Keeping the Home Fires Burning
Wiltshire at War: Community Stories is a five year Heritage Lottery Funded project, aiming to discover, explore and share stories about Wiltshire’s response to the First World War. Since 2014 we’ve travelled the county collecting stories of the amazing men and women who were affected in some way by the war a hundred years ago, such as ‘Fiesty Aunty Olive and the Women’s RAF’, ‘Young Freddy Butler – from the farm to the Royal Flying Corps’ and the ‘Soldiers and Sailors Free and Easy Club’.
While we’ve written about the project before, it’s worth taking another look as we’ve just launched the fascinating fourth exhibition – ‘Keeping the Home Fires Burning’. This explores how the war affected everyday life in Wiltshire, including the new roles taken on by women, rationing, daylight saving and the refugees who fled to England from Belgium.
The new exhibition was launched on Friday 3rd March at Athelstan Museum in Malmesbury. A large crowd gathered for the event and following the official opening of the exhibition, musician and singer Louise Jordan took to the stage. Louise spent a year researching and writing songs about the remarkable women involved in World War One, who are often overlooked in conventional histories.
The title of Louise’s show ‘No Petticoats Here’ is inspired by Sir Arthur Sloggett’s words to Dr Elsie Inglis. Elsie graduated from the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women in 1892 and started working with the poor in Edinburgh. Through this work she became aware of the needs of greater rights for women and was an active suffragette. When war broke out, Elsie offered her medical knowledge and expertise, coming up with the idea of treating wounded soldiers from mobile hospital units, run entirely by women. When she presented the idea she was told by Sir Arthur:
‘My good lady, go home and sit still. We don’t want any petticoats here’.
Not to be discouraged, she set about raising the funds to set up hospitals and field units across Europe, staffed by over 1000 women, often in dangerous situations. A truly inspirational woman whose contribution deserves to be remembered.
Louise weaved beautiful melodies through the fascinating tales of these women, with plenty of audience participation along the way! We learnt about many incredible women including engineer Hertha Ayrton who amongst other achievements invented a fan to clear poison gas from the trenches, Louise de Bettignes a French spy employed by the British army and Elsie Knocker and Mairi Chisholm, keen motorcyclists who joined Dr Munro’s Flying Ambulance Corps on the front line.
Also celebrated was one brave woman who is already familiar to Wiltshire at War – Dorothy Lawrence. In 1915 Dorothy was a teenager living in the Cathedral Close in Salisbury, with ambitions of becoming a war correspondent for the newspapers. Determined to report on the fighting in Europe she set out from England by bicycle, heading for the Somme. With a uniform borrowed from soldiers she met along the way she posed as Sapper Denis Smith, spending 10 nights on the frontline before giving herself up.
Louise was particularly interested in one story to feature in the new exhibition – that of Mildred White. Born in Warminster to a wealthy family, Mildred trained to be a teacher and was a language mistress at the Godolphin School in Salisbury. Staff from the girls’ school established patrols of the city’s streets, parks and cinemas and Mildred was a patrol leader.
During the War many areas set up female patrols to fill the gaps left as men enlisted to fight. Wiltshire’s county constabulary refused to have women constables but Salisbury, with its own city police force, eventually took a different stance. In 1918 Salisbury Town Council decided to appoint “a special woman patrol”, with duties “to take evidence of women and girls and children... to advise and influence women and girls exposed to temptation or difficulty, and to ... patrol the City under the directions of the Chief Constable.”
Mildred was appointed to the Salisbury city force on 26 May 1918. In 1925 she transferred to Birmingham City Police as a Lady Enquiry Officer and in 1930 she was promoted to Inspector, the first woman in the country to hold the position. Another strong woman with another fascinating story to tell. Who knows - perhaps a new song may be on the horizon?!
The exhibition will be on display at Athelstan Museum until the 15th May.
Heather Perry, Conservation & Museum Manager
- Tags: Athelstan Museum, Birmingham City Police, Cathedral Close, Dorothy Lawrence, Dr Elsie Inglis, Dr Munro’s Flying Ambulance Corps, Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women, Elsie Knocker, exhibition, First World War, Godolphin School, Heritage Lottery Fund, Hertha Ayrton, Lady Enquiry Officer, Louise de Bettignes, Louise Jordan, Mairi Chisholm, Malmesbury, Mildred White, Salisbury, Salisbury Town Council, Sapper Denis Smith, war correspondent, Warminster, Wiltshire, Wiltshire at War: Community Stories, Wiltshire’s county constabulary, women, ‘A Child’s War’, ‘No Petticoats Here’, ‘The Call to Arms’, ‘Wiltshire Does Its Bit’