Bury St Edmunds historian Martyn Taylor looks at how World War One took its toll on the town
The August Bank Holiday fete on Monday, August 3, at Hardwick Heath in 1914 was, as ever, an enjoyable day of picnics and entertainment.
However the mood of euphoria was sadly curtailed because, after weeks of speculation and mounting tension, Great Britain declared war on Germany on the very next day, August 4, because of Germany's invasion of Belgium, a neutral country.
Troops were immediately mobilised; people were told the war would be over in months if not weeks as we had right on our side!
The 6th (Cyclist) Battalion Suffolk Regiment was cheered off in Churchgate Street by a large crowd on the Wednesday.
The same day, the 5th Battalion left by train from Northgate Station loudly cheered by an equally large crowd.
As a garrison town, Army reservists streamed into Bury from all over Suffolk, while horses were commandeered from the surrounding district.
As to be expected, housewives made bulk purchases of necessities in case of scarcity but strangely rationing did not start until February 1918.
Bury’s only cinema at the time was the Empire (opened January 1911) on the corner of St Andrew’s Street South and today’s Market Thoroughfare and an agreement was reached with the Bury Free Press that ‘war messages’ would be shown on the Empire’s screen.
Any war telegrams would be posted in the Abbeygate Street offices of the BFP.
Otley Agricultural College near Ipswich began training Land Army Girls as it was soon realised there would be a shortage of men to work the land.
Sadly, one misogynistic farmer declared that ‘he had not seen a woman who was worth anything yet’.
One surprising aspect of World War One over World War Two is that there was more bombing of the town in the first war, several buildings being affected, starting in 1915 mainly because street lighting was not switched off.
Though not bombed, The Griffin was attacked then, its naturalised landlord Theodore Jacobus saw it as a revenge attack.
However, seven totally innocent victims, including children, were attributed to a Zeppelin that bombed the town in 1916.
High explosive bombs and incendiaries needlessly rained death and destruction A Blue Plaque by the Bury Society recording this horrific event is on the Denny building corner of King’s Road and St Andrew’s Street South.
The armistice of November 11, 1918, brought an end to the war, trench warfare, poison gas and misguided leadership some of the major contributions to the millions killed.
The 427 men from Bury St Edmunds who made the supreme sacrifice however are not listed on the Angel Hill Cenotaph but are recorded in a book of remembrance that is turned daily in the Cathedral.
With the war over, celebrations would see beer running out, street lights coming back on and church bells ringing again.
Two somewhat surprising outcomes of the town’s involvement were firstly that of the flax factory was built in the south of Bury (Hardwick Induestrial Estate) to process this crop grown on nearby water meadows to make linen for aeroplane wings.
The factory was in full production in 1919 but, alas, arrived late to the party, closing in 1923/4.
It eventually became the Hand Laundry.
Secondly, as a reward for the town’s unswerving support for fund-raising for the war effort, where a reputed £50,000 was gathered in by the local war savings committee, the borough council was presented with a Mark I British tank that had seen service on the Somme; just what the town needed! It would end up in the Abbey Gardens until taken away just before the second war.
The concrete pad it stood on is still there.
-- Martyn Taylor is a local historian, author and Bury Tour Guide. His latest book, Bury St Edmunds Through Time Revisited, is widely available.