The Impact of WW1 on Wayland

With many thanks to the Wayland Partnership Development Trust Heritage Group for sharing the details of their WW1 project.


Our previous historical research into Wayland had only looked briefly at WWI and the service of our men.  The new round of funding by HLF to research WWI was a golden opportunity to learn more.  However, we felt that researching the military aspects was something that was already known to some extent, whereas we had never had the opportunity to understand how the war impacted on the parishes of Wayland itself.  This was a very isolated and close-knit community at the time, with agriculture and associated trades the main employment. We were interested to learn just how much the war impacted on life here and what changes it led to.

We identified a number of main impact categories to research.  These are: families, the experiences of women, the experiences of children, farming, estate management, attitudes to the war, everyday life, the wider experiences of the men, and the returned.  We have been researching the men who served, but not exclusively their military service.   We were keen to learn how closely related the serving men were, their deaths or injuries therefore having a wider impact than might at first appear.  One family might have sons, husbands, grandsons, nephews, sons in law and so forth in one extended family all serving. We also wanted to learn how many served together in the same units, fought in the same battles or theatres of war, died or were wounded in the same battles.

The amount of information across Wayland varies enormously.  Some parishes have very little in some categories while others have parish magazines from the time, letters, family memories and so forth.  School log books and parish council minutes rarely mentioned the war specifically; much is down to interpretation of the activities mentioned.  Women were not easy to research but the information we have is beginning to indicate a rise in roles previously followed by men, as well as wider experiences for those who enlisted as nurses or WAACs.  Many would have had to take over the running of farms and smallholdings but, as most were tenants, how many lost their homes when the men of the house were killed or severely wounded?  We see the beginning of roles which would lead to much more power within their community previously exclusive to men. Letters home show just how wide were the new experiences of the men; not just military service and warfare but overseas travel, new foods, new cultures, education, new trades and so on.  Letters and entries in magazines show attitudes to the war and how they changed over the years.  The clergy, on the one hand seemed often to see it as a Holy War while, on the other, still preached traditional values and the Ten Commandments.  At the outset some communities were so insular that little was known of the war and there was a belief that the Navy would be sufficient to protect us. A few of our villages have memorials to the returned which has helped us discover if they returned to their old way of life or chose new paths.  Of the two landed estates within the area, only one has left us a good collection of archive material.  The shooting estates were largely closed down due to the war and the loss of wealthy shooting tenants led to financial hardships in the community, loss of jobs and associated cottage homes.  Farming is a little easier to research because there were many national and county measures in response to war as well as local ones. New machinery was needed because the horses were taken for example.

After the war there was the impetus to create war memorials and we are keen to discover how the names were compiled and the designs chosen, especially as we have found a number of anomalies.

In November 2015 we held an exhibition complete with members of the Thompson WI group in full costume serving cakes made to WW1 recipes and members of Watton WI demonstrating craft skills.

Crafters from Watton WI

Crafters from Watton WI

Candles were lit as part of the commemorative event on the Sunday of that weekend and there is one to each village in Wayland with the village name on a sleeve around it.

Candles of remembrance for all of Wayland's villages.

Candles of remembrance for all of Wayland’s villages.

We complete our project at the end of April with a glossy commemorative volume, associated DVDS and trails leaflets around our memorials and sites of interest. More information about the Wayland Heritage Group can be found on their website.


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