Much has been written about the men who left to fight in the First World War but what was life really like for those left behind on the Home Front? A bustling market town profoundly touched by the war, St Albans is the perfect place of which to ask this question, thanks in part to the survival of exceptionally rich archives of records from the period.
In 1914 St Albans had a population of over 24,000 people. Within days of the outbreak of war, with all the emotion and upheaval that entailed, the town also had to adjust to the arrival of more than 7,000 soldiers for whom billets needed to be found. This book considers the social changes that took place as St Albans became a garrison town for the first time in centuries.
In the early decades of the twentieth century St Albans had a diverse economy. Along with the established straw-hat-making factories and silk mills, other light industry had been introduced more recently, notably printing and clothing manufacture. There was contrasting prosperity and poverty, with slum housing conditions for many of the workers. As taxes increased and the Army ceaselessly looked to recruit more men, every enterprise fought to survive. The registers and minutes of the St Albans Military Service Tribunal, which, unusually, were not destroyed after the war, allowed the authors to explore the conflicting needs of the military and local businesses. From early 1916, the Tribunal heard applications from 1,050 men for exemption from conscription, including 23 conscientious objectors.
As the war went on, maintaining a regular and constant supply of food for the nation became ever more challenging. Shortages and complaints about unfair distribution led to the introduction of rationing in 1918 and queues became a daily fact of life. How was St Albans fed?
This book explores the immediate challenges the townspeople faced during the war as well as the longer-term effects on the city. When the war finally ended, could life ever return to 'normal' as some 3,000 soldiers returned home?
A team of 21 historians have contributed to this book, working under the auspices of the St Albans & Hertfordshire Architectural & Archaeological Society. Established in 1845, the Society is dedicated to promoting interest in the rich and diverse history of the city and surrounding district.
ISBN 978-1-909291-74-4; September 2016; 296pp Paperback