Leamington residents were urged to keep calm in August 1914 but worries about a shortage of custard powder surfaced. A local vicar complained that governments only cared about voters.
'Keep calm – and don’t panic!’ was the advice the Courier gave to Leamington residents in an editorial following the outbreak of war in August 1914. But under the heading ‘Cool Heads’ the newspaper admitted, ‘Events are moving at such a pace that it is impossible to adequately realise what is taking place or to hazard an opinion on what will take place. Last week there was a cry to “Close the ranks”. Today, they are firmly closed. Last week there were two opposing civilian armies in Ireland ready to fly at each other’s throats. Today they are united to resist a common foe.’
There was a realisation that this could be a war unlike any preceding war. ‘Last week Germany was not actually at war with France and Russia. Today she is. Last week our King and Government were straining every effort to secure peace. These efforts have failed and today we find ourselves ranged on the side of France to protect her coasts from foreign attack and the protector of the independence of the smaller European states against the aggression of the might of Germany. We are now at the beginning of the great European war which has been the dread of thoughtful men for so long. We are engaged in a war, the greatest and the gravest the world has ever seen. If we are to emerge from it successfully, we shall do so by keeping our heads cool, and by a readiness to undergo with courage the sacrifices that will be required of us. What we shall have to endure lies in the lap of the future.’
Readers were reassured that there was a good food supply, although elsewhere in the paper it was reported that pig feed prices were already rising. There was a concern that the outbreak of war could lead to short time working or unemployment in the town. Readers were urged to go out and spend, particularly on men’s clothes, ladies’ dresses and bonnets, upholstery, house decoration and house cleaning.
Some concern had been expressed about a possible shortage of custard leading to panic buying. However, Bird’s custard placed a large advert in the Courier to reassure readers, headed ‘Household Economy in WAR time’. Readers were reminded ‘At so small a cost as Bird’s Custard, there are few dishes in our daily diet which provide so much real nourishment and body-building material. Bird’s Custard is not only a delectable dainty, but a genuine wholesome food. There is no shortage of Bird’s Custard. There is plenty for everyone. We are working hard to meet the exceptional demands of the Military and the Public.’
The Vicar of Lillington was not slow to blame football for the country’s plight. Given the small size of the British army relative to other nations, he said that ‘we should be ashamed of ourselves’. (Britain had, of course, concentrated its resources on the navy, seeing itself as a maritime power). ‘We had been watching our football matches – thousands of people looking on while 22 others kicked a piece of leather about. Governments, nowadays, only existed for voters, and most of those who watched the football matches and went to race meetings were voters.'