From Wives and Daughters to Citizens

From Wives and Daughters to Citizens By John Buckell


During World War One my maternal grandmother and her sister, my great aunt, worked in a munitions factory at Braintree in Essex. Knowing both of them while I was growing up prompted my initial interest in women’s role in that war, but as is so often the case, they had died before I became sufficiently interested to ask them about it.

As I discovered when researching my books on Little Wratting, Suffolk, (my grandmother’s village), and Weston Favell, women’s experiences are far less well documented than those of men. For men who served in the forces there are medal rolls, and sometimes service records. Entries in the absent voters’ lists give their military units, which can then be researched in battalion war diaries or on numerous websites. For women there is the 1911 census, but electoral records only list women who were at least 30 years old in 1918, while newspaper reports tend to be confined to upper class women, usually identified by their husbands’ names or in relation to their fathers. For the researcher it is therefore very difficult to provide anything like a satisfactory gender balance.

Yet women played a significant part in the First World War; significant enough to modify existing attitudes to their capabilities. In Northampton, as elsewhere, women supported the war effort by replacing men who had gone to the front. They worked in factories and on the land, served on committees and drove vehicles. Even some of those in traditional roles, such as nursing, broke new ground by serving in hospitals in France and other theatres of war. Women were also active in the anti-war movement. Such female peace activists often came from a background in the Women’s Suffrage Movement, even though the main suffrage organisations supported the war. In Northampton, an active branch of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom held meetings addressed by speakers of national renown, such as Charlotte Despard and Margaret Ashton. A minority of women also continued to play an active part in politics, in all the main parties in the town, as they had before the war. At its end women were given the vote, though not yet on the same terms as men.

The expansion of women’s role was not without difficulties. How were women to be trained, and how should women land workers be housed on farms? The introduction of women into occupations formerly seen as male, “substitute labour” as it was called, inevitably created tensions. As they were generally paid less than men for the same work, there was understandable concern by trade unions about the undermining of wage levels, and the fear that men returning at the end of hostilities might find their jobs taken by women.

Of course, many women remained at home, running households and feeding families at a time of shortages and rising prices. Their story also deserves to be told.

This research into Northampton women’s experiences in World War One is an attempt, as far as is possible, to redress the gender balance in accounts of the war, explore more fully the role of local women, and examine some of the difficulties, strategies and consequences of women’s role in that conflict. If women were largely seen as wives and daughters in 1914, to what extent had they become citizens by 1918?


Women Munitions Workers

Women Munitions Workers

Women munitions workers at Smith, Major and Stevens Ltd., Abbey Works, Northampton. From Memories of the War, a scrapbook compiled by the company in January 1919. Northamptonshire Record Office (uncatalogued).

War Memorials in Northampton

War Memorials in Northampton

As part of the Conflict and Communities Project, I am researching the War Memorials in the centre of Northampton.   It is interesting to note that almost as soon as hostilities ceased in 1918, the civic and church authorities starting to think about how best to remember those who had made the ultimate sacrifice. It is fascinating to uncover the different stories and the different ways in which soldiers are remembered and commemorated. As to be expected with any committee, there was much debate, a lot of bureaucracy and not always a lot of action.

In some of the town churches are various stained glass windows, clocks, chairs and other church furniture given in memory of loved ones lost. The main memorial for the county is that in the garden of All Saints Church, Northampton. This is a central stone of remembrance flanked by two obelisks which was unveiled on 11 November 1926.

County Memorial All Saints Church

County Memorial All Saints Church

My talk on 18 July at Northampton Museum will be looking at the stories behind these memorials and also the location of the various rolls of honour that give information on the soldiers who served as well as those who died.

Angela Malin

Wreaths at All Saints Church County Memorial

Wreaths at All Saints Church County Memorial




Attached: Photos (taken by me)

Wreaths at All Saints

and All Saints Cenotaph memorial

Media and Propaganda

Media & Propaganda

Hello readers. I’m Kate Wills, and I have been fascinated by the Great War since my teens. I have written articles and present talks on the subject, and am Speaker Secretary of the Northamptonshire branch of the Western Front Association, and trustee of the Great War Forum. I happened to mention that most of my working life had been spent as news librarian for the Northampton Chronicle & Echo, which resulted in me being earmarked for the Media & Propaganda brief for Conflict & Community. Where better to start than with one of the greatest propaganda images of all time (the work of a Northamptonshire-born artist), and its effect in hurrying a young Northampton man into the army.

Let’s set off for war with 19 year old Charles Crutchley, of Wilby Street, Northampton:

“In early 1914, I was employed as a junior clerk in a bookbinding office. Each morning I had to pass the window display of the Army Recruiting Offices. Nobody in his right mind thought of war. The Spring of 1914 was, or so it seemed, such a tranquil period. It was the greatest pleasure to go for a bicycle ride in the country. Life was steadier. None of us could visualise four years of war, with all its beastliness and filth, its wholesale slaughter.

Kitchener made his famous appeal to the men of Britain. Great posters were displayed everywhere with his Lordship’s finger pointing accusingly. “Your King and Country Need You”, it read.

Many of my workmates enlisted. Few employers objected. Everyone felt they wanted to be in the fight of “right against might”. I felt proud to be accepted as a recruit in the 4th Northants Territorial Battalion”. (i)

Images with slogans that tugged at the heartstrings appeared everywhere. “Remember Belgium”, “Women of Britain say GO!” and “Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?” Charles Crutchley responded to a poster carrying what became one of the iconic images of the 20th Century, Kitchener’s pointing finger; and we in Northamptonshire can be very proud that this image was created by Alfred Leete, a native of Thorpe Achurch near Kettering.

Leete was born into farming family in 1882, but his father’s poor health prompted a move to Somerset when Alfred was 11. Mr and Mrs Leete swapped the rigours of agricultural work for the more genteel life of running a boarding house on the seafront at Weston-super-Mare. Alfred had a talent for painting and drawing, and by 1914 his illustrations were appearing in quality magazines such as Tatler, The Bystander and Punch.  Leete’s most famous work was published on the front cover of London Opinion on 5th September 1914.


Alfed Leete: The Kaiser Holds a Council of War

Alfred Leete: The Kaiser Holds a Council of War

Charles Crutchley was just one of many thousands of men who succumbed to the inducement of Kitchener’s fixed gaze and stern message, made all the more urgent by Leete’s use of bold colours and the unsettling reach of that accusing finger. The war would take Crutchley to Gallipoli, Palestine and Mesopotamia. Leete would heed the message too, and see action on the Western Front, though not before he had done more work for the war effort with his pen, by sending-up Germany and the Kaiser in a series of humerous cartoons.



Battle of Aubers Ridge

The Slaughter of the county regiment, the Steelbacks – the fateful 9th May 1915.

Geoff Grainger is a member of the international Western Front Association and has an MA in First World War Studies from the University of Birmingham. He specialises in family research about the Great War.

As part of Northampton’s Conflict and Community program I will be delivering a talk at Abington Park Museum on Saturday 9th May to commemorate the centenary of the Northamptonshire Regiment at the battle of Aubers Ridge, in Northern France. One hundred years ago to the day, the old regular 1st and 2nd battalions of the Regiment were on the Western Front near the villages of Neuve Chapelle and Fromelles respectively. Part of the British First Army, they were to go ‘over the top’ at 5.50am, in a general pincer offensive to break through the German front and seize the relatively higher ground of Aubers Ridge.

For the British Army, the 9th May 1915 was to prove a disaster. For the County of Northamptonshire it was to be arguably the blackest day in its history, yet the battle has been largely forgotten.

During the night of 8th May the men of both battalions had moved-up to their front-line positions. The hazy dawn promised a sunny spring day, as the Northamptons peered over the flat, marshy terrain to the enemy trenches some 350m away. Rum rations had been issued, morale was high and all ranks were eager for the coming battle.

Precisely on zero-hour, 5.00am, the British artillery unleashed a fierce bombardment onto the German front lines. The shelling seemed so ferocious that little resistance was expected- but resistance there was, and it came as a terrible surprise to the attackers.

The Northamptons and other regiments waited with fixed bayonets but things had already started to go wrong. Some units were hit by their own artillery shells that were falling short. Fifty minutes later the guns fell silent and whistles signalled the infantry attack. As the Northamptons climbed their ladders to charge over No Man’s Land they were hit by hurricanes of machine-gun, rifle and artillery fire. Within a short time both battalions suffered immense casualties and very few men reached the enemy positions. Those who did, unable to advance or retire, came under constant attack by the German defenders. Finally, after some fourteen hours and under cover of darkness, remnants of these isolated groups managed to regain their lines, crawling through heaps of dead comrades.

In total the Northamptons suffered 984 casualties, or nearly 60% of the soldiers who had seen the dawn. Apart from the wounded and the dead who could be named, many hundreds disappeared in No Man’s Land, never to be identified, except as ‘The Missing’.

My talk will explain why it all went wrong, who was blamed, and the repercussions. It will also focus on some of the effects on the County’s communities.

In order to fully understand the landscape and military situation, I have just been over to research Aubers Ridge myself. Kindly received by the Mayor of Aubers, and guided by two local historians, I was able to visit many of the features of the area.

But I had also gone to Aubers in an attempt to discover if fate had played another role during the tragedy. Might the whole destiny of the modern world have hung in the balance on that one day in May 1915?

I will be pleased to share my findings at Abington Park Museum on 9th May.

For tickets please contact Northampton Museum & Art Gallery on 01604 837397.


Geoff Grainger at Aubers Ridge, 22nd March 2015

Geoff Grainger at Aubers Ridge, 22nd March 2015


Shoe of the Month – Great Exhibition Boots

Great Exhibition Boots

These fantastic Wellington boots were made for The Great Exhibition of 1851. They are made from beige and black leather. They have a wide flat square toe. The front of the leg is decorated with an appliqué design of black leather and coloured silk -now missing – of a crown, national emblems, crosses, starts and a scalloped border.

They were handmade by John N Hefford of Derby. The stitching on the boots is so fine that there are 53 stitches to the inch. They won a prize medal at the Great Exhibition.

Great Exhibition Boots

Great Exhibition Boots

Shoemakers were craftsmen. They had served an apprenticeship to learn their trade and were proud of their skills. Special boots and shoes were made for exhibitions starting with the Great Exhibition of 1851. They were full sized shoes and all show a high quality of standard and workmanship.

Northamptonshire’s Decorated Soldiers (WW1)

Northamptonshire’s Decorated Soldiers (WW1)

It was just six weeks ago I volunteered at the museum and now find myself deeply immersed into finding the stories of local men awarded a military decoration during the First World War. Although I have for many years researched into the history and soldiers who served in our county regiment, and I am therefore familiar with accessing newspapers and archival documents, I have surprised myself to have already identified more than 220 decorated men and one woman from the town.

My talk on 6th August, which will be at Northampton Museum & Art Gallery will be entitled ‘For Bravery in the Field’ which is the inscription to be found on the Military Medal instituted during the war in March 1916. This medal is by far the most numerous gallantry award seen, but there were many awards of the Distinguished Conduct Medal, which ranks just below the Victoria Cross. Alas there was no Victoria Cross winner from Northampton, but I intend to tell the story of one such man with a local connection.

With such a marvellous collection on display at the Abington Park Museum, I will explore the gallantry medals awarded to the Northamptonshire Regiment in the Great War. With many men from the town already serving in the regular and territorial battalions of the regiment, and with volunteers from Northampton filling the ranks of three new service battalions, nearly half the decorated men are to be found from the regiment. But there are representatives from the Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers, Royal Army Medical Corps and other county regiments.

There are several men from the then newly formed arm of the Royal Flying Corps. I hope to unravel a truly remarkable story of a 20 year old air mechanic from Jimmy’s End, Jack North Rogers, who won one of the first D.C.M’s for air combat over the Ypres Salient in early 1915. Sadly he was killed in a flying accident when training to be a pilot and is buried in St. Luke’s Churchyard at Duston.

David Folwell

David Folwell

I would be interested to hear from anyone who can relate the story behind a medal won for gallantry by a Northampton man in the First World War.

David Folwell

Private William Green: Conflict and Community

Vikki Green – volunteer

Holding the pair of Emil Busch binoculars, it was hard to believe that they had seen trench warfare on the Hindenburg Line in 1918, and that they had passed through German and British hands. It was even harder to believe that they had belonged to my great-grandfather, William Green; a souvenir of the battles he had fought. When I first held those binoculars, it was instinct to take a look through the eyepiece. I wondered what William had seen when he did the same, and how different that sight must have been.

When I was asked to create a display for the Tourist Information Centre as a part of the Conflict and Community Project, I never imagined that I would also uncover my own past. I had taken on the challenge with the hope of being able to tell forgotten stories of wartime Northampton by showcasing some of the incredible items in the collection. The display will feature everything from shells to trench-art and Bovril to boots, as well as more personal items like a Christmas card belonging to Corporal A. Gilbert, and a pocket watch carried by Private J. H. Lack. As an Archaeology graduate, material culture has always fascinated me, and I wondered about the men that these items had belonged to, and what the story of their war had been. It was on this note that I began to do a little family research of my own.

I gradually began to uncover the story of Private William Green’s war, starting with his enlistment in 1915 at 20 years old, younger than I am now. He quickly qualified as a 1st Class Machine Gunner and Signaller, and was deployed in France. From his service records, I learned that William was quickly injured, and sent home to England after receiving a gunshot wound to the shoulder. However grievous his injury, it was this wound that led him to my great-grandmother; William was posted in Chatham, Kent, where he met Gladys Taylor.

Private William Green

Private William Green

He was soon back in France, however, now serving as a Lance Corporal. Though not long after, he was wounded once more, catching a bullet in his left leg. He convalesced in the 1st Southern General Hospital, Birmingham. Curiously, the University of Birmingham’s Aston Webb hall, the site of the military hospital, was the very same place in which I graduated in 2014. Our lives, though generations apart, had taken us both to the same place. William spent a lot of time convalescing in Woldingham, Surrey. His notes suggest he may have been suffering from shell shock.


After a long recovery, William returned once more to Chatham, in late 1917. Gladys must have been relieved to be reunited with her Tommy boyfriend and, consequently, he was stripped of his Lance stripes for being absent without leave on Valentine’s Day 1918.

It was not long before William was back in France with his battalion, to join the assault on the Hindenburg Line. It was in these late stages of the war that William found himself in Ronssoy Wood, one of the many battlefields of the Somme. For brave actions on the 18th of September 1918, he was awarded the Military Medal. Under heavy shellfire, William pulled his wounded comrades from the battlefield, until he himself was injured. 

He was one of those fortunate enough to return home in 1919, though he never spoke of his war experiences. It was very clear to me that World War I had stripped William of his youth; he transformed from the cheeky young man who chose dates over duty, to a stern adult. As this was so often the case, the TIC display became even more important to me. It is my privilege to showcase the lives of the men who served in the Northamptonshire Regiment, and of my great-grandfather, who did not receive the commendation that he rightly deserved for his bravery.

M M Certification

M M Certification

The Conflict and Community project is encouraging us all to tell the stories of those who are no longer able. Finally, on the centenary of WWI, we are now able to talk about things the soldiers could not. Though it comes too late for my great-grandfather to appreciate, I hope that he knows just how proud we are of his actions on the front line, and that his story will not be forgotten.

The Conflict and Community display is situated in the Tourist Information Centre, Sessions House. I hope to continue to uncover such incredible artefacts, and tell their stories to the public. The display material changes every two months and, at present, represents life in the trenches. Please come along, and remember those of the Northamptonshire Regiment. 

TIC Display

TIC Display

If, like me, you have a story to tell, or family research that relates to the Northamptonshire Regiment during the First World War, please get in touch. You can email