The Great War 1914 – 1918
Lest we forget
November 11th, 2008, commemorated the 90th anniversary of the ending of World War I, the bloody conflict that lasted more than four years and claimed the lives of over a million British and Commonwealth servicemen.
In 1914 the young men of Newmarket and district, joined the nation in responding to the call to patriotic duty, eagerly volunteering to take up arms in the widespread belief that it would all be over in six months. Little did they know of the horrors that awaited them during in France and Belgium.
During the early part of the war large numbers of troops were present in Newmarket, with tented camps set up on Warren Hill and other parts of the Heath. Columns of marching soldiers, others on horseback, passed along the High Street and Old Station Road, cheered on by enthusiastic crowds.
It was not long before families were receiving fateful ‘With great regret …died in Action’ telegrams and the wounded were arriving back at Newmarket station. The grim reality of war began to sink in.
The pictures below, mostly from the Rodney Newman collection, give some idea of what life was like in Newmarket during those years.
The Great War 1914 – 1918 (The Centenary)
August 4th 2014. One hundred years ago the world stood on the brink of that cataclysmic period of history, the Great War. The great rival power blocks of Austria-Hungary and Germany on the one hand and Russia, France and Gt Britain on the other had been moving inexorably towards conflict. To quote NLHS member Tony Pringle “The minute Germany’s Kaiser Bill started building up the Kriegsmarine to match the Royal Navy it was obvious that it would only end one way”.
Treaties and contracts ensured that the big powers were dragged into relatively small disputes and in the end, it just needed a match to set the conflagration going. The match came from the long-standing territorial dispute between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, a country that most British people had not even heard of. When Austria-Hungary declared war and invaded Serbia, Russia came to the aid of its traditional ally and France was drawn in through its treaty with Russia. In the end it was too much effort not to have a war.
The final straw for Gt Britain came on August 4th, 1914, when the Kaiser’s troops marched into Belgium as a prelude to their invasion of France. Our treaty obligation to protect that small country meant only one outcome, Britain declared war on Germany at midnight.
Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary famously said “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime”.
By the time the war ended, four years and three months later, millions had died, and even more millions suffered lifelong disabilities, with scant recognition from their governments.
In Newmarket as elsewhere people were shocked by the news that war had been declared but the full seriousness of the situation had not sunk in. A wave of patriotism swept the country with a feeling that it will soon be over. Volunteers queued at Recruiting Stations to join the Territorial Army which to many must have offered excitement and adventure away from the hum-drum existence of their ordinary lives. Signs of war were very obvious in the town, which with its broad heathlands and good railway links became a mobilizing and training camp for troops to be sent to the Western Front.
Horses too were to play a big part in France and the veterinary expertise in the town was called upon by the military.Gerald Livock was born in Newmarket in 1893, the son of well known veterinary surgeon. His father was very busy examining horses that had been commandeered for the army, and he wanted his son to join the practice. But Gerald was more interested in flying, and went on to become a distinguished aviator.
In his book ‘To the Ends of the Air’ Gerald gives a description of the patriotic fervour that gripped Newmarket early in the Great War, with soldiers marching along the High Street singing ‘Tipperary’,and horse drawn gun limbers rumbling past his house. The local men could hardly wait to join up to serve their country.
Poor souls, he recounts, if they had only known what was in store for them. He speaks of a soldiers’ camp on ‘The Gallops at the north end of the town’, there was certainly a tented camp on Plantation (Warren) Hill, perhaps the one he refers to was near the waterworks towards Exning,
The pictures below, from the Roger Newman collection, give an idea of what Newmarket was like in 1914.
A Territorial Army camp set up on Warren Hill in 1914
“Newmarket Remembers” Tony Pringle’s major work launched August 2014 giving names and details of all known Newmarket casualties in two World Wars. This is available for sale at Newmarket Library, price £12 (post £4).
“Exning Remembers” A NLHS publication launched November 14th, 2013, compiled by Tomy Pringle and edited by Sandra Easom. This is a very detailed record of those from the village of Exning who lost their lives as a result of two World Wars.
A number of copies have been donated to local organizations and all spare copies have been sold.