How Hastings entertained WWI troops

Darcia's Military Band, Hastings
Darcia's Military Band, Hastings

“Hastings During World War One” looks at a multitude of aspects of the town in a period that so far has received little attention from local writers.

Its author, Brian Lawes said, “During the initial weeks of WWI Hastings failed to take on board the implications of war. Later it became very aware, as the casualties and refugees from Europe started to arrive. Hotels and businesses, whose income relied on the holiday trade, were keen to keep visitors coming. Realising the commercial implications the town did what it could to continue to provide attractions that were in keeping with its resort image.” Hastings did not have a military presence as such but it did have accommodation and, being a health resort, convalescent facilities. Its closeness to ports meant that it played host to thousands of troops who were billeted in the town awaiting their departure and these thousands would need entertainment. For families, the long-standing sandcastle competition went ahead in August 1914; Alderman True, in a brief address to a crowd of visitors, commended the policy of keeping up established attractions in the present crisis. In Hastings pre-war summers outdoor concerts were hugely popular, often performed by military bands. Madam Darcia’s Military Band was a favourite but its military provenance is unknown. It may have been a public spat on the podium, between Madam and the orchestra, in which the public became embroiled that led the Borough Entertainment Committee to decide to look elsewhere and create a Municipal Town Band. The bandstand, long since vanished, at Caroline Place was a popular venue for the MTB and other entertainers. The Jovilians were employed by the Borough Amusement Committee to perform in open spaces around the town. They also to appeared in a free show at St Leonards Gardens in August 1914, an occasion attended by 800 people. Due to enlistment amateur groups such as the Christ Church Minstrels found themselves with insufficient members to continue. In August 1914 they expressed their regret that they would be unable to give the promised entertainment at the workhouse; two members of the minstrels had left on active service and five others were under orders. By 1917, when many Canadian soldiers were stationed in Hastings, they formed the Canadian Command Depot Follies, entertaining troops in the various hospitals and soldiers’ clubs. The Follies worked hard for local charities and contributed to the purchase of a new ambulance, which bore a maple leaf symbol inside, to honour their generous donation. Also featured in the book are the training of the Royal Flying Corp, some of which took place in Hastings, the wide-ranging roles of women and the Suffragettes, mobilisation, recruitment, billeting and conscription. As the casualties returned Hastings hospitals proved to be inadequate to meet the demand and some of the town’s larger houses were used as hospitals; these are covered in detail. Further Reading: “Hastings During World War One” (fully illustrated) by Brian Lawes, priced £7, is available from the History House, 21 Courthouse Street Hastings, The Fishermen’s Museum and the Hastings Museum and Art Gallery.