What is considered by many to have been one of the best bits of war work performed in Luton has come to an end under the happiest possible conditions, wrote The Luton Reporter in its February 2nd, 1919, edition.
Yet six months or so ago the Luton Borough War Prisoners Fund, which was established in June 1915 to provide necessaries and comforts for prisoners of war whose homes were in the town or immediate neighbourhood, gave cause for real concern.
As a result of the offensive commenced by the Germans in the spring, the number of local men in enemy hands had increased by leaps and bounds. The cost of the parcels was also on a steadily ascending scale, and the War Prisoners Committee were brought face to face with an expenditure of from £400 to £500 a month.
For the fist time since the inauguration of the fund a substantial increase of income became a matter of imminent necessity, and no sooner was the 'red light' sent up than Luton rose to the occasion with the magnificence it met most war-times appeals. Money rolled in handsomely from a variety of sources and then, just as the committee were able to feel themselves in a tolerably safe financial position for four or five months, the armistice happily came along and removed the necessity for the dispatch of further parcels.
Arrangements were promptly made for the disposal of the fairly considerable stocks of tinned food which had been accumulated through the foresight and energy of Councillor W. J. Primett, Chairman of the committee, and the whole of the goods, including a stock of cardboard boxes, were sold. In this way £411 2s 3d was realised.
Thus the final financial position was reported at a meeting held at the Town Hall on Tuesday afternoon [January 28, 1919] to show a balance in hand of £2,386 16s 6d, and the expenditure £3,994 19s 9d.
The principal contributions have been £1,730 14s, resulting from the personal appeal made by Mr W. H. Cox, assisted by Councillor Attwood; £1,199 19s 6d from the N.T.F. journal; £773 6s 8d from Waste Paper Scheme; £500 grant by the trustees of Lieut Alex Wernher's estate; £329 19s 1d from united choir's concert; and £134 15s 3d from a garden fete given by the Hon Treasurer, Alderman H. O. Williams, in 1915. It was also announced that a further £200 was expected to accrue from winding up the N.T.F.
Altogether, 7,118 parcels were sent. The first lot, despatched on June 18th, 1915, numbered eight; the last batch, sent on November 8th, 1918, numbered 150. In addition to this number of prisoners there were seven others on the list whose addresses had not been ascertained.
Most of the men regularly acknowledged the receipt of the parcels, and many have called on the Town Clerk and other members of the committee since their return, or written and expressed their gratitude for and appreciation of the goods supplied. Some have emphatically stated that had it not been for the food they would not have been able to survive, owing to the great scarcity and poorness of the food provided by their captors.
“I cannot find words to express what the contents meant to me,” wrote an R.A.M.C. Man. “All I can say is they were life savers.”
The Committee decided to expend a sum not exceeding £150 in a dinner to the repatriated prisoners. About 120 of them are already back, but the Town Clerk intimated his intention of sending round to the house of every man to ascertain if he was home before the dinner was fixed up.
A grant of £200 was made towards a deficiency of about £25,000 which the Y.M.C.A. Has made in providing for returning prisoners of war on their way home.
The balance remaining is, with the consent of the Charity Commissioners, to be allocated for investment with the interest applied for the benefit of men whose home during any part of their overseas service in the naval, military or air forces or mercantile marine in this war were situated in the borough, and the widows, children or parents of any such men.
If the Charity Commissioners approve this proposal they are to be asked to prepare a scheme for the administration of the charity by a small body of governors, and the sum invested is to be transferred to the official trustee of charitable funds.
The Mayor, Councillor Primett, Alderman Williams and the Town Clerk are to decide upon the form of investment, and these gentlemen, with the addition of Mrs Keens and Mrs M. Plummer, have in hand the arrangements for the dinner.