Watford in the First World War - In town
The effect of the war was immediate. The food shops found people were buying more than usual and that their stocks were running low.
Although the Watford men in the Hertfordshire Regiment were serving abroad, there were a lot of soldiers in the town as other regiments came here to train. The first to arrive was the London Scottish regiment in August.
A lot of these soldiers were billeted in people’s houses and church halls were opened so that they had somewhere to relax in the evenings. Some local groups organised entertainments for them – concerts, sing-songs or plays. Other voluntary groups were involved in preparing supplies for use in military hospitals and foremost amongst these were the women of the Voluntary Aid Detachment (V.A.D.). As soon as war broke out they organised working parties in which splints were padded and garments such as pyjamas and nightshirts made. As the wounded began to be returned home, they turned their hands to nursing and a V.A.D. hospital was opened in Lady’s Close in King Street, a house now part of Watford Grammar School for Girls.
The first Watford man to be killed is believed to be Private Frederick James Sanders from 10 Oxhey Street who was also at Mons, fighting with the Royal West Kent regiment, when he was killed on 23rd August 1914. The next death to be reported was that of Sergeant Thomas Michael Horgan of 20 Westbury Road who was in the Royal Inniskillen Fusiliers. His father received a letter from the War Office telling him that his son had been killed in action.
Some of the letters which soldiers wrote home were published in the local papers and so families heard of the fierce fighting at Mons in August, at the river Aisne in September, and at the first Battle of Ypres in October. Private York from 10 Herbert Street was caught up in the retreat from Mons and wrote of continual fighting and withdrawing “for eight days and nights with very little chance of sleep”. More often soldiers writing to their loved ones were more upbeat about their experiences. So Private Hoare of the 1st Herts Territorials wrote to his wife at 37 Fearnley Street in December, telling of the devastation caused by the Germans that he had seen as they advanced to the Front; however, he made light of his experiences, saying “now we are beginning to think of Christmas puddings”.