Herefordshire Home Front in World War 1 from a talk by Bill Laws
In any war, there are two fronts at least, those doing the fighting, usually abroad, and those at home, picking up the pieces, and doing the best they can, carrying on more or less as usual, and trying to cope with shortages of labour and material including clothing, food. The First World War was of about the usual duration, but the effects were completely different to those preceding it, and affected both fronts in ways which completely altered the ways in which we live.
Some comparisons are necessary here with the rest of the Country. The population of the County then, was about 114.000, but this was only about one three hundredth of the total population of England and Wales. It was split more or less 50/50, between town and country. In the countryside, two thirds of the land was under grass, as pastures, and one third was of cereal, oats, wheat and barley, along with fruit trees and hops. Of the live stock ⅔ were sheep, and the remaining ⅓ was of mainly cattle, with pigs and horses about one quarter each of that amount.
As an inland County, Hereford was removed from any direct effects of the fighting, but contributed to both fronts – having a large number of conscripts to the Forces from very early on – partly a legacy of the Volunteers, dating back to Napoleon’s time, and partly because of the relative paucity other jobs available to young men. Conscription in towns more or less relied on that Victorian introduction – the railways, with embarkation beginning at the local station. Jobs open to men in town had been mostly low skilled, or for a few brewing, or for entry into the clothing trade, which served a wide area beyond the towns.
For girls, most opportunities were in service of some kind, although as a legacy of the Crimean War, nursing was becoming as option. The recent introduction of Teacher Training Collages was opening another door.
In the Countryside, most jobs for men would have been in farm work, with some in transport, and for girls, most jobs could have been indoors. It was said that the quality of education available to most children was not of a high standard, which handicapped choices in occupations.
The most profound effect of conscription to the Forces, whether voluntary or compulsory, was in the effect on farming, with women having to take up jobs there, not necessarily to the relief of the Farmers, who were reluctant to have ‘milk maids’! Women had to begin serious land work, and had to be able to manage horse drawn equipment for harvest and transport.
However a striking effect of the War was the need for horses to serve overseas, and all the farms were visited for requisition. The results of this was a complete change in motive power sources, with women eventually becoming able to handle steam vehicles for ploughing, and the introduction of motorized tractors, which needed “driving”, and as an offshoot of this, was the number of photos of women, who had been “called up” wearing ? driving gloves, and therefore acting as such in the Services or at home. Women had been joining an Auxiliary Service from early on, doing mainly Army jobs not actually concerned with fighting.
Another spin off, was the more or less complete deforestation of the County, to remedy a shortage of timber, needed for the War effort – which meant even more land could go under the plough (for the ladies to manage).
Rather strangely – hunting continued throughout the war, said to be necessary for providing “Riding Practice” (? For the officers)
The most profound changes for women began in 1916, when Munitions Factories were started, needing careful skills, with hostels having to be provided, as many came from out of town, and rates of pay offered that outstripped anything previously available to them. To add to this, they were allowed to form their very own football team – the very first for girls.
Other things in the news, were tribunals to enforce conscription, and the various means used to avoid it, both by employers and possible subject, and from very early on, the acceptance of evacuees – initially from Belgium, as that had been the first country invaded by Germany, and Kington had provided accommodation here.
So apart from the severe losses suffered by many families of their members, one legacy of the war and its changes was noticeable for many years later, as very many of those Army motor lorries became redundant, and were adapted to more peaceful purposes – in transport, and of course being rebuilt and serving as country busses throughout the County, making town and Country more accessible to each other. Review: JR
Our February meeting will be on Friday 16th at 7-30pm in Kington Primary School, Mill Street as usual. This will be an illustrated talk by Mike Salter on Medieval Bridges when he will cover about 40 of the 500 bridges in England, Wales & Scotland which date from mid-16th century (i.e. pre Reformation) – an important point as the Church, especially monasteries & bishops, played a huge role in the building of bridges. Mike will cover the distribution of surviving bridges, some important lost ones, what their features were, and will also include clapper bridges and bridge chapels. Mike will take questions afterwards and some books will be on sale. Members are free, visitors £2. Carolyn Giles.