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A CALL TO ARMS: 1914 - World War One begins

A CALL TO ARMS: 1914 - World War One begins

A CALL TO ARMS: 1914 - World War One begins

On August 7 and 8, Baylis Media Ltd published a 32-page First World War centenary supplement entitled A Call to Arms.

We put it together to give you an insight into what life was like across our news patch during the war, in Maidenhead, Windsor, Slough, Burnham, Twyford and the villages.

It contained soldiers' stories, photographs, poems, paintings, extracts from letters, insights into the war efforts and organisations here at home, and more.

Alongside them ran a narrative based on reports from our own newspaper archives.

The response to the project was very positive, and therefore we have decided to publish much of the content of it online over the coming weeks.

You will find it here, in our special World War One web section.

Our coverage of the 1914-18 war's centenary is set to continue across the anniversary period, and we would still like to hear your stories and memories relating to the conflict.

Email group news editor Nicola Hine at or call 01628 678231 to share them.

Read the first part of the A Call to Arms narrative, for the year 1914, below. The second part, for 1915, will be published tomorrow.


News that England had gone to war was broken in the Maidenhead Advertiser on Wednesday August 5, 1914.

The paper wrote: "England has been forced, in her own defence, to take part in a great European War, a veritable Armageddon, the consequences of which are too terrible to contemplate." The Windsor, Eton & Slough Express followed suit on Friday August 7, with the words: "The die has been cast, and England is at war with Germany." The Express article said the conflict had been forced upon the country 'by a policy of aggression which is perfectly amazing in audacity'. It went on to add: "What the end will be no one can forecast. It is a fight for life and everything we hold dear." Surprising as it would seem today, the announcement did not make the front page of either paper; the space there was almost entirely taken up with adverts.

Men from the towns immediately began to sign up - on August 12 the Advertiser reported more than 60 young men from Maidenhead and the district had already been recruited. It appealed for names of serving soldiers to compile a roll of honour, publishing a form relatives could fill out. The first roll was published in the following edition and contained 12 Navy names, 30 Regular Army, three Police Reservists, 14 Yeomanry, eight from other territorial corps, 64 Army Service Corps Taplow and 78 Maidenhead territorials - a total of 209 names put forward in just one week.

A list of local men called up was published in the Express on August 8. It contained 103 names from the muster roll of the Windsor A Squadron (Berks Imperial Yeomanry), 80 from Windsor D Company (4th Royal Berkshire Regiment), 30 from the 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards. The first official roll of honour was published on September 19, containing almost a full page of names of men from Windsor, Eton, Clewer and Dedworth, Slough, Stoke and Farnham, Ascot and the Sunnings and more. The paper reported the Windsor recruiting campaign had been quite a success to date, with over 400 men having left the town to join the Colours – this aside from the men who were already members of other troops. It estimated more than 1,000 men from Windsor were already serving.

Departing troops were given a hearty send off when they set off for war. Crowds gathered at the gates of Windsor's barracks to watch the 2nd Life Guards and 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards preparing for duty, and both the A Squadron and D Company paraded 'at full strength' when the call came. When D Company was mobilised it marched via Peascod Street to the railway station where it departed for its Reading headquarters to 'loud cheers'. The following day between 400-500 reservists arrived in Windsor from Chelsea, marching to Victoria Barracks, where they were greeted with songs including Rule Britannia.

The Coldstream troops on guard at Windsor Castle were dressed in khaki so they were ready to respond if called at short notice. The Express wrote: "We are quite sure that wherever duty calls them they will be found worthy of the reputation of their distinguished regiments."

Maidenhead G Company (4th Royal Berkshire Regiment) also received orders to mobilise, and were, the Advertiser wrote, 'quite enthusiastic' about being called up. They too were cheered off by the crowds.

Among those who left to serve were police officers from Slough and Bucks, fire-fighters from Maidenhead, post office workers from Windsor, staff of Eton College and Burnham's registrar. Several Slough Urban District Council employees were called up and the council was keeping their places open until they returned, with some patriotic councillors offering to look after allotments and gather crops for soldiers' wives. Every single one of the 30 men employed on the Cliveden estate enlisted, with the promise their wages would be paid and their jobs kept open while they were gone.

On August 22 the Express published a message the King delivered to his troops before they departed for France. It read: "I have implicit confidence in you, my soldiers...I pray God to bless you and guard you, and bring you back victorious – George R.I."

It also carried a message for those who were to stay behind. It read: "In this time of crisis it behoves each and sundry to play his or her part for the Country's welfare and we believe that the first duty for those of us who are not called to the ranks of the Navy or Army is to carry on the affairs of daily life to the best of our ability."

Unsurprisingly, sports fixtures suffered as many of the towns' footballers, cricketers, rowers and other athletes left to serve. Swimming, cycling, punting and athletics contests had to be abandoned. The War Office commandeered a large number of horses from the area ready for action, and subsequently East Berkshire Horse Show was cancelled. However other hobbies became more important than ever in the face of war. Maidenhead and District Rifle Club began inviting men in to its Market Street range for instruction in the use of a rifle. In anticipation of the extra demand for food, Clewer Horticultural Society appealed to all allotment holders and anyone with vacant land to sew turnips immediately ready for the autumn, and it was agreed the proceeds of the Langley Flower Show would be donated to the War Fund.

The papers carried reports of hurried weddings, with ceremonies brought forward because the grooms were being called up for service. Businesses began to advertise goods relating to the conflict. Caleys in Windsor, for example, was stocking hospital and nursing goods, army blankets and more. Shoppers were encouraged to buy locally to support local tradesmen.

Those left behind were determined to do their bit for the war effort.

The Mayor of Maidenhead, E Norkett, called a meeting at the town hall to consider how best to provide aid for the country and relieve people's distress. Members of the Maidenhead Volunteer Defence Corps paraded outside the building. Mr Norkett said: "We may not all be called to take our place in the ranks - many of us are too old for that - but there is one thing we can do, and that is to go about our daily work with the same calmness as if there were no war." A meeting was also called by Lady Barry, President of the Maidenhead branch of the Soldiers and Sailors Families' Association, who appealed for subscriptions to its fund. Its purpose was to raise money to ease the suffering of the wives and children of those who had gone forth to serve.

A Sewing Society was formed to produce clothing for sick soldiers, and allowed to use Maidenhead Town Hall and Bridge House Club to work from. A Women's War Committee was formed in Slough, and its aims included assisting in the equipment of a local hospital of 200 beds, and arranging facilities for women to knit clothing needed by soldiers or in hospitals. A local branch of the Wounded Soldiers’ Needlework Guild was formed at Clewer Mead. A public meeting was called by the mayor at Windsor Town Hall, in support of the Prince of Wales’s Fund, to form voluntary aid committees, ladies’ working parties and to open a local relief fund. The Express report said: “Everyone can be of use and there is much for the women of England to do.” At the end of the meeting more than 100 volunteered for nursing, needlework, first aid and more. Warm garments were soon being sent to the troops – a report in the Express at the end of September said 118 shirts and 272 pairs of socks were sent to the Windsor A Squadron at Churn from the Windsor Ladies’ Working parties. A letter in the Express in early October said the Canine Defence League was promoting a scheme for the free supply of dog biscuits to families of troops to ensure they still had the means to keep their pets.

Patriotic entertainment and social events became a regular occurrence in all towns. Concerts at Maidenhead Town Hall in September raised money for HRH The Prince of Wales’ War Relief Fund and the Belgian Relief Fund. A football match was organised at Maidenhead FC's ground in the same month with proceeds going to the War Relief Fund, and later in the year Slough FC arranged a friendly match at the Dolphin with the Home Counties Territorial Royal Field Artillery which was billeted in town. In early December Eton College Choir performed for the troops at Victoria Barracks in Windsor.

Thousands of troops arrived in Slough, with public buildings used for accommodation and local traders providing food. The Masonic Hall, St Mary’s Hall, schools and several houses in Upton Park were commandeered, and it was anticipated the town’s position on a main road, and on the main line between the East Coast and Portsmouth and Southampton, would make it an important centre for billeting. Troops including the 4th Battalion King’s Own Regiment and the North Lancashire Army Service Corps arrived in Slough to guard the railway between Maidenhead and Paddington.

The Express published the first official record of casualties from the British Expeditionary Force in the September 5 edition. It said 33 men had been killed ‘in their country’s cause’, along with a Coldstream Guard who died in hospital and the death of another officer reported from a private sourced in France. There were 52 wounded officers and 69 missing.

Meanwhile letters and tales from the Front were steadily arriving home.

Private Tom Darke, of the Royal Scots Fusiliers, wrote home from Gibraltar on August 20 to his parents in West Street, Maidenhead. He said: "I am longing to join my more fortunate comrades...I often ask myself why would I like to go and there is only one answer: I dearly love my Country, King and Flag. Why, mother, to read of the victories of France and the grand, gallant stand of Belgium makes my blood tingle...War is a detestable thing at any time, but when one's country's honour and freedom hang in the balance one must look upon the most human and loyal side and remember future generations."

A Clewer man, Lance Corporal J O Beavers of the Army Service Corps, attached to the 5th Cavalry Brigade Supply Column, wrote to his parents from France: "I hope we shall soon finish the Germans. If the Boer War was worse than this I am very sorry for the men." Private F Golding, of the 1st Royal Berks Regiment, who lived at 23 River Street in Windsor, returned home wounded from the trenches and was interviewed by the Express. He said: "We Windsor lads called ourselves the 'Death and Glory Boys' and we stuck together as much as we could. We meant to help one another if we went down. We said 'Death and Glory Boys' can never die, and we were all as happy as sandboys. We sang 'Get out and get under' when the shells and bullets rained on us and we also gave vent to the song 'It's a long way to Tipperary'. We went without food for 52 ½ hours at a stretch, and when we got to a field of carrots it was a sight to see every man, from the Colonel downwards, having a good meal."

Tom Norris, formerly of Windsor Post Office, wrote to his brother. The letter was printed on October 24. It read: "I can honestly say that the tales you have heard of the war are perfectly true...When in France I had the top of my shelter blown away twice in one night, but luckily the Germans do not aim as well as they might, or many more of us must have been knocked over. The shells throw out numerous bullets when they burst and make good fireworks at night."

Eton College affixed its own Roll of Honour for Etonians to the chapel door. Dated up to October 21, it was printed in the Express on October 24 and contained 55 names.

'We are winning' was the headline in the Advertiser on Wednesday, October 28. The paper wrote: "The beginning of the end would appear to have commenced. After many apparent successes, it would seem that the tide has turned against the enemy and that the ultimate triumph of the Allies is but a question of time...We are fighting the good fight with all our might and we shall triumph gloriously."

By November the rolls of honour in both papers were huge and thousands of troops were billeted in the area. An Express article read: "Windsor and the villages around have been full of excitement this week over the billeting of troops, and in nearly every household little else has been talked about...Over 5,000 territorials of the Queen's and East Surrey regiments etc are billeted in Windsor, and at Slough, Eton, Clewer, Winkfield, Datchet, Ascot, Sunninghill and other places several thousands of troops are also quartered. It is quite a new experience in this district, but we are living in exceptional times, and everyone has got to do his or her best for our gallant soldiers. We who are not able to go out to the fighting line must make those who will presently go there as and comfortable as we can while they are with us...Very many of us also have relatives or friends quartered under similar circumstances in other towns. We trust, therefore, that our soldiers will be made welcome in every home."

Some families didn’t just have one member fighting at the front – the Hing family of Hencroft Street, Slough, for example, had eight: father William, sons Albert, Robert and Frances, stepson Edward Penter, son-in-laws Leonard Casling, Charles Jackson and a nephew, Stanley Weeks. Between them, the family had completed more than 100 years of service including other conflicts. In Maidenhead, the Jackson family of Orchard Cottages, North Town, had four sons serving: Frank, Albert and Arthur in Royal Berks regiments, and Ernest as a seaman gunner on HMS Neptune. Ernest had a King's Medal for saving life at sea.

Like Slough and Windsor, Maidenhead was fast becoming a military centre. There were more than 4,000 troops in town at the beginning of December. As well as being from the Royal Berkshire Regiment there were many from as far off as Yorkshire. Some were using Skindles Hotel as a head office. An Army Order issued in August stated billeted troops should be provided with bed and bedding and the use of a lavatory. The standard of meals settled included six ounces of bread, 1/4lb or equivalent of bacon and a pint of tea with milk and sugar for breakfast, 1lb of meat, 1/2lb of potatoes or vegetables and one pint of beer for dinner, and bread, tea and two ounces of cheese for supper. Private house owners who took on lodgers were paid. The arrival of more than 400 men from the Home Counties Royal Engineers in Slough in mid-December swelled troop numbers in the town to over 2,000. The Engineers were accompanied by a drum and fife band.

As the festive season approached, adverts on the front of the papers began to suggest suitable gifts to send to soldiers, including scarves, handkerchiefs, socks and cardigans. Shoppers were told the latest date these could arrive at Southampton for despatch was December 12.

In its final edition before Christmas, the Advertiser wrote: "The great festival of Christmas will have a varied observance in Maidenhead homes this year. Many family circles will be broken...But many homes will be happy in the knowledge that they are doing 'their little bit' by entertaining men of our great New Army...The responsibility of making some acknowledgement to the 4,000 men amongst us who have made such great sacrifices for their King and Country is a great one, but Maidenhead is determined that Christmas Day for these splendid fellows shall be bright." It reported 600 men from the 4th Reserve Battalion of the Royal Berkshire Regiment were to sit down to a Christmas dinner of roast beef at the Hippodrome.

On Friday December 18, the Express wrote: "Christmas will be with us again next week, and it will be a Christmas such as none of us has ever known. Instead of it being a season of Peace and Goodwill, it is one of war and turmoil unequalled in the history of the world. The vacant chairs in many households will never be filled again by husband, son or brother. They have given up their lives for the Empire, and the memories of the happy Christmases of the past will be all that remain to many in our land. In our homes are strangers in khaki, and across the channel millions of men are fighting in the most terrible war that was ever waged. Christmastide joys cannot be the same this year."

An unofficial 'Christmas Truce' was enjoyed on the Front in 1914 when both sides agreed to put down their weapons. Soldiers swapped gifts and the British and German sides even played a football match. An extract from a letter sent home to Twyford by Sergeant W Higgins read: "Just fancy, the enemy came out of their holes shouting Christmas greetings on Christmas morning, and in five minutes dozens were meeting just half-way, shaking hands in the best of style, exchanging cigarettes, tins of bully, and even Christmas pudding."

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