shortly after his death, Andrew’s mother received this letter from one his men:


I always thought when I got back to England that I should like to tell you the brave way in which your son died and how he led us.  That day he was quite cool all the time and one of our boys, after we had advanced over three lines of trenches and were lying down, said to Lt. Brown ‘That trench is full of them, Sir’.  He got up on his knees, put his glasses to his face to observe them, when he had a bullet through the head.  We were all dumbfounded.

A great mark of respect was offered to Lt. Brown when about three days later, his Platoon had fallen back a bit and his body was brought down and lay quite close to us on a stretcher.  A German battalion which had surrendered was coming down and we could see them being led on, when suddenly, as they got to where we were, the German commander pulled up the lot and turned to salute, which we thought was funny.  But again we looked, but it was the salute to the dead body of our Lt. Brown.  This thing impressed me very much.  I always said if I got back I would let his people know.

You will, perhaps, pardon me as a private soldier.  I admired and respected your son.


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From: (dating probably 1918): PRIVATE SIDNEY THOMAS FOUNTAIN, 1st Battalion Cambridgeshire Regiment:


Dear Dad and Mother,
. . . . myself.  I received the parcel alright and was very pleased with it.  Pleased you enjoyed yourself at Xmas.  I spent my Xmas night and Boxing Day in the trenches, but we are right back now.  We had our New Year’s supper last night, plenty to eat and drink and with your parcel I had quite a good time.  Pleased to hear Jack is coming home, hope he is quite well, I should like to be at home to see him but I hope we shall some day.  We live in hopes.  I hope to have my next Xmas at home.

I don’t think much to France, just about like being round Swan Bottom.  So you can guess it is lively.  Tell Dad to remember me at The Castle.  They dish the beer out in pails about here.  I have got two more parcels to come Sarah
[his wife] tells me, so I shall be alright.  They are a long time coming sometimes.  This is about all this time, wishing you a happy New Year, hoping to see you all again someday, from Sid.


Aged 29, Sidney Fountain lived with his parents, wife and two children in Charles Street, Tring, where he worked for the Co-op as a car-man.  He joined the Army in 1916 in the Northants Regiment, and transferred later to the Cambridgeshire Regiment, being posted to the Front in June 1917.  Sidney was not granted the last wish in his letter above — to see his family again — for he was killed in action by shellfire on the Somme towards the end of the war (28th August 1918).  He is buried in Perronne Road Cemetery, Maricourt near Albert, France.

Published in Tring Parish Magazine — from an OFFICER IN THE ROYAL ENGINEERS (Signals) 3 April 1918 —


At last!  After twelve of the most strenuous and exciting days I have ever known, remnants of us are safely out for a bit in a green field, able to sleep.  Ever since the fight began we have been at it all day and all night – fighting, marching, retreating, counter-attacking etc. etc.  Out of the 12 nights of the fight I was four nights without a wink of sleep, and have certainly not averaged three hours of sleep out of 24 for the rest of the 12 days.  Never had boots off except once to wash my feet, shaved about three times, washed hands and face about every other day; and with it all I have been wonderfully and marvellously fit – huge appetite and perfect digestion; walked and ridden countless miles without fatigue or soreness and come right through it without a scratch.  A wonderful experience!

Yesterday we came out of the fight battered and dirty but still cheerful.  I ended up by an all-night march of 24 miles, so tired and sleepy that I could not remain on my horse, but had to walk to keep awake, after which I slept all morning, most of the afternoon, and all night and still could do with more.

The Signal Company has been pretty fortunate on the whole in the way of casualties, one officer killed and some valuable NCOs but very few men and only three horses.

When we are refitted we will, I suppose, enter the fight again with renewed vigour.  The end is not yet, and though the Hun has won the first act, it does not follow he has won the rubber.  Our post has been held up from the start but I have received it altogether yesterday.

 

Waste of blood and waste of tears,
Waste of youth’s most precious years.

Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy




Tring War Memorial [Appendix].




Plaque on the gatepost of Tring Memorial Gardens.

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LETTERS FROM OTHER THEATRES
O
F WAR


In August 1915, SERGEANT FRANK SHEERMAN, Royal Bucks Hussars, was wounded in action in the Gallipoli campaign and invalided home shortly afterwards.  His parents received this letter from his great friend Frank Nash of Aylesbury, also badly wounded and in hospital in Cheshire:


We had orders to march across the Salt Lake (a death trap) on 21st August.  When we were about a quarter of a mile across the Turks spotted us, and poured shot and shrapnel at us for all they were worth.  It was like a thunder-storm.  Our men kept falling around us, but we marched on all gay as if on a route march.  Believe me, it was the best march I have had, for it made one feel proud to be with such a gallant lot of boys.

When we were about a mile and a half across, Frank got hit in his left hand.  I am almost sure it was only his fingers that were hit, because Frank was in the front of the troop and I was just behind him, and some of the shrapnel hit my boot at the same time.  Well, we got under Chocolate Hill, and I asked Frank if he was hurt anywhere beside his finger, and he said he did not know; but he felt very bad.  He looked very white, and walked lame.  I thought at the time he might have a slight rupture, as he laid down under Chocolate Hill as soon as we stopped, and it was a job to avoid laying on one’s water-bottle with all our Infantry equipment on.  We left Frank behind with the doctor, as we had to get into touch with “Mr Turk” and do some dirty work with our bayonets . . . .


British troops dig in on Chocolate Hill, Sulva Bay.  This attempt in August 1915 to break the deadlock
of the Battle of Gallipoli was unsuccessful, and Sulva Bay was evacuated a few months later.


About the time the above letter was received, Frank Sheerman’s parents also heard directly from their son then lying in hospital in Plymouth:


You must think you have got one of the luckiest sons on God’s earth, firstly for his being spared in that terrible attack on the 21st August (a day that will never be forgotten); and secondly for his being fortunate enough to be brought to England, while so many thousands of others only go to Alexandria, Cairo or Port Said.  Well, my wound is not very serious.  I am hit in the lower part of the abdomen, and I have got to undergo an operation here; but I am very confident of coming through all right, and being none the worse afterwards.  We lost heavily, I believe, but have not seen the regimental casualties; so if you can give me any particulars which may have been published, I should like to see them.

After a rough voyage we arrived in Plymouth Harbour on Friday, and were moved here.  All now that we have been through seems like a bad dream; a hot bath and clean shirt (minus the wee midges), to say nothing of a spring mattress, being fair compensation for a lot of hardships.  Chocolate Hill, the hill we are trying to capture is 907 ft. high, and rises straight from the beach, so you can tell what it is like trying to climb up and do bayonet charges, carrying 250 rounds of ammunition. . . . .  If it had not been for my mess tin (full of Army biscuits) which the pieces of shell struck first, I should have been killed outright . . . .


Frank Sheerman did recover sufficiently from his wounds and subsequent operation to re-join his regiment, the Royal Bucks Hussars.  In November 1916 he was appointed Depot Sergeant-Major at Buckingham, his duties including responsibility for enlistment, clothing and the posting of recruits.


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Lieut. Samuel Kesley.

Serving in the same regiment was LIEUTENANT SAMUEL KESLEY of Miswell Lane, Tring, a sorting clerk and telegraphist in civilian life.  Samuel enlisted early in the war, in September 1914, and was invalided home from the Dardanelles a year later suffering from enteric fever from which he recovered.  Posted abroad again, in June 1918 he wrote a letter from Palestine, which was published in Tring Parish Magazine.  Due to censorship one can only guess at his exact role in the Middle East campaign: [10]


I have been moved from camels to donkeys.  The corps is under the same administration as camels, and is newly formed so of course it has to be officered, and I have been selected as one of them and posted to No.1.  It really is a big scream.  I wish you could hear the noise at feeding time.  I have 500 of them, and it is a regular Donnybrook! [a horse fair in Dublin. Ed.]  Of course I am no longer on the Coastal sector and probably shall have a chance of getting to Jerusalem which is about 25 miles distant but the country is about the worst I have ever struck.  It is very mountainous with hardly any cultivation and the mountains are covered with huge boulders of rock and only donkeys can get about them with the exception of goats.  But they are not forming a goat corps yet!  We seem to be away from the world here, away in the hills.  Everything is very quiet except for the hum of an aeroplane; it seems almost living a hermit’s life.

Later: At last I have seen Jerusalem.  Just before entering the city, Neby Sainwil, the traditional tomb of the prophet Samuel, is clearly visible from the road.  This is where some of the stiffest fighting took place and one cannot understand how our boys overcame such strong positions, it was superhuman.  I took a guide to the Holy Sepulchre, there I saw Our Lord’s tomb.  The church which it is built over is very beautiful inside.  I cannot say what passed through my mind as I stood by the side of His tomb, but everything seemed to be at peace.  I also saw the mosque of Omar, the Jews’ waiting place, and the Garden of Gethsemane.  It is hard to realise all that happened here.


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Minna Jordan, of Hildene, Aylesbury Road, [now the site of St Joseph’s Retirement Home] wife of one of the curators at the Zoological Museum [The German Connection] maintained a regular correspondence with men serving abroad.  For instance this, written in pencil:


4th October 1918
Signal Section, 77th Infy. Brigade Headquarters,
British Salonika Force.


Dear Mrs. Jordan,
You have no doubt heard that this little war is all over.  We are looking forward to having a quiet winter.  A fortnight ago we had rather a lurid period, but just now we are sitting quietly in a fertile valley in Bulgaria, doing nothing.

There is a rumour of another move, but I think it will only be a short one.  By the time you receive this it will be just a year since I was last at Tring.  Isn’t it a fearfully long time . . . .

I am afraid there is not much hope of us returning to England now.  I am afraid they are more likely to send us to a cheerful place like Albania.  However, I am due to have leave in about a year’s time.  I enclose my latest photograph.  It is really intended to be principally a photograph of my horses.  The one I am riding is Mike, who is large, beautiful and stupid; the one the groom is riding is Rajah.  He is old and ugly but very fast.

There is very little news of interest.  I am quite well.  I have passed through the summer with no malaria.

With best wishes to all at Tring,
Yours sincerely,
Robert H [surname illegible]

 

From Hans Michael, Jersey Camp, Channel Islands.


PRIVATE GEORGE DELDERFIELD of the School House, Tring, had been missing for some time, but in June 1918 his wife received a letter from him saying he was quite well and being held prisoner in Bulgaria.  He was engaged in gardening, an occupation of which he was quite fond, and his only need was a supply of clothing.

Other Tring men in the armed forces found themselves in far-flung corners of the conflict that claimed less attention than France and Belgium.  Some served in Gallipoli, Italy, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, German East Africa, and Syria, and among those who died are:

PRIVATE JOHN RUSSELL HEDGES, 1st/5th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment, died of pneumonia in Palestine in a field ambulance five days after the Armistice in November 1918.  He is buried in Beirut, Lebanon.  His chaplain wrote to his mother “We laid your son to rest at Mar Tatlar, near Essafa, on a gentle slope overlooking the sea, and his funeral (with military honours) was a most impressive one”.  On the same day, PRIVATE ARTHUR LOVELL, 54th Machine Gun Corps, Norfolk Regiment, died of malaria in Lebanon and is also buried in Beirut; his brother, LANCE-CORPORAL FREDERICK LOVELL, had been killed in France two years earlier.

LANCE-CORPORAL WALTER RANCE, 2nd Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment, was killed in action on 30th October 1918, and lies in Tezze British Cemetery north of Venice.  He had been a member of Tring YMCA and the local Fire Brigade, before enlisting in 1916, being posted first to France where he was wounded, and then for 12 months to Italy where he took part in the last big offensive against the Austrians.

CORPORAL STANLEY MILLER, 1st Bucks Hussars, after surviving the Gallipoli campaign, was transferred to the Palestine Expeditionary Force.  He was wounded severely on 1st June 1917 by what was described as a “piece of bomb dropped from an aeroplane”; he died the following day in an Australian stationary hospital and was buried in Kantara War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt, on the eastern side of the Suez Canal.  Two days later PRIVATE ERNEST GEORGE WRIGHT, 4th Battalion Essex Regiment, of Brook Street, Tring, who saw service in France before being posted to Palestine, was laid to rest in the same cemetery.


Kantara War Memorial Cemetery.

 

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England.

Sub-Lieut. Rupert Brooke [11]


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LETTERS AND PARCELS


As the war dragged on towards the end of its third year, William Mead, owner of the Tring Flour Mill at Gamnel and a great local benefactor, sent a Christmas parcel to each man, not only to those who worked for him at the mill or on his farms, but to every New Mill lad serving abroad. Twenty-six parcels were despatched to France in response to which William Mead received eleven letters of acknowledgment. These he pasted into a scrap book, preserved by his granddaughter, from which the following five are taken.


A ‘thank-you for parcels’ — Christmas card sent from France to Tring.


From PRIVATE JAMES GREGORY: 20727, 7th Platoon, B. Coy. 4th Battalion, Beds Regiment, B.E.F. (in pencil):


Dear Sir,
I am writing a line to thank you for your kindness in sending me the Xmas parcel which I received safe and sound and I am sure came very acceptable, also on behalf of my brother Fred I must thank you as he was killed in our last great advance.  He died a brave lad doing his duty as a Signaller for our Company.  He was greatly respected by his mother and the rule is to share out all parcels with their platoon mates.  We are expecting to soon be in the firing line again.

Wishing you and Mrs Mead a Happy New Year, I remain, yours truly, J. Gregory.


PRIVATE FREDERICK JOHN GREGORY, in the same regiment and battalion as his brother, was killed in action on 14th November 1916.  His name appears on the Thiepval Memorial (soldiers with no known grave) in France.  The Tring Parish Magazine recorded “. . . . Frederick Gregory was killed as he left the trenches.  He joined the Army two years ago, and has been at the front for the past six months.  He is another of our Church Lads’ Brigade boys to lay down his life in this war . . . .”


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From GUNNER JOHN NUTKINS: 74795, Royal Field Artillery, B. Battery, 124th Brigade, B.E.F. (written in pencil on paper torn from a pocket book):


Dear Sir,
Just a line to thank you for the parcel which I received on the 28th as it came in very handy as we have had it a bit rough lately but I am like all the others making the best of it we have had some very rough weather out here hoping you are getting better weather hoping you had a merry Xmas and happy New Year.

Thanking you again, I remain, yours sincerely J. Nutkins.


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From PRIVATE JOSEPH KEEN: 129973, 2nd Suffolk Co., 3rd Division, B.E.F. (in pencil with a drawing on the envelope):


The Front,
31st Dec. 1916

Sir,
Please accept my best thanks for the nice parcel of “goodies” received from you today.  My mates and self have heartily enjoyed the contents as a great change from the monotony of Army fare.  Please accept my best wishes for Peace and Prosperity for 1917.

Yours gratefully,
Joseph Keen.


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From PRIVATE EUSTACE PHEASANT: 4438 Headquarters Company, 1st Herts.  Regiment, B.E.F. (in pencil):


1st January 1917

Dear Sir,
I am write to thank you very much for the parcel you sent me for Christmas.  It is very kind of you to think of us at such a season, as of course we are all thinking of the homeland, and it makes us very grateful to know that we are not forgotten by those at home.  We spent Christmas in the trenches where your parcel reached me, and the contents were thoroughly enjoyed by my comrades and myself.

The Battalion was lucky enough to have no-one killed on Christmas Day and only one wounded, so you will guess it was rather a quiet day.  It is very wet and muddy in the trenches this time of the year and we have to wear gum boots to save getting frostbitten feet, so you can imagine the state of the trenches in this part.  Still everything is done to make it as good as possible for us, and altogether we did not spend such an awful Christmas as one might think.  I am sure I am very grateful to you for your kindness and wish you every success in this New Year.


I remain, yours truly,
E. R. Pheasant


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From DRIVER ERNEST WRIGHT: 3023980, No.3 Company, A.S.C., 20th Division (in very faint pencil):


Dear Sir,
Glad to say I have received your very nice parcel quite safely for which I send my warmest thanks.  I am sure I enjoyed the contents immensely by the way.  We spent Christmas very quietly out here, as our Div. were rather unsettled so we kept our Christmas festival up on Boxing Day and had a fairly good time under the circumstances, as I also hope you did.  Well, I do not think we shall see another Xmas out here ‘hope not anyway’; as I think the End is now in sight by what Mother tells me.  You also have been having the weather very rough the ground is in a terrible state here, we even have to have eight horses on a water-cart.  Still I have been very fortunate in being an Officer’s Servant as I have a great many advantages.  I do not think I should be long now before getting my leave, at the present rate any turn comes at the beginning of Feb.  Well I must now conclude. Wishing to be remembered to Mrs Mead,

I remain,
Yours truly, Wright E. J.


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Letter to EDITH, WIFE OF WILLIAM MEAD, headed 4th King’s B.E.F. (in pencil, on yellowing torn paper):


15th October 1916

My Dear Mrs. Mead,
Thank you very much for your letter which I was very pleased to receive, you seem to have been having a really old time of it.  I had quite a good time down at a seaside place but was recalled too soon, and I had only just got to know the place but still I had quite a good time while I was there, but coming back I was lost for 4 days and travelled backwards and forwards without arriving at my final destination.

How is Mr. Mead and the kiddies, please give my love to both.  I shall remember the good old times I had at “Gamnel”.  The weather out here is pretty wretched, still taking all things into consideration it is not always so bad as we always have some nights when we get relieved and have a good time until we go into the line again.  I myself have been on reconnaissance duty lately which I don’t like at all, it is too lonely altogether.  I don’t mind shells when I am with somebody as one can listen for it coming and then watch the direction it comes from.  But it is far too trying a job doing both things by yourself.  I wrote to Gladys yesterday, how is Dr Clark please?  Remember me to him, also Mr. & Mrs. Honour [?]).  I may see Graham out here, do you know what Division he is in?  I had a letter from old Leslie the other day; he does not seem to be very hopeful about his eyes
[Ed. presumably a wounded friend from home.]

You must excuse pencil and scrawl etc. but it is the best I can obtain under the present circumstances
[damaged section follows] . . . . Ernest is still carrying on and I am glad he has got exemption.  My love to him and ask him to drop a line when he has time.

Cheeryho for now.  I remain, Always your loving friend, ?? [signature illegible].


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William Mead’s contribution to the war effort had been unceasing.  During the period that the soldiers of the Northumberland Fusiliers and other northern regiments were billeted in Tring, he fitted an annexe to the mill containing two enormous baths for their use.  The photograph above is an example of the hospitality and entertainment he arranged at intervals for wounded servicemen both in the garden of his home, and on the adjacent canal.  One newspaper account tells us that he also invited wounded British and French soldiers for drives around the countryside in his steam lorry, finishing with refreshments and games at the mill; those too ill to attend he visited in the various local military hospitals.  And after the war, William Mead arranged the collection and re-erection of a sizable army hut, complete with stove, which was sited at the central point of Gamnel.  Periodically refurbished, it served as a Community Centre for a great variety of activities for nearly a hundred years. [12]

 

Envelope from Private Joseph Keen.

Outside Tring Flour Mill at Gamnel on the Wendover Arm.  The Mead family entertain wounded soldiers and airmen from Halton Camp on board one of the firm’s narrow boats, 1918 — note the bandsmen seated beneath the awning.


William Mead’s effort had been part of a general desire in the town to let the men know they were not forgotten at Christmas.  An account appearing in The Bucks Herald just after Christmas 1916 gives some idea of the type of gifts that the parcels contained:


On the suggestion of the Rev. H. Francis [Vicar of Tring] a representative committee had been formed, and a number of ladies undertook to collect the necessary funds . . . .

Donations per lady collector, and others with special donations to clear the deficit, amounted to £99.19s.0d. . . . . The contents of the parcels (the number exceeding 300) were supplied by 27 tradesmen of Tring.  A Christmas card, a cake, OXO, cigarettes, soap, writing pad with paper and envelopes, towel, and a note explaining that the parcel was a gift from their fellow townsmen in appreciation of all they were doing and bearing for King and country, and a box of chocolates and bit of holly were put into every parcel.  The YMCA also added extra cigarettes.  Scores of letters acknowledging receipt of the parcels have already come in, showing how much the men appreciated not only the things, but the kind spirit and remembrance which the gifts betokened.  Those who subscribed (772 in all) were well pleased to know how much their gifts were appreciated . . . .


A year previously, real concern was being felt for the men who had been taken prisoner, and the Cockburn family of Red Lodge, Miswell Lane, decided to do something about it.  The following letters were printed in the The Bucks Herald:


Tring,
9th November 1915

Sir,
Many of our men who were taken prisoner have now experienced twelve months captivity in German hands, and we gather from those who have been fortunate enough to return home that if those left behind are to survive a second winter in that rigorous climate, it is absolutely essential that they should receive warm clothing and food regularly.

We ask, therefore, for contributions in money or in kind – even a stick of chocolate or a cake of soap will be welcome – and old underclothing, if warm and in thoroughly good condition, may be sent.  The following list of the most useful articles to send is supplied by the Prisoners of War Help Committee in London:

Tea, Cocoa Handkerchiefs
Tinned meats Soap, carbolic soap too
Biscuits, cheese Pencils, tooth-brushes
Chocolate Towels
Plasmon chocolate, Bovril Gloves, mittens
Tinned vegetables Draughts, dominoes etc.
Sugar Needles, cottons, buttons
Dried fruits Tobacco, pipes, cigarettes
Force, Grape Nuts Shaving brushes

Will friends order from their grocers a weekly parcel to be sent?  The cost need not be great.  The benefit to the prisoners will be immense.  These gallant men were fighting our battles till evil fate overtook them; for us they shed their blood and lost their freedom.  We are now given an opportunity to repay (in part) the debt we owe them.

Yours faithfully,
J. Cockburn


This letter had the desired result, and Miss Cockburn undertook the collection and despatch of parcels:


48 Charles Street,
Berkeley Square,
London, W.

My dear Miss Cockburn,
The contents of your glorious box full of comforts will be for the most part on their way tomorrow.  The great coats are quite splendid.  The gloves, mitts, jerseys etc. are most useful.  Some contributors write their names and addresses on the cigarettes, and I am sorry to say I had to scratch it off, as no scrap of writing may go through, and if it does there is the chance of the parcel’s owner being ill-treated, so we have to be very careful.

Helen Woodward,
Lady Burghclere’s Fund

 

If I were fierce, and bald, and short of breath,
    I’d live with scarlet Majors at the Base,
[13]
And speed glum heroes up the line to death.
    You’d see me with my puffy petulant face,
Guzzling and gulping in the best hotel,
    Reading the Roll of Honour.  ‘Poor young chap,’
I’d say — ‘I used to know his father well.
    Yes, we’ve lost heavily in this last scrap.’
And when the war is done and youth stone dead,
    I’d toddle safely home and die — in bed.

Captain Siegfried Sassoon, M.C.


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LETTERS FROM CLERGYMEN


From the REVEREND CHARLES PEARCE, Minister of the United Free Church in Tring High Street, to The Editor of The Bucks Herald:


Fernlea, High Street, Tring.
10th November 1915.

Dear Sir,
 

The Rev. Charles Pearce.

Much, but not too much, has been written about the officers and men of Halton Camp and at the Front.  I believe you will think a line or two about our Hospitals worthy a place in your valuable paper.  Neither rose nor rainbow gain anything from painter or poet, and deeds of mercy require no flourish of the pen.  A simple statement will be enough to show the skill, sympathy, and success of the doctors, their staff, and assistants.  We have had three Military Hospitals in Tring for considerably over 12 months (a number of the wounded from the Front are now here); but, as far as I remember, we have had only three deaths.  Surely this must form a record.  Some of these were very seriously ill before admittance.  I have been deeply touched by the tears in the tone: “We did our very best, but could not save him”.  The men seem to have undoubted confidence in the medical staff and their helpers.  The monotony of indoor life is just now largely increased by the darkened windows.  But all are hopeful of brighter days.

Yours etc.,
Charles Pearce,
(Army Chaplain)


Later in the war, in addition to his already considerable duties, Reverend Pearce received the distinction of being appointed Officiating Chaplain in local military hospitals to the Wesleyans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Primitive and United Methodists, and Baptists, thus filling the unique position of representing all of the Free Churches.


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From: ACTING CHAPLAIN TO THE FORCES GUY BEECH: [14]


19th December 1915.

My dear Friends,
 

Rev. Guy Beech.

As most of you will know before this letter is published, I have been appointed to temporary duty as an Acting Chaplain to the Forces.  I shall therefore be leaving Tring for a time after Christmas; but, at least for the present, I am not going far away . . . .

It is with much regret that I leave the Vicar, and the Parish with an incomplete staff of clergy, but those in authority over me in the Diocese consider that I can reasonably be spared from here at this time of crisis in Church and Nation.

You will, I am confident, readily forego some of the spiritual ministrations to which you have been accustomed in your country’s hour of need.  May I further appeal to all who can do so to offer their help, each in his or her several capacity, in the work of the Church at this time.  We ought not to expect everything as usual, but much of the Parish work, notably the Sunday Schools, can hardly be carried on at all unless new helpers will come forward to take the place of those who have been called away on active service . . . .  The services of intercession in connection with the war, in which I have taken part with you week by week for so long will have a very special place in my thoughts when I am away.

Your faithful servant
Guy Beech


Later Guy Beech was posted “somewhere far away”.  He did not return to Tring after the war, going instead to the Rectory of Turvey, near Bedford.  He wrote from France on 3rd May 1918:


As the address shows you, I am now attached to ‘The Diehards’ [nickname for the Middlesex Regiment, Duke’s of Cambridge’s Own].  My last letter was written just before I left the reinforcement camp to join the division.  Eventually I reached it close to the town I had left the week before.  I was posted to this battalion whose padre had been killed in recent fighting.  But how long I shall be with it is uncertain as it seems likely to be broken up, which will mean my being transferred to some entirely different unit.  Most of the men have been drafted away and their place may possibly be taken by Americans.  We have been perpetually on the move from one village to another, in back areas quite a long way from the fighting line.  We are billeted first in one and then another French house, usually a farmhouse built foursquare like an Oxford college quad, and usually with a refuse heap in the centre!

In the last village my bedroom overlooked a pretty little valley with an aerodrome on the opposite hill, and on clear evenings I used to watch the aeroplanes come out one after the other from their hangers, like wasps from a nest, and go off in formation, laden with bombs for the enemy territory.

Here, in another farmhouse, I am roused at dawn by the old French peasant starting forth with his plough and horses for the fields.  The French are indeed wedded to the soil.  Everywhere you see them working on the land, the women and old men, and there they are from sunrise to sunset every day.  Doubtless it is one great reason for the strength of France, and one can’t help wishing we English people loved the soil as they do.

We are under orders to move again tomorrow and have a 17-mile march before us.


――――♦――――


A few letters from MAJOR THOMAS VERNON GARNIER, 12th Cheshire Regiment survive. [15] After his Army discharge, he arrived in Tring to take up the position of vicar at the Parish Church.  He had become ill in Northern Greece in the Salonika theatre of war and gradually recovered in Stavros Hospital, from where he sent instructions to PRIVATE VICTOR DUNVILLE, the soldier who had served as his batman.  It was obviously a successful relationship, as the Reverend Garnier was anxious that Victor should remain in his service at Tring Vicarage, acting as his manservant and chauffeur.

Thomas Garnier served as vicar of Tring from 1919 to 1930; described as rather an austere man, nevertheless he was much respected.  He married Helen Stenhouse, daughter of a retired tea-planter living in Tring, and they had three children.  He died in 1939, aged 64.  Garnier scribbled the following letter in pencil:


To: Private V. Dunville
Stavros Hospital
6 January 1918

My dear Vic,
I have been very ill or I would have written before and they tell me that I am now for home, so if I were you I would just concentrate on getting demobilized as quickly as possible and not bother too much about getting back to Division.  Yes, I am counting on your coming with me after the war and I can’t tell you how I have missed you – nobody will ever take your place as far as I am concerned.  At present I am negotiating about a parish.  I tried my best to get you up (Col. Holden got a direct order from GHQ for John
[Garnier’s other soldier servant]; perhaps it means early demobilization for you.)

Yours sincerely,
T. V. Garnier



December 1918

My dear Vic,
I was so glad to get your two letters and to hear you had got safely home.  Your mother and father must have been delighted to see you after all this long time.  We know nothing of our future movements but people hope that we may be demobilized in February, if so we shall not do so badly.  There was a lot of trekking soon after you left and so you did not miss much.  I rather doubt your being sent back here and I hope you will not be for we might just miss each other.

As soon as ever I know my plans I will let you in, in the meantime perhaps you could carry on with something.  If you could learn or pick up something about motor driving it might come in very useful, as when I come home I meant to pay for your having some lessons but with the long interval between letters it is useless to try and make any arrangements from here, and so I must leave it to your judgment what to do till we meet.

Isn’t it a blessing it is all over?  But of course everybody finds this waiting about very trying.  Booth
[John Booth, Garnier’s other soldier servant who also accompanied him to Tring after the war. Ed] has done one very well and I was most fortunate as he is very willing and tidy, but that does not alter what I said before, namely that nobody will in any way take your place and I have missed you very much.  Please give my kind regards to your father and mother and hoping that your leave will be, as they say out here, a “top hole” one.

Believe me,
Your sincere friend,
T.V. Garnier


P.S. If you want any money just write to my lawyer – you have his address.  I will give him instructions.
 

Above: Victor Dunville’s War Record. Below, Vic in later life.


The exact sequence of events is difficult to work out, but it appears that the Reverend Garnier had recovered sufficiently from his illness to be retained abroad on active service for sometime after the war ended, whilst both of his batmen returned to England.  This was hurriedly scribbled in pencil:


1 February 1919

Dear Dunville,
Mr. Rosby promised to send off my saddle and bridle long ago, do please get it sent off at once and let me know.  I also gave him 50 drachmas for Broadbent and asked him to thank him for all he had done – I hope he did not forget that too.  Thank God I am better and if the weather only mends I shall be getting to England soon.

I look forward so much to seeing you again but can’t write more now.


Yours sincerely,
T. V. Garnier


This extract was written prior to a holiday:


24 June 1919

My dear Vic,

. . . . next door to where we shall be is a small motor man, and during the day I want you to put in some time there as the man has promised to teach you all he can, for I am very anxious that you should have a trade in your fingers to which you can turn should anything ever happened to me . . . . “


Having moved into Tring Vicarage, Garnier wrote to Dunville:


The Vicarage, Tring
29 October 1919

My dear Vic,
I enclose cheque for £5 due tomorrow.  I want you to come to Tring on Thursday, and I hope by that time to have your bedroom ready as the first lot of furniture etc. comes in Tuesday and the second lot on Wed. and some more will come in at the end of the week.  Booth is meeting me at Tring today and we are both going into lodgings for the first few days so as to be near at hand and get everything ready, and I expect we shall have a very strenuous time but I thought it best for you to come on Thursday as I think your lodgings fall due on that day.  If you could take some sandwiches and lunch in the train it would save time . . . .


Yours sincerely,
T. V. Garnier


Good as his word, Garnier did pay for Victor to learn to drive and to obtain his license, which stood him in good stead for the future.  He remained in the vicar’s service until Garnier’s marriage in 1930 when he wrote the reference below; in the event, Victor obtained a job at Tring Motor Company in Western Road, where he remained until his retirement:


V. J. Dunville has been with me since Easter Day 1916 when he became my batman on active service.  He is only leaving me because I cannot afford to give him the wages to which he has been used.  I can thoroughly recommend him as trustworthy, sober and efficient.  He understands valeting, waiting, silver, housework and the care and driving of a motor car.


――――♦――――


Sons of past Tring clergymen also served in the war. LIEUT. COLONEL EDMUND TIDSWELL, D.S.O., [16] Leicestershire Regiment, the son of Reverend Samuel Tidswell (Vicar of Tring 1892-1903), was a career soldier who had seen service in India.  Wounded in France early in October 1914, he was awarded the D.S.O. for “services in connections with operations in the field”.  He was later promoted to Brigade Major of the 81st Infantry Brigade, Egyptian Expeditionary Force, and transferred to Salonika.  Twice Mentioned in Despatches, he retired in 1921, was awarded an O.B.E. and recalled as a Recruiting Officer in WWII.

CAPTAIN HAROLD POPE, M.C. and Bar, [17] 1st/2nd Lancashire, Royal Garrison Artillery, was the son of Reverend Arthur Pope (Vicar of Tring 1872-1881) and a mining engineer by profession.  He was working in Sumatra and Java when news of the hostilities reached him and he at once resigned, returned home, and joined the Officer Training Corps as a trooper.  During the war he served continuously in France being involved in most of the large operations that took place on the Western Front.  The citation for the award of his M.C. in August 1917 reads:


He showed the greatest personal courage and presence of mind in climbing on the top of a blazing gun pit and extinguishing a fire which was threatening to blow up the whole of the ammunition at any moment.  There were thirty rounds of high explosive shells in the blazing pit . . . .


The following year Harold Pope won a Bar to his M.C. in action near Cambrai.  Aged 36 and by then a very experienced officer, he was killed on 24th October 1918 three weeks before the Armistice.  He lies in Heath Cemetery, Harbonnieres, Picardie, France, and his name is inscribed on Tring War Memorial. [18]

 

An army chaplain’s life was not always spent performing pastoral duties away from the front line.  This fact is nowhere more evident than in the service record of the Rev. Theodore Bayley Hardy V.C., D.S.O., M.C., who on many occasions ministered to and rescued wounded men while under heavy fire.  His award of the Victoria Cross was “for most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty on many occasions”.

The Rev. Hardy was wounded in action while tending to casualties, and died a week later (18 October 1918) in Rouen, two days before his 55th birthday.

 

What for all time will the harvest be, Sister?
    What will spring up from the seed we have sown?
Freedom and peace and goodwill among Nations,
    Love that will bind us with love all our own.

Bright is the path that is opening before us,
    Upward and onward it mounts through the night:
Sword shall not sever the bonds that unite us
    Leading the world to the fullness of light.

Major Frederick George Scott,
Chaplain to 1st Canadian Division.

From: A Treasury of War Poetry, 1917.


――――♦――――


 

LETTERS FROM THE ROYAL FLYING CORPS AND
THE ROYAL NAVY


One known letter survives from AIR MECHANIC HORACE HEDLEY REGINALD ROLFE (always known as Reg) to his aunt in Charles Street, Tring, written six months before his death.  He was the eldest son in the large family of Frederick and Agnes Rolfe who lived in Western Road, from where Frederick ran a very successful coal, removal and charabanc business.  Reg had worked with his father and eventually was expected to take over the firm, but fate decreed otherwise.
 

Reginald Rolfe and Doris Plater on their wedding day at
Aston Clinton, 28 October 1914.


Fascinated since seeing an early aircraft exhibition during the manoeuvres at Halton Camp in 1913, Reg was quick to enlist in the infant Royal Flying Corps.  After the usual rather perfunctory training of the time he joined his squadron to act as an observer in flights over enemy lines, but his plane was shot down on his first flight and he died from his injuries shortly afterwards.  As well as his grieving family, he left a young wife whom he had married 18 months previously.


In the Field,
March 22nd, 1916

Dear Aunt Harriet,
At last I have found time to write you that long promised letter.
 

Driver Ralph Battson, Royal Field Artillery.

First of all I must thank you for the parcel which came to hand safely, and which I much appreciated.  It is very nice to know I am not forgotten.  From past experience I know that my aunts will not do this.  Tell May [his cousin] I thank her very much for her contribution, I enjoyed both the sweets and cigs.

I received a birthday card from Aunt Mag, but as I don’t know her address I can’t write to her.  Will you thank her for me and give her my love.

Thanks also for your letter which I received some days ago.  It was very strange that I should see Ralph
he was going one way and I was going the other with my lorry.  I spotted him however and shouted and he recognised me.  I was sorry I could not have a chat with him.


 

Air Mechanic Reginald Rolfe,
Royal Flying Corps.

The ‘Ralph’ that Reg refers to was his cousin, Ralph Bertram Battson, from Langdon Street.  He was also in France serving in the Royal Field Artillery.  Ralph was killed by an enemy shell behind the lines in 1917.  Reg’s letter continues with news about his wife and other family members before returning to the War:


I expect you would like to know what I am doing out here.  Well, as you know, I can’t say very much.  I am 1st man on a Leyland lorry and they are fine lorries.  It is quite a pleasant change after the lorries at home [coal and removal lorries in his father’s firm].

The weather here has been rather rough, what with snow etc. but it is much better now and you can guess we are pleased.  I am billeted in a fair sized town which of course must be nameless and am pretty comfortable.

I have seen several fellows since I have been here – you remember Len Griggs who worked for us.  Shall be pleased to get a few lines when you get an opportunity,
Yours sincerely,
Reg


Reg’s young widow, Doris, received the usual letter of condolence from his commanding officer:


1 October 1916

. . . . I am sorry to say he was not with us for long.  He came on probation as an observer on the 20th of last month.  On the 25th he went out with Lieut. Haward over the lines.  They were unfortunately hit by anti-aircraft fire, all the controls being cut.  The machine fell in our lines and some sappers immediately went to the assistance of your husband and Lieut. Haward.  I am sorry to say that your husband sustained injuries in the crash, from which he did not recover . . . .

Yours sincerely,
P. C. Maltby,
Royal Flying Corps, B.E.F.


Reginald Rolfe lies in Barlin Communal Cemetery, Barlin, France.  Lieut. Haward, his pilot, also died in the crash.


――――♦――――


A letter published in Tring Parish Magazine from an (unnamed) OFFICER IN THE ROYAL FLYING CORPS serving in Italy:


April 1918

The other day when I was at . . . . Aerodrome it began to snow so I beetled back here as rapidly as might be.  The snowstorm put up a pretty good fight but we beat it alright.  But we had to go!  Normally I fly at 50-55 mph to ease the engine, but I saw that now that we should get a move on.  So I started at 70 mph and for the first 10 miles kept level with the storm, which was about a mile away.  I could see quite clearly up to the storm, but then it looked like a thick white mist.  I said to myself ‘My child, carry on at 80 mph.  But even at this pace the snowstorm gained on us slightly.’

In the end we beat it by four fields; I have been caught too many times by rain and snow to take any chances of going slowly.  These jiggers will do 105 mph near the ground and I was flying at only 800 feet.  It was quite amusing and my engine was priceless.

I went up for a joy-ride the other day to try the electric heating, which I think I told you about.  There is a 250-volt dynamo on the machine driven by a small propeller 18” across, and switch box containing about eight switches.  Three of these are for body, hands and feet to keep you warm.  For your body you put on under your tunic a wash-leather waistcoat, which has resistance wires all over it.  For your hands you have thin cotton gloves with wires down the back of each finger.  For your feet you have socks – the sort you put in your boots when they are too big – these also have resistance wires in them.

The other switches are (1) for heating the machine guns to keep them from freezing (2) to power the klaxon born used for contact when flying (3) for navigation lights which are on the wing tips, and also behind the observer and underneath the machine (these are to show who and where you are in night flying), and also to prevent being run into (4) for charging accumulators for wireless and (5) for Holt landing flares, which are magnesium flares under each wing for night landing and are fired by a hot wire.  When I got up, I turned on the three body switches and everything worked gorgeously!  In fact I had to turn the hands switch off after a bit as they got too hot.


――――♦――――


From The Bucks Herald, 9 October 1914:


Mr. and Mrs. William Wells [of Tringford] have received the following message from the King whose attention was drawn to the fact of their six sons having volunteered for service in His Majesty’s Forces.


Buckingham Palace,
17 September 1914.


I am commanded by the King to convey to you an expression of His Majesty’s appreciation of the patriotic spirit which has prompted your six sons to give their services to the Army and Navy.

The King was much gratified to hear of the manner in which they have so readily responded to the call of their Sovereign and country, and I am to express to you and to them His Majesty’s congratulations on having contributed in so full a measure to the great cause for which all the people of the British Empire are so bravely fighting.

I have the honour to be,
Your obedient servant,
F M Ponsonby
Keeper of the Privy Purse


Less than a week after Mr. and Mrs. Wells received the above communication the cruisers Aboukir, Hogue and Crecy were torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U9 while they were on patrol in the North Sea. [19] On board the Aboukir was one of their sons, STOKER ARTHUR WELLS, R.N.R.  The Tring Parish Magazine published the following in the November 1914 edition:


The first name of anyone from Tring who has given his life for his country [20] and therefore will always find a place upon our roll of honour, is that of Arthur Wells, Stoker, R.N. Reserve.  He was probably on duty below on that fatal 21 September when HMS Aboukir was torpedoed by the German submarine in the North Sea.

We offer his wife, who will now return to her mother’s home in Albert Street, and his parents (of Tringford) who have three other sons on active service, and two more on merchant ships, our very sincere sympathy.


――――♦――――


On the 5th June 1916, while on passage to Russia, the Hampshire struck a mine
and sank with heavy loss of life, including Kitchener and his staff.


From: ABLE SEAMAN STANLEY COLLIER, R.N., written in June 1915 and received by his parents, George and Annie Collier, of No.68 Brook Street, Tring, two days after his death:


. . . . Just a few lines to let you know that I am quite well. I hope you are all well at home and that you have not been worrying about me at all. Our ship took part in the naval battle the other day, and we sank one cruiser, but our ship did not receive any damage at all, and no casualties. Do not worry about things that you read in the papers, because a great deal is not true . . . .


Stanley was right to be optimistic, for his naval career up to then had included several lucky escapes.  Born in Hastoe, a woodsman’s assistant before joining the Navy in 1905, he had sailed in 16 different ships, including the cruiser HMS Duke of Edinburgh, which, in 1911, rescued the Duke and Duchess of Fife when they were nearly drowned off the coast of Morocco.  A little later, after his minesweeper was wrecked off Lowestoft, he spent some time in the water before being picked up.

He then transferred as stoker to the ill-fated cruiser HMS Hampshire, which was to carry Lord Kitchener to Archangel (Russia) on a secret military mission.  The Hampshire left Scapa Flow with an escort of two destroyers, but just over two hours later she struck a mine, [21] sinking in 15 minutes and taking with her most of the 749 on board, including Kitchener and his staff.  High seas contributed to the disaster, and of the 100 who managed to reach shore only 12 survived the terrible surf of the landing.

Tring heard the news of the sinking with shock and sympathy, both the local lad and Lord Kitchener were mourned, and muffled peals were rung from the tower of the church.  The body of Stanley Collier lies in a double grave in Lynoss military cemetery on the beautiful Island of Hoy on Orkney, but that of Kitchener was never recovered.

It is a curious sidelight that on the very day that the Great War started, Kitchener was staying near Tring at Ashridge House, when he was summoned abruptly to the War Office.  Supposedly, he said “Lady Brownlow, I am sorry but I must leave at once.  Do not worry, you will know why tomorrow.”  Later in the war, he again visited Tring to inspect various contingents of the 21st Division then billeted in the town.



 

H.M.S. Tring was a Hunt Class minesweeper completed for the Royal Navy in 1918/9.  Too late to see active service in World War I, in 1921 she became tender to the Royal Navy training establishment H.M.S. Ganges.  During her time as such some 7,000 boys sailed in her to receive their first experience of Man-o-War routine.  In 1925 she was placed in reserve as an economy measure and was sold for scrap in 1927, being broken up on the Clyde where she had been built.



 

Not yours to know delight
In the keen, hard-fought fight,
The shock of battle and the battle’s thunder;
But suddenly to feel
Deep, deep beneath the keel,
The vital blow that rives the ship asunder.

Lieut. Noel F M Corbett, R.N.

To a Naval Cadet
Lost in H.M.S. Hogue, North Sea, August 1914


――――♦――――


 

THE GERMAN CONNECTION IN TRING

 

This is no case of petty right or wrong
That politicians or philosophers
Can judge.  I hate not Germans, or grow hot
With love of Englishmen, to please the newspapers

2nd Lieut. Edward Thomas [22]


Every death of a young man in the Great War was its own tragedy, but that of CHARLES HARTERT more than most.  The only child of Ernst and Claudia Hartert, his German parents had come to Tring when Ernst, a specialist in bird life, was appointed Director of Walter Rothschild’s Zoological Museum in Akeman Street, and they became naturalised British citizens shortly afterwards.  Educated at Berkhamsted School and Wadham College, Oxford, Charles enlisted as a Lieutenant in the 8th Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment, and soon embarked for France.
 

Left: Lieutenant (Joachim) Charles Hartert.
 Right: a correspondence acknowledgement form.


During this time, due to the news of mounting casualties on the Western Front and alleged reported German atrocities in Belgium, jingoist feeling in the country ran high.  German shops and businesses were boycotted or looted, dachshunds supposedly were kicked in the streets, even the King came under suspicion because of his German ancestry.  Tring was no exception to this sentiment, and residents with German connections met with outright unpleasantness or hostility including, unbelievably, Mr. and Mrs. Hartert whose son was fighting in the British army.

Even after Charles was killed in action on the Somme (28th October 1916), the hostility continued — there was even opposition to his name being included on the town’s war memorial.  His heart-broken mother never recovered from his loss and the experiences she suffered at the hands of the townsfolk.  When, in 1930, her husband retired, she insisted they return to their native Germany.  However, the sad story continued after Ernst’s death, for Claudia’s outspoken criticism of the Nazi regime led to her being advised to leave Germany.  She sought refuge in The Netherlands, where she entered a convent in which she remained for the rest of her life.

Charles Hartert lies in Courcelles-au-Bois Communal Cemetery, France.  His obituary in his old college magazine read:


J. C. Hartert came up from Berkhamsted to Wadham in 1912, and played for the College both at Association and at cricket.  He was also a keen member of the O.T.C.  He was German by birth and combined the thoroughness and industry of our enemies with the vigour and energy of his adopted country.  He took a commission immediately the war broke out, and had been at the front for more than a year, having been slightly wounded last July.  He was a man of real character and considered one of the best officers in his battalion.


By October 1916, Charles was one of only two remaining officers from the battalion that had arrived in France twelve months earlier, the other was his Captain, Paul Taylor.  Both were killed by a shell that landed in their dugout at Serre.

During the war Charles had corresponded with two of his childhood friends in Tring, sisters and HILDA (HILDEGARDE) and (GERTRUDE) ADA JORDAN, as well as with their mother, Minna, whose husband, Karl, was a colleague of Charles’s father at the Museum:


April 8th 1916
Dear Mrs. Jordan,

I have such a collection of letters and postcards from Hilda and Ada that I don’t know which to write to this time, so I take the pleasure (as our chaps say) of writing to you this time.  As you have probably heard, I am indulging in a week of two’s rest from my labours, and am enjoying the best of health and so shall probably return to the fray at an early date.  The word above is not PAY, I have spent all that! Joke, laugh!


Hildegard Jordan’s V.A.D. Certificate of Identity.


I really have nothing to say, have I ever?  There are French, British, Belgian and German soldiers here – at present a Belgian band is entertaining us with strains of beautiful music.

Well, au revoir!
Yours affect.,
Charles Hartert.

P.S. My love to all and please write again soon.


21st I.B.D., France
4th May 1916.

Dear Hilda,
Many thanks for epistle of 22nd April.  Am very fed up about the way they have lost most of my last month’s correspondence instead of forwarding it to me.  Sorry you had the trouble to write twice.  As you see, I am at the base for a short time before re-joining my regiment.

I met Dieppe Edelmann – now Major!  Yesterday Chilton’s elder brother paid a visit, he is a private in Australians – a very nice chap.  Please don’t send parcel before I get back to Rept.  Will let you know what and when later.  It is very good of you all to remember my feeding capacity; especially in regard to peppermint creams!

Best wishes to Dr & Mrs Jordan, Ada and yourself,

Yours affect.,
Charles Hartert

 

Ada Jordan’s V.A.D. armband.

Hilda and Ada Jordan also experienced the virulent anti-German feeling prevalent in WW1.  Ada, aged just 17, when serving as a V.A.D. [23] found that some of the soldiers in the hospital where she worked refused to be nursed by her when they discovered that her father was German by birth, even though a naturalised British citizen.

Minna Jordan also wrote to other men at the Front, as well as old friends, prisoners of war, and soldiers from the Northumberland Fusiliers who had been billeted with the Jordan family in the early days of the war.  The following reply to one of her letters (in pencil) was sent from a Field Post Office:


24th July 1917
4th Yorkshire Regiment, BEF

Dear Mrs. Jordan,
Just a few lines to let you know that I’m very well – in fact I’ve never been better in my life and I more or less resemble a Red Indian as the weather here is glorious.

I am sitting at the top of a deep dugout writing this, on a delightful evening.  It is pretty quiet just now for once in a way . . . . I hope you are all well at present.  I suppose Tring is looking the same as ever?  It doesn’t change very much.  It is a very long time since I last saw the place.  I should like to have got down there when I was home in January, but I had such a frightful rush. 10 days goes very quickly.

Do you hear from any of those N.F. officers who were billeted with you?  I dare say there aren’t many of them out here now.  I spent two days in Paris some months ago, and greatly enjoyed it, as it made a good change.

Well I must close now as it is time to go and have a look at the war.

Kind regards to all.
Yours affectionately,
Douglas Spurway

――――♦――――


At one Council meeting during the war, Bentley Asquith, the U.D.C.’s Engineer, had proposed that all Germans, including those of German extraction, should be deported or interned.  This action was particularly spiteful to the Rothschild family of Tring, [24] considering their patriotism and the generosity they had shown to the town and to individuals in so many different ways.  In the absence of Walter Rothschild, a founder member of Tring U.D.C., and the Council Chairman (and Tring Park agent), Richardson Carr, the motion was carried and, unsurprisingly, led to the immediate resignation of both.  This hasty decision was immediately regretted by some Council members and embarrassed reassurances were soon uttered that there was no intention to direct the action at any particular individuals; but the damage was done, and it was perhaps as well that Lord Rothschild had died shortly before this unhappy incident.

After the war, public demand led by an eminent Tring resident, Sir Stephens Collins of Elm House, requesting that the town be allocated a ‘war trophy’ to display in some prominent position.  Not all agreed that any form of triumphalism or reminder of the horrors of war should be displayed and the proposal caused dissention amongst Council members, some declaring themselves disgusted by the idea.  Again, the most fiercely in favour was BENTLEY ASQUITH, who wrote the following letter to the local paper: [25]


February 19th, 1919.

Sir,
I read with mixed feelings the decision of Tring Council to accept a broken German machine gun and appurtenancies as a war trophy.  Surely we who have lost our gallant boys do not require these hideous reminders of a bloody barbarism which brought such havoc to civilisation the world over, and especially brought human suffering to so many survivors and our homes.  It can be no reverence or compliment to our brave dead to have these monstrosities – as is often the case – placed alongside the memorials we have reared in their memory.  Such relics are not worthy of notice as they do not even possess the virtue of once belonging to an honourable foe, and they should be smashed up as their former owners smashed up the beautiful monuments and buildings of Belgium and Northern France.

Let us stamp out all this German taint from our midst if we are to uphold the nation’s pride.

Yours very sincerely,
Bentley Asquith


In spite of the protests, the war trophy eventually arrived in the shape of a very old German machine gun, which appeared never to have been capable of firing.  It was placed in the Fire Station, but then soon removed to Miswell Lane Recreation Ground from where it was quietly taken and sold for scrap.


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FOLLOWING THE ARMISTICE
 

The tumult and the shouting dies –
The captains and the kings depart . . . .

Rudyard Kipling


The Armistice to end the Great War was declared and signed on 11th November 1918, when the fighting stopped, but it took six months of negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference to conclude the Peace Treaty, later signed at Versailles.

The carnage, that continued until the very last, was reflected in Tring when PRIVATE SIDNEY HAYSTAFF of Brook Street was reported killed in action in Valenciennes on 5th November, and PRIVATE ALBERT RANDALL of Albert Street died of wounds in Rouen one day after the Armistice.  Both had been members of the Church Lads’ Brigade and had emigrated to Canada, only to return to fight for the old country.



 

Tring Church Lads’ Brigade, [26] June 1912 — Albert Randall is 3rd row, first on left.
Ralph Battson is back row, third from left.


Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Ball of Longfield Road, must have experienced extremes of emotion. They were first notified that their son, Arthur Joseph Ball, was missing; then, on 30th October 1918, that he was dead, only to receive a postcard from Arthur junior (from Brussels, dated 2nd December) to say that he was well and hoped soon to be among his friends.


The unveiling and dedication of Tring War Memorial had been planned for 29th June 1918, but then The Bucks Herald published the following account:


4th May 1918.  Owing to the requirement of the new Military Service Act on the staff of the contractors for the erection of Tring War Memorial, the architect has been informed that it will be impossible to complete the work by St Peter’s Day and consequently the ceremony will be postponed until the autumn.  Up to the present time £400 has been subscribed, the sum required being estimated at £450.

Architect Philip Johnston’s impression of his design.


Tring was generally admired for having the distinction of being the first town in the country to erect such a memorial, and several national newspapers commented approvingly. The Cardiff Evening Express printed a picture of the memorial with the headline – “AS IT SHOULD BE” the caption beneath stating “The only War Memorial as yet properly completed and with the names inscribed. Our picture shows the beautiful War Memorial at Tring, Hertfordshire.”

The unveiling, performed by General Sir William Robertson, G.C.B. K.C.V.O., D.S.O., (General Officer Commander-in-Chief, Great Britain), took place on Wednesday, November 27th, 1918, on Church Square. The General gave an address, followed by the dedication, which was conducted by the Very Reverend T. C. Fry, D.D., Dean of Lincoln, assisted by representatives of all religions.


Thanksgiving for Peace on Church Square: 24th July 1919 [Appendix].


The Peace Treaty was signed on 18th June 1919, exactly five years after the assassination in Sarajevo of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife had triggered the conflict.  Tring celebrated the National Day of Thanksgiving for Peace on 244h July 1919, when 500 townsmen who had served in the war lined up in the front of the war memorial to pay their respects to fallen comrades.  The numbers were then swelled to over 2,000 for a short service that ended with a sounding of the Last Post followed by a peal of the church bells.  Many then made their way to festivities held in Tring Park to enjoy sports events, fancy dress parades, a grand tea and, later that evening, a fireworks display.

The town gradually regained something approaching normality, given that the influenza pandemic [27] and the coal and rail strikes had first to be endured.  In the various buildings in the town that served as military hospitals, medical supplies were packed up and sent back to Government stores.  In 1919, children returned to their pre-war schoolrooms, having spent four and a half years in unsuitable and sometimes cold makeshift conditions.  The local paper reported that the town Council considered that prices should come under examination, with the result that seven members formed a ‘Profiteering Committee’; a ‘Food Control Committee’ was also set up that tried, without success, to stop animals sold in the Tring cattle market from leaving the town.

As funds permitted, pre-war leisure activities gradually resumed.  Cricket had been suspended for the duration of hostilities, when the Tring Park C.C. Committee voted that all members serving abroad should be made honorary members after the war, although at the time no-one imagined this would be delayed for four years.  A new groundsman was not engaged until 1920, before which time sheep had been introduced to keep down the grass in the outfield.

Collections were made in the cinema (The Empire, Akeman Street) for the King’s Fund for the Disabled, and books for the wounded were gathered and sent to the Library Branch of the British Red Cross.  A Victory Ball had been held at the Victoria Hall, The Bucks Herald reporting that the hall was “profusely decorated”; nearly 200 attended, most wearing fancy dress or uniform, proceeds from the event being donated to the Local Hospital Supply Depot.

The Council recommended the need for 50 new houses to be built, and land owners were approached to assess their willingness to sell; not all agreed.  However, the owners of the Tring Park Estate did offer the Dunsley Farm area to the County Council for small-holdings for demobilised soldiers under Prime Minister Lloyd George’s ‘Homes for Heroes’ scheme. [28] And the Town Council agreed to tend the graves of the 14 soldiers who died locally and are buried in Tring Cemetery.  Ex-servicemen returned to their pre-war occupations and pleasure was expressed that some were setting up small businesses in the town.
 

Meat and lard coupons from a 1918 ration book.

However, not all was success.  Towards the end of the war the Government had been forced to introduce the rationing of certain foods as a consequence of the effective German U-boat campaign.  The Ministry of Food came under attack from the town’s butchers who expressed dissatisfaction or even disgust at the quality of imported meat reaching their shops.  The situation gradually eased, but butter remained rationed until 1920.  In spite of coal rationing, introduced in 1916, late in 1918 the Government announced that there would be a coal shortage for domestic use during the approaching winter, and set up machinery at local level to control its consumption.  During May 1919, 177 men were registered on the books of the local Labour Bureau, a figure that was reported to be increasing weekly.

Our small Hertfordshire town may have been picking up the pieces, but in every city, town and village all over Europe, the scars left by the bereavements and hardships of four years of World War were not eclipsed even after a generation or more had passed.  Women struggling to bring up fatherless children, men with missing limbs, blinded, suffering frightful facial disfigurements, or damaged lungs (the result of mustard gas) were constant reminders of the price that had been paid.  Tring was no exception to any of this; for many years afterwards membership of The British Legion thrived, Remembrance Day parades and services were well attended, and campaign medals and decorations were worn with pride.  All were mercifully unaware that the oft-quoted saying that the Great War was “the war to end all wars” was an illusion, and that the men of Tring would be called upon again to march off to war just 20 years later.


Poppies in Red Furlong, off Icknield Way, Tring.
Photographed by Ron Kitchener.

 

Peace!  Vex us not: we are the Dead,
We are the Dead for England slain.
(O England and the English Spring,
The English Spring, the Spring-tide rain:
Ah, God, dear God, in England now!) …
The snows of Death are on our brow.
Peace!  Vex us not!

Brothers, I beg you be at rest,
Sing low your sleep in English ears:
And would ye have your sorrows wake
The Mother’s heart to further tears? …
Nay!  Be at peace, her loyal dead.
Sleep!  Vex her not!

Lieut. Walter Lightowler Wilkinson [29]

from: A Lament from the Dead


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MEMENTOES OF THE GREAT WAR



 

Humour in most situations – a pull-down view postcard sent from Halton Camp by a soldier in the Northumberland Fusiliers to his mother in Haltwhistle.


Above: a 1916 Christmas card presented to Alice Seabrook of Western Road, Tring, who gave 2d.to the Christmas Gift for Soldiers & Sailors Fund.

Below: her older sister and brother, Bet and Billy Seabrook, both serving in the Royal Flying Corps; and the war grave of Billy in Terlincthun British Cemetery, France; he was killed by a bomb on 25th September 1918 while on leave in Boulogne.

 

Above: examples of the many millions of embroidered silk postcards sent home from France and Belgium in The Great War.
Below: Ration Book from 1918, and the Food Card which replaced it.


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TRING CRESTED CHINA SOUVENIR WARE
All circa 1914/1920

 


Bomb and Howitzer.
 


Tank and Armoured Car



Submarine

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PIP, SQUEAK AND WILFRED
 

Pip, Squeak and Wilfred (named after popular comic strip characters of the day) were awarded to men who served in the Great War:

The 1914-15 Star (‘Pip’) awarded to those who saw service between 5th August 1914 and 31st December 1915. No fewer that 2,350,00 were awarded, making it the most common British campaign up to that time.  A rarer variant of Pip is the 1914 or ‘Mons Star’, awarded mainly to the officers and men of the ‘Old Contemptibles’ who landed in France soon after the outbreak of war.

The British War Medal (‘Squeak’) was instituted to record the successful conclusion of the Great War. Some 6,500,000 were issued in silver and 110,000 in bronze (mainly to Chinese, Indian and Maltese personnel in labour battalions).

The Victory Medal (‘Wilfred’) was issued to all who had received the British War Medal. About 6,000,000 were produced.


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FOOTNOTES

 
1. The German Chancellor described the Treaty as just a chiffon de papier (a scrap of paper).
 
2. Contrary to optimistic cabinet opinion, Kitchener correctly predicted a war that would last at least three years, require huge new armies to defeat Germany, and suffer huge casualties before peace was restored.
 
3. An Allied expedition to gain control of the Dardanelles and Bosporus straits, capture Constantinople, and open a Black Sea supply route to Russia.  It was a major Allied defeat.
 
4.  ― as it did in Germany due to the Royal Navy’s blockade of its maritime imports.
 
5. The Great War was the first time that ‘Dig for Victory’ or ‘Victory Gardens’ were encouraged as a means of placing food on the table, for many British merchant ships were being sunk leaving the quantity of food imports severely diminished.  The Dig for Victory model reappeared in World War II.
 
6. The battle was one of the largest of World War I. Over 1,000,000 men were killed or wounded (650,000 British and French, 485,000 German), making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history.
 
7. During the Great War, more than two million U.S. soldiers served on the battlefields of Western Europe of which some 50,000 lost their lives.
 
8. Born 1895, killed at the Battle of Loos, 1915.
 
9. The Distinguished Conduct Medal was an extremely high level award for bravery.  It was replaced in 1993 with the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross (CGC), which makes no distinction between ranks.
 
10. The Middle Eastern theatre was the scene of action during most of World War I.  The combatants were, principally, on the one hand the Ottoman Empire with some assistance from the other Central Powers, and on the other hand the British (later assisted by Indian troops) and, until their withdrawal from the conflict in December 1917, the Russians.  During the later stages of the conflict T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia) and his Arab fighters staged many hit-and-run attacks on Ottoman supply lines.
 
11. Born 1897, Brooke died of sepsis en route to the Gallipoli landings, 1915.
 
12. Probably the sole relic in Tring of WWI., this building was removed in 2014 for use as part of a WWI. visitor display centre at Hawstead, Suffolk.
 
13. This reference is to the red tabs that staff officers wore on the lapels of their dress uniforms, which denoted them as non-regimental officers who would never see actual fighting, but work safely in the rear headquarters.
 
14. Guy Beech was born in 1886 in a Suffolk rectory.  He served as an Assistant Curate at Aylesbury, then Senior Curate of Tring, and by 1916 was an Army Chaplain to the Forces (4th class) in the Middlesex Regiment (formerly the Duke of Cambridge’s Own, nicknamed ‘The Diehards’) of the British Expeditionary Force.
 
15. The regiment was raised in Chester in 1914 as part of Kitchener’s second new army.  Before the war Thomas Garnier served as domestic chaplain to the Bishop of St. Albans, and then became vicar of St. Peter’s, Bushey.
 
16. The Distinguished Service Order (DSO) was a U.K. military decoration awarded for meritorious or distinguished service by officers of the armed forces during wartime, typically in actual combat.  It is sometimes regarded as an acknowledgement that the officer had only just missed out on the award of the Victoria Cross.
 
17. The Military Cross (MC) was a military decoration awarded to officers of the British Armed Forces in recognition of “an act or acts of exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy on land”.
 
18. Two years before the war, Reverend and Mrs. Pope had experienced a tragic loss when another son, an eminent mountaineer, was killed in attempting a solitary rock climb in the Pyrennes.
 
19. The combined total from all three ships was 837 men rescued, and 62 officers and 1,397 enlisted men lost.  Of these, Aboukir lost a total of 527 men.
 
20. Ed. — this is incorrect. PRIVATE HARRY POULTON, 2ND Battalion Highland Light Infantry, B.E.F, was killed in action on 20th September 1914.  His name is on La Ferte-Sous-Jouarre Memorial on the south bank of the River Marne, France.
 
21. One of several mines laid by the German mine-laying submarine U-75 on 28/29 May 1916, just before the Battle of Jutland.
 
22. Born 1878, killed at the Battle of Arras, 1917.
 
23. The Voluntary Aid Detachment referred to a voluntary unit providing field nursing services, mainly in hospitals, in the United Kingdom and various other countries in the British Empire. The most important periods of operation for these units were during World War I and World War II.
 
24. The family originated in Frankfurt-am-Main and Lady Rothschild was a native of that city.
 
25. To some extent ASQUITHS sentiments could be excused, for he had lost his 19 year old son, 2nd LIEUT. GORDON WILLIAM ASQUITH of the King’s Own Yorks Light Infantry, who was killed in action on the Passchendaele Ridge during the night of 2nd December 1917.  Because Gordon has no known grave he is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial.
 
26. The Church Lads’ Brigade was a movement founded in the late Victorian period and seen by the Government as a potential source of military cadets who could be called upon as required.
 
27. The influenza pandemic (‘Spanish flu’) lasted from January 1918 to December 1920 and is estimated to have killed between 3% and 5% of the world's population.
 
28. A reminder of this scheme is the wooden bungalow (now Grade II. listed) that is preserved at Dunsley Orchard.
 
29. Lieut. Wilkinson was an officer of the Inns of Court Regiment who trained on Berkhamsted Common. He was killed in action at Vimy Ridge in 1917.


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APPENDIX



 

TRINGS WAR MEMORIAL
Wendy Austin


On November 27th 1918, just sixteen days after the Armistice at the end of the Great War, a significant event for the towns folk of Tring was enacted on Church Square, when the war memorial commemorating those who had fallen was unveiled in a ceremony led by the Dean of Lincoln.

It over a century since the outbreak of that conflict, and from this distance in time it is difficult to appreciate the different attitudes and sentiments that then prevailed.  An account in the Parish Magazine of the time relates that when war was declared, six hundred men from Tring volunteered immediately or shortly afterwards.  Over eighty of these volunteers came from the ranks of the local branch of The Church Lads’ Brigade.  After the Military Service Act came into force, three hundred more men were conscripted, and the total then represented one-fifth of the population of the town.  Of the nine hundred men serving, Tring lost one hundred and fourteen, a casualty rate more or less typical of the country as a whole.

The town was more forceful than many others in its urgency to remember with gratitude the young men who had given their lives in what was believed and stated to be ‘the war to end all wars’.  (Having since lived through the rest of the twentieth century, this description is now viewed with cynicism and near despair.  In 1918 it would have been beyond imagination that in less than thirty years, more space on the Memorial would be needed for the names of those killed in a second world conflict).

A plan for the erection of a war memorial in Tring was first proposed in March 1917 by the town’s Chairman of the Church Council.  He stated that he had recently read an article by the great surgeon, Stephen Paget, who suggested that the names of the dead in the Great War be presented in well-shaped legible letters on veined or lustrous marble, with sufficient spacing for each name to be shown in full.  Mr. Paget further explained his idea by saying: “Over all these names there might be the figure of Christ on the cross − not shut in churches, but set in the open air.  Such a figure is singularly close to the war, and the Dead.  In all art, there is no solitary figure so effective.”

Tring took these comments to heart and by August of that year the Church Council was in a position to consider the submissions of various architects.  The unanimous selection was a drawing by Philip M. Johnston FSA, FRIBA, who was asked to visit the site and submit a more detailed plan together with an estimate of cost.  The chosen design of an old English cross carrying the figure of Christ, rose to a height of twenty-three feet from an octagonal plinth.  Donations were requested, and the required total of £575. 5s. 10d. was soon raised.

It was hoped that the unveiling could take place on St. Peter’s Day, but the contractors were so overwhelmed with work on military gravestones that the event had to be postponed until the autumn.  When building work was complete the memorial was swathed in a Union flag until the unveiling and dedication ceremony.  (As the war was still not over, the cross was erected without the carving of the names).  Referring again to the Parish Magazine we learn that after a week of drenching rain and high winds the unveiling day dawned fine and sunny.  A small platform was erected in front of the new memorial for General Sir William Robertson, who performed the ceremony, the Dean of Lincoln, the Vicar of Tring and the architect, Philip Johnston.  Leaders of other religious faiths were also represented.  The square must have been an impressive sight, for the guard of honour and band was supplied by one hundred men of the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps, whose recruits had trained on nearby Berkhamsted Common.  Tring turned out in force, for during the four years of conflict most people in the town had lost a relative or friend.


General Sir William Robertson at the unveiling ceremony, 27th November 1918.


Later, when the names were inscribed on the memorial, the list included seven men who had won decorations − one Victoria Cross; one Distinguished Conduct Medals; three Military Crosses (one being with bar); and three Military Medals.  In 1914 many of the soldiers from Tring had left for France with the Herts Territorial Battalion which took part in several engagements, with the Guards Brigade in the Second Division.  These men fought at the second Battle of Ypres, where the battalion lost all its officers, and all but one hundred and thirty of its men.  Later in that same year, the battalion saw action on the Somme, again losing all its replacement officers as well as five hundred men.  Other Tring men in the Beds & Herts Regiment also saw action on the Somme, the 7th Battalion advancing at 7.30 am on the first day of the battle (1st July 1916).  The Regimental history relates that the objective of capturing the first-line system of German trenches was achieved, but the price paid had been the loss of all its officers.

Tring’s promptness in erecting its war memorial set an example for many other towns and villages in the country.  This was commended in several newspapers including the Evening News in June 1919, and in October of the same year the Cardiff Evening Express printed a picture of the memorial with the headline: “AS IT SHOULD BE”, the caption beneath stating: “The only War Memorial as yet properly completed and with the names inscribed. Our picture shows the beautiful War Memorial at Tring, Hertfordshire.”

Three months previously a special day had been declared as a National Thanksgiving for Peace, and at the request of the returning servicemen, a short informal service was held on Church Square to honour those killed in the conflict.  The relief at the end of all the slaughter and deprivations, rightly or wrongly, triggered the Council to suggest that a celebration should follow the service.  This took the form of a gathering in Tring Park with sports events, a fancy dress parade, and tea served to over one thousand five hundred people.  In the evening there was a firework display and a torchlight procession.  However, the arrangements for the special day had not been entirely trouble-free.  Dispute had arisen between the organisers over the tricky question of whether or not to provide free beer.  This caused committee members to split into two factions, one staunch chapel-goer stating: “There is great danger in the suggestion of free beer.”  Another opposed this view and said: “After the experiences of the men, and what they have gone through, it is humbug to think they should not have a glass of beer.”  In spite of this commonsense approach, the proposal to give beer was defeated by fifteen votes to twelve.  Those unable to get to the park on that day were not forgotten, for in the following week, an entertainment with lavish tea was arranged for all those over sixty-five years, including those described as ‘cripples and the afflicted’, and the wives of men who fell in the war.

For many years Tring’s war memorial was half-hidden by the gates in the churchyard wall, which were only opened on Remembrance Sundays.  At that time Church Square was a car park which grew increasingly busy over the years, and the resulting bustle caused the memorial to be over-shadowed.  In the 1990s the decision was taken to refurbish the square, which included removing the gates and opening up the area generally.  The monument now presents a striking aspect, as well as an opportunity for quiet reflection − surely the purpose of those concerned in its original planning and design.




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