Reproduced from the ‘Liverpool Courier‘ – a special report in 76 parts.
The Town Hall Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Families Organisation is an example of the readiness with which the citizens if Liverpool, inspired by the Lord Mayor, sprang into activity to rectify governmental deficiency. On the August Bank Holiday of 1914, the vast majority of the people in these islands were hoping that war would be averted. By midnight on that day we were at war with Germany. On the following morning the Army Reserve was mobilised, and during the day the Territorial Forces were also embodied. In Liverpool alone some thousands of homes were thus bereft of the breadwinner, and, as in the vast majority of cases the household was dependent for its existence on the weekly wages of the one who had been called away, it was not long before distress began to prevail to an alarming extent. For whatever may be said as to the efficiency of our national military machine, it must be admitted that as regards its provision for the dependents of those whom it withdrew from civil life it was entirely inadequate and unsatisfactory. It may be that it was impossible to avoid the chaos and confusion which occurred, but it seems clear that it was largely due to lack of forethought on the part of the military authorities, and that is to some extent borne out by the fact that the West Lancashire Territorial Association, which was responsible for the payments to the dependents of those who had been embodied under its flag, was able to discharge its obligations long before the Regular Army organisation had done so.
Before we had been at war for a week the Liverpool Town Hall was thronged with the wives of men who had been “called to the colours,” clamouring for help and advice. Mr. Herbert R. Rathbone, who was then Lord Mayor, was naturally deeply desirous of relieving the urgent necessities which existed; and as it was impossible for this to be done blindly and promiscuously, steps were taken to create an organisation for the purpose. As there was no effective Liverpool branch of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Families Association, the Lord Mayor, after consultation with the local representatives of that national body, asked Miss Eleanor Rathbone to make arrangements, in conjunction with the Territorial Associations for West Lancashire and West Cheshire, to deal with cases of immediate need. An office was opened in Commutation-row for the registration of applications, and just one week after war had been declared, the work of dealing with these was in full swing – a striking proof of the readiness of the official element in Liverpool to grapple with the problems arising out of the war.
By the end of the first week the number of applications was so large that it became evident that the organisation could not remain on a temporary basis, and steps were therefore taken by the Lord Mayor to form an organisation under the title at the head of this article. The magnitude of the work which devolved upon it is shown by the fact that in the first eight weeks the applications for assistance numbered no less than 11,600.