Supporting the Troops during World War One
War with Germany began on the 4th of August 1914. Within days East Lothian’s reservists and Territorial Army volunteers were called up and mobilised. Camps and depots appeared all over the county: Dunbar’s story is typical.
In parallel with the military events and the dispatch of the British Expeditionary Force to France, a second mobilisation was taking place. Within three months of the outbreak of war, the Dunbar Parish Magazine was able to report that
- afternoon and evening work parties were meeting weekly,
- that a fund had been initiated by Mrs Kirk, the minister‘s wife, and
- that over 8 dozen pairs of socks had been knitted and dispatched, amongst other garments.
The Church Magazine published detailed knitting instructions and passed along instructions from the committees or information about work completed.
In the early days of the support effort, delivery was ad-hoc: some comforts went by parcel, some to a Southhampton depot, and some with soldiers heading for the Front; later, it became highly organised.
Another committee, organised amongst the combined churches of Dunbar, ensured that every soldier that left the burgh by train was provided with food, fruit, chocolate, reading material and cigarettes for the journey. The drafts were presented with their package at the station and waved goodbye by members of the committee and their volunteers. All the funds needed were raised by donation.
Other committees were organised to collect for the newly opened National Relief Fund, the Belgium Relief Fund, and others. Concerts and door-to-door collections provided most of the cash raised – the relief funds benefitted from a total just shy of £700 (then a considerable sum) by the end of September 1914.
The churches of Dunbar themselves had been involved from the day war was declared. They controlled many of the available halls within the town. For example, upwards of 85 men had been billeted on the Parish Church Hall and volunteers from the congregation paid for and cooked their first few meals. Once the first surge of mobilisation was over, the Church Hall became the base for a permanent guard supplied to the Post Office (just across the road) from the Cavalry Depot. The first guard group were reservists from the 5th Dragoons Guards: they slept in the Ladies Cloakroom and took meals at nearby houses. The 5th Dragoon Guards were one of the regiments whose headquarters were the Cavalry Depot that had opened in Dunbar just a few years before. The other church halls became reading and recreation rooms or canteens but whatever their use during the day, most were used every night for concerts, sing-songs and other fund and morale raising activities.
As the months turned into years the intensity of the local effort may have eased but the need for funds and support for the troops was continual and was kept going throughout the war – and beyond. Much of the story of this efforts remains to be uncovered, but it was detailed in the local press and church magazines: publicity was the means whereby the funds were kept flowing. Copies of these local papers can be consulted at the John Gray Centre, so visit us to find out more.
Keywords: World War One, First World War, WWI, WW1