The London Gunners come to Town
Life and Death in Hemel Hempstead in the Great War
by Bertha and Chris Reynolds
CODIL Language Systems Ltd , Tring 1995
It is August 1914. Bertha Locke, aged 6, watches the troops march into town and park their guns in a nearby field. Her father, Walter Locke, the Borough Surveyor, rushes from meeting to meeting as the local schools are commandeered. Major Adrian Gordon is billeted in their house. The 2nd London Division (Territorial Force) move to war stations in the St Albans area, and four brigades of the Royal Field Artillery arrive in Hemel Hempstead.
Cigarette card showing the Royal Field Artillery in action.
This book describes life in a Hertfordshire market town, its overnight transformation into a garrison town, and the war’s impact from three very different viewpoints.
In "Childhood Memories" Bertha provides a child's view of life in wartime Hemel Hempstead, as remembered 80 years later. She describes life at home, the High Street shops, Marlowes as it was, schooling and childhood friendships. Details are given of local events such as the Statty Fair and seaside holidays, as well as the impact of the war on the family.
"The Council at War" describes the effect that the war, and the arrival of several thousand troops, had on the life in the town, as seen from the Town Hall. An army camp was built at Gadebridge, roads disintegrated under the heavy traffic, a blackout was introduced because of possible zeppelin raids, communal kitchens were opened, there were shortages of men and materials, and German prisoners of war were billeted in the High Street
"The Soldier's Tale" describes life in the town, and military training in the surrounding countryside, as recorded by the soldiers at the time. To emphasise the reason why they had come to Hemel Hempstead, the book briefly follows the military career of Major Gordon of the 2nd London Division (later the 47th Division) on the Western Front. The battle of Loos is described by men from the town. The book also reports on the local men who joined the Hertfordshire Regiment and marched out of town in August, 1914
While many of the people and places named in the book are of purely local interest, similar changes were happening all over England. Military camps and hospitals were built, roads disintegrated under the unaccustomed traffic, street lights were blacked out because of zeppelin raids, communal kitchens were set up, there were manpower shortages, and women and German prisoners of war helped in the fields. For this reason the book will appeal to those interested in social and military history, as well as to the local historian, and to those who want to know what their fathers (or grandfathers) did in the First World War.
The book is now out of print
(but an online digital copy is planned)
Rear of the Kings Arms, High Street
Chapter 5 of this book has been reprinted, in an edited form, as A Walk along the High Street: Hemel Hempstead 85 years ago.
Unpublished material collected when researching for Chapter 12, Street Lighting and Air Raids, was used in The "Tring" Zeppelin
Part of Chapter 17 is reprinted as The Fair Sex in Hemel Hempstead in World War One and a description of one of the training exercises is reprinted under Sarratt. A Military Exercise involving the RFA in the Sandridge area is also reprinted here.
Part of Chapter 18 formed the basis of the Article A Military Christmas in Hertfordshire
Appendix F appears here as The Inns of Court at Berkhamsted.
Tell me if you would like me to give a lecture on any aspect of the book.
See also First World War pages
Page updated August 2008