Where Were You When the War Broke Out?  Henry Norris in August 1914


Last updated: Febuary 2008



Summer 1914: Henry Norris and several of his friends organised a 10-day holiday tour of the Rhineland.

Date unknown, but shortly before war broke out between Britain and Germany: Spurs signed a German player called Streckfuss.  When Germany’s armed forces were all called up he had to return to Germany.

August 1914 Pre-season training and preparations carried on as normal, at Arsenal and all other football clubs.


Fri 31 July or Sat 1 August 1914: Germany declared war on Russia and invaded Luxembourg, whose neutrality was guaranteed by the Treaty of London 1867.  Probably Sat 1 August 1914 German troops moved into France, although war between the two nations had not yet been officially declared.  At 5.15 that day, Kaiser Wilhelm formally ordered the mobilisation of all Germany’s armed forces.

BUT on the morning of Sat 1 August 1914 Henry Norris, Edith Norris and their friends George Peachey and Mr and Mrs Middleton, with the Middletons’ son, still set out by car for the Continent.  By the night of Sat 1 August 1914 the party had reached Dunkirk.  After some problems at the border, they all crossed into Belgium.  Clearly, certain news of what was going on was hard to come by - or they didn’t believe it - because during Sun 2 August 1914 they travelled on to Ostend.  They stayed the night of Sun 2-Mon 3 August 1914 in a hotel at Ostend but realised that the political/military situation was very serious indeed and decided to return immediately to England.

On Mon 3 August 1914, institutions in Britain began preparing for war: the Bank of England raised interest rates, the Navy began to call up its reserves.  And on Mon 3 August 1914 so many people were trying to get to England that Henry Norris and his friends weren’t able to get onto the boat leaving Boulogne at 11.00am.  During the evening of Mon 3 August 1914 the German ambassador to France and the French ambassdor to Germany were recalled.

During Tue 4 August 1914 German troops crossed the border into Belgium.  And on Tue 4 August 1914 the Norrises, George Peachey and Mr and Mrs Middleton were able to get onto the 11.00 local time ferry to Folkestone.  There was no room on the ferry for the car, however, so the Middleton’s son drove it into France in search of a cross-channel berth for it.  Arrived back in England, during the evening of Tue 4 August 1914 Henry and Edith Norris, and George Peachey took the train back to London.  The Middletons waited in Folkestone until their son and the car arrived on a ferry at 03.00 Wed 5 August 1914; they reached Fulham later that day.

As of 11pm Tue 4 Aug 1914 Great Britain was at war with Germany after Germany rejected a British request to guarantee Belgium’s neutrality.  The ambassadors of each country were sent home.  France and Russia were also at war with Germany from this time.

The outbreak of war was described by Henry Norris as a financial disaster for Arsenal FC, burdened as it was by the large costs of laying out the football ground at Highbury and building the grandstand.  However, he was saying this in 1927 - when he knew that the war had lasted four hideous years.  In August 1914, the general expectation was that the fighting would have ended by Christmas so the full extent of Arsenal’s problems wouldn’t have been clear.  Why do people always believe this about wars?  It’s never true!  In 1927 Norris said that he had made arrangements with the club’s major creditors - St John’s College for payment of the rent, and Humphreys Ltd for money owed on the grandstand - but it’s not clear exactly when these negotiations took place; possibly not until after May 1915.

Immediately on the outbreak of World War 1 a great many people throughout Britain were laid off as factories shut down in anticipation of falling demand.  And the Government introduced both censorship of the press, and rationing of paper.  The local newspapers I used for my researches into Henry Norris’ life all went immediately from 8 or 10 pages per issue to 4 and football coverage was amongst the news that was curtailed as a result, though the number of adverts (on which they depended for income) didn’t drop, at least in the first few months of the war.

Also as soon as the war broke out: Henry Norris and William Allen had discussions about how the partnership should deal with the consequences of war.  They made two main decisions: firstly that they would allow any of their employees who wanted to, to volunteer for the armed forces; and secondly that Allen would take sole charge of the daily running of the firm, leaving Norris free to concentrate (as mayor and as concerned, loyal citizen) on war work.

On Wed 5 August 1914 George V issued a proclamation mobilising the British armed forces.

By Fri 7 August 1914 Henry Norris had organised an office within Fulham Town Hall where local reservists could go through the enlistment procedure.  An office for new volunteers (that is, men not on the reserve list) had also been set up, initially at the Everingham Street LCC schools although within a few days it had moved to Munster Road girls’ secondary school. On Fri 7 August 1914 Lord Kitchener, at the War Office, began a drive to recruit 100,000 volunteers to fight.  The iconic ‘your country needs you’ poster first appeared on this day, in the Times and other newspapers.

At 11.00 on Sat 8 August 1914 as the Mayor of Fulham, Henry Norris chaired a first meeting of the National Relief Fund (NRF), set up to pay money to the families of war volunteers.  The NRF’s money was to be administered through the local authorities - the first of many additions to their remit, which put a severe strain on those few workers left working in town halls as more and more men went to war.  Norris made a speech at this first NRF meeting in which he criticised and threatened to prosecute some local shop-owners who had increased their food prices.

On Wed 12 Aug 1914 Henry Norris chaired another meeting of the London Borough of Fulham at which it was agreed to allow reservists working for the Borough to join their units; and to issue an assurance to council employees wishing to volunteer that they would be paid in full during their absence at war.

On the evening of Thur 13 August 1914 Henry Norris was back at the Fulham Town Hall - his grand-children told me that during the war he had so much to do there that he often slept the night there.  On this occasion he was chairing the first administrative meeting of the NRF, at which the committees were set up which would do the daily work of collecting and handing out money.  Any money the Fund would have was NOT going to be coming from government.  Henry Norris and Edith had made a donation to the Fund which was meant to set an example and was the largest so far - £100.  Their daughters Joy, Peggy and Nanette, Henry’s sister Ada (who lived with them) and even their cook had also been required to make donations.  The meeting organised a survey of the needs of local residents; Norris’ friend Councillor Flèche took charge of it.

Meanwhile the beginning of the football season was looming.  On Fri 14 August 1914 in West London and Fulham Times, the new football writer Gee Whiz was amongst those voicing the concern football people in general were feeling, wondering whether the season should go ahead.  Gee Whiz reported that four London football grounds were already being used by the military; I think they didn’t include either Craven Cottage or Highbury.

The meeting of the London Borough of Fulham on the evening of Wed 19 August 1914 was mainly concerned with how to carry out the Borough’s legal duties in the likely absence of all those employees who were likely to volunteer.


In the evening of Thur 20 August 1914 Henry Norris chaired another meeting of the NRF, at which sub-committees were set up to distribute its money, based on the local election ward boundaries.

On Thur 20 August 1914 the FA sanctioned the first professional football match since the declaration of war.  It kicked off at 3.30pm on Sat 22 August 1914 and though I have no direct evidence, I’m sure Henry Norris helped organise it.  The proceeds of Spurs 1 Arsenal 5 all went to the newly-created Prince of Wales Relief Fund; a crowd of 13564 was present at White Hart Lane for it.  Another charity match was played on the evening of Thur 27 August 1914, the proceeds of Chelsea v Fulham going to the Fulham branch of the NRF.  The score was 2-1, but the match report isn’t clear who won!  I think it was Chelsea.  Henry Norris may have been at the match; but on the other hand he may have been too busy. 

On Fri 28 Aug 1914 a report in the Fulham Chronicle (which thought itself a social cut above the West London and Fulham Times ) criticised those people who’d gone to Chelsea’s practice match, played on Thur 27 August.  This was the first local shot in a debate which (as season 1914/15 progressed) became very strident and vitriolic, with the Times leading those who furiously criticised the FA, the clubs, the players and the crowds for carrying on with professional football in time of war.  Henry Norris played a vocal part in the debate, firmly on the side of professional football continuing, and for using matches as an occasion to go out after recruits to the armed forces.  Nearly all the football reporters in the local newspapers I looked in took part in it too, and most came out in favour of professional football continuing, at least in the first few months of the war, but it was clear that they found it a difficult issue, both in themselves and in attempting to justify it to its critics.


On the afternoon of Sat 29 August 1914 there was an incident at Craven Cottage with a man called Charrington who was a leader of the noisy campaign against the continuation of professional football now Britain was at war.  I’m not sure what fixture was being played; it was probably a pre-season practice match.  The crowd of 12000 included Fred Wall, secretary of the FA.  He was almost certainly there officially on the FA’s behalf, because Norris - presumably in an attempt to calm the debate - had invited Charrington to be the guest of the Fulham FC directors provided he didn’t use the occasion to make one of his fiery, condemnatory speeches.  Charrington turned up at the match but refused to obey Norris’ request, so officials of Fulham FC escorted him from the ground.  The mileage Charrington made of the incident in the days that followed - he accused the Fulham employees of beating him up as they threw him out - ruined a gesture Henry Norris had made with the very best of intentions.

On Mon 31 August 1914 Henry Norris managed to find the time to attend the funeral of his acquaintance at the London Borough of Fulham, Councillor Winfield.

During week-commencing Mon 31 August 1914 a second recruiting office opened in Fulham, this time in the town hall.  Lord Kitchener had got his 100,000 recruits but had decided he needed at least 100,000 more.  By this time there were also tables outside the town hall at which local men could volunteer for the Territorial Force (a precursor of the modern Territorial Army).








Copyright Sally Davis February 2008