The reminiscences of John Bowman, a former Tring postman . . .
Reservists were reporting to their Naval and Army establishments. The Territorial Army mustered at their local drill halls.
The Territorial Army was primarily a home defence force, volunteers were requested to sign for service where required, the majority volunteered.
At the outbreak of war, Lord Kitchener, “an outstanding military engineer and soldier”, well known for his service in Egypt/Sudan and South Africa, was appointed Minister of War. He immediately asked for 100,000 volunteers to supplement the small regular army, most of which was engaged in France supporting the French and Belgians against the Kaiser’s army. The first 100,000 target was achieved in the first few days of the proclamation. Preparations were made for the recruitment of a further 100,000 men.
In September 1914, it was rumoured locally that a new Army Division was to be formed at Halton Park, which had been offered to the crown as a Rothschild contribution to the war effort. A tented camp was erected on what is now the airfield at Halton.
Men began arriving from the north-east of the country, Northumberland, Durham and Yorkshire. So was formed the 21st. Division of the new army. Due to a very wet autumn, the tented camp was soon waterlogged and the soldiers were out housed in any available accommodation. Three thousand soldiers were billeted in Tring - mostly with local householders.
The school in the High Street was commandeered. The pupils were accommodated in various locations. The boys went to the Church House and Market House/Hall. The girls went to the lecture hall in the High Street Free Church, and the Western Hall, which was situated where Stanley Gardens is now.
The Victoria Hall and the Gravelly School became medical and hospital accommodation. The infant pupils were out housed in the Sunday School Room in the Akeman Street Baptist Chapel. The YMCA building, in the Tabernacle Yard, Akeman Street was opened; as writing and reading rooms for the soldiers. Bathing facilities were installed in the Museum’s outbuildings.
The billeting rates paid for soldiers were quite generous for the time and, no doubt, supplemented the income of the townspeople, which was lost when so many of the population volunteered.