A ‘hive of industry’ – Christmas 1915

As Britain faced a second Christmas at war with Germany, the residents of Richmond in 1915 showed few signs of reducing their energies in the war effort. Since the beginning of the war, Britons had shown great determination to assist in any way they could; men of military age heard the call to arms, and across the country charitable organisations were established to provide care, comfort and resources to these soldiers. Women, in particular, found themselves in roles once unknown to them.

Local newspapers and magazines from the period December 1915 highlight the buzz of war activity in the Borough. The Richmond and Twickenham Times reported in mid-December on the ‘splendid work’ conducted by men and women of Richmond to support hospitals treating wounded soldiers. The site of their work, on Kew Road, was described as a ‘hive of industry’. Across the eight departments, residents (mostly women) made surgical dressings, bandages and hospital garments for soldiers. In the ‘sewing room’, women could be seen stitching pyjamas, bed jackets, stockings and shirts. In another room, dressings were sterilised. Their work had begun in September 1914, when the ‘Hon. Superintendent Mrs Johnstone voiced the idea to friends’. The work was done on a voluntary basis, and the building was lent rent free.

Charitable work to support the war effort was often the domain of women on the Home Front. The Vicar’s letter, which features at the front of The Richmond Parish Magazine (December 1915), notes that a ‘Mrs Chapman is holding a sale for the maintenance of a War Orphan’ on the 13th December. Later in his letter, the Vicar does also note that ‘behind all War Orphans there stand the British government and tax payer.’ He hopes that Richmond residents ‘will not allow [Mrs Chapman’s] project to divert help from two such noble and deserving causes as the Additional Curates Society and the South London Church Fund.’

The domain of women had changed somewhat in that first year of war. By 1915, the ‘General Service’ section of the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) included a wide variety of roles for women, including clerk, driver, typist and telephonist. In March of the same year, women were urged to register for ‘war service’ work. In Richmond, women were conducting Fire Drill Training. The Christ Church Richmond Magazine for December 1915 reported that ‘the authorities have admitted that one woman, well drilled, is worth half a dozen men who have never handled a hose pipe or climbed a fire escape.’

With thanks to Richmond upon Thames Local Studies Library & Archive

Local newspapers and parish magazines for the Borough of Richmond upon Thames can be found at the Richmond upon Thames Local Studies Library and Archive, Old Town Hall, Richmond. 


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