The Home Front in Dawley
The newsletter of the Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Dawley Baptist Chapel provided a vital link between those serving overseas and the local community at home. As well as letters from men serving in the armed services, it also included details of life on the Home Front.
Wartime restrictions impinged of the daily lives of all inhabitants including lighting restrictions, the clocks changing, working the August Bank holiday and growing scarcity of certain foods. All these are mentioned but in a light-hearted tone, often accompanied by a humorous sketch.
Before the war, you remember Days Pipe Works? Well, almost all their buildings are now taken down, only a few stacks remain. As you come down the slope from Brandlee you can now see the Horeshay Cinder Hill right across the site where Days main building used to stand. They have not yet touched the high circular chimney stack, but I suppose that is also doomed. Were you one of the lads carried to the top of this stack when it was in building? If you wish to have one more glimpse of the glorious panorama of Dawley from the top of it, you must make haste home or it will be with a bang! 29 Feb 1916
A report a few months later confirmed the stack had gone “the sensation of the week has been the fall of the tall chimney-stack on the now almost vacant site of Days Works. It took place on Saturday last, when many local celebrities were present. 25 July 1916
Growing food shortages prompted further changes; it was proposed that vacant ground and public spaces were used for food production. This raised speculation as to what would be found if they started digging up Dawley Park
“In common with other places Dawley has been asked whether it has any public grounds which can be cultivated for the growth of foodstuffs. The question has therefore arisen – what about Dawley Park? Considering that a few years ago the site was a public deposit for the refuse of the district it may be imagined if it were ploughed, the immediate crop would be of a most interesting character rivalling the excavations of the old Roman city at Wroxeter!” 9 Jan 1917
By the beginning of 1917, the shortages were more acute and everyone was encouraged to grow what they could. “In order to set a good example to people who are not in the habit of cultivating their cottage gardens the Council have ploughed up the old football field on the Finger side of the Paddock Mounts to the right of the pathway leading to Langley School. Other pieces, such as a strip of ground on the Station side of Horsehay Pool, have been ploughed.” 13 Feb 1917
Fundraising was a constant activity and parades were a popular way to draw a crowd and boost morale. A German Gun captured at Loos was paraded at Ironbridge, and a collection taken for wounded British Soldiers. Dawley did its bit too “Dawley was lively for a few hours last Saturday afternoon, when a Parade took place in aid of the Red Cross and Dawley Nursing Division Funds. The Friendly Societies had the management of the affair and it passed off very well. At four o`clock there was a muster in the Demonstration Field in King Street where a couple of speeches were made from the summit of a beer-barrel. Then a procession was formed. The Town Band led the way, followed by a representative of the Foresters and the Free Gardeners. Next came a few old soldiers in Khaki from Lightmoor, then a good number of “brothers” from various Societies in the glory of coloured regalia. Then came a large muster of Rechabites with their white sashes a few Boy Scouts in the rear. All along the route the ladies of the local Nursing Division worked their collecting boxes. After the above triumphal march through the High Street a service was held in Dawley Church. This affair will probably be repeated for some other object.” 30 May 1916
£12.00 was raised for Red Cross
A more surprising sensation was the appearance of a dancing bear, this was further amplified by the fact that its owners were foreign and speculation that they were spies, a rumour the Dawley News was keen to dispel “A Dancing Bear visited Dawley and Lawley Bank on Wednesday evening last to the delight of all the women-folk. All business, all traffic was temporarily stopped- everybody gave themselves up to the enjoyment of what undoubtedly the sensation of the week…. The owners of the Dancing Bear are Romanians. Their caravan has been located amid the mounts at Charleshay. All sorts of stories have been started about these people – that they were spies etc. etc. The police say that before coming into the town the man brought his passports, identification papers etc for inspection. The people are quite harmless. Further, you may be relieved of any anxiety when we tell you they were due to leave the district last night taking the Bear with them.” 20 June 1916
The impact of the war was made ever more evident with conscription and the establishment of military tribunals. The newsletter reported the first of these in some detail and gave regular updates “Away at the front my boy, you may be interested to hear of the first meeting of the new Tribunal of the Military Service Act. It took place at the Town Hall. The members sat round three sides of a long table on the platform. The hall was cold as usual, the few people present crowding round the two fireplaces. The proceedings of the Tribunal are public and anyone may be present. A newspaper reporter was there (though he put precious little in his newspaper!). So it is quite allowable to tell you one or two things. Men who have attested, and who consider themselves entitled to exemption, state their case before this Tribunal, which is really a committee of about twelve of their own townspeople. The Military Authority has a say of course through its representative but each case is carefully considered on its merits and the Tribunal has power to grant certificates either Absolute, Conditional, or Temporary. There were about 20 appeals on Friday and none was given absolute exemption. One or two conditional exemptions were granted- for instance, a butchers slaughterman, on condition that he remains a slaughterman. In the majority of cases temporary exemption was granted in order to give time to the applicants to make other arrangements. Among these were a hairdresser, a printer, a house-decorator, and workers who supply material for constructional work at a Military Camp. No one who was present would say these decisions were too hard. In the case of several young unmarried men the application for time was on the representations of the Military Authority refused. Big works of the district appears able to secure exemption for all and sundry of their employees without reference to the local Tribunal at all which to some people appears rather puzzling. Perhaps we will say more about this next week.” 29 Feb 1916
The depleted workforce was having a growing impact on local industry, women were beginning to be taken on in increasing numbers and prisoners of war undertook supervised work.
The Toy Factory in Wellington is gradually growing – about 60 girls are now employed, making Teddy Bears and other soft goods, which formerly came from Germany. Several Dawley girls work there – others hope to do so. 27 June 1916
In many parts of the country as you know, women are now employed on jobs formerly undertaken by men and now slowly they are being introduced into the Dawley district. For months past a number of women have been employed at Hadley (there is a Lady Welfare Worker there to superintend them) and at the Randlay Brickworks Dawley women and girls are employed. At several of the local coal pits women are again on the pit banks as in the old days. It is rumoured that women are to be set on at the Horsehay Works but we cannot say if that is true. At the Ketley Iron Works, however, several women are working and last week two or three finished their preliminary trials at moulding rain-watch pipes and the like and (so the men say) with complete success – so much so that some of them begin on piece work this week. Of course the men laugh a lot at their working attire which we indicate above, and some shake their heads gravely as to what will happen after the war if women take the men’s work in this fashion but on the whole, the men admire the women’s pluck, they defend them and are willing to recognise that they too are serving the Country right loyally at the present time. 8 May 1917
The early months of 1917 were exceptionally cold, but local residents made the best of it by skating on Horsehay Pool. The weather has been extremely cold here at home. Pools are everywhere frozen over. Some people say last Friday was the coldest day we have experienced for years. We hope it is not the same with you. Local skaters have had a delightful week. The splendid sheet of ice on the Horsehay Pool for instance, has attracted hundreds, big and little. With the weather not so cold and a bright moon overhead in the early evening skating has been done under ideal conditions. 30 Jan 1917
Shropshire Archives ref NO6965