The journey to war: what life was like in Dorset in the run up to World War One

Soldiers marching through Poole High Street in the First World War

Soldiers marching through Poole High Street in the First World War

First published in News by

As the last strains of Auld Lang Syne faded away in the first seconds of January 1914, could those who had been singing along to it really have had any idea of the horror that was to befall them?

In a way, they could. Only 12 months before they had witnessed conflict in the Balkans, with the Bournemouth Echo itself talking about the “long tail of death and the misery the war has caused to the poor”.

But in January 1914 we were in optimistic mode.

“We may console ourselves with the thought that there is the better reason to hope that 1914 will be somewhere nearer our idea of a really good year,” said the Echo.

“We join heartily in the good wishes which are going round to our readers one and all, a bright and prosperous new year.”

See more stories, pictures from our archives, details on commemorative events and more in our World War One section 

A new scheme was agreed for the Pier and Pavilion area and on January 27 Lady Balfour arrived in Bournemouth to plead the case for women’s suffrage. Nationally there was a bill to stop the import of exotic bird plumage to adorn ladies’ hats and during the month of April, the sun shone on us all.

Bournemouth Echo:  Boscombe Pier Approach and Undercliff in 1913

May 25 saw Empire Day, ladies advertised for ‘good parlourmaids’, grocers advertised for ‘good, strong boys’ and in the magistrates courts men were punished for ‘leaving unattended a horse and cart’.

And then, on June 28, we reported a ‘Bomb and Pistol Attack’ on the heir to the Austrian Throne, Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, who were assassinated in Sarajevo.

By today’s standards our headline was minimal – no four-deck, white-on-black front-page splash and anyway, page 1 was covered in adverts. The fateful news was tucked away inside and we reported it thus: “Another ghastly chapter was added to the royal house of Austria-Hungary when the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir presumptive to the imperial crown and his wife, the Duchess Hohenberg, were assassinated at Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital,” we said, noting, almost as a footnote, that ‘a Serb was arrested’.

As our readers would soon learn, the rest would become history.

Foreboding as it was, this news didn’t stop us reporting on the fete and sale of work at ‘Carberry’ in Southbourne Road, the forthcoming performance of the Royal Garrison Artillery Band, and the fact that a Labour member of parliament had chosen to wear a linen suit in the House of Commons. We also continued to report the cricket, particularly the lamentable Hampshire bowling which ‘has never appeared so ineffective this season as it did on Saturday’.

From the date of the Archduke’s assassination to the outbreak of fighting we continued in this vein, reporting the Parkstone Pageant at Salterns, run by the East Dorset Women’s Unionist and Tariff Reform Association; the ‘enjoyable excursion’ experienced by staff from JJ Allens to Brownsea Island, and, on July 15, the Bournemouth croquet tournament.

Local worthies met to discuss how we should commemorate the centenary of the Battle of Waterloo in July 1915 and on July 18 we noted the review of the fleet at Spithead.

By July 27 the ‘European Crisis’ was embedded in the public consciousness with ‘panic in Belgrade’ but we earnestly reported ‘hope of a settlement’. It was not to be. On July 28 Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.

On the same day we discussed the ‘marathon racing craze’ although, perhaps strangely, Bournemouth’s marathon took place at 6pm from Holdenhurst Road and lasted just ten miles.

On July 29 we asked: “Can the conflict be localised?” even as the Tsar let it be known he was preparing for war and the price of wheat rose. An ‘unusual case of cruelty’ was heard at the town’s police court whereby; “James Bennett, an elderly man of 38 Paisley Road, Southbourne, was summoned for having permitted cruelty to poultry and rabbits by overcrowding on June 30.”

There were reports of Talbot Village’s Sunday School outing, more ‘suffragette outrages’ and a ‘big development scheme’ was proposed for Boscombe with new public baths announced for Winton.

And in the midst of such blessed ordinariness we promised that ‘arrangements for a telegraphic service’ and that ‘anything received’ would be ‘posted on our windows’.

By August 2 the German fleet had put to sea, the London Territorial Army had returned to headquarters and the King and Queen cancelled their visit to the Cowes Regatta and instead appeared on the balcony at Buckingham Palace to ‘cheers from the public’.

Bournemouth Echo:  King George V pictured with his entourage during his stay at the Balmer Lawn Hotel

As Germany invaded France and threatened Belgium, Britain refused to remain neutral and the Naval reserve was called out.

On Tuesday,s August 4, as Britain declared war on Germany and her allies, the Hanneford Circus visited Sandbanks while the Ancient Order of Foresters pressed ahead with plans for their fete. They promised ‘Aviation displays by BC Hucks including loop-the-loop and upside-down flying’, plus music from Winton Brass Band.

Under the headline ‘Armageddon’ we wrote: “August Bank holiday of 1914 will long be remembered as one of the most remarkable in history, the war clouded heavy with evil portent will be regarded with very natural manifestations of anxiety.”

It would.

“It may be far too early to talk about what will happen when war is over,” we continued.

It was.

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