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Women and War Work By Helen Fraser Characters: 14752

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

"It's a long, long way to Tipperary,

But my heart's right there."


"Blighty" is Home, the British soldiers in India's corruption of the Hindustanee, and Blighty is a word we all know well now.

The full records of this are not easy to give-so much has been done. Perhaps the simplest way is to begin with the soldier at the training camp and follow him through his soldier's existence. The first work lies in giving him comforts, and the women of our country still knit a good deal and in the early days knitted, as you do now to get your supplies, in trains and tubes and theatres and concerts, and public meetings. This was happening while many of our working women were without work and it was felt that this was likely to compete very seriously with the work of these women. The Queen realized there was likely to be hardships through this and also that there would probably be a great waste of material if voluntary effort was not wisely guided. So she called at Buckingham Palace a committee of women to consider the position and Queen Mary's Needlework Guild was the outcome of it. The following official statement, issued on August 21, 1914, intimated the Queen's wishes and policy.

Queen Mary's Needlework Guild has received representations to the effect that the provision of garments by voluntary labor may have the consequence of depriving of their employment workpeople who would have been engaged for wages in the making of the same garments for contractors to the Government. A very large part of the garments collected by the Guild consists, however, of articles which would not in the ordinary course have been purchased by the Government. They include additional comforts for the soldiers and sailors actually serving, and for the sick and wounded in hospital, clothing for members of their families who may fall into distress, and clothing to be distributed by the local committees for the prevention and relieving of distress among families who may be suffering from unemployment owing to the war. If these garments were not made by the voluntary labor of women who are willing to do their share of work for the country in the best way open to them, they would not, in the majority of cases, be made at all. The result would be that families in distress would receive in the winter no help in the form of clothing, and the soldiers and the sailors and the men in hospitals would not enjoy the additional comforts that would be provided. The Guild is informed that flannel shirts, socks, and cardigan jackets are a Government issue for soldiers; flannel vest, socks, and jerseys for sailors; pajama suits, serge gowns for military hospitals; underclothing, flannel gowns and flannel waistcoats for naval hospitals. Her Majesty the Queen is most anxious that work done for the Needlework Guild should not have a harmful effect on the employment of men, women, and girls in the trades concerned, and therefore desires that the workers of the Guild should devote themselves to the making of garments other than those which would, in the ordinary course, be bought by the War Office and Admiralty. All kinds of garments will be needed for distribution in the winter if there is exceptional distress.

The Queen would remind those that are assisting the Guild that garments which are bought from the shops and are sent to the Guild are equally acceptable, and their purchases would have the additional advantage of helping to secure the continuance of employment of women engaged in their manufacture. It is, however, not desirable that any appeal for funds should be made for this purpose which would conflict with the collection of the Prince of Wales's Fund.

Branches of Queen Mary's Needlework Guild were started everywhere and the Mayoresses of practically every town in the Kingdom organized their own towns. Gifts came from all over the world and a book kept at Friary Court, St. James', records the gifts received from Greater Britain and the neutral countries.

The demand for comforts was very great and in ten months the gross number of articles received was 1,101,105, but this did not represent anything like all. It was the Queen's wish that the branches of her Guild should be free to do as they wished in distribution, send to local regiments, or regiments quartered in the neighborhood, or use them for local distress. Great care was taken to see there was no overlapping, and this is secured fully by Sir Edward Ward's Committee.

Our men have been well looked after in the way of comforts, socks and mitts and gloves and jerseys, and mufflers and gloves for minesweepers and helmets, everything they needed, and the Regimental Comforts Funds and work still exists as well, all co-ordinated now.

The Fleet has also had fresh vegetables supplied to it the whole time by a voluntary agency.

At the Training Camps, in France, in every field of war, we have the Y.M.C.A., and there is no soldier in these days and no civilian who does not know the Red Triangle. There are over 1,000 huts in Britain and over 150 in France. It is the sign that means something to eat and something warm to drink, somewhere cozy and warm out of the cold and chill and damp of winter camp and trench, somewhere to write a letter, somewhere to read and talk, somewhere that brings all of "Blighty" that can come to the field of war. In our Y.M.C.A. huts, 30,000 women work. In the camp towns we have also the Guest Houses, run by voluntary organizations of women. In the Town Halls we have teas and music and in our houses we entertain overseas troops as our guests.

Our men move in thousands to and from the front, going and on leave, moving from one camp to another, and Victoria Station, Charing Cross and Waterloo are names written deep in our hearts these days. We have free buffets for our fighting men at all of these, and at all our London stations and ports, and these are open night and day. All the money needed is found by voluntary subscriptions.

Our men come in on the leave train straight from the trenches, loaded up with equipment, with their rifles canvas-covered to keep them dry and clean, with Flanders mud caked upon them to the waist, very tired, with that look they all bring home from the trenches in their eyes, but in Blighty and trying to forget how soon they have to go back. The buffets are there for them, and those who have no one to meet them in London and who have to travel north or west or east to go home, are met by men and women who direct them where to go by day and motor them across London to their station at night. The leave trains that get in on Sunday morning brings Scottish soldiers that cannot leave till evening, and St. Columba's, Church of Scotland, has stepped into the breach. The women meet the train, carry off the soldier for breakfast in the Hall, which is ready, and they entertain them all day. Thousands have been entertained in this way, and "It's just home," said one Gordon Highlander.

The soldier is in France and there he finds we have sent him Blighty, too-canteens and Y.M.C.A. Huts. Our books and our magazines, everything we can think of and send, goes to every field of war.

He is followed where he can be by amusement and entertainment. Concert parties are arranged by our actors and actresses, and they go out and sing and act and amuse our men b

ehind the lines. Lena Ashwell has organized Concert parties and done a great work in this way.

Such work as Miss McNaughton's, recorded in her "Diary of the War," and for which she was decorated before her death, largely caused by overwork, as Lady Dorothie Fielding's ambulance work, for which she also was decorated, and the work of the "Women of Pervyse" stand out, even among the wonderful things done by individual women in this war.

The "Women of Pervyse," Mrs. Knocker, now the Baronnes de T'Serclas, and Miss Mairi Chisholm, went out with the Field Ambulance Committee, and were quartered with others at Ghent before and during and after the siege of Antwerp. When the ambulance trains started to come in from Antwerp they worked day and night moving the wounded from the station to the hospitals-they worked for hours under fire moving wounded, unperturbed and unshaken.

After the battle of Dixmude and the armies had settled on the Neuport-Ypres line, Mrs. Knocker started the Pervyse Poste de Secours Anglis, a dressing station so close to the firing line that the wounded could literally be lifted to it from the trenches.

There they have worked and cared for the men in conditions almost incredible. In February, 1915, they were decorated by King Albert, and since March they have been permanently attached to the Third Division of the Belgian Army.

In June, 1915, they were mentioned in dispatches for saving life under heavy fire. They have saved hundreds of lives by being where they can render aid so swiftly, and the military authorities do not move them, not only because they wish to pay tribute to their valor but because they are so valuable.

Most of all, "Blighty" goes to the soldier in his letters and there is nothing so dear to the soldier as his letters, and nothing is worse than to have "no mail." The woman who does not write, and the woman who writes the wrong things, are equally poor things. The woman who wants to help her man sends him bright cheerful letters, not letters about difficulties he can't help, and that will only worry him, but letters with all the news he would like to have, and the messages that count for so much. Every woman who writes to a soldier has in that an influence and a power worthy of all her best. Not only our letters but our thoughts and our prayers are a wall of strength to, and behind our men.

In this war some have talked of spiritual manifestations that saved disaster in our great retreat. In that people may believe or disbelieve, but no person of intelligence fails to realize the power of thought, and love, and hope, and the spirit of women can be a great power to their men in arms. There are so many ways of giving and sending that none of us need to fail.

Then he is in it-in the trenches-over the top-and he may be safe or he may be wounded-a "Blighty one," as our men say, and we get him home to nurse and care for-or he may make the supreme sacrifice and only the message goes home.

To everyone it must go with something of the consolation of the poem written by Rifleman S. Donald Cox of the London Rifle Brigade.

"To My Mother-1916

"If I should fall, grieve not that one so weak

And poor as I

Should die.

Nay, though thy heart should break,

Think only this: that when at dusk they speak

Of sons and brothers of another one,

Then thou canst say, 'I, too, had a son,

He died for England's sake,'"

He may be a prisoner and then we follow him again. There are over 40,000 of our men prisoners and we have over 200,000 of the enemy. The treatment and conditions of our prisoners in Germany were sometimes terrible-the horrors of Wittenberg we can never forget, and we are deeply indebted to the American Red Cross, for all it did before America's entry into the war, for our prisoners.

From the beginning of the war we have had to feed our prisoners, and for the first two years parcels of food went from mothers, sisters and relatives of the men. Regimental Funds were raised and parcels sent through these. Girls' Clubs and the League of Honour and Churches and groups of many kinds sent also. The Savoy Association had a large fund and did a great work.

Parcels, which must weigh under eleven pounds, go free to prisoners of war and there are some regulations about what may be sent. Now the whole work is regulated by the Prisoners of War Help Committee-an official committee, and parcels are sent out under their supervision to every man in captivity.

Books, games and clothing also go out from us. In most of the Camps and at Ruhleben, where our civilians are interned, studies are carried on, and classes of instruction, and technical and educative books are much needed and demanded. Schools and colleges have sent out large supplies of these.

We have also raised funds for the Belgian Prisoners of War in Germany.

We have exchanged prisoners with Germany and have secured the release and internment in Switzerland of some hundreds of our worst wounded, and permanently disabled, and tubercular and consumptive men. In Switzerland, among the beautiful mountains, they are finding happiness and health again and many of them are working at new trades and training.

We sent out their wives to see them and some girls went to marry their released men. Some of our prisoners have escaped from Germany and reached us safely after many risks and adventures.

"Blighty" goes out to our men also in our Chaplains, the "Padres" of our forces, and many times soldiers have talked to me of their splendid "Padre" in Gallipoli, or France or Egypt. They have died with the men, bringing water and help and trying to bring in the wounded. They have been decorated with the V.C., our highest honor, the simple bronze cross given "For Valour." They write home to mothers and wives and relatives of the men who fall, and send last messages and words of consolation.

Their task is a great one, for to men who face death all the time, and see their dearest friends killed beside them, things eternal are living realities and there are questions for which they want answers. There is so much the Padre has to give and his messages are listened to in a new way and words are winged and living where these men are.

We have so many of our men from overseas among us who are far from their own homes, and in London we have Clubs for the Canadians, the Australians, the New Zealanders, for the two together, immortally to be known as the "Anzacs," and for the South Africans, where they can all find a bit of home. We have also just opened American Huts and the beautiful officers' Club at Lord Leconfield's house, lent for the purpose.

For the permanently disabled soldier we are doing a great deal. St. Dunstan's, the wonderful training school for the blind, has been the very special work of Sir Arthur Pearson, who is himself blind, and Lady Pearson.

The Lord Roberts Workshops for the disabled are doing splendid work in training and bringing hope to seriously crippled men.

The British Women's Hospital for which our women have raised $500,000, is on the site of the old Star and Garter Hotel at Richmond, and is to be for permanently disabled men.

There, overlooking our beautiful river, men who have been broken in the wars for us, may find a permanent home in this monument of our women's love and gratitude.

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