BOOK REVIEW by Bob Ricketts

By Robert Bollington

Published by Gostwick Press in 2018.
95 pages.ISBN 978-0-9565663-7-9. Obtainable from Willington Local History Group, c/o Rob Bollington, 2 Beauchamp Place, Willington, Bedford, MK44 3QA.
Price £6 (cheque payable to Willington Local History Group).

This book tells the story of Willington and its inhabitants during the First World War, from the 69 local men who served on the Western Front, around the Mediterranean, at sea and at home (whose names are commemorated in the Peace Memorial Village Hall) to all aspects of ‘life on the Home Front’. Intensively researched, referenced and well-illustrated, this short volume provides a comprehensive perspective on the impact of the ’Great War’ in transforming village life and individual lives.

The introduction sets out the aim of the research, the main sources used, and highlights several key figures in Willington who played a prominent role on the ‘Home Front’: Issac Godber, the nurseryman, who was a special constable; his wife, Bessie, who registered women for employment and cared for the soldiers billeted at their house; Miss Elizabeth Buckingham, the school’s headmistress, who encouraged the children to make comforts for the troops; Rev. Frederick Kingston, the vicar. All were relative newcomers to Willington.

‘The Eve of War’ sets the context, reflecting on the preceding decade of major changes – the sale of the Duke of Bedford’s holdings; the expansion of the village, fuelled by a growth in market gardening and a railway station from 1903. ‘War and Mobilisation’ describes local recruitment drives, in which Issac Godber and Samuel Howard Whitread played major roles. There is a fascinating analysis, based on surveys by elementary school head teachers, of the numbers and backgrounds of volunteers – Willington achieved 7.3% of the 1911 population, on a par with Cople and higher than the rural average of 5.5%. The highest level of recruitment from Bedfordshire villages was Cardington at 11.8%. Most Willington men who served had been manual agricultural workers, or their sons. ‘The Church and Vicar’ documents Rev. Kingston’s transition from cheerleader to sombre refelction, as he undertook increasingly frequent memorial services. ‘Support for the Troops’ focuses on the role of villagers in providing comforts and entertainments for the troops. ‘Soldiers in the Area’ covers the billeting of troops, initially the Westmorland and Cumberland Yeomanry.

‘Emergency Planning and Wartime Controls’ details civil defence preparedness, including air raid precautions and the hierachy established – from Samuel Howard Whitbread, who chaired the county’s Central Committee, down to Issac Godber, special constable. Having an interest in Zeppelin raids and scares, I found Bessie

Godber’s description of a night when two Zeppelins were seen over Willington and she heard bombs exploding (at Cow Bridge on the outskirts of Bedford) fascinating. ‘Village Life and Work’documents crimes – poaching continued, schooling and the growth of female labour in agriculture, drawing on entries from Issac Godber’s wages books. ‘Soldiers at the Front’ documents the service of Willington men, including acts of heroism and casualties. The final chapter, ‘After the War’, describes the peace celebrations and commemoration. There are also two appendices: The Willington Roll of Honour in the Church; serving men with a Willington connection, encompassing names, prior occupations, rank and military service.

Rob Bollington’s book is a well-written and highly readable account of village life during the First World War which should be of interest to those with family connections to Willington, or want to research military history or the war’s social impact. At only £6, well worth buying! Highly recommended. ..101019..

Illustration of book cover