[East Midlands Oral History Archive logo]

Leicestershire & Rutland Remember the First World War


The Start of the War

If your listening device has problems loading these embedded Soundcloud players all the audio clips are also on Soundcloud or My Leicestershire History.

The Start of the War - memories of the start of the First World War, families being on holiday, territorials being called up, being thrown off farm when father enlisted, the Coalville 50 departing.

Austria declared war on Serbia on 28th June 1914. Germany declared war on Russia on 1st August and on France on 3rd August. Great Britain declared war on Germany on 4th August 1914, the same day that Germany declared war on Belgium and German troops crossed the Belgian frontier.

Stranded in Australia – memories of being in Australia at the start of the First World War and the journey back to the UK by ship.

Attitudes to Germans – memories of attitudes to Germans, the things families did to avoid being ‘unpatriotic’, Germans who ran shops or businesses.

At a Council meeting in May of 1918 a petition was received from residents of four streets, Saxe-Coburg Street, Mecklenburg Street, Gotha Street and Hanover Street. The petitioners respectfully requested the Town Council to cancel the German names and substitute English ones. The matter was referred to the Highways Committee who, in due course, recommended alterations as follows:

  • Hanover Street to Andover Street
  • Saxe-Coburg Street to Saxby Street
  • Gotha Street to Gotham Street
  • Mecklenburg Street to be an extension of Severn Street.

The resolution was carried with only one or two dissentions. Councillor JK Kelly said it was, ‘Too silly for words’.

In the document 'Abstract of Claims made under the Riot (Damages) Act during the War', at the National Archives, claims for damages caused by riots in each police district are listed. In total there were claims from 43 districts in England and Wales, and in Leicester there was one claim 'by a British subject' for £4 3s 1d. This is the lowest claim in the Abstract for a police district (in Liverpool, where there were major anti-German riots, 625 claims amounted to almost £48,800).

Signing Up – memories of joining the territorials before the First World War, Sir Jonathan North encouraging boys to enlist, signing up due to propaganda, forced marching in France.

Although recruitment to the armed forces in Leicester started well it soon tailed off. At first, many people thought the war would be brief and some local firms laid people off until the situation became clearer. However, orders soon picked up and there was plenty of work in Leicester with good pay and no obvious reason to join up beyond patriotism. Also, Ramsey McDonald and others had been vociferously against the war and Leicester had a strong radical tradition. The combined effect of men in reserved occupations and those opposed to the war led to Councilor Hincks' denunciation of 30th March 1915, when he moved a resolution in the Council deploring ‘the scanty response of Leicester men to the recruiting appeals’. He illustrated this with the following statistics: ‘At Newcastle, 18.5 % of the population have joined the colours, at Nottingham 18.5, at Swansea 10.5, at Wakefield 7.6, at Hull 7.1, at Manchester 6.7, at Sheffield 6.7, at Leeds 5.5, at Derby 5.2, at Bradford 4.1, at Oldham 4.0, at Leicester 2.6’. Eventually conscription was introduced in 1916.

Billeting the Troops – memories of troops in the street, housing troops, having them visit the home.


Further Resources


The Start of the War on The Story of Leicester website - http://www.storyofleicester.info/cityheritage/atwar/worldwari/leicesterinwwi/

BBC WW1 at Home 'Crafton Street, Leicester: Hotbed for Conscientious Objection' - http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p022y8f1

BBC WW1 at Home 'Highfields, Leicester: Germanophobia Led to Renaming Streets' - http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p022x7b3

BBC WW1 at Home 'Hugglescote: The Famous 50' - http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01qmc8k

BBC WW1 at Home 'Welford Road, Leicester: Tigers Who Fought at the Front - with Dan Cole' - http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01ws4sj


The Open University on the Origins of WW1 - http://www.open.edu/openlearn/history-the-arts/history/world-history/the-origins-the-first-world-war

WW1 Recruitment Posters (Imperial War Museum website) - http://www.iwm.org.uk/learning/resources/first-world-war-recruitment-posters






The Start of the War

The Start of the War

Stranded in Australia

Attitudes to Germans

Signing Up

Billeting the Troops

Life on the Home Front

The Home Front

Food pt 1

Food pt 2

Women working pt 1

Women working pt 2

Men working


Death & Absence

Death & Absence pt 1

Death & Absence pt 2






Back to Work


Counting the Cost

Information about the Recordings

Further Resources and Links


Home>>Community>>Resources>>WW1>>The Start of the War

Last updated: 17/12/2014
East Midland Oral History Archive Web maintainer
This document has been approved by the head of department or section.