Huntingdon gathers to mark the centenary of the First World War

Flags are lowered as the mayor Bill Hensley reads the Declaration of War.

Flags are lowered as the mayor Bill Hensley reads the Declaration of War. - Credit: Archant

Young girl guides in Huntingdon stood side by side with men and women in uniform representing the military services, councillors and townsfolk on Monday, their heads bowed in respectful silence before the statue of The Thinking Solider. As they did so, with the flags they were carrying lowered to the ground, Huntingdon mayor, Councillor Bill Hensley, read out the Declaration of War made 100 years ago by the Prime Minister Henry Asquith.

“Owing to the summary rejection by the German Government of the request made by His Majesty’s Government for assurances that the neutrality of Belgium will be respected, His Majesty’s Ambassador to Berlin has received his passports, and His Majesty’s Government declared to the German Government that a state of war exists between Great Britain and Germany as from 11pm on August 4, 1914,” he said.

His words echoed around the Market Square, as those attending, including 93-year-old Josie Lewis, of Huntingdon, and her daughter Pauline Stower thought about what this would go on to mean for the country, and so many of those who lost their lives during the First World War.

Lizzie Shrapnel, who has been co-opted to the town council as a member of the working party formed to commemorate the war, introduced the mayor and invited the congregation to lay a flower on the Thinking Soldier War Memorial.

Pauline, of Alconbury Weston, said: “It was a really moving moment for my mother and I, as we remembered my Grandpa, her father and all the many thousands and thousands who gave their lives. We were lucky as my Grandpa, George Chapman, a Regimental Sergeant Major, survived, but many of his friends and comrades did not.

“He lied about his age to join up in 1914 as part of the horse artillery. He was actually only 17. He spoke about the war only in the latter part of his life – about his love of the horses, life behind the barricades, the rations, and of course the loss of his buddies.”

Rebecca Arnold, 19, a member of the Huntingdon Girl Guides Senior Section, at home for the holidays from university, laid a large sunflower at the foot of The Thinking Soldier, designed by Lady Kathleen Scott. “We are all really proud to be here at this time and to be able to remember what happened and to pay our respect for all those who sacrificed so much.”

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Cllr Hensley told The Hunts Post: “It was very touching reading the statement read by Henry Asquith. I thought it would be a really nice thing to do. The Huntingdon mayor at the time would have also given a declaration, but unfortunately we couldn’t find it.”

He added: “I thought it was important to commemorate the start of the First World War but I also think we should celebrate the end of it in four years time.”

INFORMATION: A further weekend of First World War activities will be held at Riverside Meadow, Huntingdon, beginning on Saturday, September 27.