Ilkley prepares for war - what was happening in the town in July/August 1914

The Ilkley War Memorial Riverside Gardens in 1957

The Ilkley War Memorial Riverside Gardens in 1957

First published in Local news

By Ilkley Historian, Richard Thackrah

LOCAL people had been closely following the events unfolding in Europe in the first half of 1914.By early summer the tourist trade was flourishing. On July 24 the Ilkley Gazette reported that Tuesday July 21 had been the hottest day of the year. Entertainers ‘The Follies’ and the famous violinist Marie Hall both gave performances at the Kings Hall. A garden on The Grove containing 3,000 rose trees was open to the public.

The July 31 issue brought the disturbing news that hostilities had begun between Austria and Serbia The 4th West Riding Howitzer Brigade Royal Field Artillery left for their annual camp at Pembrey in South Wales.

War was declared on August 4 and the first wartime issue of the local paper three days later stated in bold type: “European War. Amazing German aggression - England and Germany opposed - position of rival forces - demonstrations of patriotism.”

Owing to curtailed excursion services and the war crisis, the holidays have not been so much to Ilkley’s advantage but there was a record entry for the tennis tournament.

Recruits wanted by the Wharfedale St John Voluntary Aid Detachment and a note that a Fund was to be created for Relief of the Wives and Dependents of Reservists featured in the August 14 issue. Meanwhile a Ben Rhydding man wrote in the Gazette that “Britain’s quarrel is not with the German people but with a military and autocratic clique who for their own ends have disturbed European peace and committed the greatest and most wanton crime of our time. At this war’s end our first duty is the protection of Britain, but having done what we can, let us organise for the future amity of nations.” Rifle Club members felt that something should be done to afford facilities for people learning to shoot; hence they threw open their Easby Drive range and granted free use of rifles.

A number of Ilkleyites were concerned about relatives living in France, Switzerland and Italy. A parish church service included special intercessions for our soldiers and sailors.

The following week’s paper reported an embarrassing faux pas by an Ilkley cyclist in his anxiety to help "gallant little Belgium”. He inadvertently purchased a German flag for his cycle! He had to plead ignorance and explain the circumstances. Readers were pleased to read that limited excursion traffic was restarted on trains from Ilkley as pressure on removal of troops had ceased. A new telephone service for the Ilkley area came into operation and trunk calls were abolished. Ilkley Development Association in order to prolong the tourist season placed averts in national papers saying that the Municipal Orchestra would continue playing for an extra two weeks.

The last issue of August stated that war pictures were being shown in the Kings Hall and the on-screen appearance of Belgian Lancers caused a very enthusiastic outburst of applause. As a result of a nationwide relaxation of rules, Ilkley people could now see musical comedies which had been produced in London until comparatively recently.

Several Ilkley gentlemen were said to be holding commissions in the Regulars and quite a number of Reservists have been called up.

A Ben Rhydding butler and gardener was charged with indecent assault on Ilkley Moor and had been regularly seen by ladies. A doctor said that he was on the "borderline of being a lunatic". A fine of 5 shillings or a month’s imprisonment was imposed.

A West Riding Relief Committee was formed and although as yet no distress in the town, the war was causing a shortage of labour. The key issue was to keep men employed. There had to be no overlap with the Soldiers and Sailors Families Association.

On January 1, 1915, the Gazette reported that 1914 had been a memorable year especially the months of July and August. There was a dark cloud over the horizon and it was difficult to focus on ordinary, local events with only war items to chronicle. Such a large number of Ilkley’s sons responded to the call of arms and in many instances made great sacrifices to defend homes and country, e.g in 1914, 121 Old Olicanians joined the call to arms.

War is a terrible thing and the aftermath for most a reaping of sorrow.

"God grant that it will soon be over and a millennium of peace and goodwill follow"

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