Monday, 1 September 2014

Leek and the outbreak of World War One

It was a glorious summer, that summer of 1914. The people of the Staffordshire Moorlands were determined to enjoy the season in time honoured fashion by attending events, going on a trip to the seaside, or playing or watching summer sports.

An event that had been going for over 60 years in 1914 was the Endon Well Dressing held in late May. The procession was led by St Anne’s Valley band. The Rev Morris gave the service and crowned Miss Hammersley as the Queen. On the green Morris dancers performed the horn pipe. On the second day a fancy dress was held with Mr Thorley winning the males section dressed as an Indian Chief and Miss Newman the female dressed as Elizabeth 1st. Miss Grundy won the skipping race and in the Milk Churn race for farm hands S Fletcher of Rudyard triumphed.

There were concerns for the people of the Moorlands that summer. In Ireland there was resistance to the idea of granting independence to the island. The Protestant North threatened to rise in armed insurrection and politicians were unsure of the loyalty of troops. One of the MPs against “Home Rule” for Ireland was Leo Amery who attended a packed public meeting in Leek.

The period before the First World War was known as the “Great Unrest” as strike action took place in most major industries. Troops were seen on the streets of Britain.

The campaign to grant women the vote was reaching a crisis. The previous year Miss Davison had thrown herself before the King’s horse at the Derby. The debate was also played out locally. Suffragette Charlotte Despard had addressed a meeting in Leek in 1911. One should recall also the work done at a national level by Hannah Kidd of Leek.

Away from politics locals could enjoy watching cricket as Leek Highfield beat a team from Abram Colliery of Wigan (Abram had been the scene of a major pit disaster 6 years before).

There were charabanc trips out to Wales or one could stay at home and take pleasure in smoking Egyptian cigarettes supplied by Simpson’s. Again the cinema was in its infancy and the curious could see an American film “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” or catch Kimberley and Melbourne “two favourite comedians” who appeared at the Grand.

A real red letter event was the Leek Rose Festival organised by the Band of Hope (the temperance movement was always strong) with float after float filled with youngsters dressed in the costumes of the people of the Empire. Pride of place went to the Coronation Coach with Queen Carrie Morgan and her ladies in waiting filled with flowers and messages against the evils of drink. The weather was perfect. In the newspaper of the 4th July reporting the affair were details of an assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in a far off little known town of Sarajevo.

Later in July as Austria declared war on Serbia Vera Brittan, mother of politician Shirley Williams took her Oxford entrance exams at Leek Technical College complaining in the heat of the “odiferous” students in the hall. And as British politicians made their fateful decisions to commit the country to war in the last weekend of peace West End Crusaders cricketers played a team from Wardle and Davenport. Of the 22 players 7 would die in the bloodbath that was about to engulf the world.