Newmarket Local History Society

The Great War 1914 - 1918 (The Centenary)

The Centenary of The Great War

August 4th 2014. One hundred years ago the world stood on the brink of that cataclysmic period of history, the Great War. The great rival power blocks of Austria-Hungary and Germany on the one hand and Russia, France and Gt Britain on the other had been moving inexorably towards conflict. To quote NLHS member Tony Pringle "The minute Germany's Kaiser Bill started building up the Kriegsmarine to match the Royal Navy it was obvious that it would only end one way".
Treaties and contracts ensured that the big powers were dragged into relatively small disputes and in the end it just needed a match to set the the conflagration going. The match came from the long standing territorial dispute between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, a country that most British people had not even heard of. When Austria-Hungary declared war and invaded Serbia, Russia came to the aid of its traditional ally and France was drawn in through its treaty with Russia.
In the end it was too much effort not to have a war.
The final straw for Gt Britain came on August 4th 1914 when the Kaiser's troops marched into Belgium as a prelude to their invasion of France. Our treaty obligation to protect that small country meant only one outcome, Britain declared war on Germany at midnight.
Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary famously said "The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime".
By the time the war ended, four years and three months later, millions had died and even more millions suffered lifelong disabilities, with scant recognition from their governments

In Newmarket as elsewhere people were shocked by the news that war had been declared but the full seriousness of the situation had not sunk in. A wave of patriotism swept the country with a feeling that it will soon be over. Volunteers queued at Recruiting Stations to join the Territorial Army which to many must have offered excitement and adventure away from the hum-drum existence of their ordinary lives. Signs of war were very obvious in the town, which with its broad heathlands and good railway links became a mobilizing and training camp for troops to be sent to the Western Front. Horses too were to play a big part in France and the veterinary expertise in the town was called upon by the military.
Gerald Livock was born in Newmarket in 1893, the son of well known veterinary surgeon. His father was very busy examining horses that had been commandeered for the army, and he wanted his son to join the practice. But Gerald was more interested in flying, and went on to become a distinguished aviator.
In his book 'To the Ends of the Air' Gerald gives a description of the patriotic fervour that gripped Newmarket early in the Great War, with soldiers marching along the High Street singing 'Tipperary',and horse drawn gun limbers rumbling past his house. The local men could hardly wait to join up to serve their country. Poor souls, he recounts, if they had only known what was in store for them. He speaks of a soldiers' camp on 'The Gallops at the north end of the town', there was certainly a tented camp on Plantation (Warren) Hill, perhaps the one he refers to was near the waterworks towards Exning,
The pictures below, from the Roger Newman collection, give an idea of what Newmarket was like in 1914.


No lack of support for the men keen to fight the aggressor


A Territorial Army camp set up un Warren Hill in 1914


A column of marching soldiers, High Street 1914


Soldiers Old Station Road 1915


Rifles at the slope, ready for battle, these trooops would soon be in France or Belgium

"Newmarket Remembers" Tony Pringle's major work launched August 2014 giving names and details of all known Newmarket casualties in two World Wars. This is available for sale at Newmarket Library, price 12 (post 4).
More details www.newmarket-remembers.info

"Exning Remembers" A NLHS publication launched November 14th 2013, compiled by Tomy Pringle and edited by Sandra Easom. This is a very detailed record of those from the village of Exning who lost their lives as a result of two World Wars.
A number of copies have been donated to local organizations and all spare copies have been sold

Newmarket's Roll of Honour - Service and civilian deaths in two World Wars
Go to our page commemorating the 90th anniversary of the ending of the Gt War.
Return to NLHS Home Page