For many years Britain had been the dominant economic power in Europe, but by 1914 Britain was being outperformed by Germany, which had previously been an important customer for many of our largest industries. As Germany’s industries flourished, British exports suffered, and some industries began to decline.

The Outbreak of War

For some years imperialism had grown in most of the major European countries, which meant that at some time, the outbreak war was almost inevitable. It officially began on 28th July, 1914 with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, who were shot dead in Sarajevo, by Gavrilo Princip, one of a group of six Bosnian Serb assassins. After the assassination, Austria-Hungary delivered an ultimatum to the Kingdom of Serbia and prepared to invade.

At the time there were two groups of allies in Europe:

The Allied Forces - France, United Kingdom, and Russia.
The Central Powers - Germany and Austria-Hungary.

Britain had a treaty with Belgium, and so declared war with Germany when the German army invaded Belgium and Luxembourg, on its way to France. Soon all the major European powers were involved in the war, which within a few years involved many countries throughout the world.

When Britain declared war on Tuesday the 4th August, 1914, celebrations were held throughout the country. Most people believed it would be a quick and simple affair that would be over by Christmas. Patriotism was high, and large numbers of men rushed to join the forces to answer the call to arms. The government wanted 100,000 volunteers and began a large recruitment campaign which bombarded the public with posters. This was so successful that within a month 750,000 people had volunteered.

A group of volunteers marching along Priory Road.

Sadly it was not to be a quick affair. As the German troops entered France, the French and British troops moved northwards to meet them, and the massive armies dug-in, starting the terrible trench warfare which would last for four long years.

The Home Front

The day before the declaration of war was Bank Holiday Monday, and people expected an imminent announcement about the forthcoming conflict, which started the next day when war was declared. All the army and navy reservists and members of the Territorial Army were called-up and on Wednesday the 5th August, a special service was held in the Market Place for the Dudley companies of the 7th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment, who marched off to loud cheering from the many onlookers. A large number of horses were requisitioned from both Dudley and Netherton and were sent to the continent.

The Worcestershire Regiment was part of the British Expeditionary Force that landed in France on the 17th August. Their first engagement with the enemy was at Mons in Belgium, where there were a vast number of casualties. The British Expeditionary Force consisted of about 70,000 regulars and reservists, who were forced to retreat on the 23rd August. Because of the heavy losses, Lord Kitchener appealed for one million new recruits, for the armed forces.

On the 8th August, Parliament Passed the Defence of the Realm Act which gave the government a range of new powers to prevent anyone assisting or communicating with the enemy. The press was censored, to keep-up people’s morale, and plans were made to ensure that scarce resources were correctly used. The Admiralty and the Army Council were given powers to take-over any factory or workshop for the production of arms, ammunition, or products for the war-effort. Within twelve months the shortage of munitions led to the government setting-up its own arms factories, and eventually taking over the vitally important coal industry. All manufacturers soon turned their skills towards the war effort, producing many essential items.

A poster from the Daily Herald, encouraging men to sign-up.

Because so many men joined-up, there was a shortage of labour. Industry was essential to the winning of the war. Factories worked flat-out producing vital war work and armaments for the armed forces, but initially suffered because of the shortage of skilled men.

Their roles were taken-over by women, who for the first time were allowed to work in some of the more physically demanding factory jobs, which had previously been considered to be only suitable for men. Women also kept many of the essential services in operation including the trams, the railways, and our farms.

The war had a vast impact on everyday lives. There was panic buying in the shops and prices rocketed. There was also a reduction in trade and many people lost their jobs. In October, Dudley’s mayoress, Mrs. Lloyd and the local branch of the Work for Women Fund held a flag day to raise money to help to find work for recently unemployed women, but this became unnecessary because women workers were soon in great demand.

On the 6th October, 300 men from the new Worcestershire (Reserve) Battalion left for Kidderminster on their way to the front. Although there was no official announcement, flags were flown in the Market Place and many people gathered to see their departure and to wish them well.

In the first couple of months of the war, around 6,000 Belgians, fleeing from the advancing German army arrived in Britain. At a meeting in October at the Town Hall, the local authority decided that Dudley would accommodate some of them and on the 21st of the month the first 22 arrived, followed by others in November. They were initially accommodated in Wellfield House until a hostel was established in Castle Street, but because of friction between the French and Flemish speaking refugees, a second hostel for the Flemish speakers opened in Old Cross Street. They were all well looked after by the locals, who provided food and raised money for them.

A group of Belgian refugees at Dibdale House.

Initially large numbers of men volunteered to join the armed forces, liking the idea of free foreign travel, in the certainty that it would all be over by Christmas. Within a little while, people realised that this was not the case, and the number of volunteers plummeted. In November, a patriotic meeting was held to encourage volunteers, but it ended with no new recruits.

Many organisations were set up to provide comforts for the troops. Young women and girls helped to provide clothing. Some became temporary nurses to help with returning casualties. The Dudley Patriotic Committee was founded to raise money for war charities and regular food parcels were sent to men at the front and prisoners of war. Pupils at Dudley Girls High School spent a lot of time knitting, sewing and making parcels for the soldiers.

The futility of the stand-off between the vast armies meant that large numbers of people were killed or wounded, and enormous numbers of men were needed at the front. In 1915 the Germans declared an official naval blockade of Britain, and threatened to sink any ships sailing into British ports. The Americans immediately objected because many of their cargo ships sailed here, and the blockade was cancelled. Two years later it was reinstated, which caused the Americans to enter the war.

In the autumn of 1915, Lord Derby headed a campaign which resulted in around 300,000 new recruits, but it was still not enough to meet the needs of the army. In January 1916 the prime minister, Herbert Asquith, introduced conscription for all single men aged between eighteen and forty, which was seen as the only way to get all of the troops that were needed.

Companies involved in munitions work included Harper, Sons & Bean Limited at Waddams Pool Works. George Bean was Mayor of Dudley in 1908, 1911, and 1912. His business greatly prospered during the First World War thanks to a plentiful supply of ministry contracts for munitions. The factory buildings were extended in order to increase the production of shrapnel and shell cases. By 1916 around 21,000 shell cases were produced every week. After the war George received a knighthood for his services to the war effort, and his only son, John, known as Jack, who also worked in the business, was made a CBE. Some of the company’s land at Waddams Pool was purchased for the construction of the National Projectile Factory, which was completed in May, 1916. Products included a large number of shells.

The blockade by the German U-boats led to food shortages, rising prices, and long queues at the shops. Both sugar and wheat were in short supply. Due to the shortage of wheat, the Ministry of Supply recommended that 20lb. of potatoes should be added to every 280lb. sack of flour. The situation worsened and led to the introduction of food rationing in February 1918. The weekly ration for each person included 15 oz of meat, 5 oz of bacon, and 4 oz of butter or margarine.

Money Raising Campaigns

After the Zeppelin raids on the Black Country in January 1916, the Dudley Company of the Worcestershire Volunteer Regiment agreed to observe the sky and give warning of the approach of enemy aircraft. They were to give a warning by rapidly firing three rifle shots into the air. There were also money raising campaigns launched to raise money for the war effort, including the sale of war bonds, ‘Tank Week’, and ‘Feed the Guns’.

Julian, the touring tank that raised a lot of money.

Tank week began when a British tank, which had been given the name 'Julian' arrived at Stourbridge railway station on the morning of Sunday the 7th April, 1918. It was touring the country to raise money and had previously been to Wolverhampton and Walsall.

Julian was being transported to Dudley Market Place, but had a series of mishaps on the way. Outside the Whymsey Arms, Brierley Hill, the cylinders overheated. When this had been sorted out, the tank lost one of its caterpillar tracks, which had to be repaired at Church Hill. It finally arrived at the edge of Dudley at 5.50pm., three hours behind schedule.

To assist with the fund raising campaign, a full-sized model tank was transported to Brierley Hill on a railway lorry and placed on council land beside the Technical Institute and Public Library, in Moor Street, where it remained from Monday until Wednesday.

People who purchased war bonds and certificates had them stamped “Tank Bank” inside the Technical Institute. There was also a captured aircraft that was put on display in Victoria Park, Tipton, where several aircraft were to take part in a ‘fly past’ on the Sunday.

On its previous tour of Scotland, the tank had raised over £40 million, an amazing achievement.

In Dudley Market Place a large crowd of spectators gathered and the Mayor asked them to raise more than £1 million. On Monday, several speeches were given by the Mayor and Deputy Mayor, and the Member of Parliament, Sir Arthur Boscawen. Co-organiser Mr. A. M. Fairbairn mounted the tank and opened proceedings with a series of speeches. Sir Arthur told the crowd that the British soldier “never knew when he was beaten” but needed the support of those at home.

A poster advertising the arrival of the tank.

The first day’s takings amounted to £105,578, including £20,000 from Grainger and Smith, woollen merchants, £10,000 from the Pearl Insurance Company and £1,000 from the National Brassworkers of Dudley. The takings were collected by the Postmaster, Mr. H. Sheddon and a team of 20 clerks, in a marquee. On Tuesday £107,713 was raised, followed by £61,346 on Wednesday.

Thursday was Children’s Day and over 8,000 children walked past the tank, accompanied by the Dudley Grammar School Band. During the day, £110,275 was collected. On Friday the collection amounted to £146,108, including £32,000 from Alderman Bean. On Saturday, large crowds gathered both at Brierley Hill and Dudley and £50,000 was given by the Prudential Assurance Company. The final amount raised was almost £1.2 million.

On the 2nd November, several guns were placed in the Market Place by the 1st Worcestershire Voluntary Regiment as part of the ‘Feed the Guns’ fund raising campaign. Soldiers gave demonstrations of camouflage techniques, signalling and gas attacks. The display raised a staggering £0.5 million.

The guns placed in the Market Place for 'Feed the Guns'.

The End of the War

Less than two weeks later, it was all over. After a German offensive along the western front, the Allies and the American forces successfully drove them back, leading to the armistice on Monday the 11th November and a victory for the Allies. The Market Place and streets in the town centre became crowded and bunting appeared throughout the town. In the evening, several hundred people and four bands marched from Waddams Pool to the town centre, with banners, flags and torches. A firework display was held in the castle grounds and many pubs closed early when they ran out of beer.

600 soldiers from Dudley lost their lives in the conflict. Their graves are scattered throughout northern France and Belgium. The demobbed soldiers arrived home to be greeted as heroes, but the town had very little for them in terms of jobs. When the war ended, orders for war work ceased and so factories downsized, which led to large numbers of people, out of work. It was estimated that one in ten British soldiers lost their life in the conflict and half a million were seriously wounded.

The war officially ended on the 28th June, 1919, with the signing of the Versailles Treaty between Germany and the Allied Powers. Germany had to agree to make territorial concessions, and to pay £6.6 billion in compensation. This caused a lot or resentment in Germany which led to the formation of the Nazi Party and indirectly World War 2.

Saturday the 19th July was Peace Day. Dudley market closed for the day and people celebrated in the streets. On the 5th August, a procession of soldiers, sailors and airmen was organised, during which over 3,000 returned servicemen were welcomed home by large crowds of people.

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