‘She Stoops to Conquer’ – Norwich Schoolgirls Do Their Bit for the War

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 final War Work Report details the range of causes supported by the girls. Norfolk Record Office, D/ED 23/11, 746X3

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.


‘She Stoops to Conquer’ raised funds for the Norwich War Hospital Depot on 10, Castle Street. NRO,  D/ED 23/11, 746X3

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.


The Norwich War Hospital Depot. Norfolk Record Office, Carrow Works magazines

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.


An invitation to the school’s Peace Party. NRO, D/ED 23/11, 746X3

Compiled by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger.


Canaries, Camels and Other Acts of Kindness

Correspondence of the Amherst Sisters

The five Amherst sisters; Mary, Sybil, Florence, Margaret and Alicia were the daughters of Lord and Lady Amherst of Foulden Hall in Norfolk. Sybil, Florence and Margaret never married and, at the outbreak of the First World War, all three sisters, in their fifties, were still living at the family home.

The Amherst letters (MC84/204 528×1) is a collection of correspondence largely related to Margaret’s role at the hospital.  There is also some correspondence to the sisters from soldiers from the village who were known to them.

Margaret was the Commandant of the British Red Cross Auxiliary Hospital at Buckenham Tofts Hall at Mundford for the short time it was open between January and May 1916.  During that time it admitted 52 patients.  It closed when the area was required for military training. (Reference: ‘The Auxiliary Hospitals of The British Red Cross Society and St John Ambulance in Norfolk 1914-1919’. Compiled by Colonel C E Knight M.B.E. K.St.J).

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One of the Amherst sisters, thought to be Florence, sitting at her desk. Norfolk Record Office: MC 84/206 

Letters from the soldiers give some insight into how time was spent at the hospital.

Corporal H Kirke wrote:

“Do look sharp and get another house so I can come back to you . . .I was glad with the flowers Miss Florence sent over, we never see any flowers here from one day to another and the patients never get any cigarettes or tobacco . . . . I am ready for going out of this place, it doesn’t suit me a little bit”.

A later letter he thanks Miss Florence for sending a golf club and three balls.

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Hospital staff playing golf. NRO: MC 84/206

Private Bateson wrote:

You say you missed me in the kitchen.  I only wish I was there now or Playing Golf . . . I expect the Billiard Table will get well Patronised”.

Lyle Craig wrote:

“Have you got any one to paint postcards, if not I shall come back and do this”

Photo 3

Painting postcards was a regular pastime. NRO: MC 84/204, 528X1

Thank-you letters reveal the range of gifts the sisters sent. These included books, photos, knitted garments and even guinea pigs sent to soldiers’ children. Tobacco was a commonly well-received gift and clearly the perils of smoking were unknown at the time.

In June 1916 Private Twigg, having been transferred to the Norfolk War Hospital in Norwich, wrote:

“As I do not smoke much it gave me great satisfaction to distribute the cigarettes among my chums many of whom miss a smoke more than anything.  I had just used my last piece of soap so yours saved me the trouble of getting more from these French shops”. 

Parents of those in the Amherst’s care also wrote expressing their gratitude.

H Claxton’s mother wrote:

“My son asked me to send you one of my cannary (sic) birds . . . I will send it by the 9.20. . . . . thanking you for your kindness to my son”.

Grace Croxford, living in South Africa, wrote about her daughter Joy who was working at the hospital.

“My daughter Joy’s letters are so full of her bright and happy life with you . . . . It is such a comfort to us to know she is in such kind hands and such a lovely home . . .We hope she will do her duty to our poor wounded boys . . it is a great pleasure to us that she should have the opportunity of seeing so much of dear old England”.

Soldiers who were transferred to other Red Cross Hospitals when Buckenham Tofts Hall closed were quick to compare.

H Lingwood of the Norfolk Regiment was transferred to Bilney.  He wrote:

“I am sorry to tell you that we are not so happy as we were at Buckenham and I am sure that we shall never find another hospital like (yours) where ever we go”.

Private Twigg also transferred to Bilney and was equally unhappy.  He accused the Matron of withholding a letter from him and wrote:

“I have been out once since I have been here.  I am sure now that she is doing this for making money, she thinks more of her chickens and dogs than us”.

The care shown extended beyond the soldiers’ stay at the hospital. Margaret Amherst was anxious to know that the soldiers, on discharge, had reached their next destination safely.  The soldiers would be given a stamped addressed postcard to send back to her confirming their safe arrival at their next destination.

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Stamped addressed postcard issued to soldiers on discharge. NRO: MC 84/204 528X1

Lance Corporal William Robert English (Service number 20103) and Isaac Eagle (Service number 18750) were known to the Amherst family and corresponded with the sisters throughout the war. English was the village schoolteacher and Eagle was an agricultural labourer in Foulden.

English had promised to write to Florence Amherst once he had received a promotion and duly did so:

“The promotion came on Saturday night I donned my stripe with all due importance on Sunday morning.  I am an “unpaid  L.Cpl. but that does not matter as there is the satisfaction of knowing that one has risen one step. . . . . The uncertainty, and the fact that all one’s actions are planned for him, -have rendered me – and others too – almost careless of the future. . . . . . The average Britisher loves to grumble & yet performs.  I think it is amusing. . . . . . I have been kept well informed of Foulden news for I have received from time to time letters from the school children.  Strange to say the girls write but the boys do not”.

Eagle found himself in Cairo in 1915 and wrote:

“I have done my best to observe all the rules of health as laid down by the authorities for our personal benefit.  But unfortunately a good many have been laid low with that awful dysentery caused sometimes by indulging in eating too much native fruit and as you know the natives are none too clean personally!  I believe they have a dislike for soap…..I have lately paid a visit to the Pyramids. . . I had my long desired ride on a camel”. 

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Eagle on a camel. NRO: MC 84/204 528X1

English served in Mesoptomaia, India and Egypt and returned home in 1917. Eagle died at sea on the ship Victory in November 1916.

This collection of correspondence reflects one of the many ways that support was given during the war by those at home and it is testimony to the level of care and kindness shown by the Amherst sisters that such a wealth of letters exist.

Compiled by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger.

‘No Hatred or Bitterness’: Edith Cavell and Norfolk Women in the First World War.

‘No Hatred or Bitterness’: Edith Cavell and Norfolk Women in the First World War.


Edith’s baptism entry. NRO catalogue reference: PD 199/4

Edith Cavell is perhaps Norfolk’s best-known twentieth-century heroine. Born in Swardeston, she was nursing in Brussels when the First World War broke out. After Brussels was occupied, she continued in her post and also helped Allied soldiers to break through enemy lines and escape to Britain. Executed by the Germans on 12 October 1915, her death became an enormous propaganda weapon for the Allies.

Propaganda postcard. From the Norfolk Heritage Centre.

Propaganda postcard. Image courtesy of the Norfolk Heritage Centre.

As this October is the centenary of her death, many heritage organisations are shining a spotlight on Cavell’s life, as well as the role of nurses during World War One. From Monday 5 October The Norfolk Record at the Archive Centre will have a free exhibition entitled ‘No Hatred or Bitterness’: Edith Cavell and Norfolk Women in the First World War.

This exhibition includes original documents that have never been displayed in public before, including letters from both Edith and the soldiers she helped. The exhibition also looks at Edith’s story and how she has been remembered, both at the time and in later years. It delves into the background to her story – the role of other Norfolk nurses, abroad and at home, and at the many roles played by Norfolk women in wartime, even those whose courage took the form of opposing the war. Each, in her own way, was a true Heroine of Norfolk.

Related events will accompany the exhibition. On Thursday 15 October there is a drop in event called ‘Women at War’ at which you can discover the wide range of experience of Norfolk women as nurses during the First World War, from Norfolk to the Mediterranean. Plus, find out how Edith Cavell was portrayed in film. There will also be the opportunity to learn about useful resources for tracing nurse ancestors. There is no need to book for this event, but see our Eventbrite page for more information.

There are also children’s activities taking place in October. On Monday 26 October, during the Autumn half term, children will look at cards and propaganda and choose to either create a propaganda postcard or an embroidered card.

On Tuesday 27 October an activity run jointly with the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital will reveal the history of Edith Cavell, and teach children how to use a bandage and create their own letters with invisible ink or in code.

Booking for the children’s activities is essential, for more information see our Eventbrite page. 


Photograph of nine girls fund-raising for the Red Cross. NRO catalogue reference: MC 84/206, PH10