Remembrance Sunday 2014

Above is the video of the remembrance parade passing Russell Street, where we have some photos of the street party from 1918 to Celebrate the armistice (excerpt below).

St Neots.Russell Street decorated for celebrations at WW1 armistice with large crowd. Banner ‘Welcome Home to the Troops’ 1918. – St Neots Archive 

Photograph of people gathered in St Neots Market Square, possibly WW1 Armistice . – St Neots Archive 

( read more of this article at


As many of you will have no doubt seen – there is currently an exhibition of poppies on display until at least November 12th. A lovingly hand-made poppy stands to mark the 888,246 British and Commonwealth servicemen who fell in service to their countries,  – of which 98 are currently listed on the Roll of Honour just from the town of St.Neots itself .( For full service call list see: ) 

Read More at :–video

The Bedfordshire 5th Regiment, Battalion D were based at Biggleswade, with detachments at Sandy, Arlesey and St. Neots . You can view an exerpt from the GWGC showing the fallen St.Neots boys of the 5th Regiment and where their memorial is online and can be viewed in map form here:

WWI – Captain Rudolph (Rudolf) Meade SMYTHE

Captain Rudolph (Rudolf) Meade SMYTHE

Died of wounds 14th September 1915.

Rudolph was born on the 15th June 1885 in Caxton, Cambridgeshire. His parents were Henry Meade Smythe, who died before 20th March 1902 and Fanny Catherine Smythe (nee Pritchard). They married on the 1st May 1884 at Portsea in Hampshire.

Rudolph became a Second Lieutenant on the 16th March 1911 and by the outbreak of war lived at Eaton Ford, St.Neots in Huntingdonshire. His will was made out whilst on the SS Braemar Castle on the 6th August 1915, leaving his entire estate to his mother, Fanny.

2/Lt Rudolph Smythe sailed with the Battalion on the 26th July 1915 but was “decidedly annoyed” to be dropped off at Alexandria, Egypt with the reinforcements on 6th August 1915. As a result he did not take part in the 15th August attack in Gallipoli but landed with the reserves at Suvla Bay 23rd August and commanded Biggleswade’s D Company after the reorganisation in September 1914.

2/Lt Smythe spent less than 3 weeks on the peninsula before being killed by a sniper shot to the head. Although he was rushed to 16 CCS, he never regained consciousness and died the following morning.

Rudolph is remembered on the Helles Memorial, Gallipoli and can be seen in the 1915 Officers group photograph here, third from the left of the third row. His brother, Lieutenant Barlow Woollcombe Smythe, MC also served in the 5th battalion.


The Battalion War Diary records:

13 Sep 1915 In trenches. Work of improvement continued. Our ships guns bombarded enemy trenches doing considerable damage at 1130. CAPT SMYTHE wounded.

14 Sep 1915 In trenches. Work as usual. CAPT SMYTHE died of wounds.”


St. Neots and WWI – An Overview with Photographs, text by Bernard O’Connor

The First World War in St Neots

Local historians, Charles Tebbutt and Rosa Young, have published extensive research into St Neots’ history. What follows has largely been gleaned from their work.

With the outbreak of war in 1914 many local men volunteered for the armed services. They were sent to France and other areas.

Reservists were called up and men from Huntingdonshire and Bedfordshire joined the Bedfordshire Regiment, later renamed the Beds. And Herts. Regiment.

Waterstones Bookshop – men could enlist here in the Great War, when this was Alfred Jordan’s office – St.Neots Archive

The rush to enlist was slower than expected so newspaper editors in 1914 and 1915 carried advertisements stating that the 5th Beds. needed recruits urgently.

“D” Company, 1st Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment – World War 1 – Roll of Honour Bedfordshire


There were also requests for ‘well educated men’ to join the East Anglian Cyclists Battalion. Several men from St Neots and Eynesbury joined this oddly named body and were stationed for most of the war at Skegness on the Yorkshire coast. Their duties included patrolling the coast between Scarborough and Hornsea to keep a look out for possible invaders.

Although the Hunts. Cyclists were issued with ten cars in 1915, the rank and file continued to patrol on their 615 bicycles. They were never much in the public eye and were reputedly known in the Scarborough area as ‘John Bull’s Lost Regiment’.

13th Platoon D Company of the Huntingdonshire Cyclist Battalion. Source – Hunts. Cycles

As time progressed there was increasing pressure on men to enlist. Women whose fathers, brothers or uncles were fighting in the war used to give white feathers, to represent cowardice, to the men who stayed behind.

Those men seeking exemption from military service had to appear before a tribunal. In the St Neots Advertiser of 1915 was a paragraph stating that ‘William Nicholson asks us to say that the only reason he has not joined the Army is because he has varicose veins.’

Agricultural labourers were usually given exemption but many joined up, creating a shortage of labour for local farmers. In the late summer of 1915 a number of soldiers were released from duties to help farmers get the harvest in. Schools delayed re-opening after the summer holidays so that schoolchildren could help in the fields.

Troops passing through St Neots Market Square during the First World War (P & W Linford) – St.Neots Archive

Soldiers from other parts of the country were stationed in St Neots during the war. An artillery unit made the town its base and stored its large guns in a field to the north of the town near the grounds of Priory Hill House.

Highland Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery who were based in St Neots

Highland Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery who were based in St Neots – St.Neots Museum 

For many years this was known as ‘The Gun Park’ or ‘Artillery Field’.

Bad weather threatened to bog the gun wheels down in the mud so they were transferred to the Market Square. What happened during market days on Thursdays is not recorded.

 Guns on St Neots Market Square in WW1. One soldier on guard.- St.Neots Archive

The war years reduced the number of traffic offences, perhaps due to the number of vehicles that were requisitioned, taken by the government for the ‘war effort’.  The number of thefts increased. Most of these involved thefts of food or livestock which suggested that local people were suffering from shortage of provisions. 

Minor crimes such as assault and poaching remained at the usual level but a slight increase in juvenile crime was reported, perhaps due to the absence of a father’s restraining hand. Most of the youngsters’ crimes would be considered minor by today’s standards – playing football in the street or scrumping apples. – although there were also a few cases of more serious theft.

Local residents supported the armed forces in many ways. Ladies knitted items for soldiers in the trenches such as scarves, gloves and socks. Events were organised to raise money for other comforts. At Eaton Socon Mrs Butler’s house became a convalescent home for wounded soldiers. Many local women took over jobs which had previously been done by the men.

The Pavilion Cinema opened during the war in the Corn Exchange at the corner of South Street. A large screen was erected on the stage and a projector set up. A few short films were shown as well as live entertainment.

High Street, St Neots – view of the south side with the Corn Exchange in the foreground, dated 1892. – St Neots Archive 

The end of the war in 1918 was celebrated with street parties and a procession.

St Neots.Russell Street decorated for celebrations at WW1 armistice with large crowd. Banner ‘Welcome Home to the Troops’ 1918. – St Neots Archive 

Photograph of people gathered in St Neots Market Square, possibly WW1 Armistice . – St Neots Archive 

War memorials were erected later to commemorate the local men who had given their lives fighting for their country. St Neots’ is in a small garden in the churchyard. Eynesbury’s is on the wall of the church and Eaton Socon’s is on a column on the Green. 

IMG_2888 The St.Neots Memorial – complete with Church Cat

Effects of First World War in St Neots

Life was never to return to the pre-war style. The social climate had changed forever.

Brittains Furniture Removals with a horse drawn cart in 1920 – mothballed during WW1 and repainted after the war after Frank was demobbed – St Neots Archive 

The large numbers of men killed or injured during the 1914 – 1918 war left many widows, orphans and disabled.

Those who had previously worked in domestic service (‘below stairs’) had enjoyed much more interesting occupations during the war and were reluctant to return to the restricted work of service.

Those men who served in the war and had taken up roles of leadership and responsibility did not want employment in low-paid, labouring jobs. They felt they deserved better, well-paid jobs.

Farmers had to offer higher wages to get agricultural labourers. Their wages rose from 23s.6d. (£1.18) a week in 1913 to 40s. (£2.00) in 1920.

Overtime was paid with special rates (double) for Sunday working.

Although agricultural labourers welcomed the increases, they encouraged farmers to purchase more labour-saving machinery like the threshing machine, conveyor belts. etc. .

The wealthier landowners still wanted domestic servants and were prepared to increase wages from the pre-war average of £17 a year to £30.

Middle-class householders could not afford these wages so had to do without servants.

A traffic survey carried out for seven days in August 1922 on the Great North Road recorded 1,846 motor cars and over a thousand motor cycles and bikes. Together with other forms of transport like vans and lorries it amounted to 2,289 compared to 273 horse-drawn vehicles.

It was mostly long-distance traffic however and within St Neots it was mostly cars, bicycles and horse-drawn carts.

(Young, R. (1996) St Neots Past, Phillimore, pp.110-112)

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