Local History Society

 The 'Mercury' and the Home Front in WW1



Not all doom and gloom

Occasionally, there were some news trivia, such as this little gem on January 8th 1916 from outside of the Reading area:

"A flock of sheep were being driven along the High Street, Wealdstone, Middlesex, on Tuesday morning, when the foremost sheep ran across the road and jumped clean through Dr. Bluett’s 10 ft square surgery window. The rest followed suit, crowding into the consulting room, the dispensary, and other rooms. They were eventually got out, the leader suffering from a cut head."

The February 5th 1916 issue carried a notice of Bostock and Wombwell’s Gigantic Combined Shows Menagerie, Jungle and Trained Animal Exhibition. It listed a hippopotamus, Bengal Tigers, Sacred Baboons, Mountain Zebra, Horned Horse, Snow Leopard, Laughing Hyena, Jenny and Mona, Indian Elephants, plus a stud of horses and a Military Band. A news item elaborated on the visit, stating that the enterprise had been travelling on and off for a century since 1805, but had not visited Reading for 5 years. It was coming straight from its previous exhibition, in Islington.

While an editorial on February 1916 welcomed the good news that there would be faster train services between Reading and Waterloo, partly because some inner-London services were now electrified, it bemoaned the existing slow service and the high number of stops. It expressed a wish for express services to match those of the Great Western.

This seemingly-bizarre article appeared on September 1st 1917:



The Chairman of the Education Committee desires to draw the attention of the public to the request of the Minister of Munitions that horse chestnuts should be collected for the use of the Government. He would point out that the chestnuts will be of little or no value unless they are allowed to fully ripen and fall as they naturally do in the autumn. It is not necessary, therefore, to knock down the chestnuts and thus damage the trees.

The Education Committee are hoping to make arrangements with the owners and occupiers of land for the collection of chestnuts at the right time by school children under proper supervision.

On March 15th 1919, the ‘Mercury’ quoted from a letter that Mr. J. C. Bell wrote to the ‘Times’ about the scandal of the Slough Motor Depot. He asked Winston Churchill: Why can’t it be dismantled, because it is just a ‘White Elephant’?

The following week, the contractor, Sir Robert MacAlpine, gave a detailed reply refuting the claims made against it, one of which was that it was largely being built by Irish workers; instead, their registration cards proved that the vast majority were British ex-servicemen. Headed ‘The Slough Motor Depot – What the Contractors Say’, the article can be read in full here.


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