Can you help identify the people in this First World War photograph?

A Culture volunteer working on the Poole History Centre First World War project has explored the background to a photograph from the Poole History Centre.

16 Women and 6 sailors from Hamworthy Base (G9_0001 Poole History Centre)

16 Women and 6 sailors from Hamworthy Base (G9_0001 Poole History Centre)

This wonderful formal photograph shows 16 women and 6 sailors – plus one dog. The hat band of three of the sailors shows that they served on HMS White Oak. Rather confusingly, White Oak was the name of the Poole depot ship for mine net drifters and also that of a drifter that was hired for the duration of the war which sailed from Poole. The other rating’s hat band is unclear but could be HMS Panther? All the women are wearing a distinctive triangular badge which has been identified as the women’s ‘On War Service’ badge. This was introduced in 1916 for women munition workers to show that they were on war work. But who are the women?

They could be members of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) from the Hamworthy base. However, the Poole History Centre has a photograph of Winifred Newman, who served with the WRNS, and the cap is very different to those in the main photograph.

Winifred Newman (G9_0003 Poole History Centre)

Winifred Newman (G9_0003 Poole History Centre)

Winifred Newman was born in Hamworthy and enlisted in the WRNS on August 22nd 1918. She was assigned to White Oak as a ‘Net Mine Worker’, ie someone who worked on the nets used against mines. Net mine workers were part of what was known as the Miscellaneous Branch of the WRNS which included diverse roles, such as bakers, gardeners, and pigeon women. The Imperial War Museum has two photographs of WRNS Net Mine Workers who are wiring glass floats onto nets. They all are wearing a white cap with a black brim and a black hat band with ‘W.R.N.S.’, and the very distinctive dark collar with the dark flap with white stripes associated with the Royal Navy.

Poole History Centre has a photograph of Elsie Stokes who worked at the Royal Naval Ordnance Factory at Holton Heath. The uniform is the same as that in the main photograph – the only difference is that she is not wearing the ‘On War Service’ badge.

Elsie Stokes with munition shell (Poole History Centre)

Aged in her mid 20’s, Elsie Stokes During the 1914-18 War Holding a Munition Shell, she worked at Holton Heath. (Poole History Centre)

So who are the women in the main photograph? Are they:

  • munition workers from the Royal Naval Cordite Factory. It was quite common for munition workers to be in photographed in formal pictures as it was felt to be inspiring.
  • WRNS from the Hamworthy base. The formality of the photograph suggests that they were they would be wearing a WRNS cap and all except one have white collars.
  • Or, which is more likely, they are munition workers from the Hamworthy naval base and the photograph predates the formation of the WRNS, which officially came into being in November 1917.

Can you help identify any of the women and men in the photograph? It would make the image more than just a wonderful photograph.

One thought on “Can you help identify the people in this First World War photograph?

  1. My family didn’t have links to Poole before the 1940’s when my grandparents moved from the Bridport area and bought a place at Sandbanks. I hope these people can be identified, so sad when faces in old photographs just remain nameless.


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