Wendover Remembers October 1914

Val Moir and Mike Senior  |  Published: Oct 1st 2014
Private W Bowden
Private W Bowden


After the battle of the River Marne the German army in France was pushed back to the hills above the River Aisne near Rheims. It was there that the first trenches were dug. The French and British found that they were unable to make progress against these fiercely defended lines and attempted, during October 1914, a series of outflanking attacks. The Germans did the same, but each stage resulted in stalemate and even more trenches. This leap-frogging movement was invariably accompanied by heavy fighting and one such action, during the second half of October, developed into a month-long battle as the British forces defended Ypres against strong German attacks. The trench system now stretched from the North Sea to the Alps, about 450 miles. It became known as the Western Front.

It was in October 1914 that the first Wendover men were killed. Private William Bowden (Ox and Bucks Light Infantry) of Tring Road was seriously wounded during the fighting on the Aisne. He died of his wounds on 10 October, aged 19. William Bowden had already served for three years and The Wendover Magazine noted that “ his stature and unusual strength enabled him to enlist below regulation age”. Lieutenant Nigel Kennedy (Royal Scots Fusiliers), of Bacombe Warren, was killed at Becelaere near Ypres on 25 October. He was educated at Wellington College and Sandhurst and was a Regular soldier. He was Mentioned in Dispatches for gallant and distinguished conduct in the field. The Wendover Magazine described these deaths as “the tragic realities of war”.Eager to help the war effort, Mr Alfred Rothschild offered the use of his Halton estate to Lord Kitchener for army training. This offer was readily accepted and by October several trains a day were bringing troops to Wendover. The accommodation at Halton Camp proved insufficient and soldiers were billeted in Wendover and the surrounding villages. Billeting terms were controlled by the Army Council. Dinner had to be hot and had to consist of one pound of meat, 8 ounces of potatoes or other vegetables and one pint of beer.

Wendover had become a military town. An article in the Bucks Herald described the scene: “Wendover streets in the evenings are crowded, and the shopkeepers during the first few evenings were unable to cope with the demands of the would-be customers. The Parish Room, Congregational Schoolroom and Baptist Schoolroom are open for the use of men for writing letters, etc., and paper and envelopes are supplied.  As many as 1,000 letters are written nightly...The men highly appreciate these efforts on their behalf. Outside the Post Office a board on trestles is placed, and men write letters there by the light of the shop window. Mr W. Pullin is to be warmly commended for providing a coffee stall morning and evening near the Town Clock, where men can buy refreshments at moderate charges”.

When the Germans invaded Belgium about one million refugees fled the country. Of these, 250,000 came to Britain and several families found their way to Wendover. One family was housed at Halefield, the home of Sir John Broadbent in The Hale, and another at Glencote, Chiltern Road, owned by Mr Frank Purcell of the Windmill. The Wendover School Log Book recorded that the children brought fruit and vegetables for the Virachtert family at Glencote. On 5 November, instead of buying fireworks, the children gave their money to the Belgian Refugee Fund.

The Bucks Herald of 10 October printed an interview with an officer from Halton Camp. It was headed Extraordinary Rumours. These rumours concerned the food at the camp which was said to be so bad that men were suffering from “ptomaine poisoning and scores are ill and hundreds had deserted as a result of the conditions that prevail”. The officer strongly denied such rumours saying that “We have no knowledge of the fact here”. However, a separate article in the same newspaper, under the heading “Deserters Captured at Buckingham”, described how William Elwood and Joseph Palmer, both miners serving with the Durham Light Infantry, had been charged with desertion from Halton Camp. They were found near Buckingham hiding in a haystack. When they were put in prison Elwood pleaded guilty, but Palmer said that he “was very pleased to be there, in prison. I have been better treated there than in the Camp at Halton. I am willing to go and fight the Germans, but I want food , and we can’t get it at Halton. I am ready to fight . . . put me in a room with or without gloves on with two Germans and I will knock them both out or go under. Put an Englishman in there with me, of my weight and reach, and I will take him on. I want to go to the front, but I don’t want to go hungry. Since we have been in camp at Halton we have been treated like dogs”. Elwood and Palmer were escorted back to Halton. When the Buckingham police contacted the Aylesbury police station they were told that “a large number of men had deserted . . . and they had since ascertained that they numbered about 80. Some got away on trains and about 20 were apprehended at Linslade and Leighton Buzzard and other places . . . Their reason was that they did not get sufficient food”. As the Bucks Herald put it: “It would be idle to endeavour to conceal the fact that at the outset the arrangements at the Halton Camp were not as perfect as the Military authorities desired”.

All material © 2014 Wendover Remembers

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