The dramatic story of how Leighton Buzzard and Linslade changed from a playground for the London gentry to take a vital role in the First World War is told in a new book out this week.
It is the bold claim of “Sand, Planes and Submarines” that three industries in the two towns provided the means to take on the German war machine and help shorten the war.
Without the vast increase in the production of sand the nation’s foundries could not have made the big guns to take on the Germans at the Western Front.
The 500 planes built at Morgan’s in Linslade allowed the Royal Flying Corps to combat the superior enemy air force.
Most surprisingly for a place so far from the sea Leighton also provided thousands of vital anti-submarine nets made in the Bullivant’s factory in Grovebury Road.
They not only protected the British fleet and our harbours round the coast but also those of our allies, the French, Italians, Americans and Russians. At one point the nets made in Leighton Buzzard stretched across the Channel in a bid to halt the U-boat menace.
These and many more surprising stories of life in the two towns and surrounding areas are told in this book that was researched by a team of 12 from the Leighton Buzzard Archaeological and Historical Society.
Over three years documents and pictures were tracked down in record offices in Bedford, Doncaster, Lincoln and London, containing details of life in the town that had not previously been known.
The remarkable transformation the war brought in the role of women is also explored in the book. A number of brave women served in front line hospitals risking their own lives to tend the wounded and underwent terrible hardships.
Nearer home many women from the two towns worked in munitions gradually turning yellow as they filled fuses with TNT. Some of these canary girls lost their lives in explosions. Women were also required in the arduous business of stitching the canvas onto the wings of the flimsy aircraft of the day.
Both towns provided many soldiers, sailors and pioneer aviators for the armed forces and a high proportion did not return. Also volunteering for the front were those with expertise with horses. Hundreds of valuable hunters along with farm horses were requisitioned by the army and most did not survive.
The two towns also became the temporary home of many raw recruits from around the country. Soon after the beginning of the war, Leighton and Linslade were required to provide billets for thousands of troops because the camp that was supposed to by built for them was still under construction. The population of both towns almost doubled overnight.
These stories and the war records of all those local men who died in the conflict are also told in these pages.
The book is full of pictures of the period, some of which have been published for first time.
Many can be seen in an exhibition about the First World War at the Leighton Buzzard Library on Saturday, November 11 – exactly 99 years after the Armistice was declared.
The exhibition will be open from 10am where the book will also be available.
The book, by Paul Brown and Delia Gleave, and published by the History Press will also be on sale at Selections Pet & Garden Stores in the High Street, and the wool shop, The Spotted Sheep at 1-4 Peacock Mews, priced at £17.99.