Post Memories: How Barking’s local press responded to outbreak of First World War

Then and now: Andrew Summers by the war memorial in Barking Park with a copy of the modern Barking a

Then and now: Andrew Summers by the war memorial in Barking Park with a copy of the modern Barking and Dagenham Post - Credit: Archant

Great Britain declared war on Germany at 11pm on Tuesday, August 4, 1914.

The two local papers serving Barking in 1914: The Advertiser and the Chronicle

The two local papers serving Barking in 1914: The Advertiser and the Chronicle - Credit: Archant

Our knowledge of the First World War 100 years after the event is much greater than what was conveyed to the public during the war years.

The local press, much like the rest of the country, was taken by surprise the outbreak of hostilities. Local papers couldn’t react immediately as the majority were only published on a weekly basis, usually on Thursdays, Fridays or Saturdays.

The papers could only print what they had been officially told. Official press releases were censored and in early days of the war much of the battlefield information released was confusing. It has to be remembered in 1914 there was no radio, no television and – of course – no internet or social media. Even telephones were a rarity.

Naturally, local papers didn’t have foreign correspondents and, as a rule, the “news” was not displayed on the front page of the paper. The first few pages usually carried advertisements.

They Did Their Duty by Andrew Summers

They Did Their Duty by Andrew Summers - Credit: Archant

Much of what was printed in the papers had little apparent connection with the war.

There simply wasn’t enough war news to fill an average local paper. The press extracts below are representative of what was printed. It also has to be remembered Barking and Dagenham, despite some local misgivings, was part of the County of Essex in 1914. Archives of two local papers survive: the Barking, East Ham and Ilford Advertiser and the Barking Chronicle.

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The Advertiser edition of Saturday, August 8, 1914, published four days after war was declared, carried as its first news item a lengthy report from the Essex Petty Sessions (Criminal Court) in Stratford.

The other prominent news items were reports of a malicious wounding in Walthamstow, stolen jewellery being pawned in Ilford, a report of a child being badly burned in a fire in Westcliff-on-Sea and a former Grays police Superintendent being honoured. There was no mention of the war at all!

The Barking Chronicle published on Friday, August 7, had a lead article headed “The Health of East Ham” describing the efforts of a Doctor Benton and a Mr Banks to keep the borough fit. Another smaller heading “The Mayor and the War” noted the mayor’s repetition of the official war announcement. However, the Chronicle did see fit to put on its front page the following block announcement: “All the Latest News and Interesting Paragraphs concerning the War, as it affects East Ham and district, will be found on page 5.”

As August 1914 progressed the papers began to devote more news coverage to war-related items – especially on the subject of recruitment.

Large display advertisements appealing for men to join began to appear and featured prominently. There were several reports of packed local recruitment meetings.

Of great interest were “aliens”. With war declared, efforts were made to round up “enemy” aliens (Germans or Austrians) living in the country. They were suspected of being spies.

On September 5, the Barking Advertiser praised the spirit of Barking’s fighting men. The previous week a packed rally had been held at the Electric Theatre in Ripple Road.

Sir John Bethell MP said he was delighted to see so many men from Barking respond to the call to join Lord Kitchener’s Army. Sir John said, to wild applause, more than 200 men had joined so far and more would do so in the next few days.

• Extracted from They Did Their Duty: Essex Farm – Never Forgotten by Andrew Summers

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