This article came from Chronicle
Volume 2(2) published April 1982. Page 25



Author: I.L.Brice


The murder of the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria and his wife in faraway Sarajevo passed almost unnoticed in Yeovil and no-one had taken seriously rumours of impending conflict which had . circulating for months – some maverick was always beating the drum. Then the unbelievable happened – WAR! Even then the general opinion was that ‘It will all be over by Christmas’. Few visualized the four long terrible years that lay ahead.

On the Sunday morning following the outbreak of war, the local Yeomanry attended Divine Service at the Parish Church, and the next Wednesday townsfolk watched the.soldiers march through the town to the Railway Station en route for Winchester, prior to embarking for France. Bands were playing martial music, flags were flying, crowds surged onto the platform, and the band played Old Lang Syne as the train pulled out. It had almost an air of gaiety about it, this farewell, but few of those departing returned.

Young people quite enjoyed the unfamiliar activity – their quiet town, where nothing ever happened, where one uneventful day followed another, seemed suddenly to have come alive. The Mayor held a meeting in The Borough and while the townfolk waited, William Ridge with his large Collie dog, Yeovil Bess, moved among them collecting for the Prince of Wales War Relief Fund, coins tinkling into a box strapped on the dog’s broad back. When, at last, the Mayor followed by other officials and dignatories of the church arrived and mounted the platform, The Borough was crowded. After a few preliminaries the Mayor gave a most spirited speech. He spoke of the heroic Territorials, splendid men, going off to fight for King and Country. ‘Now, my fine fellows,’ he cried, almost overcome with his own eloquence, ‘What about joining them. Do your bit, eh?’.

One lady speaker, in a most genteel voice, called on the girls to jilt their boy friends if they did not enlist. This outrageous suggestion was received with the boos it deserved. But whether or not the townsfolk agreed with the speeches, when the band struck up the English, French, and Russian anthems, they all joined in the singing. At least they sang or whistled the first two, but few had heard the third before. However, whether it was the Mayor’s speech, or the martial music of the bands, over a hundred Yeovilians joined Kitchener’s Army that week. His face stared sternly from the war posters, and his accusing finger seemed to every worried wife and mother, to be pointing directly at their husband or son.

To the children it was all so exciting, to the adults strangely unreal – until 25 September 1914, when the names of the first local men, Privates Pike and Eason, killed in France, appeared in their own local weekly newspaper. The grim reality of war then began to become all too apparent.

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