With the imminent departure of men of the Leicestershire Regiment from Luton after their spell of training here, an unnamed member of the Leicesters wrote an article of appreciation to the the town and its people that was published in The Luton News.
On the eve of our departure from Luton, an appreciation of treatment by Lutonians is not only courtesy, but a positive duty. And as one who has been abundantly blessed by good treatment by everybody I have come in contact with, I felt that this article as a small thank offering would not come amiss.
We arrived at Luton after a very dreary night's travelling, tired out and nearly fed up, as we term it, but we were soon receiving a welcome by the ladies in our various billets. Some of us were unfortunate enough to have to go to schools and empty houses, but even then we were the recipients of numerous little kindnesses in the shape of pies, pudding and pastry of all kinds, which are so dear to our young soldiers. I am sure some of the "boys" have never lived better in their lives than they have done here.
It didn't take us long to get used to the town and, as many an observer may notice, one doesn't see so many Terriers parading the streets at night now. It was a bit of a crush the first two or three weeks, but we have got so well acquainted with everywhere and everybody now that we stay at home, as we call it, now that the nights are getting darker and colder.
Another noticeable feature is that one doesn't see so many young fellows "half seas over" at nights, thanks to the very wise ruling of the early closing authorities; not that I believe in the compulsory prohibition business, but I firmly believe that the Terriers themselves readily saw the sense of it, because after a "tall night" a fellow doesn't feel very rosy trudging along the road with his pack on his back, a "large thirst" in his throat, and a head feeling the size of two; and they wisely dropped it off a bit.
Anyone who noticed the various battalions enter the town at first must observe the change in the bearing of the men. Nowhere was it more noticeable that on the occasion of the parade given by the General a week or two ago. Particularly was it noticeable with the Artillery, they have improved out of all knowledge. The horses seemed to have got the knack of the thing as well as the men.
Most of the infantry regiments have been so augmented by fresh arrivals that they seem to be different segments altogether, and the fresh material is better than the old, if I may be excused for saying so. For this reason, the Territorials of the past few years seem to have had a difficulty in getting the right type of men, probably because when war alarms are scarce the average man takes little interest in the defence of his country - a wrong decision, surely, because the man who is prepared is twice armed, and it means hard work to have to be trained from the raw state as soon as the alarm comes along. The old spirit remains, and God grant it will always remain; but our young men seem to think it doesn't matter, we shall rally round when the time comes.
I feel sorry that the billeting friction was created. Undoubtedly it was a grievance, not so much that the people grumbled at the small remuneration, but it was obviously unfair that some should have the higher rate for only providing the same accommodation as those who were only paid the smaller amounts. But Luton people will, I am sure, be generous over the incident and put it down that "someone had blundered".
There will be many who will miss the "boys" for their noise, especially those who have tried to learn the piano during their spare moments, much to the annoyance of other "Tommies" not so musically inclined.
I am afraid, too, that the small boys of Luton have been inoculated with the military spirit, judging by the squads that invade the billet area that we occupy. They sing our songs and imitate our drills, and - rude youths - they mimic the eccentricities of some of our NCOs, judging by the words of command they give out.
The farmers of the outlying districts will also ruefully remember us, when they contemplate the gaps in their hedges, but they will readily forgive us as the blame for it all must be debited to "Kaiser Bill" - he's the cause of all the trouble, as the song says. And those orchards, too. How they suffered simply because no one was there to collect the money for goods received.
I was awfully amused one day at the following incident. We were on a divisional field day, and during the dinner rest some of the "boys" discovered a "pub" with orchard combined, and what a trade the publican did to be sure. Poor fellow, the sweat stood out in beads on his forehead, whilst he was drawing beer for all he was worth, but he perspired a little more when he happened to turn his head to look out of the window. His apple trees were being stripped beautifully. So many men were clamouring for pints that he couldn't get out of the house for the crowd, so in desperation he refused to drawn any more beer and, securing help, he turned them out and locked the door and did his best to save the remainder of his crop. I don't think he profited by the visit. No doubt he understands the meaning of commandeering better than he did before.
Let me compliment you on your very excellent baths. They are equal to the very best in England. On very great want you must rectify in Luton and that it there are so very few public conveniences. You must have some Dunstable Road way. I suggest you fix one up on that piece of waste ground opposite the Gas Works or where the Church Army tent is at present. I am sure it would prove a boon and prevent nuisances.
Our departure has been delayed somewhat, but still the more training we get the better we shall be for our real effort when we are put to the test.
Thank you all Lutonians, landladies, landlords, sons and daughters, who have chummed us up., and perhaps when you have surveyed the damage and have entered on to the old state of things again, you will retain a kindly remembrance of the "boys in khaki" who turned out when their country called.
[The Luton News, November 5th, 1914]