The following presentation was displayed in September 1914 at the Church of St Michael and All Angels in West Watford as part of the 2014 Heritage Weekend events. It was researched and created by members of the West Watford Local History Society.
Church Concerns up to outbreak of war August 1914
1913 saw the new church in use and the transformation of the former church into a social hall. A social celebration for communicants in the hall in April, was attended by 300. While the year started with an outstanding debt of nearly £3,000 for the new church’s building and fittings, by March the debt had been reduced to £445. The old building previously used as a social venue was still used for some activities and was called the “Institute”.
New residents in “this vast district” were invited to leave contact cards in a box provided in the church. The population of King’s Ward was due to grow by 5.5% in 1913, faster than in any other ward. Its population reached 16,650 by 1914. 147 new homes would be built in West Watford in 1914, when another Mission Church at Cassio Bridge was mooted to meet the needs of the growing population. Services and activities were already taking place in the Good Samaritan Mission, a pre-fab metal structure in Holywell Road.
A Mr Crabtree joined the church from college as a lay reader, with good experience gained in Manchester. He would superintend the Good Samaritan Mission.
St James Church, on neighbouring Watford Fields, was consecrated in 1913 and improvements to Vicarage Road cemetery chapel were completed. The Reverend Littlebury, priest in charge at St Michael and All Angels’, proposed to gift a lectern and seat to the cemetery chapel.
Residents of the parish were reminded in the parish magazine that following a court case, wedding banns and ceremonies not conducted in the parish church, were invalid and illegal.
Parishioners were also called to support a national demonstration in Hyde Park against proposals to dis-establish the Church of Wales. A local protest parade and meeting in Clarendon Hall also took place.
January 1914 saw the formal dedication of the new church, followed by a tea party for the “large and comprehensive church family”. The church would be a “rallying point for all forces to gather round and a radiating point from where strength should issue.”
Parishioners were asked to donate ingredients for a soup kitchen which operated from the Good Samaritan Mission throughout the winter of 13/14. School children of working parents were provided with a hot lunch and the sick and elderly with jugs of soup. 300 children “in need” were entertained at a Christmas party on Boxing Day in the Institute, each going home with a small present.
The Church scout troop which had started in 1911 and which previously met in the Good Samaritan Mission, transferred to the new hall and still had a few places for boys 12-16 “of the right stamp” who would benefit from scout-type activities and “a course of steady drill”. As an “up to date branch of the Church Lads’ Brigade,” it was intended to prepare boys for “Christ’s army” not the military.
The girls were not forgotten. Girls’ Club members were allowed to play cricket in Cassiobury Park on summer evenings, led by 1914 by Miss Pinn, Tyrell Pinn’s sister. Tyrell Pinn was very active in the church community and was considered by Reverend Littelbury as his “right hand man”. Miss Pinn taught the girls not to protect their wicket with their long skirts. A church Lads’ Club for confirmed church goers over 14, was started by John Searle in the Institute. Working parties to sew plain and fancy goods for sale to raise funds continued to meet regularly, presided over by Reverend Littlebury’s wife. The men’s club led by Tyrell Pinn, thrived as a result of a busy programme of football fixtures until the voluntary enlistment of club leaders including Pinn brought football activities to a halt.
Three weddings took place in 1913: William Beck of Whippendell Road wed Cissie Hughes. Alfred George Anning of Harwoods Road, wed Florence Ethel Bullen and Thomas Harry Bailey of Hagden Lane married Agnes Southam. All three local men were destined to lose their lives in the war.
Early in 1914, the War Office was supporting a local press campaign in Watford to stimulate recruitment to the regular army and “to tell in plain English what are the conditions.” The National Service League was active locally and nationally, sending a deputation to Lord Asquith, to press their sense of real danger that regular and territorial British forces were under-strength. Lord Asquith was opposed to national service but supported “better physical training for young men aged 14-18.” At this time a public meeting was scheduled in Kingham Hall in the town to debate “the Present Aspect of the Peace Question”. Clearly, a sense of war danger was in the air.
Meanwhile in May 1914, St Michael’s scouts attended Empire Day celebrations in Hyde Park and a parish fundraising pageant was in planning in June when Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination started a steady slide towards hostilities. While Austria-Hungary was declaring war on Serbia, marriages continued to take place in the church- James Gurney wed Mary Anne Smith- and the parish as a whole was preoccupied by a performance of the most popular D’Oyley Carte Operas. This pageant took place in “a woodland dell” in Cassiobury Park, in a ”perfect alfresco theatre” against the backdrop of Cassiobury’s ancient walls. Parish ladies staffed the refreshment and tobacco stalls. Declared “an artistic triumph” by the London Gazette, and winning “the praise of London critics as well as local opinion”, it was an artistic but not a financial success. Expenses were heavy and the eventual net profit was £120.
August 1914 The Outbreak of War
Watford Free Churches Council was urging the Government to not get drawn into “this disastrous conflict” and to remain neutral, only days before the declaration of war on August 4th after Germany invaded Belgium. The Reverend Littlebury wrote of the “awful news” that Europe was involved in a “terrible international war”. Army reservists from the local police and the post office immediately joined their regiments and territorial regiments were on the move, including 100 men from Watford in the Hertfordshire Regiment. The scene shown below must have become commonplace.
Lords Clarendon and Ebury write to the local newspaper and with the local Labour Church, warn the town Council of likely hardship among the population at home as panic buying results in food shortages, certain trades decline and short hours and lay-offs make rents un- affordable. Formed of people from a cross section of the town, the Watford Executive Relief Committee raises funds and oversees the impact of war on the poor. Mr Chaston is the Kings Ward representative on this Committee. 182 cases of need in the ward are already registered by the end of September, resulting in 89 grants, 62 refused and a decision on 25 pending.
Led by General French, the British Expeditionary Force lands in France and proceeding to the Front in Belgium, is outnumbered by German forces at the Battle of Mons and ordered to retreat by Lord Kitchener. Two parishioners of St Michael’s are among British casualties. Frederick James Sanders was killed in the battle while Thomas Ashby of Kings Avenue died of wounds received.
German forces try to encircle Paris but in a series of encounters, the Allies force them in September to withdraw east of Paris across the Marne. Both sides suffer 25% casualties at the Battle of the Marne including a parishioner, Edward Pritchard of Harwoods Road and William Griffin.
Watford rifle club in Willow Lane is opened up to all. The local paper starts a regular Roll Of Honour column.
Reverend Littlebury writes in the parish magazine: “Do we realise we are almost within echoing sound of an enemy’s canon...” Millions will be sacrificed “to satisfy the lust of a few for temporal power”. He is shaken by the idea of Christian nations fighting each other. Parishioners have a first duty to pray; secondly to give to local and national relief funds. “Don’t try and ignore it as if the war meant nothing more than the upsetting of our plans. It is our affair. Our brothers who are fighting so gallantly are fighting for us. We must make our sacrifice too.”
A race to the North Sea coast begins with a failed attempt by the Allies to outflank the Germans at the First Battle of the Aisne when another parishioner, Bernard Brandon of Holywell Road is killed. Both armies then move north, trying to outflank the other. Antwerp falls and the Anglo Belgian defenders move west along the coast.
A local working party is established to make garments and splints for the wounded. Materials were provided but donations were also welcome. Parishioners are encouraged to wash and mend garments of Territorials quartered near Watford. Parish ladies visit families of soldiers and sailors who are away at war. A social evening to tie up the affairs of the Pageant is eschewed in favour of a simple meeting where a choral society is proposed. Despite the war, it is “right to go on quietly with ordinary affairs so far as is possible and seemly.”
Special intercession services are to be held in every Church. Reverend Littlebury appeals for names of all combatants to be placed on the church notice-board and the Bishop of St Albans proposes that every church has a Roll of Honour listing the names of casualties.
The Belgians flood the coastal area to prevent the Germans reaching the sea and breaking through the Allied lines. Positioned between the Channel ports and German forces, British Forces advance into Belgium to join with Belgian forces to push the Germans out of Ypres.
At the 1st Battle of Ypres the last major attack of 1914, the Allies lose 17,500, but the Germans suffer losses of 135,000. Among the British dead are three parishioners James Craft, Daniel Matthew Hewitt and Albert Smart, all of Harwoods Road. A narrow British victory halts the German advance but a static frontline leads to trench warfare.
“The mighty efforts of this nation have met with greater success than anticipated. The war will be a long one” but allied Forces must “annihilate the power of unscrupulous militarism, and make a repetition impossible” Reverend Littlebury appeals to parishioners to help keep the Roll of Honour complete. “We remember those who have answered the call and have left home and occupation for the war”.
At the request of the authorities, St Michael’s Scouts provide cyclist orderlies for a night guard mounted at Eastbury Rd water pumping station. The scouts appeal for a donation of rain-capes for wet nights. Scouts are also helping Belgian refugees. Two scouts are seen carrying a load of jam “almost as heavy as themselves” to a family in Bushey. Charles Jones, a Scout member and son of Sergeant Jones on the recruiting staff at Clarendon Hall, interrupts his work as a cyclist orderly to halt a runaway horse in Clarendon Road. Cyclist orderlies attach signs to their bikes “On His Majesty’s Service”.
By September 1914, only 170 out of an eligible 43,000 Watford men have volunteered. Recruitment advertisements for Kitchener’s New Army start to appear in the local press and a first army recruitment meeting takes place in Clarendon Hall. Reverend Littlebury declares “It is the duty of every Englishman to volunteer for the defence of his country“ and some parishioners need no prompting. John Searle, of Liverpool Road, the Lads’ Club secretary, joins the Seaforth Highlanders. George Hooker of Holywell Road and Norman Brown of Whippendell Road both Lads’ Club members, also volunteer. Several want to volunteer but cannot leave their jobs on the railways. But by the end of 1914, almost the whole football team of the Lads Club has enlisted.
There are now many gaps in church, parish and club offices as a result. The parish has “many new residents. Will not some come forward and help?” Subsequent to this appeal from Reverend Littlebury, many gaps in church and parish roles are filled.
Parishioners reminded that “if as seems likely” soldiers are billeted in the area, they are responsible “to the nation to guard against all those temptations that would imperil the honour and efficiency of our troops”. Indeed, the 15thBattalion of the County of London Regiment is billeted in the area at short notice on Christmas Day but dinner and tea for 120 are provided. Local people are asked by the YMCA to offer warm baths to billeted soldiers and the town’s Public Health Committee agrees to fix up 10 baths for soldiers to use at the sewage works.
300 combatants’ names have been entered on the Roll of Honour notice-board in the church. A second Roll for the names of the inevitable casualties is nearby. Considering the numbers of combatants, the regular intercession services held in the Church are being attended by “pitiably” few people.
Raids on the east coast by the German Navy create a “rising temper” for fighting. An appeal from the Mission to Seamen goes out for mufflers as “institutes on the north sea coast are thronged with naval men” in addition to the usual merchant sailors and fishermen”. Gunner G A Wells writes in the parish magazine from the east coast: ”getting on alright..plenty of food.. some of us have to sleep in uniforms with loaded rifles.. sea dotted with gun boats, submarines and water planes..4000 of us all over 5’8”..moved all round the coast.”
Thomas Edward Gregory is killed in action on Christmas Day 1914. A Lance Sergeant in the Hertfordshire Regiment, he is remembered along with fifteen from the same regiment in Le Touret Military Cemetery. As a pre-war 'Territorial' unit, the men of the Herts were part-time soldiers and came from all walks of life, training together at weekends and annual summer camps. The Battle of Champagne which began in earnest on 20 December 1914 was the likely occasion of Gregory’s death. It was the first significant attack by the Allies against the Germans since the construction of trenches following the so-called 'race to the sea'.
Reverend Littlebury writes at the end of the year: “For 5 months we have experienced a whole continent in arms and the scenes of bloodshed and awful atrocities have caused inexpressible horror”. He looks forward to the National Day of Intercession proposed for January 3rd including an outdoor procession from the Church.
It is hoped at some point to continue this research ......
St Michael and All Angels’ Church Parish Magazines
West Herts and Watford Observer
World War One - An Illustrated History by Ian Westwell, Hermes House 2010
David Huggins Postcard Collection
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
The help of the following in researching material for this account is gratefully acknowledged :
Rob White, Helen George, Sue Carter, Luke Clark, Andy Elsen