Newspapers were the main source of news in 1914 and the Courier announced the outbreak of the First World War with the headline ‘At War with Germany: England Forced to Fight’.
Due to the paper’s policy of carrying just advertisements on the front page, news of the momentous event was placed on page 6.
The report said: “Since our last issue the march of events in Europe has been terribly swift, with the result that England now finds herself at war with Germany, and practically the whole of Europe is marshalled in battle array.”
It went on to report that a British cruiser had sunk and that the ‘Terriers’ (7th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment) had left Coventry for Weymouth. Leamington grocers had met several times to discuss food supplies and prices.
According to Leamington historian David Eason, one former Leamington man who answered his country’s call to arms was Rifleman Oscar Harry Thornton who joined the Queen’s Westminster Rifles and fought at Ypres. He was killed in action on Friday June 4 1915, aged 29
Oscar was born in Leamington in 1885 at 105 Warwick Street where his father Harry ran a china and glass shop, Thornton & Son. His father had another shop selling furniture on the Parade. At the time of Oscar’s birth the family was living in Milverton.
By 1901 Oscar had left home and was living and working in Bath Street as a draper’s assistant to Mrs Emma Francis.
Between 1911 and 1913 it is believed that Oscar married Kate, and by 1913 through to 1915 Mrs Kate Thornton is recorded as living at No 2 Pembridge Square, Kensington in London, with Oscar having already enlisted at Westminster.
On November 1 1914 Oscar’s battalion moved to France, arriving at Le Havre on November 3 before moving to Ypres. On arrival they took up positions in the Ypres Salient in the northern half from the Ypres-Roulers railway to about one mile north-west of Wieltje. It was there on June 4 1915 that Oscar was killed in action, believed to have been by shellfire.
Oscar is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial ‘to the missing’, West-Vlaanderen in Belgium.
His name is now being put on the Leamington War Memorial WW1 Slab, which has been removed to have three names added. As well as Oscar, there are Harry Clarke and Gordon Farmer.