By kind permission of John King, Author
This was Grove Park in 1914. So what was happening in this sleepy but select suburb in the months before the outbreak of the war? The tensions between states that had been manifesting themselves for some years, certainly did not seem to be disturbing the tranquility of Grove Park life in the early summer of 1914. Nothing in the magazines of the two Anglican churches in June suggested that there was any cause for alarm apart from the emotive appeals of the Church of England hierarchy over the proposed disestablishment of the church in Wales. Neither Vicar commented on the very real dangers in Ireland, where there was a very real possibility of civil war; nor did they comment on the suffragette violence. At the beginning of the month, some of the ladies in the parish were collecting money from residents to fund an excursion of St Augustine’s Sunday School and Band of Hope to the seaside. Nobody in Grove Park could have appreciated the significance of an event at the end of June in far away Bosnia. But it was the assassination on 28 June of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo that was to unleash all the forces of self-destruction that the world could muster over the ensuing four years. The destruction was to be on a scale never seen before, nor since.
The situation evolved at first slowly whilst the peaceful populations of Europe went about their work and pleasures in the warm summer weather. It seemed that this crisis would be got over peacefully as had so many others in the recent past, but there were those in Vienna and Berlin who thought otherwise. Nearer Grove Park it was perhaps coincidental that on Saturday, 11 July the County of London (Howitzer) Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery, a territorial unit, marched from its HO in Ennersdale Road, Hither Green to Bromley. The concluding assembly in the Bromley garden of its honorary colonel included Major Frank Bowater who commanded a battery and who had earlier lived in Baring Road — he still owned the house. Without a military flavour was a Garden Meeting two days later, at one of the big houses in Baring Road in aid of the Church of England Zenana Mission Society. The speaker talked about the work of the Society in India and the country’s iniquitous caste system.
The thoughts of the people attending a wedding at St Augustine’s Church on 18 July were probably far from the international crisis that was now growing. The wedding involved two very influential Grove Park families, those of William Le May and Howard Jones. It was the inter-marriage of such families that helped to give Grove Park its village atmosphere. William Le May had lived in a big house, Hillview, in Baring Road since the 1880s and was the successful director of a well-known firm of hop factors which he had founded; he was also an Alderman of Lewisham Council and had been mayor in 1911-12. The wedding was between his daughter Margaret and Sydney Jones, the son of solicitor Howard Jones who lived in another big house on the other side of Baring. Road. All seats in the church were filled and the Vicars of both St Augustine’s and St Mildred’s officiated. The wedding was followed by a reception in the extensive gardens of Hillview at which the Lewisham M.P. Sir Edward Coates and LCC member Commander Bellairs were present. The presents numbered over 200 and included a silver tray from the Grove Park Masonic Lodge.
Two days later the ladies of St Augustine’s Mothers’ Meeting were driven in brakes to Keston where they took tea. And two days on again, Sir Edward Coates opened the annual show of the St Mildred’s and St Augustine’s Horticultural Society.
The following day, 23 July, the Austrian government delivered an ultimatum to the Serbian government which was bound to be rejected. On 25 July the ultimatum expired.
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