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The Spectator at war

The Spectator at war: The work of a Sheriff in wartime

27 August 2014

8:30 AM

27 August 2014

8:30 AM

The Spectator, 29 August 1914.

A SHERIFF may be compared to the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, which faded away till nothing but its smile remained. The ancient office has gradually faded away till nothing but the ceremonial smile remains, a smile only now useful for the entertainment of Judges at the Assizes or for a public meeting. In war time, however, even Sheriffs may find work to do. As High Sheriff for the county of —, I felt that the most appropriate work for one whose historic duty it is to call upon his county to attend him to repel the King’s enemies was to do everything he could to help in organizing the national defence, and, above all things, to act as a recruiting agent for Lord Kitchener’s Second Army. It may, perhaps, interest the readers of the Spectator if I put on record a week’s work and some of the incidents encountered:—

SUNDAY: Woke myself at five o’clock, called my son, had breakfast in the kitchen, got on our bicycles, having first tied on mine a rook rifle and filled my pockets with its little cartridges, and made our way to an important rail- way bridge which was being guarded day and night by the men of the village. Relieved the last night’s guard at six o’clock. An exquisite summer morning. Disposed my assistants, for I had three bridges in my ward. In order to give the men who had been at work guarding all the week a good Sunday’s rest, I had obtained the assistance of two ladies—one the wife of a Commissioner in Nigeria, who knew how to use firearms and had already had experience in holding up a native with a six-shooter; the other a lady of no small amount of determination, quite capable of watchinc, a bridge and giving the alarm in case of necessity. watching lady in the least “jumpy.” No doubt some people find guarding work very dreary. I found it exceedingly agreeable, and my six hours passed pleasantly and very quickly. Patrolling the line from the central bridge to the two” cattle bridges road° one realize more than ever bow remote the railway line is from the life of the country. The road, with its perambulators and children and fringe of homes and houses, is a human institution. The railway is a piece of mechanical organization. After being relieved at twelve o’clock, returned home for some lunch. In the afternoon rode to a Guides’ Rally. The mare had been already taken by the military and branded with the broad arrow of Woden on her hoof and was only waiting a telegram (received two days later) to be sent to the office of the horse-recruiters.

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MONDAY: Rode to Depot of local regiment and arranged for officer and recruiting sergeant to go with me to a village meeting in the National School at H—. Meeting thronged with people, who applauded patriotic speeches, but seemed in no mood to go further. The only recruit secured was an ex-soldier, who at once came forward, and so proved once more that the Army is the true school of patriotism. He had fought in South Africa, and might very well have said that he had done his bit and that the young men might now do theirs. This, however, did not seem to occur to him. He simply fell in because he was told he was wanted. Later heard that the comment in the village was that it was all very well for the High Sheriff to come down and make alarmist speeches, but that they knew better. He had forgotten that they were quite as well instructed now as he was, and could read the papers as well as he could. They knew from what they read that the Germans had been beaten by the Belgians, and that nobody could get past our Fleet, and that therefore there was no need for all this fuss. It was not quite honest of him to say there was danger.

TUESDAY : In the morning wrote letters on recruiting subject. In the evening visited a big country town and addressed a meeting of over a thousand people. Unfortunately found the great majority unlikely to recruit. Urged that all men over military age should do their best to bring in the younger men, and that every man who is over military age and every woman should constitute themselves recruiting agents. That was their way of helping.

WEDNESDAY : In London on business. In the afternoon attended meeting concerned with the organization of recruiting.

THURSDAY: Ditto, ditto.

FRIDAY: Returned to the country. In the evening drilled with the local Rifle Club. More proof received of the sense of patriotism developed by military service. The inspirer of the movement for drilling the Rifle Club is a retired Colonel. His son, who had seen active service in South Africa in a Colonial corps, was drilling in the ranks to encourage the others. Addressed a few words to the men, and impressed upon them that they must not allow any men of military age to join the Rifle Club Guard, but must point out that the duty of the young men was to join Lord Kitchener’s Second Army. The need. for the Rifle Clubs acting as recruiting agents was evidently thoroughly understood.

SATURDAY: In the morning rode to Depot to discuss local recruiting arrangements. In the evening went to county town and took part in a recruiting procession organized by the Mayor. At the head of the procession were Boy Scouts with torches, and following them a local band. Then came a body of about a hundred new recruits from the barracks, men who had just got their uniforms and rifles and had been drilling for a week. Difficult to believe they had only been a week in harness. Behind this stimulating body of men came the Sheriff and the Mayor (in his robes), walking side by side, with the town mace and the town crier in front. Behind, and closing up the procession, were a hundred men of the National Reserve. In this order we walked through all the working-class parts of the borough, which took about an hour and a half. About every ten minutes we halted at some convenient point and the town crier read the proclamation asking all men to enlist in the new Army for the team of the war. We ended up in front of the local recruiting station, which is in a sort of square, and then I addressed a crowd of about three thousand people for some ten or twelve minutes. I urged them very strongly to recruit at once, for the office had been kept open. We only got eight men that night, but on the Monday and Tuesday following there was quite a rush, and already the numbers due to the march are estimated at the recruiting office at over a hundred and fifty.

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