The First World War Home Front – a forgotten part of the war
The Blitz, rationing, evacuees, home guard, women’s land army are all such familiar parts of the story of the Second World War. The home front is well documented, the setting for popular television programmes, taught in primary schools and part of our collective narrative for the Second World War, but most people know very little about the home front during the First World War. Prompted by this year’s centenary and the production of a resource pack for schools, volunteers and staff have been looking into the archives for documents about the Great War. At the request of teachers, we looked into the role of children in the war researching the school log books to find out how the war affected their lives.
We discovered that children assisted the war effort through fundraising, writing letters to prisoners, knitting scarves and socks, helping to nurse the wounded, growing vegetables and collecting blackberries and eggs. Schools changed their hours to save on fuel and lighting, replaced members of staff who joined up, accommodated evacuees from London and the south east, gave staff time off to distribute ration cards and organised the collection of industrial scale quantities of acorns and chestnuts to make munitions.
Schools organised foraging parties in autumn 1917 to gather blackberries for jam, acorns and chestnuts for ammunitions. Longbridge Deverill school collected 50 bushels of acorns in response to a request from the Royal Naval Cordite Factory in Dorset. Ivy Lane school, Chippenham reported that its pupils collected 1.5 tons of chestnuts and altogether the town’s schools collected 6 tons. The same primary school also collected 180lbs (81kgs) of blackberries to be made into jam for the troops. Trowbridge schools were keen supporters of the Vegetables for the Navy campaign and brought large quantities into school to be taken to the local collection depot. The Trowbridge Roll of Honour reports that the town depot collected 84.5 tons of vegetables to feed the fleet and that new allotments were created and plots of land turned over to growing vegetables.
Pupils raised funds for the local hospital, comforts for soldiers and prisoners of war and for wounded war horses. They knitted scarves and socks. College Street school in Swindon reported that the students were “very enthusiastically knitting but it didn’t interrupt the lessons”. Holy Trinity Girls school in Trowbridge reported that “the girls brought 375 cigarettes to send to sailors” in December 1915. They also wrote letters to prisoners of war and sung songs to wounded soldiers. Some schools were directly involved in supporting their local hospital; the girls of Godolphin school in Salisbury worked in the kitchens at weekends, school staff also helped on the wards and in the kitchens in their free time. The wounded men were treated to an entertainment and tea at the school once or twice a term. The Headmistress stated that the students had brothers and fathers fighting in the war and they all understood that “the war came first”.
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