From the Records of Norwich Municipal Secondary Girls’ School (NRO, D/ED 23/11 746×3) and the Carrow Works Magazines held at the Norfolk Record Office.
Unlike their male peers, girls in secondary schools during the First World War were not faced with the imminent prospect of enlisting for active service. However, they had brothers, fathers and other family and friends who were on active duty. Like many other members of the local community, the girls from The Norwich Municipal Secondary Girls’ School (which later became The Blyth-Jex School) were equally quick to respond to do their bit for the war effort.
Throughout the duration of the war the girls, while continuing with their studies, engaged in a wide variety of charitable activities. These were reported on in each school magazine under the heading “Our War Work” with the report being written by the current Head Girl. The first such report appeared in the 1915 midsummer magazine looking back on the school year September 1914 to July 1915. It covered the period just after the war had started, when children had returned to school after their summer holidays to a very different world, to the summer of 1915 when it was self-evident that the war would not be over by Christmas.
M Barber, Head Girl writing the first report, began by stating:
All of our War Work has been done in connexion with the Girls’ Patriotic Union of Secondary Schools instituted by the Association of Head Mistresses of Public Secondary Schools. This is a fitting time to glance back over the past year, not with any idea of self satisfaction, but to see what measure of success our efforts have attained.
The girls’ efforts fell into five broad categories. Some continued for the duration of the war whilst others changed in focus, responding to the demands and needs of the time.
Fund raising was a constant. Contributions from individual girls and members of staff raised £70 15s 1d for the Belgian Girl Hospitality Fund. In the first ten months of the war 265,000 Belgian refugees had arrived in Britain and their needs were great. In addition, each form within the school had a form money box. These would be opened at Christmas, Spring and twice in the summer term. The proceeds from the ‘Form Money Boxes Fund’ went to a range of good causes, largely local eg. Lakenham Military Hospital, Christmas gifts to the wounded in the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and the Edith Cavell Memorial.
Some of the fundraising efforts went to national appeals. In the 1915-1916 magazine G Coman, Head Girl, reported that £3 10s 6d had been raised for cigarettes and tobacco. Tobacco Funds were popular at this time, as the Norfolk Record Office’s October blog post demonstrates. In the 1916-1917 magazine, Head Girl A Brierley reported that £5 5s 0d had been raised for the Eastern Daily Press Christmas Pudding Appeal. This appeal linked to The Army Christmas Pudding Fund which was launched in the run-up to Christmas 1916 by The Daily News and The Daily Telegraph. The Eastern Evening News, on 13th November 1916 wrote:
The War Office have accepted the offer of The Daily News and The Daily Telegraph to collect funds for the provision of puddings for the troops of the various expeditionary forces.
By this time, through the War Charities Act 1916, it was compulsory for national appeals to be registered so that such charitable activities could be regulated. A contribution of 6d would provide a Christmas pudding for one man while £21 would provide puddings for a whole battalion. Those who donated were listed in the local papers which sent details of local units at the Front to the Daily News to ensure that Norfolk soldiers did not miss out on their Christmas pudding.
Putting on entertainments raised much needed funds while also giving the girls the opportunity to have some fun. Various concerts and dramatic productions were performed. The proceeds from an Empire Day concert went to the Edith Cavell Local Memorial Fund, ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ raised money for the Mercantile Marine and ‘She Stoops to Conquer’ was in aid of the Norwich War Hospitals’ Supply Depot at 10 Castle Street, Norwich.
The Needlework Guild in the school was active throughout the war. Knitted and sewn garments were produced for various needy causes with the girls often providing their own materials. Head Girl A Brierley reported in 1917 that 558 knitted and sewn garments had been made the previous school year. This included 12 Red Cross nightshirts, 25 nightingales, 16 helpless nightshirts and 78 treasure bags. Treasure bags were filled with essential items such as soap and handkerchiefs and given to prisoners, refugees and those in internment camps. They were distributed by the Red Cross.
All of the girls were encouraged to come up with their own ideas to help the war effort and there was a range of miscellaneous activities undertaken. Eggs were collected and shared between the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and Lakenham Hospital. Magazines were collected for wounded soldiers. A large doll was dressed in Russian costume and sold for £1. Sandbags were sent to the Norwich War Hospital Supply Depot. Form VA ‘adopted’ two prisoners of war in Germany and sent them food and comforts. In summer 1916 Head Girl G Coman wrote:
In all forms flowers and various other commodities have been sold, and girls have earned money in many ways.
The girls’ activities responded to the needs of the time. Having supported The Belgian Girl Hospitality Fund for two years, their efforts were redirected to the War Savings Association in 1916-1917. When rationing was introduced in 1917 the girls had helped by checking meat coupons. The school also took on responsibility for the Swab Department at the Castle Street Hospital Supply Depot working there on Saturday afternoons from November 1915 to December 1918.
By the end of the war a total of £437 0s 9d had been raised. Their efforts did not end in 1918. Two thanksgiving memorials were established. The school founded the M.M.S (Municipal Secondary School) Cot in the Jenny Lind Infirmary and an annual school prize which was called the School Thanksgiving Memorial Prize.
While their war efforts largely ceased, the girls were mindful that the immediate future would also bring its difficulties. In winding up the School War Savings Association after the armistice, and in her final War Report, the Head Girl wrote:
The need for thrift both from the national and individual point of view is still acute, and it is sincerely hoped that all will continue to save as much as possible and to invest their money in War Savings Certificates through the Post Office.
The City of Norwich Peace Celebrations in 1919 were an opportunity for the staff and girls at the school to celebrate the end of the war with their own party although many, no doubt, would have also been mourning the loss of their loved ones and would be welcoming home those who would be troubled by their war experiences for the rest of their lives.
Compiled by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger.