How the experience of war impacted on the town, from the initial enthusiasm for sorting out the German kaiser in time for Christmas 1914, to the gradual realization of the enormity of human sacrifice the families of Reading were committed to as the war stretched out over the next four years. A record of the growing disillusion of the people, their tragedies and hardships and a determination to see it through. Reading's experiences during the Great War can be taken as standing for the many smaller but important towns in the country whose story will never be told. However, being a county town it experienced both industrial and agrarian pressures that deeply affected its population. Initially enthusiastic about the war, recruitment soon dropped and the local regiment filled with men from the big cities. By 1916 most of the eligible men were keen to find ways to stay out of the army. In the centre of the town was the infamous Reading jail home to Irish dissidents, terrorists and POWs. On the surface it was a calm town that got on with its business: beer, biscuits, metalwork, seeds and armaments but its poverty impacted on industrial relations leading to strikes. It also had a darker side with child cruelty and death, especially suicide.
by David Bilton
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