'Disgraceful treatment' of ex-servicemen

[The Luton News: Thursday, September 4th, 1919]

Such discussion as did arise on matters touched upon the Mayor [in his post-riots statement to Luton Town Council on September 2nd] came later, when the following resolution from the Luton Labour Party and Trades Council was read: “That we protest against the disgraceful treatment meted out to Luton discharged sailors and soldiers by the Luton Town Council or by those purporting to represent them, and that we call for the resignations of the persons responsible for the decision to refuse Wardown Park for a memorial service.”

The covering letter stated: “We shall be glad to know this will receive the serious consideration of this committee.”

Councillor Bone moved that no action be taken. Alderman H. Arnold, in seconding, said he would like to repudiate the suggestion that the conduct of the Council towards discharged men had been disgraceful. Presumably this charge referred to the application for the use of Wardown.

There was no need to explain what actually took place, because that had been done over and over again, and while no member of the Council could claim infallibility in regard to their actions, or to this particular decision, he thought he was justified is saying their conduct could not fairly be described as in this resolution, if they honestly and conscientiously arrived at their decision. Personally, he could not see where any question of disgrace over such a judgment came in.

Councillor R. F. Briggs said Alderman Arnold seemed to be the apologist for all that had happened, and had referred to Wardown. He would not say the action of the Council was disgraceful, but it was a very ill-advised decision.

They would find 90 per cent of the people in Luton against the decision, and against the way in which the decision was taken. It was brought before a few members of the Parks Committee after another meeting, and he did not think those members gave the application serious consideration.

They made their decision after only two or three minutes' consideration, and that short time showed they did not realise the magnitude of the occasion. Then it was sent round to members of the Watch Committee, who concurred in the decision.

But a matter of that magnitude ought to have come before the whole Council. So strongly did he feel this that in the very week the refusal was made he mentioned to the Mayor the advisability of calling a special Council meeting to consider the application.

Every member knew that during that week the town was seething with discontent, simply discontent with the refusal of Wardown. It was a piece of special pleading to say Pope's Meadow was the better place, or that Luton Hoo was better. That was not the question at all.

They asked for a special place, which should have been granted, and he thought members of the Council now agreed that the decision taken that night was wrong. If they would only come straight out and say frankly, “We made a mistake, and we are sorry,” they would stand better in the opinion of the burgesses than they did today.

The Mayor: “Councillor Briggs did mention the matter to me, but I informed him the Secretary of the [DS&S] Association had told me they had been offered Luton Hoo and had accepted it.”

Councillor Briggs: “Undoubtedly Luton Hoo was the better place. Nobody disputes that. But it was a disgrace that we should have to go outside out borough boundaries to offer homage to the people who have died for their country. We know they had the offer of the other place, but there is a deep feeling of resentment at our decision and the way it was arrived at.”

Alderman A. Wilkinson said that while, if he had been able to give a vote, he would have favoured letting the ex-servicemen have their service at Wardown, he would say, Labour Party or no Labour Party, that he would stand by the integrity of the members who arrived at the contrary decision, although he knew it was popular to take another side.

“We all admit the whole thing is deplorable,” added Alderman Wilkinson, “but let us bury the dead once and for all. Evidently there have been misunderstandings and mistakes, but we cannot get on by everlasting recriminations over them. In many instances they are baseless, in many more they are unworthy of those who allege them against us.”

Councillor A. B. Attwood regarded the letter from the Labour Party as an electioneering letter, sent with the one idea of catching votes on November 1st. If a mistake had been made it was made because of the overwork of the Council during that week.

“The letter applying for the use of Wardown did not come to the proper Committee in a proper manner, and never went to the Council in a proper manner. But from what has been said at various times, and also at the Plait Hall meeting [of ratepayers] on Monday, which he attended, some people seemed to think his was the one thing the Council had to do at that time. Wardown was the great argument, but the discharged men had repudiated the suggestion that this refusal brought about the rioting. The whole thing was a thing to catch votes on November 1st, and as he had to fight them he appreciated what he was saying.”

Councillor C. W. Escott, with reference to Alderman Wilkinson's advice to 'let us bury our dead.' said it was a very difficult thing to do. They were repeatedly told the Council as a whole knew nothing of this application and its refusal. It never came before the Council, and they were now told it did not come before the Parks Committee properly.

Yet some notice was sent out that it was the final decision of the Council these ex-servicemen should not have Wardown. That was really a false statement, and some members had to bear the brunt of that statement. Personally, he knew nothing about it until he saw it in the paper.

It was not the Council's decision at all, and that ought to be made perfectly clear, because remarks were thrown at them in the street wherever they went, and they could not be surprised this was the case.

The resolution to take no action on the letter was agreed to.