Women and the vote – a Poole perspective

A Culture volunteer on the Poole History Centre First World War project outlines some background to women’s suffrage with a Poole perspective.

The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) was formed as early as 1867 and by 1913 there were 449 societies who were members. Its manifesto had fourteen reasons for women’s suffrage. For example, that those who objected to women’s suffrage based their opinions on ‘sentiment not reason’ and that women were affected by laws on which they were neither consulted nor could they offer an opinion. One stark statistic put forward in 1912 by the NUWSS was that 331 babies died in the deprived area of one city for every 1000 born. The NUWSS believed that if mothers had the vote they could use it to improve their living conditions.

The NUWSS believed in discussion and influence but some women believed that this approach was going nowhere and Emmeline Pankhurst founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903 to take more militant action.

There were several organisations who opposed women’s suffrage. The Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League said that women had no experience in national matters. If they had the vote, this would place the country ‘in peril’, there would be conflict within the family, and there were more women than men. The National League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage took the latter argument further by saying that there were 1.3 million more women than men so they would become ‘the dominant political power’ leading to the domination of men by women. Other organisations argued that children and family life would suffer if women had the vote.

Militant action by the WSPU was widespread. The local newspaper reported in 1913 on attempts to damage the contents of public letter boxes in Parkstone and Branksome.

In 1909, many newspapers reported on incidents that had occurred at Liberal meetings in Branksome and Canford Park. The disturbance at Canford Park was the most serious. Prior to the meeting, which was attended by 12,000 people and at which Winston Churchill spoke on the budget, a cry of ‘suffragettes’ was followed by two women being ‘practically mobbed’, roughly treated and  threatened with being ‘ducked’ in the river and the police had to escort them to safety. The two women claimed they were innocent onlookers. It was noted that many in the crowd attempted to intervene on the women’s behalf and letters to the newspapers expressed outrage over their treatment. Other women in the crowd were greeted with shouts of ‘suffragettes’ and were asked to leave the meeting.

Curiously, one of the latter women, Annie Kenney, is quoted in a book on the women’s suffragette movement saying that she was severely manhandled ‘in a most shameful way’ with her clothes being torn before being forcibly ejected from the park. She had witnessed the other women being mishandled as well as a carriage, whose occupants were women, nearly being overturned by the crowd. Annie Kenney was a suffragette from Lancashire who, along with Mrs Minnie Baldock, formed the London branch of the WSPU.  She was also the sole working class woman to make it into the hierarchy of the suffrage movement in which she took a very active role.

One form of action was refusing to pay income tax on the basis of ‘No vote, no tax’. The local newspaper reported on the sale of items belonging to Miss H. Symons of Parkstone at the Stout and Eustace auction rooms in May 1912. Some of the goods on sale were bought by women supporters of her action. An impromptu meeting was then held in Madeira Road by members of the NUWSS, WSPU, and Women’s Taxation Resistance League.

Many suffragettes faced imprisonment. Mrs Lucy Minnie Baldock, who moved to Hamworthy in 1923 and lived there until she died in 1954, was put in prison twice. The first time was in 1906 for being part of a small WSPU demonstration outside Parliament. The second time was in 1908 after using a megaphone to carry her appeals for the vote throughout Parliament Square.

On the outbreak of the First World War, Millicent Fawcett of the NUWSS coined the phrase ‘Women, your country needs you’, prior to Kitchener’s more well-known phrase. The general approach of low-key protest and encouraging women to help in the war effort aided the arguments for the vote. The WSPU did continue with a militant policy but quickly realised that it was counter-productive and stopped. Women took on many roles during the First World War that had previously been denied them and this removed many of the arguments against women’s suffrage.

An article in the local newspaper published in 1915 was headlined ‘The Women’s Freedom League’ on the announcement of their manifesto. They asked the Government to ensure that:

  • a woman who was trained, and doing the same work as men, should be paid the same as men.
  • the needs of women in work should be taken into consideration when the war ended
  • all women should receive financial help during training

The manifesto noted that as the Government was asking women to help in the defence of the country and were taking on greater responsibilities then it should enact ‘the political enfranchisement of women’.

A letter to the local newspaper in May 1917 from someone who lived in London put forward a different view. According to the writer ‘the vast majority of women’ are solely interested in the home and family and do not want to be involved in politics. He believed that local council enfranchisement would satisfy those eager to get involved in politics but that a ‘woman’s temperament and inexperience’ excluded her from being involved in matters of national importance.

Two linked First World War era postcards which were considered ‘humorous’ at the time. Interestingly, the handwritten text on the reverse of the first postcard says ‘Will women have the votes NO’ (Poole History Centre)

The Representation of the People Act was passed by the House of Commons in 1917 and a year later by the House of Lords. A woman was entitled to vote if she had reached the age of 30, and had property rights or was married to a man who was entitled to vote.

The local newspaper reported in April 1919 on the creation of voter’s lists following the 1918 act. This was not straightforward and a tribunal was asked to determine whether someone met the requirements.

For example, the Rev C.A. Trew of Canford Cliffs asked whether his daughter was entitled to vote. The request was denied as she did not pay her father rent and her room was furnished. Similarly, Miss E.K. Allen of Parkstone was denied the vote because she only occupied a furnished room and did not pay any rent. In contrast, Miss W. Duxbury lived with her uncle in Parkstone.  She paid 5s/month for a room, had meals with the family and owned her own furniture. The entitlement to vote was allowed if she could prove that rent was paid. Miss F.A. Price of Parkstone had bought the property she was living in. Her claim to entitlement was refused because only two names could go on the list and she was ‘third joint-occupier’. Another claimant argued that ownership of furniture was sufficient and but the court ruled that they also had to pay rent.

In October 1919, Miss A.E. Briggs (Independent) stood in the Parkstone West Ward and Mrs E. Cloutman (Labour) stood in the Branksome West Ward in the Poole Town Council elections. Mrs Cloutman narrowly lost to Mr Parnell (Independent) 303 votes to 321 votes. Miss Briggs won Parkstone West and became Poole Council’s first woman councillor. She took an active part in local politics until 1925.

‘Message to the Women of East Dorset’ was the headline of a newspaper report of a meeting held at Shaftesbury Hall in Poole in September 1921. Mrs Colville Hyde, who chaired the meeting, expressed the view that most women had not wanted the vote ‘but now they had it they had to make the most of it’. The first speaker said it was the duty of all women to ensure that every woman knew about politics and exercised their right to vote. She also argued that women needed training and education sessions to help them understand the issues so they could make an informed decision. She believed that women should take an active interest in politics because it was they and their children who suffered the most during violent change and highlighted the recent revolution in Russia.

It was only when the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928 was passed were women over the age of 21 allowed to vote ‘regardless of property ownership’.

Rationing and Profiteering

The local newspaper reported that the declaration of the First World War caused traders in Poole to close early because people were ordering large quantities of food. A voluntary Food Economy Campaign was introduced at the beginning of the war but the heavy loss of merchant shipping to German U-boats and raiders meant that legislation had to be introduced to cover hoarding, price control and, eventually, rationing. Profiteering was a concern after the war ended. A Culture volunteer on the Poole History Centre First World War project looks at rationing and profiteering during and after the First World War.

The Food Hoarding Order of 1917 made it a criminal offence for a household to have more than 14 days of food that would be needed under normal circumstances. Fines of the order of £200 could be given at a time when the typical wage was £4 to £5 a week. There were no reported instances of hoarding in Poole but the local newspaper did have articles on cases elsewhere in the country. In one remarkable instance, 157 lbs (71kg) of sugar, 110 lbs (49.5kg) of beans, and 60 lbs (27kg) of rice were discovered in a house. What dismayed the inspectors was the waste as much of it had become mouldy and inedible.

One option at a time of uncertainty was to grow your own. Poole was one of the first towns in the country to have war allotments and the War-time Allotments Committee met for the first time during the spring of 1915. Allotments were organised on land lent by the Council at Ladies Walking Field (15 plots), in Longfleet on land lent by Lord Wimborne (30 plots) and on land in Upper Parkstone lent by Mr Colman (16 plots). A registration fee of 1s (5p) was charged but there was no rent.

It was only in 1916 that the Government recognised the value of allotments. The Cultivation of Lands Order was introduced which authorised the Board of Agriculture to take over unused land for food production. Locally, the war-time allotments scheme was a great success and had expanded to around 200 plots by 1916 and only a year later had grown to 1000 plots from Hamworthy to Bourne Valley. The need was highlighted when the local newspaper reported In March 1918 that Dorset had produced 12 000 tons of potatoes, but consumed 20 000 tons, and an appeal was put out for ‘everyone to grow potatoes’ – the end of the war saw 1400 allotments in the Poole area.

The Poole Borough Allotments Association had looked after allotments in the Borough before the war and there was feeling by some that the War-time Committee was ‘antagonistic’ towards them. Land was being freely made available to the Committee and no rent was being charged. It was, however, accepted that the land would probably be returned to its former owners at the end of the war, as happened at Ladies Walking Field. Other sites were taken over for house building but around a 1000 still remained with an uncertain future. It was decided that the Allotments Association would take over those that were to remain as allotments and that an ‘economic’ rent would be charged.

Shortages inspired retailers to advertise alternatives. An advert appeared in October 1917 from one retailer who suggested drinking coffee as an alternative to tea which was in short supply.

Drink Coffee for breakfast advert

Large ports, such as Southampton, were considered vulnerable and Poole was put forward as an emergency port. A cargo service from Channel Islands to Hamworthy started operating from 1915 to import potatoes for distribution throughout the country via the Hamworthy branch railway line. An extra 70 men were hired by the port because of the extra trade. Much of the work was done in poor light because lighting in sensitive coastal areas, such as Poole, was controlled by the Defence of the Realm Act.

An interesting social history aspect to the First World War relates to food at a time when it was suggested a woman could get by on ‘tea and toast’ while a man needed ‘beef and beer’. One advert during the war even promoted the idea that a cup of cocoa could help a working woman by turning a biscuit into a meal. A visit by Poole councillors in September 1916 to the Royal Ordnance Factory at Holton Heath reported that a ‘good lunch’ for 7d (3½ p) was to be had in the canteen. For many women a canteen meal was the first time they had a regular good meal and being in employment meant they also had access to money. School Medical officers in London noted in 1918 that, despite food shortages, the number of children ‘in a poorly nourished condition’ was less than half of those in 1913.

Sugar was rationed in January 1918 but continuing problems over food supply resulted in a much wider rationing scheme. The local newspaper reported that long queues formed outside butchers and grocers as more food was added to the list to be rationed. It was noted that being a regular at a shop was ‘advantageous’. Meanwhile it was claimed that some people were attempting to visit different shops in order to purchase more than was reasonable. There were also reports of milk being diluted with water.

The local newspaper reported in June 1918 that 3000 people were to be employed on the printing and delivery of an estimated 63 million rationing books. The ration book had a white cover for the name of retailer, an orange page for sugar, blue for fats, four red pages for meat and bacon, brown/blue if other foods were to be rationed in the future and a green one for reference. The design was aimed at making forgery ‘a matter of some difficulty’.

Rationing was not without its problems and, in particular, the meat ration was contentious. Those who worked in the heavy industries such as steel, mining and shipbuilding wanted a ration quantity that reflected the arduousness of their work. The debate even extended to whether those in the military who worked in offices should get the same as those in other roles. The workers at one London construction site refused to extend the working day to 7pm unless their meat ration was increased and a similar situation occurred in other places. Concerns over the increasing social unrest resulted in the Cabinet recommending that the Prime Minister meet with newspaper editors to explain the reasons why rationing was needed so as to better inform the general public.

A National Communal Kitchen scheme was set up with the aim of providing food at cost to those who struggled and in January 1918 it was proposed to create two kitchens in Poole. The local project was not successful and there were complaints to the local newspaper over the length of time it was taking to set them up and the scheme was abandoned in April 1918.

Rationing motivated companies to offer alternative products. One retailer suggested spaghetti in tomato sauce with cheese, for which no ration card was needed, as an alternative to meat! Shortages of coal inspired one manufacturer to offer a product for cleaning clothes that avoided the need to heat up water.

No ration card required

Legislation was put in place to control food prices. In April 1917, a local market gardener was charged with selling potatoes at a higher price than regulated. A consumer wanted to buy 2 lbs (900g) of potatoes at Poole Market and was offered 1 lb. When she got home she found the bag contained 3 potatoes and the rest were turnips. The defendant argued that children had knocked over a table and the potatoes and turnips had got muddled up. The Poole Police Court was unimpressed and fined the defendant £2.  

In February 1918, a consumer claimed that the ½ lb (225g) of China tea he had bought for 2s (10p) from a Poole High Street shop was of poor quality and claimed analysis had shown it to be 20% used tea and 2% something other than tea. The case went to court but was dismissed as another analyst could not repeat the result.

 In 1919, and with the war over, the Government responded to public pressure to relax controls but had to re-introduce them because prices started going up and poor quality food was being found on sale. The Food Hoarding Order also still applied.

Shortages after the war led to the Profiteering Act of 1919 and the Poole Council set up a Committee in November 1919. Someone convicted of an offence under the Act could be fined up to £50 or be sent to prison for up to one month. Anybody who wanted to complain about profiteering in the Poole Borough had to write to W.G. Granger, Clerk of the Committee at 217 High Street within 4 days of the purchase.

One case in early December 1919 involved a local hotel which charged 2s (10p) for two teacups of milk which was considered excessive and the proprietors were ordered by the Profiteering Committee to refund 1s (5p). In September 1920, a complaint was made against a fruiterer by a Lower Parkstone resident who claimed they were overcharged for half a pound of apples. The case was dismissed.

1920 was dominated by world food shortages caused by a combination of the war and the 1918 flu pandemic which had a catastrophic effect on production and transport. Butter, wheat, tea and sugar were in short supply and the ration for sugar in Britain was reduced from 8oz (225g) per person per week to 6oz. Prior to the war, Britain consumed around 1.8 million tons of refined sugar of which only half was supplied by British sugar refiners. The rest came from the Continent. Alternative supplies were sought from Cuba and Java during the war but these were dependent on the merchant ships getting through. Peace may have broken out in November 1918 but sugar from the Continent was planted in May and harvested in October – which meant there was a world shortage of sugar. In contrast, there was a glut of meat in Britain from Australia and New Zealand but the country did not have sufficient cold storage and prices had to be reduced so that it did not go to waste.

The Poole Food Control Committee had its last meeting in June 1920.150 breaches of regulations had been reported to the committee with 97 convictions resulting in fines totalling £109 6s 6d. In April 1918, 38,066 ration cards had been issued and 42,791 were in circulation when the committee closed down. As an indication of the level of trade in the Poole area, 185 tea dealers, 130 sugar retailers, 132 butter retailers, 142 margarine retailers and 35 butchers had been ‘controlled’ by the Committee by the end of 1917.

Examples of breaches of food controls included a High Street retailer who was fined 5s (25p) for selling ¼ lb of toffee for 9d when it should have been 8d. He said he was unaware that the price of sweets was controlled. A High Street butcher was fined £5 for selling a rabbit for 2s (10p) when it should have 1s 9d (8½p). Another trader was fined 5s (25p) for not displaying a price list.

The continuing concerns over profiteering led to the Profiteering (Amendment) Act 1920 which widened the scope of the earlier Act to include items on hire or hire purchase as well as nearly thirty items such as milk, flour, meat, coal, bread, fish, poultry, bacon and marmalade. While the aim of the Amendment was to control the cost of living, it was also believed that legislation was needed because the ‘psychological aspect of [profiteering was of] very considerable importance’. The Profiteering (Amendments) Act ended on 19 May 1921 and Poole Council announced, as did other councils, the disbanding of the Profiteering Committee.

Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps and Poole

A Culture volunteer on the Poole History Centre First World War project outlines the history of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) and some of the women from Poole who served with the Corps. The National Archives has the personal records of some WAACs from Poole and these provide an interesting insight into the social history of the time.

Women took on an increasing number of roles during the war simply because so many men were need to fight. While the ‘traditional’ opportunities of voluntary work and nursing were acceptable it was with reluctance, and because of a desperate need, that women were employed in, for example, munitions work and engineering. There was an even greater reluctance to allow women into areas that could be considered ‘military’. There were many reasons for this including that it would weaken the argument against granting women the vote, it would lead to them becoming ‘masculine’, and that they would be ‘led astray’ by being amongst so many men. However, with the tragic loss of life at the front and the Government using the slogan that ‘every fit woman can release a fit man’ it was inevitable that jobs in military camps at home and abroad would be opened up.

The first organisation formed by the War Office was the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in 1917. Lord Derby, Minister of War, wanted ‘titled’ ladies to be in charge but was overruled by those who saw the need for a more professional approach.  Mona Chalmers Watson, a doctor, was appointed Chief Controller of the UK operations while Helen Gwynne-Vaughan, a lecturer in botany, was the equivalent in France. Both had experience of struggling to be accepted in their professions.

The Corps tended to recruit those who had experience in the roles they were to perform and, importantly, they were not enlisted, but enrolled, so were still civilians. This led to a ‘Catch-22’ situation. To perform their role in a professional manner they needed to carry out all aspects of training, including drill, but this led to accusations of adopting ‘mannish’ behaviour. However, if they didn’t train they were criticised for not being professional.

WAACs needed to wear a uniform to ensure they were recognised as members of the Corps but this drew criticism as some commentators believed only soldiers should wear khaki. The length of the skirt was also debated and it was decided that the lower hem could be 12in from the ground.  It was also argued that to maintain discipline there needed to be different ranks and insignia but, once again, the authorities were against anything obviously military so something ‘feminine’ was chosen – a ‘double rose’ was the equivalent in rank to a brigadier-general.

What, at the time, were considered to be ‘humorous’ postcards did not help attitudes towards the WAAC and rumours were spread of inappropriate behaviour. Several people were convicted under the Defence of the Realm Act for making unsubstantiated claims with fines ranging from £2 to £50. There was even a Government Commission of Enquiry that went to France in 1918 to investigate alleged wide-spread immoral conduct among the 6000 WAACs based at 29 camps and hostels. The Commission found ‘no justification’ for the ‘vague accusations’ that were proving distressing to those who returned on leave to the UK to face friends and families. The report outlined some of the sources of the rumours which it said included some of the men who had been displaced by WAACs and who expressed ‘jealousy and hostility’ towards them. The Commission concluded that ‘the nation has as much right to be proud of its women in the Auxiliary Force as of its men’.

At its height, the WAAC had nearly 60,000 members in roles such as in cookery, waitressing, administration and as drivers. Some became intelligence workers decoding German messages and went under the name ‘Hushwaacs’. Over a thousand worked with the American Expeditionary Force in its records departments. When Queen Mary became Commander-in-Chief in 1918 the Corps became known as the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps. Several thousand QMAACs later became part of the Women’s Royal Air Force. The Corps closed on 27 September 1921 when its last members were demobbed.

An applicant was required to fill in a ‘Form of Enrolment in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps’ which covered personal details as well as expectations. One question asked whether the applicant was willing to work at home or abroad or only at home. For many women, this was the only opportunity they would have to travel. One WAAC described how only those over 21 were allowed to go to France, so she lied about her age. She found herself in the ‘unheroic monotony’ of working on a typewriter, but even that had its risks as her workplace was bombed.

The form also made sure the applicant understood the consequences of disciplinary action. For example, if a WAAC should ‘wilfully neglect to perform any of [her] duties…or delay performing them’ she could be imprisoned for up to 6 months, possibly with hard labour, or fined up to £100. If a WAAC was guilty of breach of contract the fine for a first offence was 2s 6d (12½ p) and a second 5s (25p).

The applicant was also required to provide at least two referees who were contacted by the Ministry of Labour, Employment Exchange to provide references as to her character and suitability for the role. There was also a medical report to be filled in which included ‘Declared Age’. Most questions were what we might expect but there were also some highly intrusive ones.

The following information is from the National Archives and is for WAAC/QMAACs who were born and lived in Poole and whose records have survived. Most records were lost in an air raid during the Second World War or were damaged by fire or water. The information is believed to be correct but there may be errors as much of it is handwritten and of varying legibility.

Blanche Churchill lived at the London Hotel, High Street, Poole and was 19 when she enrolled with the WAAC in August 1918. She applied to be a waitress because of her experience at the hotel and was willing to work at home or overseas. According to the records it seems she worked as a housemaid at a Royal Army Services Corps camp near Winchester. Like many others, her records also include a signed contract agreeing to extend her service with the QMAAC until 30 April 1920. The records include a ‘Requisition for free annual issue of clothing’ which detailed what she received on joining such as one frock coat, one pair of shoes and three collars. However, there were no hats or overalls in stock when the clothing was issued by the Quartermistress. She was discharged in late 1919. Interestingly, she applied for the British War and Victory Medals but was refused because, according to the official response, they were awarded only to members of the QMAAC who had served overseas before 11 November 1918.

Poole High Street showing the London Hotel, from the collection of Poole Museum Service

Poole High Street showing the London Hotel, from the collection of Poole Museum Service

Sarah May Padley was 25 and lived at West Quay Road, Poole when she applied to join the WAAC as a general domestic/waitress. In her records, she said she left Poole Girls National School at 13. In 1914 she worked as a seasonal waitress at 10s (50p) per week; in 1915 she earned £18 per year as a housemaid/waitress. Her job prior to joining the WAAC was ‘gas repairer and meter reader’ for the Bournemouth Gas & Water Company at £1 per week. She was single when she applied in October 1917 but later records have her last name as Coleman so presumably she married. She was discharged on medical grounds in late 1918. It would appear she served in France as she received the British War and Victory Medals.

Edith L. Bond of Brook Road, Upper Parkstone was 18 when she joined the QMAAC in September 1918 as a pantrymaid. She was discharged on compassionate grounds in 1919.

Irene J.R. Eyles was living at Palmerston Road, Parkstone when, at the age of 23, she applied to the WAAC in May 1918 and expressed a wish to work at home or overseas. She went to France in June 1918 and was a waitress at the Directorates Camp, Aubergues(?) at £31/4/0 (£31.20) per annum. Her rank was ‘Worker’. She applied to be discharged in March 1919 because she had been offered a job as parlourmaid but withdrew the request in May. Following a return to England on leave she applied to be discharged in September 1919 on compassionate grounds which appear to be connected with her family. She was awarded the British War and Victory Medals.

First World War howitzer at Sterte

In a previous blog on Poole First World War trophies there was mention of a howitzer which reputedly had links to Dorset men and for a time was in Sterte near Holes Bay. A chance conversation with another researcher has led to more information coming to light and a Culture volunteer working on the Poole History Centre First World War project outlines the howitzer’s remarkable history and its links to Poole and Dorset.

The Mayor of Poole, Sir G.A. Dolby, announced in September 1919 that a British 12in howitzer heavy gun which had been used by Dorset men had arrived in Poole ‘at no cost to the Council’. A decision now had to be made over where to put it with £100 having been donated to help with its transfer.

It was decided to locate the howitzer in Sterte by the side of Holes Bay – probably because it could only be moved on rails and the site was close to the railway sidings. Local residents and the newspaper expressed dismay that it was still in a railway siding in April 1920 even though the concrete base had been finished three months earlier. Finally, it was announced in June that a team from the Royal Garrison Artillery, Weymouth would transfer the gun to the concrete base next to van Raalte Lodge, Sterte. The newspaper article hoped there would be a service of dedication as ‘it is Poole’s solitary war memorial’. A week later it was in place. By October there were calls for railings to be put round it because children were playing on the howitzer as it ‘provided unusual scope for fun’.

 It was not uncommon after the end of the war for ‘war trophies’ to be given to towns and cities, however, they were not always welcomed. Dorchester residents forced the council to remove theirs from the street and put it in a yard. Residents in Lynton went further – they threw theirs down a cliff. Some people wanted to forget the war and a ‘trophy’ was a continuing reminder while, in contrast, others wanted one as a reminder of what had happened. Early in 1921 there were still mixed feelings over the Poole gun even though it was British. Some wanted to throw it into Holes Bay while one councillor suggested it should be blown up. Others felt that with a few improvements and a suitable plaque it would be a fitting memorial to the Poole men who had served in the war.

The gun was a British 12in BL Siege Howitzer and had links not only to Poole but to Upton House. And, remarkably, in the Poole Museum store is the nameplate for the gun which was also known as ‘Alpha’. The gun was:

  1. The first 12in howitzer made in Great Britain. A 12in howitzer was a huge gun which ran on railway lines that were curved so that the gun could point in different directions as it had no ability to traverse.
  2. Taken to France by the 52nd Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery which was the first battery in the First World War to be formed from the Dorset Royal Garrison Artillery for service overseas.
  3. Fired more rounds than any other British 12in howitzer. It fired its first round on the 13th January 1916 at Beuvry.
  4. Commanded by Captain [later Major] J.J. Llewellin of Upton House from August 16th 1915 to August 1st

Captain John Jestyn (Jay) Llewellin was William Llewellin’s son from his first marriage. Jay Llewellin was at Upton House when war was declared. He kept a diary of his experiences which ranged from having their horse inspected at St Peter’s Finger and then being purchased by the Government (August 6th 1914) to, after joining the Dorset Royal Garrison Artillery at Nothe Fort, physical training at 6.45 am followed by parade, marching and rifle exercises (October 12th 1914). Llewellin went to France with the 52nd Siege Battery in December 1915. There were two howitzers, ‘Alpha’ and ‘Beta’, in the Siege Battery and Llewellin was in charge of the former. He was awarded the Military Cross in 1917 and promoted to Major at the relatively young age of 24. He returned with the battery to England in July 1919.

William Llewellin thought that having the howitzer in Poole would be a good memorial to those who had served and while the War Office was agreeable they expected him to pay for it which he was not too keen on. Eventually, the War Office agreed to donate it and the howitzer was placed in Sterte until it was scrapped during the Second World War. Both of William’s sons survived the First World War and he had a set of gates erected at the Upton House walled garden on which there is a plaque ‘in thankfulness to God for safe return’.

Upton House Gates (Poole History Centre)

Upton House Gates (Poole History Centre)

Llewellin Plaque on Gates (Poole History Centre)

Llewellin Plaque on Gates (Poole History Centre)

Local men who served in the 52nd Siege Battery included Gunner Samuel E. Bodger of Bournemouth Road (18/08/15 to 05/05/19), Gunner James W. Brown of Old Wareham Road (16/08/15 to 16/06/19) and Wheeler/Gunner Frank Yeatman of Darby’s Corner (16/08/15 to 25/02/19).

Royal Navy in the First World War Part 3- Royal Naval Division

Part 3 of this series on the Royal Navy is unusual in that it is about men who joined the navy expecting to be at sea and instead found themselves fighting on land. A Culture volunteer on the Poole History Centre First World War project outlines the history of the Royal Naval Division and highlights some of the Poole men who served with it.

At the start of the war the Navy had too many men. Members of the Royal Naval Reserve, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and Royal Fleet Reserve, together with two battalions of Royal Marines, found themselves organised into the Royal Naval Division (RND) which was to fight on land alongside army units. The naval battalions were given the names of famous admirals – Benbow, Collingwood, Hawke and Drake were the 1st Brigade; Howe, Hood, Anson, and Nelson were the 2nd Brigade. Training was initially basic as the officers had, not surprisingly, little idea about land warfare. Morale was not helped by the fact that many ratings viewed the prospect of not being at sea with dismay. Adverts encouraging men to join the RND noted they would be paid 1s 3d (6 ½p) a day, and ‘there are no expenses incurred in joining’ with ‘free kits and food being provided’.

Despite the limited training, and not being at full strength, the RND was sent to fight at Ostend and Antwerp in August 1914. However, the British Expeditionary Force was beginning to withdraw into France and a large number of men of the RND were captured and spent the rest of the war in a POW camp.

Not long afterwards the Royal Naval Division did find itself at sea but sadly it was in troop transports that took them to the start of the Gallipoli campaign. The landings began on April 25 1915 and the RND fought alongside other troops from Britain, Australia, New Zealand, India, and France. The conditions were appalling. One soldier described how they ate ‘bully beef and biscuit’ for 3 months and that it was a delight to suddenly be given a loaf of bread – to be shared between seven.  [See a previous blog about a Poole link to Gallipoli ‘George E. Ford – a survivor of Gallipoli’].

It was while at Gallipoli that the Benbow Battalion was merged into the other battalions and Collingwood ‘no longer existed’. Over 7,000 men from the RND were either killed or wounded by the time the withdrawal from Gallipoli took place. In contrast to the landings, leaving Gallipoli was a remarkably successful operation.

The Division next found itself on the Western Front where, as one soldier described it, they found themselves ‘inured to the gruesome sight of a shattered form and a blood-stained firestep’.

During early 1916 the Royal Naval Division became the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division and consisted of three brigades of four battalions plus one brigade formed of Army battalions. The 188th Brigade was made up of the Anson and Howe Battalions together with two battalions of Royal Marine Light Infantry; 189th Brigade – Hood, Nelson, Hawke, and Drake Battalions; 190th Brigade –  four standard infantry battalions. The Division took part in the last phase of the Battle of the Somme at Ancre in mid-November 1916. The Hawke and Nelson battalions suffered high casualties while, in contrast, the Hood and Drake Battalions destroyed the German forces in front them.

Other actions in which the RND took part included at Miraumont in mid-February 1917 and the Second Battle of Passchendaele in late 1918.

The 63rd (Royal Naval) Division found itself in an unusual position as it was neither Army nor Navy. In July 1918, there was a proposal to merge it with the Army. At the time it consisted of nine infantry battalions of which only five were linked to the Navy. One problem with the Division was the naval battalions tended to follow the naval tradition, the supply of men was erratic because they came via the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, and the administration was complicated. The proposal was that the Royal Marine Light Infantry would be absorbed into the Navy but that the naval battalions would be asked to volunteer for the Army. Rather harshly, the proposal argued that if the men did not want to volunteer they would be discharged so as to become automatically available for national service and then be conscripted into the army.

The following highlights the different experiences of Poole men using information from the National Archives. It is believed that the information below is correct, however, it is sometimes difficult deciphering the handwritten documents.

Thomas P. Bowden, who lived at the County Stores and Post Office, Ashley Road, Parkstone, was in the Army Reserve in June 1916. He was then mobilised in the Royal Naval Division in August 1917 initially as an Ordinary Seaman and then in November promoted to Able Seaman. He joined the Hawke Battalion in April 1918 and was injured in September 1918. Curiously, the records seem to imply he was demobilised several times.

Edward J. Regan of Serpentine Road, Poole had a more difficult experience. He joined the Drake Battalion and was appointed Quartermaster RND in October 1914. He got dysentery in September 1915, presumably at Gallipoli, and was transferred to a hospital in Malta and then back to England. He was promoted to Temporary Lieutenant RNVR in November 1915 and a month later was found fit for service. In April 1917 he suffered a fractured right leg which was first treated at the 24th General Hospital, Etaples. He re-joined the Drake Battalion in February 1918 but only a month later he suffered a ‘gas shell wound’. He was hospitalised at the 2nd Red Cross Hospital, Rouen before returning to England to a temporary hospital, linked with the Countess of Radnor, in a castle near Salisbury. He was demobilised in 1920.

Sidney A. Eveleigh, a gardener, of Davis Road, and William C. Churchill, a labourer, of Perry Gardens, both served in the Victory Royal Marine Brigade which formed part of the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division. They were captured in early 1917 by the Germans and held as prisoners of war before being repatriated in early 1919.

Lieutenant Commander Henry G. Andrews, of Alexandra Road, Parkstone, served with the Nelson Battalion and was wounded in the leg at Gallipoli in July 1915. He was hospitalised in Alexandria before being sent to England. After recovery he was part of the 2nd Reserve Battalion before re-joining the Nelson Battalion in January 1918. The records suggest he applied to join the Royal Engineers but the transfer never took place. He died of double pneumonia in November 1918 – presumably a consequence of the devastating 1918 flu pandemic.

It was not unusual at the time to have large families and the Poole and East Dorset Herald often featured articles on families who had two, three or more sons involved in the fighting. One article was on the Gilbert family who had eight sons fighting in the war. John Gilbert of Longfleet House, Poole died in April 1915 and his wife, Sarah Gilbert, moved to Ferndene, Parkstone. It was while living there that she received a letter from the Keeper of the Privy Purse, Buckingham Palace in October 1915 in which he conveyed ‘His Majesty’s appreciation of the patriotic spirt which has prompted your eight sons to give their services’ to the armed forces. Three sons were with the Royal Naval Division.

Sub-Lieutenant Wilfred V. Gilbert was working in Spain and returned to Britain and became part of the Nelson Battalion, Royal Naval Division. He was killed on 4 June 1915 at Gallipoli while supervising the construction of a trench to join up the firing line of the Royal Naval Division with the 42nd Division. He was 31 and had been wounded four times previously. Robert E. Gilbert, was also in the Royal Naval Division at Gallipoli and was seriously wounded in May 1915. He was transferred to a hospital in Malta and on recovery took up a role in the Admiralty. Geoffrey F. Gilbert was a Lieutenant in the Nelson Battalion, Royal Naval Division. The Bournemouth Guardian newspaper article of 20 January 1917 on the Gilbert family reported that he had just returned from the fighting on the Somme.

These short pieces highlight the different experiences of some of the men who served with the Royal Naval Division during the First World War. The Division was disbanded in June 1919.

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.


The End of the War and Demobilisation

The end of the First World War brought about the expectation of a return home. One word was in everyone’s thoughts – demobilisation. However, it was not a straightforward process. A Culture volunteer on the Poole First World project explores the local and national impact. The reporting was considered so important that there was a regular column in the Poole and East Dorset Herald newspaper under the headline ‘Demobilisation Notes’ by ‘Demobicus’ who reported on the changes and the social impact of demobilisation.

Demobilisation was a huge logistical problem with an estimated 4,000,000 men and 100,000 women of the armed forces spread throughout the world. At some point on their journey home they would have to travel by sea and a large flotilla of ships was needed just to transport them across the Channel, let alone from further afield. It was also not a safe journey as thousands of mines littered the Channel and North Sea. Also travelling home were hundreds of thousands of soldiers from America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, West Indies, and other places from all over the British Empire.

The process of demobilisation of the armed forces was bureaucratic and complex and the inevitable delays led to serious disturbances at Calais and Folkestone. It is hardly surprising there were problems given that demobilisation was occurring at a rate of around 87,000 a week from shortly after the end of the war until August 1919 and all had to be absorbed into a country that had continued without them.

The Active Service Army Schools brought out a booklet called ‘Reconstruction’ and organised lectures throughout the Western Front. The talks covered the state of the country, possible difficulties after having been in the military for many years, the need for reconstruction and how certain skills would be demobbed first. Not all men wanted to leave the army. The uncertainty over unemployment at home meant that continuing to serve had its attractions; a ‘bounty’ of £10 a year led to some signing up for 1 to 3 years. To put that figure into context, wages were around £4 to 5 per week.

Demob papers included a ‘Soldiers Demobilisation Account’ which stated if they owed, or were owed, any money; a ‘Certificate of Employment During the War’ which described what they had been doing; a ‘Protection Certificate’ which guaranteed unemployment benefit of up to 24 shillings (£1.20) per week for several months. They usually could keep their great coat, boots, and occasionally, their uniform. An allowance was provided for a ‘demob suit’ and travel home by rail. Pamphlets were issued on the ‘Demobilisation Regulations’ and informed the soldier on the transition back into civilian life. Once again there were talks on the subject held in Britain, France, Italy and, for the occupying force, in Germany.

Not everyone was entitled to be demobilised. There were strict criteria to be followed such as length of service. Tradesmen, and in particular miners, were the first to be released. Men who joined up as part of the Derby Scheme rather than being conscripted and were not called up before 1 January 1916 found they had not completed the required term of service. The most contentious problem was men serving in several areas of the world who now found themselves in other conflicts. For example, Poole men were in Army and Navy units involved in the fighting in North and South Russia following the Bolshevik revolution. There was often considerable discontent about being part of a conflict in these places which many felt had nothing to do with them.

One experience of being demobbed after being part of the British Army of the Rhine, which occupied part of Germany, was described by a sergeant from Poole and reported in the local newspaper – unfortunately the article does not give his name. He was in a Machine Gun Corps Battalion that was now just one officer and five men; one of the latter was from an infantry battalion who, the sergeant described, had got a ‘cushy’ number because he could speak German. The sergeant said he was overjoyed when they were transferred to a hotel in Bonn because the barracks were large, lonely and very cold. Before leaving, they burnt all the paperwork in the orderly room in a ‘huge bonfire’.

After a while at the hotel he was told he was to be demobbed along with several others and they would be home in a few days. Unfortunately, when they got to Koln he found it cold, wet and miserable and nobody had a clue where they were to report. They eventually found the barracks but no-one knew how to process them. Hungry and very unhappy they took a tram back to the city centre and stayed overnight in a Salvation Army Hostel. Next morning, they returned to the barracks with their documents and were told they would be leaving the following day. Elated at the news, they went back to the Hostel and spent the rest of the time going to cafes and the cinema. The following day they returned to the barracks to be told that men from the West of England were not allowed to travel – one of the group was from Liverpool and was able to leave. The sergeant had no alternative but to return to the Hostel.

An attempt on Saturday failed because no trains were running, however, the following day was successful and, after marching to Koln-Deutz station, he caught a train and by 9pm was in Calais. A night in Calais was followed by a crossing to Dover.

The sergeant described going through the demobilisation process as being put through ‘the machine’ and that everything happened so quickly he was in a daze. Equipment was handed over, forms signed, and he was measured for a ‘demob suit’. He was finally demobilised at 12am and then travelled by train to Poole and home.

 Poole Museum has the ‘Soldiers Demobilisation Account’ and ‘Certificate of Demobilisation’ for Alfred V. Hawkes who served in the Tank Corps. He joined the Machine Gun Corps (today known as the First Tank) on 27 November 1915 and later transferred to the Tank Corps, in Tank MK IV number c22. The Account gives his earnings as including a £2 12s 6d (£2.62½p) ’allowance for plain clothes’.

Alfred Victor Hawkes 22438, Royal Warwickshire Reg, 1918, Rank Private. Image courtesy of Andrew Hawkes
Demobilisation Account for Alfred V. Hawkes. Image from the collection of Poole Museum

An aspect of demobilisation that tends to be forgotten is that although the Armistice was declared on 11 November 1918, peace was not officially confirmed until June 1919. So while large numbers of soldiers were demobilised, few were ‘discharged’ which was the term used when someone was finally released from the Army. Most ex-soldiers were placed on reserve so they could be recalled if Germany refused the peace conditions and returned to war. It was only by March 1920 that the majority of soldiers became ‘discharged’.

Certificate of Demobilisation for Alfred V. Hawkes. Image from the collection of Poole Museum.

The certificate gives the four possible outcomes of demobilisation –

   Discharge – ie final release

   Transfer to Reserve – Hawkes went on reserve on 24 February 1919

   Disembodiment – when a member of the Territorial Forces was released from active service

   Demobilisation – this was the date when someone physically left the army but there could be conditions.

The experiences of the men of the Dorsetshire Regiment highlight many of the different aspects of the end of the war and demobilisation.

  • The 1st Battalion were in France when the Armistice was declared. They marched through Belgium and at the beginning of 1919 entered the German town of Obercassel. Demobbed soldiers had started leaving on 22 December 1918 and those that remained finally left for England in April 1919.
  • The 1/4th Battalion were in Mesopotamia and many of its men were transferred to the Army of Occupation in Salonika and Bulgaria. Early in 1919 the Battalion became the Army of Occupation in Mesopotamia until a regular army unit could take over. Demobilisation continued while soldiers from other regiments were brought in to keep up the numbers. The remnant of the Battalion left Mesopotamia on 28 November 1919 for Bombay. They then sailed to Plymouth where they arrived on 3 January 1920 and from there made their way to Dorchester. After a civic reception, they returned to their homes.
  • For those of the 5th Battalion who were to be demobilised there were training schemes, sports competitions, concert parties and salvage work on the battlefield. Men were gradually being demobilised until, finally, the remaining 12 officers and men set off for home on 7 June 1919.
  • Following the Armistice, the 6th Battalion marched to Bertry where they stayed until 8 December. They then marched seven days, most of it in rain and mud, camping where they could, to Frucourt, a distance of over 90 miles. Most of the wine in the local chateau was bought and drunk to mark Christmas 1918. A special call had gone out for miners and 41 men had left after Armistice was declared. General demobilisation began on 1 January 1919 but the process left the officers in ‘a state of mental despair’ trying to understand the rules. It was only a month later that these became clearer. Priority was given to those who had signed up before January 1916, or were older than 37, or had been injured on three or more occasions. Those of the battalion who were left travelled to Le Havre where they were ‘deloused’ and then sailed for Southampton. The History of the Dorsetshire Regiment records that here the 6th Battalion ‘unobserved, seemingly forgotten… disbanded itself’. Demobilisation was inevitably followed by the question ‘What next?’ Many struggled with unemployment and this will be the topic of another blog. Poole had several Council and private-led schemes which it was hoped would provide work – some were successful, others less so and one failed in a dramatic fashion.

Royal Navy in the First World War Part 1 Paddle Steamers

The battles of the Western Front and Gallipoli are usually foremost in people’s minds when they think of the First World War. When asked to name a battle involving the Royal Navy it is likely only Jutland would feature and that it was not much of a battle. One historian has written that we understand more about the Royal Navy of the Napoleonic era than we do about the Royal Navy of the First World War.

A Culture volunteer on the Poole History Centre First World War project will look at the Royal Navy in the First World War and its connection with Poole in a series of articles. Part 1 highlights a rarely considered part of naval operations – the use of paddle steamers – and will focus on those of Cosens & Co of Weymouth.

Paddle steamers were an intrinsic part of the Dorset coast. Dominated by Cosens, several companies ran numerous excursions between Bournemouth, Swanage and Weymouth as well as to Torquay, the Isle of Wight and Cherbourg. The number of passengers carried is astounding – over 140,000 people were landed at Swanage Pier during 1911. Poole was less suitable as a landing point as it was a working port and lacked a pier but tours around the ‘picturesque harbour of Poole’ were very popular. Other companies did offer excursions from Poole but Cosens’ paddle steamers primarily used it as a place to take on water, get coal from Hamworthy Wharf, and as an overnight and winter stabling point. The crew of Emperor of India were mainly from Poole so they were keen on their steamer being stabled near to home.  

The Royal Navy fleet review and manoeuvres off the South Coast in mid-1914 took on a special significance as tensions rose in Europe following the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. It was decided that the FirstFleet (fully operational), the Second Fleet (small crew to maintain sea-worthiness) and the Third Fleet (Reserve with just a basic maintenance crew) should be fully-manned in a test of mobilisation. Paddle steamers and other small boats, known as ‘Liberty boats’ ferried navy personnel between Weymouth Quay and the warships whenever they were in Portland Harbour. Given that a battleship complement was around 1,000 men the influx of so many extra ships placed a great strain on the resources of Cosens.

The Fleets were at Spithead from 16-20 July 1914 for a review followed by training and exercises. Cosens ran numerous sailings to cope with the huge demand from people wanting to see this remarkable sight. The Majestic sailed every day from Bournemouth and Monarch, Emperor of India, and Victoria sailed from Weymouth. On 18 July, a Royal Fleet Review by the King and Grand Naval Pageant was held which saw over 300 warships paraded with airships and seaplanes in the air. The Fleet exercises ended on 23 July but the situation in Europe was deteriorating and on 28 July the Second Fleet was ordered to stay in Portland while the First Fleet, now renamed the Grand Fleet, (‘eighteen miles of ships’) was ordered to sail to Scapa Flow, Orkney. War was declared on 4 August 1914. 

The August holiday trade suffered as people’s thoughts focussed on other things but Cosens did try to run a normal service while avoiding prohibited areas.  Surprisingly, after a lull, local people started to support the paddle steamers in great numbers. During the week 31 August – 5 September 1914 there were sailings every day from Bournemouth to Lulworth Cove, Swanage (nine each day) and Torquay. Daily excursions on the Empress went from Bournemouth to Poole Quay, via Swanage, leaving Bournemouth at 5.30pm, picking up at Boscombe (5.40pm) and arriving at Poole Quay at 7.30pm. Fare 6d (3p) – but you had to return to Bournemouth by train or tram.

One sailing from Bournemouth to Weymouth was billed as an opportunity to see thousands of infantry who were in the town as well as captured Austrian and German merchant ships lying in the bay. Another excursion was to view the ‘Searchlight display at the Needles’ which was presumably searchlights from the Battery scanning the sea for potential invaders. One noticeable change was that only British nationals were allowed on board the vessels. This twilight of normality did not last long and, after increasing restrictions, excursion sailings were ordered to cease in May 1915.

Thousands of paddle steamers, trawlers and other small vessels were taken over by the Admiralty for roles such as patrolling, examination work and mine-sweeping. The latter was particularly hazardous with one trawler sunk for every two mines cleared before techniques improved. The work was stressful and the vessels were out in all weathers. Collisions were frequent in bad weather as ships struggled to keep together. Severe gales could wash equipment overboard, tear down structures, and break anchors. Crews were often worn out from the long hours and many were absent from home with no respite.

Royal Navy minesweepers operated out of Poole until January 1919. They were converted drifters and led to an unusual court case, under the Defence of the Realm Act, in 1916. It was claimed that an article in the local newspaper was ‘prejudicing recruiting and naval administration’. The article alleged that the minesweepers were fishing while out on patrol and undercutting local fisherman. The Editor pointed out that the piece was intended to be ‘humorous’ and he was surprised anybody took it seriously. The court fined him 25s (£1.10).

Cosens found, like all companies, its vessels being diverted onto war work. For example, paddle steamers Queen and Albert Victor were used by the Admiralty as Examination ships based at Portland. Ships from a neutral country sailing to Europe were made to enter a British Examination Anchorage such as Weymouth Bay. The Examination ship would then put an officer on-board who would confiscate anything that could be for the enemy. While neutral countries disliked this policy it was an important part of the blockade of Germany. It was also intended to stop possible spies being landed. In the early days of the war the system did not always work as planned. In August 1914, the German merchantman Herbert Fischer was stopped in the Channel and then allowed to sail on to Poole to land its cargo of timber for Sydenhams. Realising the mistake the ‘Velox’ torpedo boat was sent to find the vessel which meanwhile had arrived in Poole. Its German crew were detained and the ship was held as ‘a prize of war’.

For a while, paddle steamers Majestic and Emperor of India remained unused and were stationed at their moorings in Poole Harbour. In February 1915, the Mayor of Poole requested that they should be incapacitated in case enemy agents were to get hold of them.

Early June 1915 saw the Majestic and Emperor of India being commandeered as minesweepers. After being outfitted and renamed HMS Majestic II and HMS Emperor of India II they set sail in a convoy for Egypt. HMS Majestic II sank after leaving Gibraltar but luckily the sea was calm and all its crew were picked up. Emperor of India II joined five other paddle steamers clearing mines from around the Suez Canal entrance. Paddle steamers used the technique of ‘Paired Sweeping’ to remove mines. One steamer would pay out a ‘sweep wire’ to be picked up by the second. As the vessels moved in parallel the wire would break the mooring of the mine which would then rise to the surface where it would be sunk by gunfire. 

In March 1917 the Admiralty took over the coal wharf and sheds at Hamworthy Wharf which had been used by Cosens. A few months later, Monarch was requisitioned as a minesweeper and renamed HMS Monarchy. It operated as part of the Bristol Channel Minesweeping Flotilla, minesweeping the Bristol Channel and Irish Sea until the flotilla disbanded in May 1919. Like many similar vessels they were still doing the same job after the war ended because of the huge number of mines that had been laid.

During July 1919, the Emperor of India II was transferred to the Mine Clearance Flotilla, Black Sea and Aegean where it joined other paddle steamers clearing the heavily-mined Bosporus. The vessel became a Kite Balloon Carrier in September 1919. An observer would be sent aloft to around 400ft in a basket suspended from the balloon and look out for mines. Markers were placed when one was detected and the following minesweepers could deal with it. The design of a paddle steamer with a large deck space and shallow draught made them ideal as balloon carriers. The operation came to an end in October 1919.

An unusual use of a paddle steamer occurred when Premier was hired by the Ministry of War Transport to tow the concrete barge PD25 Cretacre after it had been launched from Hamworthy Shipyard in August 1918. The Premier then towed the unpowered Cretacre to Claypits Pier.

For further information on concrete barges and Hamworthy Shipyard see the Concrete barges blog.

The paddle steamers returned to Dorset after the war ended but many required a lot of work to bring them back to ‘excursion standard’. Services resumed as before, however, the end of the war saw the onset of the Depression and, after the Second World War, holidaymakers started travelling by car rather than take a trip by sea. The final excursion by a Cosens’ paddle steamer took place in September 1966.