Contributed by Ciara Meehan, University of Hertfordshire
Day two of Voices of the Home Fronts at The National Archives has reached its conclusion, and what a day it’s been! We were treated to an array of papers that were thought-provoking, engaging, passionate, and, at times, even emotional. I actually found myself so engrossed at various points that I almost forgot I was meant to be live tweeting!
I began the morning at the Munitions Workers panel, which ran alongside a session on Life Under Bombardment. Judging by the live tweets coming from that session, the papers there were as stimulating as the ones we heard. Sebastian Fry’s and Dan Weinbren’s papers complemented each wonderfully. Sebastian opened the session by explaining how Britain made a faltering start in adapting its industries to war, and consequently struggled to respond to the demand for munitions. By the end of the war, however, 218 National Factories had been built. Dan’s presentation neatly followed on from this, as he spoke about diversification from munitions in the aftermath of the war. He talked, for example, about how a factory in Scotland that had produced war planes was subsequently modified to build cars designed specifically for women.
Jenny Roberts followed with a fascinating exploration of how female munitions workers were depicted in cartoons during the war. With concerns rife that women were compromising their femininity by stepping into a masculine world, postcards appeared that emphasised the feminine qualities that women workers were supposedly maintaining. The session concluded with Janet Le Clair’s personal account of her grandmother’s life as a munitions worker. Her research, which has benefited from access to the census, helps give a voice to the female munition worker; she hopes to replicate this by exploring the experience of individual Canadian munitions workers.
The next event on our programme was what can only be described as Susan R. Grayzel’s tremendous keynote address. Not only is Susan’s content really interesting, but she’s also such an engaging speaker. She painted a vivid picture of how the nature of warfare brought the front to the home, with the result that children killed in air raids, for example, were often compared to soldiers killed at the front. By 1917, air raids were taking place during the day, adding a further dimension to the worry and fear. Nonetheless, as she explained, there are surviving diaries and letters in which fear was expressed alongside defiance and pride. British women found a new way of serving the nation after air raids — by remaining stoic. Susan’s keynote was based on her recent book, At Home Under Fire.
After lunch, I headed to the session on Health, chaired by one of our centre members, Rachel Duffett. Christopher Day of The National Archives spoke about how the British government attempted to reduce bread consumption on the home front before the introduction of rationing. A standard bread, made from government regulation coarse flour, was introduced. There had been some reluctance, Christopher explained, mostly motivated by concerns that quality would be compromised and how that would be perceived by international onlookers. Ultimately, though, ‘keeping up appearances’ was trumped by pressing domestic needs. While listening to Christopher and tweeting about his paper, I noticed that Lucie Whitmore — one of our social media bursary holders who was at the parallel session — was also tweeting about food!
Our session also featured two papers that explored different ways in which the injured were cared for. Richard Smout outlined how upper class families on the Isle of Wight competed to have their homes turned into auxiliary hospitals, while Alison Kay drew on a current exhibition about Ambulance Trains to explain how wounded soldiers were transported and how trains acted as a portal for people between war and home. The exhibition at the National Railway Museum in York will run for the next two-and-a-half years.
I finished off the day by attending the ‘War in the Home’ session which was chaired by my University of Hertfordshire colleague and fellow Everyday Lives in War centre member, Andrew Maunder. These four papers nicely rounded off the theme of domesticity that had run through most of the presentations I heard today. Sue Ladler looked at the mass production of domestic items with war themes, while Fionnuala Walsh and Jennifer Doyle looked at how shortages were negotiated by women. Linda Hutton offered a personal account of how her British grandfather married her German grandmother. It was a particularly poignant story; Katherine was never accepted or liked by her new mother-in-law and eventually George and Katherine cut contact with her. Even today, Linda explained, she is far closer to her German family than George’s relatives.
Our conference was tweeted by members of the Everyday Lives in War centre using our official twitter account (@FWWLives) and our special ‘live’ accounts (@FWWLives_Live1 and @FWWLives_Live2). We were also joined by the two recipients of our social media bursaries, Fionnuala Walsh (@Fionnuala88) and Lucie Whitmore (@LucieWhitmore). The tweets have been archived here.
The conference continues tomorrow with another day of exciting and varied papers. Follow the coverage on twitter using the hashtag #HomeFrontVoices.
Originally posted on the 9th September, 2016