Friday, 25 July 2014

Countdown to the Centenary

As the Centenary of the First World War approaches, I am posting extracts from my new book, Bristol in the Great War, which is out in August. Using military events as background, it describes what life was like in the city between 1914 and 1918 and takes a look behind the scenes to see how ordinary people coped. As always on this blog, the extracts include the words of people who were actually there. For more details about Bristol in the Great War and to pre-order, click the link on the left.

'Sewing, scrubbing, scraping and fetching for the British Army'

Nursing often involved scrubbing floors, cleaning sinks
and washing filthy bandages and dressings
(Credit: Frenchay Village Museum)
AS MORE and more men departed for war, Bristol women were now being asked to take on new roles which they did with enthusiasm. Large numbers were recruited for the Land Army and although many had been working in dairies, keeping poultry, and helping at harvest-time for generations, the less experienced girls were thoroughly checked to make sure they would ‘stick at it’. They had to supply three character references and were then interviewed by a panel. Selection boards were held in the city once a week at the Victoria Street Exchange and some 1,400 women applied in total, of whom about 660 were accepted.
It was impressed upon the successful candidates that although they would be wearing smocks and breeches, they were still expected to behave like ladies. For some, however, the freedom of being billeted on farms unchaperoned was too much of a temptation and many a boisterous night was spent at the local pub!
Despite the prominent part women were now playing, many citizens were still more comfortable to see them in supporting, decorative, or even subservient roles. Frenchay’s parish magazine, which was largely written by the rector, revealed an almost aggressive satisfaction in reporting that nurses at Cleve Hill Hospital in Downend were scrubbing kitchen floors, cleaning sinks, cooking for nearly one hundred people, and washing filthy bandages and dressings.
‘It is work that anyone may be proud and thankful to do,’ declared the magazine, continuing in Churchillian style: ‘For there will come the day when those who limped in can march out, when all bandages and slings can be cast off...these men will leave England again for the battlefield, and those Red Cross members who sewed and scrubbed and scraped and fetched and carried for them, and nursed them back into health, will know that they have had a finger in the pie which feeds the British Army.’

(Copyright © 2014 Jacqueline Wadsworth)

NEXT POST: 'Mr Wadlow was in a terrible state and fell to the ground - 1917

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