How Attleborough reacted to outbreak of the Great War a century ago
08:00 04 August 2014
Monday marks the centenary of the start of the First World War. ANDREW PAPWORTH looks at how the town of Attleborough reacted to the outbreak of war 100 years ago.
Attleborough residents perhaps did not realise the significance of what was happened when news the country was at war first broke.
Despite the fact Britain had just entered a global conflict which would later alter the course of history, many people living in the town travelled to Yarmouth and other coastal resorts to enjoy the hot Bank Holiday weekend.
However as people returned to work, a mood of national service soon swept the area as Attleborough became a recruiting station to get men signed up to the war effort.
George Ridgway, from Attleborough History Group - which has been researching the town during the war for a series of illustrated talks - said:
“It was seen as being in the middle of this area of South Norfolk and to have a military presence, with Thetford and other military training areas nearby.”
It was also targeted by recruiters, he said, because it had a railway station in the middle of the town - which meant would-be soldiers could be signed up and taken straight down to the training camps.
“The mood was very much that it was about time we show German imperialism we’re going to get tough,” Mr Ridgway said.
“People thought that we haven’t been to war for many years, here’s a chance to show he Germans a thing or two and it’ll all be over by Christmas.”
Those who were able to fight came under pressure to sign up.
“If your schoolmates were going, there was a sense of why weren’t you?” Mr Ridgway explained.
As such whole football and cricket teams signed up, with the result that 35 men had already enrolled within a few days of the declaration of war.
In total 550 people would go on to sign up out of a town with a population of 2,500 - more than one in five.
When one considers that women, children and the elderly could not join, that meant an extremely high proportion of men who were eligible went off to the frontline.
“The impact was immediately felt in agriculture,” Mr Ridgway said.
“The harvest was coming up and young men were volunteering to give the Kaiser a bloody nose, instead of being out in the fields bringing in the crops.”
As a result farmers drafted women in to help on the land - a move Mr Ridgway said had been previously “unthinkable”.
The upbeat mood around the war effort in the town remained until the end of 1914, when people realised it was not going to be over by Christmas and shortages and rationing had also started to take effect. It was not long before the highly-structured society that had lasted throughout the Edwardian period would be dramatically altered by the war.
Attleborough Heritage Group is still looking for people who have stories, photographs and memorabilia of the First World War and their family’s involvement in it.
Its first presentation on Attleborough’s role in the First World War will take place on October 25.
Those who can help with contributions should call 01953 455887 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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