Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Khaki Dawn Over Blackpool : Halifax in August 1914

From The Halifax Courier : Saturday 15 August 1914

It is often said that "the truth is the first casualty of war", and in the days following the outbreak of war between the great powers of Europe, rumour often replaced accuracy in the columns of the British press. After ignoring the coming storm in Europe for months, the news agencies and the reporters were anxious to print any story they could find about the continental crisis. In the week following the outbreak of war, the papers were full of headlines proclaiming "French successes" and "German reverses". 

One little snippet of news hidden in the columns of the Courier seems to capture this near-hysteria. Whilst the recently-completed widening of the Kiel Canal had always been seen as a vital element in Germany's preparation for war - in 1911, Admiral Fisher, the First Sea Lord, had predicted that World War would break out within weeks of the completion of the work - I have not been able to find any records of anyone being bayoneted for looking out of the window. 

Reporting from closer to home tended to be more accurate - the first casualty of war was, in fact, economic stability. Britain was a world trading nation and world trade was inevitably going to be severely disrupted by the conflict. If you would not be able to sell the goods, there was no point in producing them, was the feeling amongst many local manufacturers.

But when one mill door closes, another one may open, and whilst the sun might set on the market for cotton dresses and linen bedsheets, a new dawn of khaki uniforms, gun cotton, and patriotic bunting was rising.

Panic was sweeping through the seaside resorts of England as bookings declined in the face of war fever, price inflation and economic chaos. Blackpool Corporation placed adverts in local newspapers throughout the north reassuring visitors that "conditions in Blackpool are JUST AS USUAL".

And generally speaking, during those first few weeks of war, life went on more or less, as usual. Holidays were taken, people were born, people got married and, inevitably, people died. But, as yet, it was not the grim war machine that was cutting down the best of a new generation - it was something far more prosaic. 

And for a little time longer, our murderous intentions could be focused on the perils, not of the Bosch, but of bugs and beetles, moths and fleas.


  1. A great round-up. Pop a tin of Keating's in the post, will you?

  2. Past news of conflicts is to be wondered at. Australians never heard about how close the Japanese were to invading us and that a line had been drawn through the map of Australia showing where the front line of defence would be. Half of Queensland was going to be given up. This only came to light many years after the war.

  3. Public anxiety, unease, and even panic had a different flavor in those first days of the war. After all it was the first big war since the Napoleonic era, involving what seemed like all the important nations. No one knew what to expect or do. I bet if you compared the Halifax Courier to the equivalent newspapers in France, Germany, Russia, Austria, et. al. there would be the same confused worry.

    What else did a bunting manufacturer make? I suppose red, white, & blue cloth could be exported to France and the USA too.


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