BOSTON IN THE FIRST WORLD WAR
The sudden collapse of European countries into the massive conflict of the First World War happened over a Bank Holiday weekend in August 1914. The Boston Company of the Territorial Army were away at their annual camp in Bridlington and had to be summoned home in haste before marching to Lincoln led by their Captain Meaburn Staniland. At that time he was the youngest town clerk in the UK. The other Boston Territorial unit, an artillery battery, followed them a few days later.
Regular troops arrived in the town to guard the Docks and the sea bank. At sea news of the war did not reach the fishing fleet. They were surprised by the German Navy and a number of trawlers were sunk, ten of which were from Boston. Nine belonged to the Boston Deep Sea Fishing Fleet and Ice Company: Kesteven, Lindsey, Porpoise, Walrus, Wigtoft, Skirbeck, Flavian, Indian, and Julian. Those of the crews who survived, were interned until the end of the war. In all a total of 22 Boston trawlers were lost during the war, with 80 fishermen being reported as dead or missing and 91 made prisoners.
Initially Lord Kitchener’s ‘Your country needs you’ campaign recruited just fifty volunteers from Boston, although this did rise to 250 by the end of October 1914. While there was no “Boston Pals”, around 6,000 from the Borough were to serve in the armed forces. Of these more than 900 were casualties, including Captain Staniland and his brother. The heaviest losses came during the battle of Loos in October 1915 but the town was spared the devastating losses of the Somme offensive because the units to which the Bostonians belonged were not involved
Back in Britain there was public reaction against anything German. In the High Street there was a butchers shop owned by the German born Cantenwine brothers. This was looted and its windows smashed. The Cantenwines had been living in Boston for 23 years. On 31 January 1916 the town experienced its first Zeppelin raid. George Cantenwine was falsely accused of signalling to it. On 2 September another Zeppelin released several bombs, but failed to destroy the Grand Sluice railway bridge. Tom Oughton, the lock-keeper’s son was killed and several others were injured. In another raid George Beeton, a signalman, ran from his box to warn an oncoming train. Although the train was saved Beeton lost a leg in the bombing. George was a Salvation Army bandsman and, because he could not march, he rode a tricycle while playing his euphonium in the band’s parades.
The Royal Flying Corps’ 38th Squadron (Home Defence) had a landing ground north of Boston at Willoughby Farm from 1916 to 1918. As the war approached its conclusion Boston became the port for prisoner exchanges. In January 1918 neutral Dutch boats brought home 600 soldiers and civilians, returning with similar numbers to Germany. There were seven more such exchanges involving over 2,500 people before the war ended in November 1918