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1914, when Lincoln was getting ready for war

Last weekend I had the privilege of attending a few events at the amazing Lincoln Inspired arts festival on behalf of The Lincolnite. The first of these lectures was upon the newest book by Allan Mallinson, 1914: Fight the Good Fight.

Mallinson, a former army officer and current military historian, presented a very interesting lecture on the course of the First World War in its opening stages: namely, how did the course of battle develop through political machinations (both in Britain and the various nations of Europe) and could things have been different if dissenting proposals (particularly those of Winston Churchill) been listened to?

His professional expertise, both as a soldier and an historian, gracefully intertwine to look not only at the realities of the situation on the ground, but also the political squabbles which both caused and resulted from these realities. It is certainly a good pick-up for those interested in military history and the First World War.

As a social historian (with a background in the generalities of military history), however, what sent my mind reeling was imagining the situation on the home front in Lincoln at the beginning of the conflict.

The Lincolnshire Regiment. Photo: courtesy of the Museum of Lincolnshire Life
The Lincolnshire Regiment. Photo: courtesy of the Museum of Lincolnshire Life

The late summer of 1914 would have been a time of great hustle and bustle in Lincoln. Thousands of men, volunteers from throughout the county, would have flooded into the city where they were to be quickly kitted out and put through their initial paces at the Drill Hall, then ushered to Lincoln Central station and sent to Portsmouth for their onward journey to France.

Many of these men who had volunteered did so with groups of their friends and co-workers – the so-called ‘Pal’s Battalions’ – a misguided concept of local camaraderie which decimated numerous local communities on Flanders’ muddy fields. Others would have been older members of the Lincolnshire Regiment, who would have been liable for call up for up to seven years after their original service.

Following these men, often in equal numbers, would be their families, who while sharing some of the excitement of a new adventure, must have felt even more dread over the uncertainty and danger which awaited their sons and brothers in the coming months.

Two young boys saluting troops at Lincoln Central. Photo: via BBC
Two young boys saluting troops at Lincoln Central. Photo: via BBC

Lincoln Central station would have been an awesome sight in those days: not only a sea of humanity- with newly enlisted troops proudly marching or waiting for trains in their freshly pressed and somewhat itchy, new woollen uniforms – but also a place of mixed emotions over what the future would hold and when (or if) they would see their families again.

It wasn’t just the train stations of the city and the Drill Hall which betrayed the oncoming storm of war, however. From the initial declaration of war at the end of July, troops were quickly dispatched across the country to key points of infrastructure which could possibly fall victim to German sabotage. In Lincoln this would have included railway sidings and bridges and most certainly the wharves of the Brayford.

These chaotic and emotional scenes played out in the various county towns throughout England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland in the summer of 1914 and for the most part would not abate until the end of the conflict in 1918 (or indeed until all the troops had returned home in 1919).

During that time, however, the make up of the British forces was to shift away from voluntarism (though this most certainly remained a sizeable portion of the forces) to conscription, which in turn provided its own unique problems for the home of Lincolnshire in the form of conscientious objectors (my area of expertise, none the less!), but perhaps that is a story best left for another time.