Black Country Bugle
Feed the guns! Raising funds in the final week of WWI
MORE than four years of fighting in the Great War saw the people of this country come together in a united effort never known before. Not only did thousands answer the call to arms and fight in the armed forces but the people at home made an unprecedented contribution to the victory.
Many civilians played their part in the vital industries that supplied the war effort but even those not directly involved in reserved occupations were still able to “feed the guns” by giving freely and their savings and any spare money they had, donating funds to keep Britain fighting and defeat the enemy.
Feed the Guns Week was the name given to a special fund raising effort held in Dudley in the final days of the First World War. It was a remarkable few days that saw the folk of the Black Country come together and raise an unprecedented amount of money for the war effort.
The mood at that time was positive, after years of unremittingly grim news from the front line. In the autumn of 1918 there was a real sense that Britain was on the verge of victory. After successful campaigns in the Middle East, the Balkans and Italy, the enemy powers of the Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria and Austro-hungary all teetered on the brink of collapse – the only question that remained was how long would Germany go on fighting.
Through September and October 1918 the Allies had proved the German
Army was a spent force, rolling back the front line towards the Rhine. Despite fierce resistance in retreat, the morale of many German soldiers was broken and they were surrendering by the thousand every day, rather than go on fighting. Such were the numbers of prisoners taken in the Autumn of 1918, it became a serious logistical problem for the Allies to accommodate and feed them. A new found optimism was celebrated in the British press, but what was not widely known was the approaches made by the German high command begging for an armistice. The war was expected to continue and most looked forward to an invasion of Germany in 1919.
So it was that when Feed the Guns Week began in Dudley on Sunday, November 3, 1918, the people of the Black Country dug deep into their pockets, buying war bonds and savings certificates, little knowing that the guns would fall silent in a week’s time.
The main attraction of the week was a display of heavy artillery in the Market Place. Six guns in full battlefield rig were there – a 9.2in howitzer, weighing 15 tons with a range of six miles; an 8in howitzer, weighing 12 tons; a 6in gun, at 16 tons; a 4.5 howitzer, 25cwt; a 60-pounder gun, five tons; and 38-pounder gun, 25cwt. There were also two captured German guns.
The week before the guns had been in Wolverhampton, where they raised £920,000. They were brought to Dudley by “caterpillar tractors” and reached Sedgley at 12.30pm and the borough boundary at Shaver’s End at 1.20pm.
They were in the charge of Inspector Robinson and Sergeant Hale of the Staffordshire Police but at the Dudley border they were met by a special delegation.
The dignitaries were led by the Mayor of Dudley, Thomas Chambers and mayor-elect Thomas Willetts Adshead. They were joined by their fellow councillors, along with Sir Arthur Boscawen, the town’s MP, and Arthur Holt, the town clerk. The Mayor of Stourbridge and the Chairman of Tipton UDC were also in attendance.
The guns were then processed along Salop Street, Stafford Street, Wellington Road, Queen’s Cross and the High Street to the Market Place, led by the band of the 1st Volunteer Battalion Worcestershire Regiment. Local troops of Scouts, Girl Guides, Boys Brigades and the Grammar School Cadets marched, along with the Ambulance Brigade, discharged soldiers and munitions workers and other women workers.
The guns that had seen service in France were now in the command of Captain Rigden RA and manned by men of the Royal Garrison Artillery, Royal Field Artillery and the Motor Transport Army Service Corps.
The opening day on the Monday was conducted in heavy rain, but the crowds were undeterred. Rev W.J. Down led a short religious service before Alderman Chambers gave a speech. Then letters from Sir Gilbert Claughton and John Priest, Chairman of Rowley Regis UDC, were read out before Sir Arthur Boscawen gave a patriotic speech. The proceedings ended with one of the howitzers firing a shot.
There were further speeches on Tuesday and the Wednesday was given over to the Chamber of Commerce to drum up support. The highlight of the week, according to the Dudley Herald, came on the Wednesday afternoon, with a simulated gas attack:
“The gas alarm sounded, the force prepared for attack, and there was a discharge of a cloud of gas, which was coloured similar to that which our enemies so greatly dread.”
The week finished on Saturday, November 9, when, “the Market Place was densely crowded to witness the promised fireworks by Captain Rigden and his staff. It was a most effective display, illustrating an attack on an enemy’s force, and was concluded by a discharge symbolic of a victory achieved.”
On November 16, in the same edition in which it reported on the armistice, the Dudley Herald announced the sums raised by the Feed the Guns Week:
“Dudley, £530,582; Stourbridge, £137,226; Amblecote, £9,884; Brierley Hill £121,292; Kingswinford, £12,942; Lye, £29,721, Rowley, £94,668; Quarry Bank, £10,008; Tipton, £100,000. Grand total, £1,046,323.”
Local works contributed large sums: Noah Hingley and Sons, £5,902.8s.6d; Julia Hanson and Sons, £3,000; Co-operative Wholesale Society, £2,000; H. and T. Danks, £2,000. The Earl of Dudley contributed £4,230.
The Dudley Herald published no pictures of the week’s activities, so this photograph taken by Arthur Parkes of Dudley may be the only surviving visual record of the event.
Raising more than a million pounds in just one week was a remarkable achievement by the people of the Black Country, wearied by more than four years of fighting but still determined to play their part and give their all in that final push to victory.