Sunday 28 September 2014


Luton Corn Exchange [Z49/1030]

Monday 28th September 1914: The Mayor of Luton[1] has recently given a speech at an open air recruiting meeting outside the Corn Exchange. While speaking in praise of the number who had already come forward in Luton to enlist he spoke rather strongly of others who, he thought, ought to enlist, and Canadian gentlemen of high position also expressed the opinion that it ought not to be necessary to hold such meetings.

The gathering was described by the Mayor as one of the finest he had seen in Luton. The crowd was tightly packed from the Corn Exchange across the road to the Conservative Club. Supporting the Mayor were the Hon. Mrs. Stuart-Wortley[2], and a number of friends of hers from Canada, including Colonel Davidson of the Canadian Defence Committee and Colonel MacRae. There were also on the platform Major Martin of the 5th Leicesters[3], Captain Law of the 6th South Staffordshires[4] and Mr. H. Inwards[5].

The Mayor spoke of meeting about two hundred of the new Luton recruits out marching that day. He was surprised at the excellent way they carried themselves and he thought they were a great credit to those who had enlisted from the town. Many young men had enlisted, he said, but he was afraid there were some skulking in offices and shops who ought to come out and shoulder their burden in this day of crisis.

Captain Law said that he had just returned from his home, where he was sent to help recruit five hundred men for active service with his regiment. He had over two thousand five hundred men to pick his five hundred men from - (applause). Captain Law spoke of the response of manual labourers all over the country and made a special appeal to business men and clerks to come forward and help their country. "In Luton, as you go about, you will see business men - managers and clerks - standing in front of their warehouses, and I venture to predict that very few of them are coming forward here in the same way as they are doing in the Midland counties. These men who have had the advantage of a good education are the men who in a crisis like this should come forward, because with that education they are far easier for officers to train".

Major Martin of the 5th Leicesters who in private life manages a works in the Midlands which employs about seven hundred men, made a very telling speech. The business he is connected with has its Chairman, its managing director, its secretary and its assistant-secretary all serving with the Territorial forces as well as 80 to 100 out of 700 workmen. That, he said, was a great difficulty to get over, but they had made arrangements to carry on the business so that the weekly wages of the men who could not go would not be affected, and that wives and children would not suffer "What we have done others can do".

Mrs. Stuart-Wortley made a short speech. She referred to the presence of the four Canadian gentlemen who had come down to see the troops at work on the hills and who at her request had consented to come to the meeting.

Colonel Davidson, who was very heartily cheered, said he was very pleased with the work of the Territorials here[6], and no doubt they would give a good account of themselves when they went to the front. There was a song "It's a long way to Tipperary". It was a still longer way to Canada - (laughter), "but we are one with you and we love you and love the old flag, and it will be a great honour and pleasure to our men to fight side by side with the men I saw on the plains and hills around here this afternoon". We could count on Canada to the last man - (cheers).

Colonel MacRae said he did not believe that the necessity of holding meetings to call for volunteers should exist. If they in Canada, thousands of miles away across the water, were prepared to lay down their lives for the Empire were not we, with such homes as we had. It was one of the things that struck him hardest that he should be called upon, a Canadian, and a man so far from the scene of the action, to speak to them. It seemed that it should not be necessary. He would leave England happy if there would be no necessity for these meetings in ten days' time - (applause).

"If you young men can stand that and not enlist as Mayor of Luton, I shall be ashamed of you" said Mr. Primett. "We have done well in the past, but there are 300 or 400 young men wanted".

The meeting concluded with cheers for Canada and the singing of the National Anthem[7].

Sources: Luton News 1st October 1914

[1] Walter James Primett of 27 London Road, Luton

[2] The wife of the General Officer Commanding 46th (North Midland) Division which was billeted in the Luton area at the time. This man, Major-General Edward James Montagu-Stuart-Wortley (1857-1934) was sacked after the division failed in a diversionary attack on Gommecourt on the first day of the Battle of the Somme – 1st July 1916. His corps commander wrote: “"the 46th Division ... showed a lack of offensive spirit. I can only attribute this to the fact that its commander, Major-General the Hon. E.J. Montagu Stuart-Wortley, is not of an age, neither has he the constitution, to allow him to be as much among his men in the front lines as is necessary to imbue all ranks with confidence and spirit." The division contained no battalions of the Bedfordshire Regiment.

[3] 1st/5th Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment, 138th (Lincoln and Leicester) Brigade, 46th Division

[4] 1st/6th Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment, 137th (Staffordshire) Brigade, 46th Division

[5] Harry Inwards, straw hat manufacturer of 48 Bute Street, Luton who lived at Sunnyside, Hart Hill

[6] i.e. the 46th Division, which was a territorial formation.

[7] The rather hectoring attitude of the mayor, as well as that of Law and MacRae, no doubt encouraged by the mayor, demonstrates the feeling of the council and a slice of the governing class in Luton which would reappear after the war in the way they treated the veterans, resulting in the Peace Riot of 1919 in which the Town Hall was gutted by fire and had to be pulled down.

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