Wendover Remembers, August 1914

Month by month for the next four years this column will describe how the First World War affected the people of Wendover and how they dealt with the new and extraordinary circumstances that arose exactly 100 years ago.

August 1914

The First World War was triggered by the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, at Sarajevo on 28 June 1914. The assassin was Gavrilo Pricip, a 19 year-old Serbian nationalist. During the following five weeks the ambitions of the European States for power and territory, fuelled by misunderstandings and a complicated series of alliances, led to the start of a long and horrific war.

It was these events and Britain’s entry into the war that the Headmaster of Wendover School, Arthur Molineux, felt “compelled to put on record”. The School Log Book entry for 4 August read: “England today declared war on Germany, who refuses to respect the neutrality of Belgium, and thus we have England, Belgium, France and Russia as allies, commencing active operations against Germany and Austria. History will be able to prove whether the action of Serbia is the cause or only the pretext for war”.

In fact, the outbreak of war came as something of a surprise. The Bucks Herald of 1 August referred to “peace and war trembling in the balance”, but the paper was more concerned with the forthcoming Bank Holiday events. Among them was the Wendover Amateur Floral and Horticultural Association Annual Show which was to be held in the Manor Gardens on Bank Holiday Monday, 3 August. The Wendover Prize Brass Band was to provide the music and attractions included a wheelbarrow race and a cricket match – Wendover Gentlemen (bowling and fielding with the left hand) against The Lee Ladies. The Gentlemen managed to win and one of their opening batsmen was a Wendover school teacher, Arthur Gomm.

The School Log Book for 4 August recorded: “Mr A. G. Gomm, certified assistant, has joined the Territorial Forces for home and foreign service . . . I propose to record the names of all “old boys” of the school who served in any of his Majesty’s Forces on land or sea”. There follows a list, inserted after the war, of 75 former pupils, the great majority of whom served in the County Regiment, the Ox and Bucks Light Infantry. The military career of Arthur Gomm was varied and full of incident. On 13 August 1915 he was seriously wounded, “when a fragment of shrapnel shell struck him on the shoulder and passed right through his arm … The latest news we have of him, we are glad to say, is quite favourable”. However, because of complications to the wound, Arthur Gomm spent twelve months in hospital. In July 1916 he was discharged and joined the Royal Engineers. In March 1917 he was commissioned into the Royal Artillery and served in France. He was eventually demobilised in January 1919. The School Log Book noted on 3 March that, “Mr Gomm resumed duty today after absence on military duty”. He was one of the lucky ones.

The Bucks Herald of 8 August 1914 reported that “so far as this district is concerned there is a dearth of topics for comment this week”. Just one week later, the same newspaper noted that over 30 men from Wendover had joined the army; that the Vicar, the Rev C C Sharpe, was conducting daily Intercessions for those at the Front; and that a large number of ladies were “considering what can be done on behalf of the sick and the wounded”. The war had arrived in Wendover.

Written by: 36