The aftermath of the First World War for women

A Culture volunteer working on the Poole History Centre First World War project explores some of the post-war experiences of women using reports in the local newspaper and other sources.

Peace brought about the return of several million men into a society that expected a man to be in a job and a woman to be supported by her husband. However, the workplace had changed during the conflict with around 3 million women in work at the end. Many were in jobs which, prior to the war, they would either have been barred from or, as one newspaper article put it, only accepted ‘grudgingly’. The end of the conflict gave rise to a simple question – what was the future for women in work? Given all that changed during the war it is remarkable that there were more women in paid work in 1911 than there were in 1921.

Demobilisation meant that by early December 1919 nearly 100,000 had left the main women’s services – many found themselves wondering what to do with the skills they had learnt. The Women’s Royal Naval Service closed in 1919, the Women’s Royal Air Force in 1920 and the Queen Mary Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (formerly WAAC) in 1921.

The impact of the loss of civilian jobs fell primarily on women. They had worked in factories, offices, transport, service industries and the medical profession. Bus and tram conductresses were highly visible during the war but not after it – opportunities that had gradually opened up rapidly vanished. There were two main reasons. Those who worked in factories, such as in munitions, found the need collapsed and with it their jobs. For example, by early March 1919, three-quarters of the estimated 300,000 men and women who worked in munitions had lost their jobs. The other reason was the belief that women should give up their jobs for the men.

Prior to the First World War, many single women would work as domestic servants in large houses but the demand collapsed during the war and never recovered. Around a third of the workforce at the huge Gretna munitions factory, which was primarily staffed by women, were originally in domestic service. Many people believed that they should now return to domestic service but often the jobs were no longer there. Even as late as 1920 an unemployment demonstration in Poole called for women still at RNCF Holton Heath to leave and become domestic servants so that men could have the work.

However, not only had the need for servants decreased but, as the Poole newspaper commented, the ‘the glamour of munitions’ made the prospect of living-in as a servant not very appealing. ‘Glamour’ seems an odd word to choose given the conditions under which many were working. While RNCF Holton Heath was praised for its facilities when local councillors visited the site many factories were reluctant to introduce separate washing and toilet facilities. Health and safety was minimal with, for example, no eye protection when using lathes for metal work. In one factory, the workers were expected to stand from 6am to 5.30pm with a 10minute toilet break and had to eat their lunch while working. Despite this, many had welcomed the independence and opportunities that these jobs had made possible.

Great concern had been expressed over the moral welfare of the munition workers and women welfare officers were often appointed to address this concern. The local newspaper of 1919 reported that the officers were now looking after the well-being of the workers who were being demobilised. The officers would meet trains that were carrying groups of women who were often travelling some distance to get home. Council and voluntary groups worked together to provide 24hr waiting-rooms for women at large stations and the YWCA opened its doors. Special rest-rooms were sometimes set-up in Labour Exchanges if the numbers deserved it.

In early 1919 it was estimated that 500,000 women were receiving the ‘unemployment donation’. To put this figure into context the population in 1911 was 36.5 million. Anybody accepting the dole faced the criticism that they were preferring it to work and through providing this money the ‘Government was keeping a lot of shirkers and loafers’. However, an April 1919 meeting of the Worker’s Union heard that some were refusing jobs because they did not want to return to the old work practices. A June 1919 newspaper article was quite blunt. ‘There is now a growing disposition to regard [women] as interlopers and job-snatchers’, but ‘during the time of national peril there was no praise too high for the millions of women who helped win the war’. The article believed that women had a right to argue against poor working conditions.

In an attempt to alleviate the situation nearly 100 training schemes were run throughout the country by the Women’s Branch of the Ministry of Labour’s Training Department and provided training for over 5,000 women. However, all the courses were in what society at the time regarded as acceptable work for women ie as domestic servants, or in the textile, clothing and laundry industries. Under the headline ‘Housewives in the Making’ it was noted that training was now available in restaurant work at a technical institute in London. Women who were previously tram conductors or in the Women’s War Services could earn £3 per week working in a top-class restaurant.

A national Professional Women’s Registry was opened up for ‘highly-educated’ women who were seeking work but it was left open as to what work that might be.

The Nurse’s Demobilisation and Resettlement Committee was established to help those who had ‘suffered privations such as only soldiers from active service can realise’ and now found themselves unemployed. A particular grievance was that many found their old jobs had been filled by those who had stayed at home and these people were being preferred for new vacancies. 3000 nurses had initially registered with the Ministry of Labour and around 1000 were still unemployed in August 1919.

The experience of one Scottish woman highlights what some faced during and after the war ended. Dr Isabel Emslie Hutton volunteered as a doctor during and shortly after the war. She was a highly skilled surgeon who worked in very stressful conditions in Salonika before organising and running a hospital in Serbia during a major typhus epidemic. On her return to Britain she was not able to practice surgery because she was a woman. When she did get a hospital post she had to resign when she married in 1921 because her husband was expected to support her. Possible opportunities in medical research also vanished when she revealed she was married.

Dr Isabel Emslie Hutton wrote a book about her experiences but those of the majority of women are left unrecorded. The following, very briefly, describe what happened next for three Poole women.

Winfred Newman was in her early twenties when she was a net mine worker in the WRNS at Hamworthy in 1918. Shortly after the war she married and in the 1939 Register she is described as an ‘unpaid domestic’.

Winifred Newman, 1917

Winifred Newman, 1917

Janet M. Lindsay from Parkstone was a private nurse before joining the Voluntary Aid Detachment. She went to the Volunteer Hospital for French Soldiers, St Malo Hospital in France in September 1914 and returned to Poole in November 1914. She worked in the military section of Cornelia Hospital until the section closed in 1919. The 1939 Register records her occupation as ‘private means’.

Elsie Ellen Stokes was in her early twenties when she was a munitions worker at Holton Heath. In the 1911 census she had been working as a servant to a local butcher, George Blackmore. In the 1939 Register her occupation was the Hotel and Restaurant Manager at the Longfleet Commercial Hotel.

While those working in industry or in the medical profession draw the most attention there were other important, but less high-profile, areas. One consequence of peace was that there was no need for the vast numbers of clerical staff most of whom were female. One problem was that many found they had become highly specialised and did not have the general skills employers wanted. It was reported in 1920 that women clerks who had been in Government offices were having difficulty finding work as there were over 20 applicants for each vacancy.

The Munitions Court in Bournemouth investigated various claims arising out working in munitions factories and the following provide a snapshot of cases involving local women.

The case of Ellen Holden of Parkstone came before the court in February 1919. Hers was a test case over bonus payments on which rested the hopes of forty other women and was supported by the Workers Union. The women worked at No 7 Saw Mills Factory, Hamworthy as ‘feeders’ and did the same work as men. Statutory rules said they should get a minimum of 24s (£1.20) per week plus a 11s (55p) a week bonus. With the war ending, the company had reduced their hours from 52 to 44 as well as reducing the bonus so instead of 35s (£1.75) a week they were receiving 28s 4d. The women claimed their bonus should not have been reduced. The company argued that they were following Ministry of Munition’s guidance but the Court agreed with the plaintiffs stating that the rules were clear that the bonus was unalterable. The claimants were awarded £3 6s 4d (£3.33) covering the period from 28 November 1918 to the date of the hearing.

In the same sitting, eight women workers who had been employed as cement moulders for Messrs Mannell & Co of Bournemouth wanted a week’s wages in lieu of notice. The case rested on the company’s claim that it was not a ‘controlled’ company under the Munitions Act. Any munitions work they did carry out had ceased at Christmas so the workers were allowed one hour’s notice as they were hourly paid – if they had been doing munitions work it was one week’s notice. The Court sided with the women because a notice stating they were entitled to a week’s notice was still hanging up in the canteen.

A female clerk at a shipping firm in Hamworthy claimed non-payment of the 12 ½ % war bonus. The company admitted it stopped the payment because they understood from the Ministry of Shipping that female clerks were not entitled to it. The Court disagreed and ordered the payment of £6 17s 11d (£6.86). Once again it was a test case for several other claimants against the company.

Not only were many in society wanting women to go back to their pre-war place but legislation was being enacted to enforce it. In 1919, the Poole newspaper reported on the introduction of the ‘Restoration of Pre-War Practices Bill’ into Parliament.  Prior to the war, Trade Unions excluded women from engineering although a company could employ them if it wanted. The new legislation made the latter illegal and was designed to give men returning from the war their old jobs back. Employers had up to two months to comply and were expected to keep the rules in place for a year. The newspaper article said that women were entitled to feel angry that conditions were now going to be worse than before the war – ‘it is hardly possible that it is seriously intended to pass legislation of this character’. The Bill was passed on 2 June 1919. In response, the Women’s Engineering Society was formed on 23 June 1919 to protect women who were in engineering roles. Strangely, the ‘Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act’ of 1919 allowed women, among other things, to join professional bodies – including engineering.

There were an estimated 1 million more women than men in Britain in the years leading up to the war. The horrendous casualties of the war created a difficult situation in an era when a woman was expected to marry and be supported by her husband. Adverts and articles appeared in the Poole newspaper during and after the war encouraging women to emigrate to countries such as New Zealand or Canada. In particular, in June 1920, the Ministry of Labour and the Overseas Settlement Committee of the Colonial Office announced they were going to work together to help single women settle in other countries of the British Empire.

Interest in women’s football had grown during the war and especially through munition factory teams. The games drew large crowds until women were banned from playing at Football League grounds in 1921. The local newspaper had team photographs and a report on the match played between Poole Ladies and Southampton Ladies in April 1921. The report said the event, which was held at Breakheart Lane, had never before been seen in Poole. Southampton was a highly experienced side and Poole only lost 2-0 due to the efforts of their goalkeeper. The Poole Ladies were Brown, Oakaway, Cook, Harris, Reed, Alner, Attwell, Bridle, Dick, Edwards and Ford.

One aspect that did significantly change after the war was the right to a vote. The argument put forward by some against universal suffrage was that women had no practical experience in matters such as industry and the military. This argument collapsed when women were employed in all different capacities at home and abroad during the First World War.

Following the ‘Representation of the People Act, 1918’ a woman was allowed to  vote in a General Election if she was over 30 and was entitled, through property qualifications, to vote in local government elections. Two women stood in the October 1919 Poole Council elections – Mrs E. Cloutman (Labour, Branksome West) and Miss A.E. Briggs (Independent, Parkstone West). Mrs Cloutman polled 303 votes with the winner getting 321. Miss A.E. Briggs won the Parkstone West Ward and became the first female Councillor in Poole. While it was a step forward, it was only in 1928, with the passing of the ‘Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act’, that women over the age of 21 could vote and the residence qualification became the same for men and women. It was thought that 14.5 million women and 12.25 million men would be eligible to vote at the next national election.

The aims of the Poole History Centre First World War project are to recognise the sacrifice that many local men and women made and to explore the impact of the war on all aspects of life in the town and its legacy. The personal experiences of Poole women either in factories during the war or facing unemployment when the hostilities ended were rarely recorded and Poole History Centre would welcome any that may have been passed down through the generations.

Women – ‘Your country needs You’

Considerable numbers of men were absorbed into the conflict that was the First World War. This led to a desperate need for someone to fill the jobs they left behind and also to take on the many new roles that the conflict created. Women found that they were suddenly in demand in the workplace. A Culture volunteer working on the Poole History Centre First World War project uses the local newspaper and other sources to describe the role that they played during the war.

The onset of the conflict inspired a dramatic increase in charities run by women. They ranged from the rather unusual to substantial organisations. ‘Miss Storey’s Fund for the Men in the Trenches’ was a national charity set up by a Miss Gladys Storey and supplied Bovril and magazines to soldiers on the Western Front. According to testimonies, the Bovril was very welcome.

In contrast, the ‘Dorset Guild of Workers’ formed by Cornelia, Lady Wimborne and Feodorowna Alington, was a large organisation based mainly in Poole with some branches throughout Dorset. Groups of women knitted, sewed, and made items for hospitals and soldiers; food and clothing parcels were sent to Dorset Regiment POWs; and some groups collected a special type of moss from the Canford Cliffs area for medical use. For further information about this amazing organisation see the blog ‘Dorset Guild of Workers’.

Other organisations were created to provide emergency care at home and abroad. There is a brief outline of many of them in the Information section of the PooleWW1 website under ‘Medical and Emergency Women’s Organisations of the First World War’.

Typical of these groups was the Women’s Emergency Corps which held a meeting in Bournemouth in September 1914. The audience heard about its aim to bring women voluntary workers together with the idea that they could take on roles such as bus drivers, special constables, gardeners, and motorcycle despatch riders. Another group was the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) which was a large medical organisation that supported temporary hospitals, including some in Poole, during the war. The VAD was formed in 1909 and provided basic medical training to enable thousands of women to work in hospitals. The Information part of the PooleWW1 website has a section titled ‘The VADS in Poole First World War Hospitals’ with a link to a list of names of those who worked in the local hospitals.

Several local nurses went to work in hospitals in France. In October 1914, the local newspaper reported that Nurses Janet Lindsay, Celia Congreve, Evelyn Broad and N. Rogers had gone from Poole to look after the wounded. Evelyn Broad was initially part of the Brussels Unit of the British Red Cross but following the collapse of Belgium worked in France.

It rapidly became clear that the war would not be over in a few months and that it would be a war of attrition. As more and more men left to fight, someone was required to take their place and women found they were needed in jobs from which they were usually excluded.

The local newspaper began to report on the new areas where women could be seen working in Poole, such as a railway porter or an errand girl delivering bread. One article noted that Miss Alice Matthews, 13, was helping her father on his trawler. In 1915, three women were with the Poole post service; by 1917 there were seven postwomen. The Poole newspaper even reported, such was the interest, on the appointment in Leeds of a Miss Virtue of London as the first ‘professional’ woman motor van driver in the country. The company said that ‘far less time [was] wasted on errands’ and she was ‘capable of doing her own repairs’.

While the voluntary organisations were welcomed, and rarely contentious, it was the appearance of women in the workplace, outside of their ‘traditional’ jobs, that caused problems. A newspaper article in early 1915 described how women were taking on many new roles and trade unions believed this was a ‘menace to the future of their members’ because women were likely to accept less pay which would make it difficult for men after the war. There was also the problem of what would happen when the war was over. The Secretary of the Federation of Trade Unions put it succinctly – ‘if women are turned out what is to become of them and if they are allowed to remain what is to become of the men? An MP said there was no problem with women being employed but they must be paid the same as the men they were replacing to protect the interests of those who were away fighting. In Newcastle, the tram company was prepared to accept women as long as the men they replaced were guaranteed their old jobs back at the end of the war.

Clothes and appearance were an important part of the debate over women workers. There was great concern that they should not wear anything that could be deemed masculine – legislation at the time made it illegal to wear clothes of the opposite sex. The wearing of anything resembling trousers or the length of a skirt caused great concern in some quarters. A Poole newspaper article of 1915 described how Southampton police were wanting to employ two policewomen but some people ‘regard[ed] the appointment of women with doubt and fear’. One concern was that their uniform would attract unwanted looks. The debate even extended to those working in situations where clothing had to be practical, such as in the Land Army where breeches and a short coat were necessary. After the war, they wanted to continue wearing this style while working in the garden or when walking in the countryside. The newspaper noted that this would be against the law but that it was probably alright in the confines of their own garden.

The Poole newspaper often had a general column on women’s fashions with the articles reflecting the need for simplicity and restraint during the war.  In early 1917, it reported that there had been a significant increase in ready-to-wear clothes, which were more accessible and cheaper than made-to-measure. Some clothing adverts were directed at the working woman. For example, in 1917, J.A. Hawkes & Son Ltd of Poole advertised the K brand of footwear for women in hospitals, factories and on the land. Prices ranged from 25/- (£1.25) to 32/6 (£1.60½) – around a week’s wage for a woman at RNCF Holton Heath.

Advertisements also appeared in the local newspaper promoting health products for women munition workers. One medication was supposed to help them maintain a strong nervous system while working in difficult conditions. Another advert claimed its product would cure their sore throats and various skin creams claimed to prevent a ‘munition complexion’. There was a serious side to these adverts. In addition to the obvious risks of fire and explosion, exposure to solvents could led to repeated fits, corrosive chemicals affected breathing and eyesight, and one chemical turned the skin yellow.

A series of adverts promoted the idea that a cup of cocoa could help a working woman by turning a biscuit into a meal. This remarkable claim reflects the attitudes of the time when some expressed the view that men needed to be paid more because they ate beef and drank beer while a woman could get by on toast and tea.

One of the most high-profile jobs for women during the war was in munitions factories, such as at the Royal Naval Cordite Factory at Holton Heath which manufactured the cordite for shells. To give an idea of the scale of munitions being produced throughout the country it is estimated that British artillery fired 4 million shells over just 15 days before the Battle of Passchendaele. At the height of production at Holton Heath around half the workforce of 4,000 were women. While there was a canteen and medical facilities there was not a hostel. The huge Gretna factory, the largest in the world at the time, had, by necessity, accommodation but the women had to share a bed which was used by the nightshift while the dayshift was at work and vice versa.

While there is information about the technical side of Holton Heath during the First World War sadly there is very little on the social history aspects. Elsie Stokes from Poole is one of the few women known to have worked at Holton Heath. A previous blog (‘Poole girls are best’: – the munitionettes of Holton Heath) has described their role and the ambivalent attitude they received.  

Although Holton Heath was the most high profile local factory on war work there were many others, such as Messrs A. Knight & Co, of Hill Street, Poole. The company employed women to produce metal shell parts using lathes and their work was reported as ‘second to none’ in the West Country. Women also worked on aeroplane wings in local factories.  A triangular brass badge, known as the ‘On War Service’, was issued from 1916 for women who were involved in munition work for more than two months.

Women workers at Messrs A. Knight, Poole 1917

Women workers at Messrs A. Knight, Poole 1917

Initially, it was considered unacceptable that women could be anywhere near a war zone but that changed as casualties mounted. There many small organisations, such as the Women of Pervyse, who worked near the frontline but they were unofficial and reliant on donations. Official voluntary medical aid was provided through the British Red Cross, St John Ambulance and the Voluntary Aid Detachment. Several other organisations that offered help were refused permission to be on the Western Front but were welcomed by the authorities in the Balkans and Salonika. One of these groups was the Serbian Relief Fund which had to cope with a war and a major typhus epidemic. According to one source, Cornelia, Lady Wimborne ‘led’ one Serbian Relief Fund medical unit to Skopje in March 1915 but nothing has been found to confirm this.

The first organisation linked to the military was the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) which was formed in 1917. It tended to recruit those who had experience in the roles they were to carry out and were not enlisted, but enrolled, so were still civilians. The first WAACs went to France in early 1917 to be cooks and maids in an officer’s club but their roles quickly expanded as can be seen from the advert.

WAAC advert October 1917

WAAC advert October 1917

The Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) was also formed in 1917 followed by the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF) in 1918 when the RAF was created. To give an idea of the scale of these organisations there were around 4,000 WRNS, 24,000 WRAFs, and 43,000 WAACs at the end of the war. They joined up for many reasons such as wanting to escape the constraints of society and a desire to do something adventurous. In so doing, they were exposed to concerns about morals with critics assuming they were solely seeking the company of men and that wearing a military-style uniform would lead to the women becoming ‘masculine’ and ‘unlovable’.

Two local women who were part of the WRNS were Violet-May Saunders and Winifred Newman. Both enlisted on 22 August 1918 and were based at the White Oak establishment in Poole. They were employed as net mine workers which involved wiring glass floats together for mine nets – presumably for the Royal Navy minesweepers which operated out of Poole during the war. 

When the war ended the theoretical debate over the future of women workers became a reality. Prior to the conflict many in society believed that a job was something women did between school and marriage. The war altered this view but, in many cases, only temporarily. For example, in 1917 the Ministry of Munitions wanted more women to train for engineering work – the courses ran for several weeks in London and a maintenance grant was available. When fully trained it was said that a woman working on aero-engines or similar could earn at least £2 per week. Only two years later, with the war over, legislation was passed that made it against the law to employ a woman as an engineer.

Women who had found doors opening to opportunities that had been previously denied them now found those doors being closed – another blog will cover the post-war situation.

Unemployment – the aftermath of the First World War

A Culture volunteer working on the Poole History Centre First World War project has explored the local and national impact of the unemployment that followed the ending of the First World War. The reporting was considered so important that the regular column in the Poole and East Dorset Herald newspaper which had followed demobilisation under the by-line ‘Demobicus’ now turned to unemployment.

The end of the First World War saw major and far-reaching social upheaval. The Russian Revolution and the rise of Communism had repercussions throughout the world. While Britain escaped the serious violence that erupted in Germany between communist and non-communist factions there was a lot of discontent. There was a widespread feeling in the workplace of not wanting to go back to the conditions that existed prior to, and also during, the war. Some employers had taken the opportunity to downgrade jobs from skilled to unskilled, and. therefore, paid at a lower wage, when women were taken on. Their so-called reasoning was that if a woman could do the work then it was not a skilled job.

Not only were members of the armed forces looking for a job there were all those in civilian roles that, overnight, had effectively vanished. Of the estimated 306,000 who worked in ‘national’ factories, primarily on munitions, 75% had lost their job by March 1919. Typical was the Royal Naval Cordite Factory at Holton Heath where the weekly output of cordite fell from 150 tons to 30 tons and with it the need for a large workforce.

Many businesses faced a bleak future. The Wessex Shipbuilding Co of Poole had worked solely on the reconditioning and repair of numerous small Admiralty vessels during the war. The company had taken on extra staff to cope with a workload which had now disappeared.

Ex-servicemen returned to great uncertainty and there was a lot of antagonism towards individuals who, some believed, had avoided the war and were in employment. Even as late as 1921, Poole Council and the Poole Board of Guardians were requesting that the Admiralty should sack any men who were working at RNCF Holton Heath and who had not served, and replace them with ex-servicemen. The Admiralty replied that they were not able to agree to the request unless there were specific individuals who were ‘improperly retained’.  

Several demonstrations over unemployment took place in Poole during 1920. A placard at one demonstration read Discharged, Cold and Miserable’ – the DCM was the Distinguished Conduct Medal. Resentment was expressed that various groups, such as conscientious objectors and women, were in work while ex-servicemen were unemployed – but it was also not that straightforward. Those who had fought at the front often felt antagonism towards those who had been based at home and never experienced actual conflict, but expected to be treated the same as those who had put their lives at risk.

‘Bread – not Doles’ was the headline in December 1920 for an article about the visit by a group of out-of-work ex-servicemen to a Poole Council meeting. The men wanted the Council to help them obtain useful paid work and Captain G.J, Pitt was their spokesperson. Suggestions put forward included improving Alder Road, relaying the tramlines from Poole to Park Gates East which were said to be in an awful state, building houses using non-union labour, and employing people rather than giving out overtime. The Mayor responded that the Council had agreed to the improvement of Alder Road, widening the road in Hamworthy, and building concrete houses but many other suggestions were outside their control. At the end of November there were 594 unemployed ex-servicemen out of a total of 766 who were out of work; this did not include women and those who refused to accept what they considered to be ‘unproductive money’.

The meeting gave rise to the ‘Mayor of Poole’s Christmas Obligation Fund for Unemployed Ex-servicemen’ which aimed to provide vouchers and gifts over the festive period for those most in need. The fund had received nearly £800 by late December from individual donations or through fund-raising events. Labour Exchange staff worked in their own time to compile a list of those entitled to the gifts which were to be delivered by the Boy Scouts.

An impromptu demonstration in December gathered at Topp’s Corner, with the Town Crier calling out the news on the streets. The demonstrators then marched along the High Street to the Guildhall where they were met by the Mayor. Many of their arguments centred on who should get preference when jobs became available; for example, that ex-servicemen and married men should be employed in preference to single men. While the Alder Road scheme was welcomed it only employed 40 men when there over 700 out of work. The Mayor pointed out that the schemes announced by the Council were supported by Government funds and it was the Labour Exchange which determined who got the work. Nationally, the Ministry of Labour had decided that those out of work for the longest time and had large families should get preference.

One demonstration was reported under the headline ‘Nobody Wants Us’. There was a call for RNCF Holton Heath to make something for ‘the preservation of life’ rather than the military and the manufacture of fuel was one suggestion. This is not as far-fetched as it might seem as towards the end of the war Holton Heath had been investigating the manufacture of what we would call ‘bioethanol’ as an alternative to petrol. The theory was that heathland could be used to grow mangolds, a beet used in cattle feed, which would then be converted into ethanol by bacteria. The reason behind the scheme was the belief that the increasing demand for petrol would outstrip its supply. Early indications had suggested that 24 tons of mangolds could be converted into 240 gallons of ‘power alcohol’. Holton Heath already had experience of a fermentation process through the large-scale production of acetone used in the manufacture of cordite.  

Unemployment Advert

Unemployment Advert

     What financial assistance and other help was available in the absence of the welfare state?

In late November 1918, the Poole newspaper reported on a Government scheme to help ex- servicemen and civilians who were out of work because the war had ended. Men would get a payment of 24s (£1.20) per week and women 20s (£1) per week. There were additional payments for children under 15. A boy who had been employed, and was aged 15 -18, got 12s (60p) per week while a girl received 10s (50p) per week. The payment was for 13 weeks to civilians and 26 weeks to ex-servicemen.

These payments led to arguments over supposed ‘shirkers’ preferring the dole to a wage. In contrast, a Poole newspaper article of 1919 highlighted a man who had signed up in 1914, only just returned home and was offered a job at a weekly wage of 25s (£1.25) on which he was expected to support a family. The article ended with ‘let employers offer decent wages…then men will work’.

One major social change after the war was that the ‘Unemployment Insurance Bill’ of 1920 was expected to become law. The aim was to provide, on payment of a weekly sum, unemployment insurance for over 11 million workers with the idea of protecting them if they became unemployed; the previous system had only covered 3.5million workers. Interestingly, the old act paid out 11 shillings (55p) per week to men and women while the new version was to pay 15 shillings (75p) per week to men but only 12 shillings (60p) per week to women.

For most people, the Labour Exchange in Poole was the place to get a job and a long queue would form by the Oddfellows Hall each morning. With a high level of unemployment it was argued that there should be a sub-branch in Parkstone as men were having to pay 6d (2 ½p) to travel into Poole every time they sought work or had to sign on.

Oddfellows Hall c.1880, Hunger Hill

Oddfellows Hall c.1880, Hunger Hill

Nationally, there was an Appointments Department which was solely for officers and those of ‘higher educational attainment’ and in mid-1919 it had around 18,000 on its books having found jobs for nearly 10,000. Many had gone straight from public school or university into the military and had only a limited idea of civilian life. There was also a Training Grants Scheme which had 1420 men receiving training but still had 16,000 on its books.

Some former apprentices were able to re-join their schemes but many found either their former employer unwilling to take them back or that the business had closed. A national call was put out for employers to take on more former apprentices as they would become the skilled workers of the future. However, some employers were reluctant because they were now older, would want higher wages but still be unskilled.

The demand for jobs meant that any scheme to provide employment was enthusiastically received; another blog will feature some of these schemes which ranged from the small to the substantial. For example, teams of four men were paid £25 for every redundant tank they broke up at Wareham. They were expected to smash a tank into pieces for scrap in an arduous job that could take a week. In contrast, the Gardiner Shipbuilding Company anticipated employing thousands of men by creating one of the largest shipbuilding industries in the country in Poole. Unfortunately, it collapsed with alleged substantial debts.