Watford in the First World War
Watford in 1914 looked very different from the town it is today. The built-up area was much smaller and was still surrounded by farmland. The High Street was lined with shops as it is now but they were also much smaller. There was very few cars on the roads and motor buses had recently been introduced, but most of the vehicles were horse-drawn. There were a few very large houses, but most people lived in the old terrace houses off the High Street or in the recently built rows of houses a little further out.
The war started on Tuesday 4 August 1914. The day before had been a bank holiday and people had enjoyed the extra day off work. It had been warm and sunny and many families had spent the day on Watford Fields, down Water Lan or in Cassiobury Park. Some had ventured further afield, by bus to London, or on one of the day trips from Watford Junction, organised by the L.N.W.R Company. In the evening some might have passed the time in one of the many local pubs and for others there was a choice of cinemas to visit. No-one seemed to be thinking about what was happening in Europe.
To most people in Britain in 1914 it was seen as just a war, a war that was being fought on behalf of our allies against German aggression, so when the "Call to Arms" came many local men signed up.
Many Watford men were already serving in the Hertfordshire Regiment but, as soon as war broke out, there was a massive recruitment campaign.
The Clarendon Hall (the Agricultural Society's hall in Clarendon Road) was taken over by the military authorities and a number of recruiting meetings were held there in the early weeks of the war.
At one, Lord and Lady Essex were on the platform with other speakers and she personally pinned a rosette on each of the 73 men who came forward to volunteer. Lord Essex also spoke at an open-air recruiting meeting which was held in the marketplace encouraging more men to volunteer.
The Watford Observerlisted in a "Patriotic Roll" the names of the men who had volunteerd. In November it was reported that 20 men had volunteered from the 27 houses in Cross Street. In December, Mrs Wicks of 2 Southwold Road had a letter from the King, congratulating her on having four sons in the army.