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Hinckley’s Home Front in the First World War

Keep the Home Fires Burning



From Hinckley Museum’s   Exhibition - Somewhere in No Man’s Land





By Sue Mackrell

Original photographs and editing of Hinckley Times extracts by David McCormack






1. The Lamps are going out all over Europe

2. Drill Hall - Military Headquarters, Cookery Classes and Victory Celebrations

3. Market Place Recruiting, Thanksgiving Week and Electioneering

4. Don’t cryeee, wipe a tear, baby dear, from your eyeee

5. Belgian Refugees

6. Christmas Truce

7. Orchards, Factories, Slums and Mansions

8. Flag Days, Whist Drives and Knitting Circles

9. Council House - Distress Committee, Lighting Restrictions and War Pensions

10. The Hinckley Times and Bosworth Herald

11.‘Defend the hearth and home if need arise’ The Voluntary Training Corps

12. Voluntary Aid Detachment and Grammar School ‘Old Girls’

13. Khaki Contracts, Boots for the Russian Army, and Munitions Factories

14. Military Tribunals, War Work and Conscientious Objectors

15. Food Queues, Green Margarine and Ration Books

16. Black Easter Bonnets and Christmas Gifts for Soldiers

17. Women workers are urgently needed on the Land

18. Childhood in Hinckley

19. The White Plague and Spanish Influenza

20. Deserving and Undeserving Poor - Hinckley Union Workhouse

21. Church, Chapel and Sunday Schools

22. Music Hall, Charlie Chaplin and Pathè News

23. Khaki Fever, Lloyd George’s Beer, and ‘Dishonoured wives’

24. Hinckley Court Rooms - Deserters, Thieves and Runaway Pigs

25. Horses, Bicycles and Omnibuses

26. Post Office - Telegrams, Love letters and Personal Effects

27.Hinckley Cemetery - Buried with full military honours

28. Aftermath by Greg Drozdz

29. References

30. Bibliography


What was it like to be living in Hinckley during the Great War? This Heritage Lottery Funded project allowed us to research the stories of some of those who may not have been on the front line, but whose lives were dominated by the war.

Our starting point was Hinckley Museum’s 2015 exhibition Somewhere in No Man’s Land. Many thanks are due to Greg Drozdz for so generously sharing his knowledge and expertise

Our prime source was The Hinckley Times and Bosworth Herald 1914 – 1918.Thanks to Simon Holden for allowing us access to the archives.

 We would also like to thank all those who also shared their expertise, contributed to research, shared family stories, and joined us in workshops and on a Walking Trail.

A Hinckley Home Front Walking Trail Leaflet is available at Hinckley Museum.

We owe particular thanks to, among others, Paul Seaton, Paul Gardner, Rhiannon Murray, Vicky Gilbert, Neil Fortey, Kate Pugh, Gerard Moloney, students and staff at Redmoor Academy and staff at the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland. We hope that documents, letters and personal stories will continue to come to light over the centenary years of the First World War.




1. 'The lamps are going out all over Europe’

Empire Pageant

Empire Day Celebrations at St Mary’s Vicarage 1913

Image courtesy of Hinckley Past and Present - http://www.hinckleypastpresent.org/


On 24th May 1914 Hinckley schoolchildren, together with thousands of children from all over Great Britain, celebrated Empire Day. They saluted the union flag, listened to inspirational speeches about the heroes of the British Empire and joined in the marching, the maypole dancing and the singing of patriotic songs.


It was a day designed to ’remind children that they formed part of the British Empire, and that they might think with others in lands across the sea, what it meant to be sons and daughters of such a glorious Empire.’ They would be told that ‘The strength of the Empire depended upon them, and they must never forget it.’ The watchwords of the Empire Movement were ‘Responsibility, Sympathy, Duty, and Self-sacrifice.’ [1]

A few weeks later, on Saturday July 4th 1914 The Leicester Chronicle reported: ‘VICTIMS OF PLOT - The Assassination of His Imperial and Royal Highness the Archduke Francis Ferdinand.[2]  But while the tone of the article conveyed outrage at the murder of a Crowned Head of Europe, it did not suggest that the event was likely to have significant impact on Britain.  

Of more immediate concern was the situation in Ireland, where it seemed more troops would have to be sent to quell the fight for ‘Home Rule.’ Tensions between Austria and Serbia intensified over the course of July but it was by no means a certainty that Britain should be involved in a European conflict. Government ministers were divided, with many members of the Liberal government believing that Britain could, and should, keep out of the war unless directly attacked.  The growing Labour Party also opposed the war, and over 100,000 people across Britain took part in anti-war demonstrations, including at a large rally in Trafalgar Square. [3]In Leicester Market Place Alderman George Banton, the leader of the Leicester Independent Labour Party asked:

Is the Archduke’s body worth more than the body of a common soldier? No, yet there will be thousands and thousands of lives lost and seas of human blood spilled as a result of that order. [4]

On 2nd August 1914 news reached London that Germany had invaded Belgium in order to reach France quickly. Britain was a signatory to an 1839 treaty which guaranteed Belgian neutrality. Britain demanded that Germany withdraw its troops or face the consequences. The Germans ignored these demands, so on 4th August 1914 Britain entered the war.

Ramsay MacDonald resigned from his position as the first leader of the Labour party in protest and so did several prominent Liberal Cabinet Ministers. Sir Edward Grey warned ‘The lamps are going out all over Europe and we shall not see them lit again in our time.’[5]








2. The Drill Hall, Military Headquarters, Cookery Classes and Victory Celebrations


Crowds outside the Drill Hall 4th August 1914 – image courtesy of The Hinckley Times

‘The Greatest Excitement’

The Hinckley Times of 8th August 1914 told its readers:

Since the declaration of war the greatest excitement has prevailed at Hinckley. The streets have presented unusual scenes of animation, and since the recall from camp of the Territorials and the hurried despatch of the local naval and army reservists ‘war fever’ has been at its height.

The 4th and 5th Battalions of the Leicestershire Regiment were recalled from a training camp at Bridlington. The report continued:

 The Hinckley Company arrived at Hinckley station at about 10.30 on Tuesday morning.... Castle Street was lined with people and hundreds gathered and remained in the vicinity of the Drill Hall, expecting that the company would immediately continue the journey to Loughborough, which is stated to be the headquarters of the 5th Battalion.





The Drill Hall was on the corner of New Buildings and Wood Street

Image courtesy of Hinckley District Past and Present - www.hdpp.co.uk

The report continued:

When the company left the Drill Hall at about 2.30 yesterday, there was a huge crowd in the vicinity of Castle Street and New Buildings and the men were given a capital send off. It was proposed to march through Earl Shilton and Desford, and on the first portion of the journey they had a whole host of people accompanying them.  The Hinckley Troop of the Leicestershire Yeomanry, led by Sergt. Busby of Dadlingon, left Hinckley on Wednesday afternoon to join the battalion at Lutterworth. The troopers were ordered to present themselves at Lutterworth at six pm. and in order to take no risks with the train journey the majority decided to proceed by road in the wagonette containing the kit. [6]

Charles King, who was thirteen at the time, recalled in The Hinckley Times many years later: 

When the war came in 1914 there was tremendous excitement. Young men joined the forces and the local territorials who were in camp on the East coast were among the first to be drafted for active service. They were probably part of the immortal  “Contemptibles”[7]

Aubrey Moore, of Appleby Magna, an officer in the 1st Leicestershire Volunteer Battalion recalled the atmosphere in the town on 9th August in his book Son of the Rectory: [8]

We arrived at Hinckley about 9.30am to find the town crowded with excited people. The town seemed to have gone mad. By midday the pubs were running short and the men were crowding into the Drill Hall to sign up. James and I were continually studying standing orders on mobilisation, usually finding something we had missed. [9]

‘James’ was James Llewellyn Griffiths, a managing director at Sketchley Dyeworks. He had enlisted in the Leicestershire Volunteer Battalion in January 1901 as a Second Lieutenant. By the outbreak of war he had risen to the rank of Captain and was commanding the Hinckley company. In an article in the Hinckley Times Greg Drozdz described Griffiths’ army career:

The 5th Battalion Leicestershire Regiment, after spending the winter training near Luton, eventually entrained for France in February 1915. The territorial units were not always regarded highly by the regular army higher echelons and the history of the 5th Leicesters is one of participation in a number of set piece battles punctuated by long periods of holding and raiding operations away from the main focuses of the battle.

Griffiths went out in command of B Company and he became familiar with the task of marshalling men and resources under the most trying conditions and privations of trench warfare, not an easy feat to accomplish. Griffiths was wounded on 11th September 1915 while in the Ypres Salient and had 13 shell fragments in his body. Griffiths would not be returned to his battalion until September 1916. After convalescence he served as Assistant Provost Marshal for the garrison town of Grantham and from March 1916 until his return to France he was an instructor with the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps. He returned to the front as an acting Major which was later confirmed as the substantial rank backdated to 1st June 1916.

The battalion history records the following incident in May 1917 - “Once Major Griffiths, going out with Grogan, his runner, suddenly disappeared from view in an enormous hole which had apparently amalgamated itself with some well or sewer. The Major was almost drowned but came to the surface in time to hear Grogan say ‘You haven’t fallen in have you sir’. He was fished out and scraped down.”

Griffiths was sent on a three month course in October 1917 to Aldershot prepare him for higher command following a recommendation by the General Officer Commanding the 46th Division suggesting Griffiths was recommended to command an infantry battalion in the field.

According to his military record, Griffiths was wounded again in February 1918 but returned shortly to the front.

Griffiths was given temporary command of the whole battalion in August 1918 leading to full command of the Battalion on August 26 1918, with the rank of acting Lieutenant-Colonel. This honour was to be short lived for on October 4 1918, in the famous action of the breaching of the Hindenburg Line, a massive set of defences, Colonel Griffiths was seriously wounded by a shell blast in a sunken lane near Mannequin Ridge. In his five weeks in overall command, he had had the pleasure o f recommending fellow officer, Lieutenant J C Barrett for the Victoria Cross for gallantry.

He did not return to the battlefield, but he remained in the Territorial Army for many years.  

Overall, Griffiths was mentioned in despatches twice and had the honour of being awarded the Distinguished Service Order and the Territorial Decoration in 1919.

Other local men who earned commissions in the First World War. include Ernest Louis Hall, and John Thomas Leslie Baxter, from the family behind The Hinckley Times,


‘Saturday Night Soldiers’

As well as men in the ‘officer class’ there were many working class young men who in the years before the war had joined the Territorials to enjoy the training camps, camaraderie and opportunity for excitement. For the some of the most disadvantaged boys it also offered a chance to eat well for a few weeks in the year. The ‘part time’ soldiers, however, were not always highly regarded by the professionals who called them ‘Saturday Night Soldiers.’


Cookery Classes and the Discharged Soldiers and Sailors Association 

The Drill Hall was the venue throughout the war for charity events including performances by Hinckley Operatic Society, whist drives, sales of work, fancy dress competitions and dances. It was also regularly used for meetings and lectures during the war years. Subjects ranged from home defence, childcare, and home economics. In May 1917 women were encouraged to attend classes on “economical war time cooking.”

New Year festivities in 1918 included a ‘Confetti Carnival and Fancy Dress Ball’



On Sunday April 28th 1918 the inaugural meeting of the Hinckley and District Branch of the Leicester and Leicestershire Discharged Sailors and Soldiers Association met at the Drill Hall.

The Association was made up of men who been discharged from the military due to illness or disability. It campaigned for better pensions, and more opportunities for re-training


An ‘Honourably Discharged’ certificate awarded to 201854 Samuel Jervis, Leicestershire Regiment. http://ww1tigers.com/what-they-left-behind-2.html

A badge indicated that the wearer had been ‘Honorably discharged ‘and was worn at all times in public. The loss of badge 242371 in November 1917 was obviously of great concern to its owner -





The Drill Hall was the venue for a party for the wives and children of absent soldiers in the war years.

Party for the wives and children of absent soldiers held at the Drill Hall in New Buildings in Hinckley

 Image courtesy of www.hinckleytimesnet

Victory Celebrations and Electioneering

When peace was declared in November 1918 a ‘Fancy Dress’ Victory Ball was held on 28th November, but  it came to an abrupt end when P.C. Darling intervened to complain that lights were being shown after 10.30pm. In late November and December 1918 election campaign meetings and rallies were held in the hall, and on January 1st 1919 the New Year Fancy Dress Victory Ball and Whist Drive went on until 2am.


Fund raising events in the Drill Hall and appeals for people to buy War Bonds and War savings certificates continued in the months and years following the war.












3. Market Place Recruiting, Thanksgiving Week and Electioneering


Hinckley Market Place around 1900 - Image courtesy of Hinckley District Past and Present - www.hdpp.co.uk

Even with the regular army, the reservists and the volunteer ‘territorials’ called up it was clear that many more men would have to be recruited for what was known from the outset as ‘The Great War.’ Kitchener needed 100,000 men for his New Army, and his finger pointed out from the recruiting posters which appeared on hoardings, billboards and lamp posts around the town.  In the first weeks of the war Hinckley Market Place became a focal point for recruiting rallies. Bands from local regiments and the Boy Scouts led parades around the town playing rousing patriotic tunes. ‘It's A Long Way to Tipperary’ was a favourite. Some posters were locally targeted:


IS YOUR best boy wearing khaki?

If not don’t you think he should be?

 If he does not think that you and your country are worth fighting for do you think he is WORTHY of you?


From Hinckley Museum Exhibition 2015 Somewhere in No Man’s Land

National posters proclaimed: ‘Women of Britain say go,’ and women from the White Feather Movement shamed men into volunteering by handing out white feathers to men not in uniform, accusing them of cowardice. In the spring of 1915 recruiting posters ordered:


The wholesale murder of innocent women and children demands vengeance. Men of England, the innocent victims of German brutality call upon you to avenge them. Show German barbarians that Britain’s shores cannot be bombarded with impunity

Remember Scarborough - crush the German barbarians - Enlist now

and in the summer men were told:





William Buckingham

New recruits were desperately needed to replace casualties on the Western Front. In the Battle of Neuve Chapelle of March 1915 the 7,000 British casualties included many from the Leicestershire Regiment.

William Buckingham won the Victoria Cross in that battle.  His citation recorded that the award was  ‘For conspicuous acts (of) bravery and devotion to duty in rescuing and remaining with and rendering aid to wounded whilst exposed to heavy fire, especially at Neuve Chapelle, on 10th and 12th March.‘[10] William Buckingham had been brought up in Countesthorpe Children’s Home, part of Leicester Union Workhouse. He was reluctant to speak of his actions, but in a rare newspaper interview he recalled:

During the battle I came across a badly wounded German soldier. One of his legs had been blown off. He was lying right in the fire zone. His piteous appeals for help – well I rendered him first aid as well as I could, and just carried him to a place of safety. I did what I could of course, for others, too, but here, it’s really not worth talking about. [11]

Showing the scars from a gunshot wound to his chest, he continued:

It was a near thing. It would have been all over but for a packet of postcards in my left breast pocket. The bullet passed through the cards and entered my chest on the left side. It was, however, deflected, and came out on the right side, when it was again deflected by my cartridge case and lodged in my right arm, just above the elbow. There I carried it till I got to the South Manchester Hospital.[12]

On Friday May 28th 1915 The Melton Mowbray Times & Vale of Belvoir Gazette reported:


A pleasing little ceremony took place at the Cottage Homes Countesthorpe on Friday morning, when at the request of the officers of the Homes, the Matron presented Private Buckingham on their behalf with a gold mounted walking stick, suitably inscribed. The Matron expressed great pleasure at being asked to make the presentation to one of the old boys who had brought honour upon himself and the Homes by his gallant conduct. It was indeed an honour coveted by many and worn by our greatest Generals with pride.

In the course of the presentation Mrs Harrison read to the company several of the many letters of congratulation and testimony from Private Buckingham’s superior officers, Lieutenant Colonel Gordon, Captain Chudleigh and Brigadier General Blackader, who all spoke of his sterling work. In acknowledging the gift Private Buckingham expressed thanks in a few heartfelt words and concluded by saying how much he appreciated the affection which prompted the gift of the officers of the only home he had ever known.

23rd July 1915 The Melton Mowbray Times & Vale of Belvoir Gazette reported:

At the annual entertainment given at the Countesthorpe Cottage Homes on Thursday night Private Buckingham V.C. of the 2nd Battalion Leicestershire Regiment was presented with a scrip representing £100 worth of War Loan Stock, the outcome of a subscription initiated by the Leicester Board of Guardians. The total amount of the subscription was £111.3s 9d, the balance being handed to Buckingham in gold. The presentation was made by the Mayor of Leicester (Ald. J. North) who spoke eulogistically of Buckingham’s heroic conduct in the field and the manner in which he had upheld the glorious traditions of the Leicestershire Regiment. During convalescence from his wounds Private Buckingham had placed his country under further obligation by the splendid work he had done in Leicester and the county in the furtherance of recruiting. There were other speeches, to which Buckingham made a modest reply. [13]


William Buckingham at Countesthorpe Children’s Home

Image courtesy of Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland


Too Few Volunteers

Still there were too few volunteers, and it seemed inevitable that conscription would be introduced.  In October 1915 Asquith appointed Lord Derby as director of recruiting in what was claimed to be a last ditch attempt to avert it. Those who wished to join the Colours could do so immediately, others would continue in their employment until required.  Those who attested were divided into 46 groups according to age, marital status and employment. Assurances were given that married men would not be called upon until all available single men had been called up, and volunteering figures rose slightly. Meanwhile preparations were put in place for conscription and throughout the country 100,000 volunteers, mainly women, amassed the data for a national register of  ‘All persons, male and female aged 16-65 years except: those in HM Forces, prisoners held in HM prisons, residents in Poor Law Institutions, prisoners of war and internees. ‘[14]

Hohenzollern Redoubt

On 13th November 1915, 480 men of the 4th Battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment, including every officer was killed or wounded at the Battle of Hohenzollern Redoubt. On 26th November 1915, The Hinckley Times published a recruiting notice appealing to men to ‘Avenge the death of your brave comrades.’


Local Heroes

Local military men who had been awarded medals for bravery took part in recruiting campaigns to inspire young men and encourage them to join ‘The Colours’ even as conscription was being introduced in early 1916.  On 6th February 1916 the Hinckley Times described the arrival in the town of the ‘Neuve Chapelle Heroes - Hinckley Welcome to Gallant Leicesters.’ It reported that they were -

met at the station by the Vicar of Hinckley (Rev. W. P. Hurrell,) Vicar of Holy Trinity, (Rev. J.F. Griffiths,) and Mr G. Kinton JP Chairman of the Urban District Council and other prominent townspeople. Headed by the band of the Countesthorpe Cottage Home, with which Private Buckingham as a boy was connected, a procession was formed which also included the uniformed members of the Hinckley Volunteer Training Corps (under Mr A.S. Atkins) the three heroes bringing up the rear in a motor car to which was affixed a large Union Jack. Crowds lined the Station Road, and the band, augmented by a number of instrumentalists in khaki, played lively and patriotic airs. [15]

The report continued:

In spite of the rain thousands of people turned out at Hinckley on Saturday afternoon to welcome to the town three gallant Leicesters, whose deeds of heroism at Neuve Chapelle are well known to the Leicestershire public. They were Private W.H.Buckingham, V.C.Lance Corpl. T. Newcombe DCM and Lance Corpl. A.G. Robinson. The latter, whose home is in London Road, secured the Russian Order of Merit and  the English Order for gallant and distinguished service in the field. 

Image courtesy of The Hinckley Times


George Kinton, Chair of the Borough Council addressed the crowd at the Market Place. He said that:

In the case of Buckingham his home training was at Countesthorpe and his origin was therefore very humble. This soldier, on two occasions and at very great risk, rescued a German and a soldier of his own company. He was the only Leicestershire soldier who had ever been decorated by the King with the great distinction of the VC. It was to be hoped that by the end of the war other Leicestershire soldiers would secure a similar distinction.  

Kinton went on:

Corpl. Newcombe also distinguished himself on the same battlefield. His was a great act of bravery and they all admired his gallantry. With regard to their own townsman, Robinsons’ act of bravery was of great importance. During a heavy bombardment the order was given to charge and amongst those participating was a company of Indians whose leader was shot down and severely wounded.

He continued:

 Another comrade, Corpl. Robinson sprang out of his trench and went to the aid of the poor Indian, and after attending to his wounds, brought him back to safety, although in doing so Robinson was wounded in both legs. For a considerable time his life was despaired of and he lay in Cambridge hospital between life and death. Everyone was now glad to see him partially restored to health, though he would be a cripple for the remainder of his life. Mr Kinton said that he felt proud that their county and town possessed men who had proved their sterling worth in the day of great trial.

The crowd cheered and the military band played ‘See the Conquering Hero Comes.’ Sergeant Payne of the Leicestershire Regiment spoke of how proud the regiment were of all three men, and of another eleven from the regiment who had like Robinson, received the Russian decoration. There were ‘great cheers’ and the military parade processed around the town while children collected money for wounded Leicestershire soldiers. They were given tea at Trinity Parish Hall.


‘Togo’ Bolesworth

In March 1916 to the delight of his many fans, ‘Togo’ Bolesworth joined Buckingham in a recruiting rally at the Market Place. He had acquired the nickname ‘Togo,’ apparently a druidic term meaning ‘chosen one,’ during his boxing career. He had a large and enthusiastic following. While serving with the 1st Battalion Leicestershire Regiment on the Western Front he had been awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the French Croix de Guerre for bravery. The citation read: ‘He was in charge of a picket when he was wounded by a shell in both legs and was severely bruised by falling timber. He stuck to his post until relieved and collapsed after reporting to his company commander.’ He had originally enlisted in the army on 1905 and had served in India. In 1908 he won the all India army title in the welterweight class at Madras and later he also won the all India army boxing cup for the middleweight division, at Poona. In January 1913 he left the army and returned to Hinckley to pursue a career as a professional boxer. Greg Drozdz, has researched his story:

In early 1914 he had outpointed “Cobb” Allbrighton, a big Baddesley Ensor miner and a fortnight later he had boxed a draw with Billy Sherwood, who was at that time considered to be the undisputed champion of the Midlands. The draw with Sherwood had taken place at the Drill Hall, on the corner of New Buildings and Wood Street, and had attracted a crowd of 800. Sherwood’s backers had put down a purse of £50 for a rematch, whilst there was no shortage of support for Togo. Mr Arthur Draper, the landlord of the Greyhound Inn, provided the money for Togo to match the purse for the fight on May 2nd to take place in Hinckley, at the Olympia Skating Rink, on the corner of Mill Hill Road and Cleveland Road. The capacity of the hall was more than 1,000.

The Hinckley Times recorded that “the excitement of Hinckley sports was at fever heat” and that the town was awash with visitors to the bout from all over the Midlands – the crowd being 3,000 in all. In the second round Sherwood went down to the canvas three times under a welter of blows from the Hinckley boxer. The referee stepped in and the Hinckley crowd went wild. Togo carried his opponent to his corner to rapturous applause from his followers.[16]

‘Togo’ was recalled to the colours on August 5th 1914, on the outbreak of war. He was given a rousing welcome on his homecoming in March 1916. He and William Buckingham were cheered by crowds of people as their motor cavalcade drove through the streets of Hinckley and on to Barwell and Earl Shilton.

The cavalcade in Hinckley  - Image courtesy of The Hinckley Times



Hinckley first world war ww1

The cavalcade at Barwell - Togo is third from the left - Image courtesy of The Hinckley Times

Togo returned to the Front, but on August 18th 1915, he suffered a gunshot wound to the thigh and was sent home to recover. During his time at home he lost pay for twelve days’ absence and potential promotions to Lance Corporal were rescinded because of misconduct: 

Togo’s service record has survived and the reasons for misconduct, at this point, are not stated. Togo is then involved in an incident which leads him to facing trial for the manslaughter of another soldier. He was recuperating from his wounds at a camp near Patrington, near Hull. On returning to camp one night there was an altercation when a soldier took the mickey out of Togo. Togo lashed out and hit the soldier, knocking him unconscious. He revived him and the soldier went on his way. He later died during the night from concussion. Togo was placed under arrest and was to be tried in a civil court at York Assizes.

Togo’s officers paid for a barrister to defend him and Togo was eventually acquitted. Medical evidence suggested that the soldier had maybe had another fall on his way back to camp which had been the cause of the fatal concussion. The court expressed regret that Togo had been imprisoned for two months awaiting trail and that he could leave the court without a stain on his character.

A month later Togo was back in France. Sometime between May 1916 and December 1916 he was sentenced to 14 days Field Punishment No 1 for misconduct. This consisted of being tied to the large wheel of an army wagon for hours at a time, in the crucifix position.[17]

Meanwhile William Buckingham had chosen to return to active service rather than continue in the recruiting campaign, On 30th September 1916 The Hinckley Times reported:

Private Buckingham VC killed –

Relinquished Stripes to get back to the Front

Throughout Leicestershire deep regret will be felt by the news that Pte William Buckingham VC has fallen upon the battlefield in France. According to a letter written by Captain W. F.Mosse to Mr Mansfield, clerk to the Leicester Board of Guardians, Buckingham was killed in action on September 15th. “To the best of my knowledge” added the officer “he had no relations but perhaps you would be so kind as to convey to his intimate friends my deepest sympathy in his loss. For some time past he has been my personal orderly whom it will be quite impossible to replace. He fell wounded in the thigh from a machine gun bullet, and was killed instantaneously by a second which hit him in the head.” 

Pte Buckingham was a modest hero, who never sought the limelight of publicity. He was one of the most difficult men in Leicestershire to interview, saying nothing about his conduct, only that he did his duty. 

In March 1917 Togo Bolesworth was again tried by the Field General Court Martial for being found drunk on duty. This time he was given two months Field Punishment No.1. On 13th April 1917 he was wounded again with a gunshot wound to the buttock. He spent 28 days in hospital in England then in June 1917 joined the 8th and then the 9th Battalion Leicestershire Regiment back in France:

In the early hours of 1st October, Togo along with a Burbage lad, Joe Paul, was sent forward out of the frontline trenches into No-Man’s land, in front of Polygon Wood, near Ypres, in Belgium, to search for a suitable shell hole from which to establish a sniper’s post. They found a suitable shell hole, some fifty yards from the enemy line. In the course of the early morning they had a shot or two because things seemed unduly lively over in the German lines. It was shortly before 9 .00am that the trench in front of them began to spill enemy soldiers into the broken ground ahead. They used a few more rounds. Then a German bullet hit Togo and Joe got his in the leg. Somehow Joe got back but Togo still lay out there in his muddy Flanders shell-hole.

In writing to Togo’s mother, days after his death, his officer said, without equivocation: “….many of the officers used to speak of him as the best soldier in the Regiment.” This highest accolade reminds us that even heroes are flawed, as we know from his service record, now available from the National Archives, that Togo’s disciplinary record of drunkenness and unauthorised absence made him no less of a man or a soldier. Togo had done his bit and had suffered serious wounds along the way. This would of course be of little consolation for a grieving mother who also lost two other sons in the war – Corporal William Bolesworth and Lance-Corporal James Bolesworth.[18]

 Like many widows Mrs Bolesworth had relied on her sons for financial support, and during the war years she had to turn to the Hinckley and District Relief Committee for money to buy food. 


Fundraising Events

Throughout the war the market place continued to be the focus for fundraising; in the Tank Bank campaign Hinckley residents were encouraged to contribute to the purchase of a tank. After the war the tank was displayed for many years at Granville Gardens in the town.


Even after conscription was introduced recruiting continued into 1918, with, this Hinckley Times advertisement suggests, an increasing sense of desperation.


On 11th November 1918, as rumours of the armistice filtered through, hundreds gathered to celebrate. The Hinckley Times reported:

The streets were gay with flags and bunting, and miniature processions passed by the main throughfare every few minutes. In the earlier part of the day hundreds of youths and girls, with a sprinkling of soldiers and sailors, passed up Castle Street.[19]

In a procession headed by a sole drummer an effigy of Kaiser Bill was rough handled by ‘a young tar.’ The report went on: ‘The juvenile “sports” did their best to provide some amusement for the townspeople – especially daring were some of the factory lasses!’


Thanksgiving Week

It had been planned that the last week of November would be ‘Feed the Guns’ week, a massive fundraising campaign. It was rapidly renamed ‘Thanksgiving Week.’ Posters and newspaper advertisements encourage local people to see the Howitzer gun and purchase War Bonds and War Savings Certificates.


On Monday 25th November a procession headed by a 6 inch Howitzer and a Military Band left the station yard soon after one o’clock as the factories were closing down for the dinner hour. It went down Station Road, then on to Mount Road, Hill Street, Castle Street and to the Market Place.

 Headed by a military band the gun was drawn by a traction engine loaned by Mr Tom Power of Barwell. Among those in the procession were C Company 2nd Voluntary Battalion under the command of Captain AS Atkins, Church ministers of the town, members of the Urban District Council, Hinckley Fire Brigade with the Fire Engine, St John’s Ambulance and VAD nurses. Also represented were the War Savings Committee, the Pensions Committee, and the Board of Guardians. Earl Shilton and Barwell Parish Councils, the Church Lads of Sapcote, the Soldiers War Pensions Committee, Special Constables and Boy Scouts also paraded. 

The Hinckley Times described the ‘brilliant scene’ in the Market Place: ‘Surrounding the lamp column (at the top end of the Market Place)  a space had been fenced off, and a number of sandbags, with a dray, had been placed to serve as a platform for speakers, one side of the enclosure being left for the gun.’ [20]

On the platform ‘Mr G. Kinton presided, supported by Hon. H.D.McLaren, Canon Hurrell, Mr W. Johnson, Colonel E.C. Atkins, Mr S. Brocklehurst and Mr G.E.S Coxhead, the headmaster of Hinckley Grammar School and secretary of the fundraising campaign.  The National Anthem was played by the Military Band and prayers were offered by Canon Hurrell.

Image courtesy of The Hinckley Times

Red Letter Day

George Kinton, Chairman of the War Saving Committee said the occasion was ‘a red letter day in the history of the town.’ In 1916 they made a great effort in raising money for the war effort. ‘Deputations had waited on manufacturers and work people and as a result of that effort over £100,000 had been subscribed to the War Savings Fund.’ But, he said, ‘they had been spending on the war at the rate of eight millions per day, and that took a lot of finding.’ He went on:

War expenditure was rather like that scourge which they had been having a good deal of lately – the influenza. It was an Irishman who said, ‘The worst of the flu is that you remain ill for such a long time after you are well again,’ and it was the same with war expenditure. They went on spending a long time after war had ceased, and it was for that expenditure in the early days of peace that they appealed to them to do what was wanted to wind up the war, and for purposes of reconstruction.


Bonds ‘Good and Sound’

Colonel Atkins urged everyone to come forward and put their money in the gun. The country, he said, was “good and sound” and the bonds were the sort of investment a man could put his money into.

He went on:

They had not yet won the peace, though they had won the war, and those who were going out to finish the job – statesmen and others – must go out with the full force of the wealth of this country at the back of them. Mr Lloyd George said that there were seventeen millions of people holding government securities. He said he thought that one of the greatest achievements of the war. They could not do better than invest their money and draw out 5 percent interest, so let them put their money in the gun. 


Give thanks to the guns

The Hon H.D.McLaren then took the stand. He said he had stood on an open air platform at Hinckley a little more than four years ago, when they had a great meeting in the Market Place to lay before them the justice of the great war they were then entering into. He went on:

 That war had been longer, more bitter and brought more sorrow than any amongst them ever contemplated, but the British people had never faltered. Like the British bulldog they had got their teeth in, and kept them there. Today they rejoiced that they were no longer gathered to feed the guns, but to give thanks to the guns.

The crowd responded with ‘Hear, hear.’ He continued:

When they said “guns” they meant the men who worked those guns and the brave infantry who, in the trenches in front of the guns, resisted the attacks of the Germans, and who charged through the wire to cut a way for those guns to advance.  That is what they meant when they said they thanked the guns, and not only did they rejoice that the great shadow which had hung over the land had at last lifted, they rejoiced in this good victory they had won. It was a victory greater, he thought, than anyone in that audience had dared to hope six months ago could be attained, but they had attained it. They had attained it first because of the valour of their men, but that valour would have been of little use had it not been for the munitions which supported them. Those great guns, the ships, the aeroplanes, the shells, the tanks and all those munitions could not have been attained unless they had the money not only to get them in this country, but to get them from abroad, and to lend to their brave allies to enable them again to purchase in the neutral counties of the world.

He asked the crowd:

Now what had been the expenditure of the war? From August 1st 1914 until November 16th 1918, some ten days ago, the government had spent £8,622,000,000. It is difficult enough to imagine how big a sum £1,000.00 is. [21]

‘Get them stamped in the mouth of the gun’

Mr G.E.S. Coxhead said those present would be glad to know that the committee had already been promised between seventy and eighty thousand pounds. They aimed at getting £100,000 but with the support of Barwell, Earl Shilton and Burbage, hoped to double that amount. The audience were invited to buy National War Bonds and War Certificates and ‘get them stamped in the mouth of the gun with the Special Souvenir Stamp.’

Khaki Election

As plans for the ‘khaki election’ in December 1918 were put in place, platforms on the Market Place were taken over for electioneering.speeches. The Hon. H.D. Maclaren again took to the platform as the Liberal candidate for the constituency. His father, who had held the seat during the war years, was standing down. His opponent, Tom Richardson was standing for the Labour Party and debates would undoubtedly have been lively. Maclaren claimed that Richardson’s supporters ‘were great friends with the Bolshevists who had brought about such a disastrous state of affairs in Russia, and who told them they ought to be friends again with the Germans.’[22]

Richardson’s supporters claimed that The Coalition consisted of ‘great capitalists like Mr Maclaren’ who had ‘allowed wicked profiteering to go on, and had allowed the wealthy classes to increase their hold of the wealth of the community.’ [23] They claimed that the punishment for ‘the Kaiser’ they demanded would lead to another war.









4. Hinckley Railway Station

Goodbyee,  Don’t cryeee, wipe a tear, baby dear, from your eyeee.....”

First World War Music Hall song

Troops waiting for a train at Hinckley Station

From Hinckley Museum Exhibition 2015 Somewhere in No Man’s Land

The Hinckley Company of the Leicestershire Brigade was given a rousing welcome as they arrived at Hinckley station on 4th August 1914, the day that war broke out. It was to be the scene of many emotional arrivals and departures during the war years. Over the course of the next months and years, young men, many of whom had never travelled further than Skegness, would depart from the station. Most would go to France or Belgium, while others would be sent to the Dardanelles, Mesopotamia, (now Iraq,) Egypt and other places in the Empire only previously known as pink patches on the world map. Some would return briefly on leave or convalescing, some would return too badly wounded to go back to the war, and others would never return.


All excursions cancelled

 Within a few days it was clear that military requirements would be prioritised for as long as the war lasted as all excursions were cancelled. The Hinckley Times reported ‘Only workmen’s tickets were being issued at the cheap rate. ...This has caused great disappointment to many Hinckley people who were contemplating holidays.’ [24]Charles King recalled that before the war:

August Bank Holiday excursions and holiday trains were organised to all seaside resorts. From Friday night and through the night to Saturday morning there was a constant stream of families loaded with luggage making their way to the station where lads with soap box trucks acted as luggage porters. The station master then was Mr John Mann a splendid gentleman. [He was] always smartly uniformed and quite impressive with his dignified and courteous manner to all travellers. Mr “Remy” Clarke was his man of all work and always a very popular person.[25]


Troop Trains and German POWs

During the war years rail passengers regularly using Hinckley station included men in reserved occupations and in the Voluntary Training Corps, women war workers and members of the Voluntary Aid Detachment. Those visiting relatives in hospitals in the UK, and even on the Western Front, started their journey from there. Convalescent soldiers were readily identifiable in their ‘Hospital Blue’ uniforms which they wore with their regimental caps. Soldiers were transported in special ‘troop trains’ and heavily guarded German prisoners of war were taken to local prison camps.

The rail system was crucial to the supply of goods and services for the home front and the military. Transport of milk churns, food supplies and coal continued as usual. Charles King recalled:  ‘Goods traffic was handled by the railway and by Solomon Edwards and his son Jack. There was a nightly procession of loaded drays along Station Road, piled high with hampers and export cases.’[26]

Military supplies such as the boots, shirts and socks made in local factories were also transported by rail to military depots. Special trains were loaded with the shells made in Hinckley munitions factories. Everything needed for the war, including horses, guns, tanks, and barbed wire were all transported by rail to the south coast and loaded onto ferries. Mail trains conveyed the huge amounts of official and personal letters, postcards and parcels which the war generated. In Leicester a platform was taken over by the Post Office to deal with the volume of mail bags.

Women on the Railways

As the war progressed, more and more train drivers, engineers and railway men volunteered or were called up. Their skills were in great demand by the military to maintain and run the railway network on the Western Front. Reluctantly, women were taken on in their place. The Railway Gazette of 1915 commented that:

The employment of women on the railways of this country has contributed in no small degree to the maintenance of an efficient transport system cannot be gainsaid. Female labour, however, is limited to those grades in which experience is not of the essence and the vocations must not entail contact with train movement.[27]

Women worked as clerks, porters and ticket collectors. It was conceded that for efficiency and safety reasons, it was necessary that some women cleaning the exterior of steam engines wore ‘trousered’ overalls, This caused great consternation as many regarded them as being ‘unladylike.’ Climbing ladders was also considered ‘indecorous.’ Women tram conductors were allowed to wear skirts to just above the ankle because they had to climb the spiral ‘stairs’ but a contributor to the Leicestershire Oral Archives who worked as a porter at Rothley Railway Station was told: ‘There are all the porter’s jobs you’ll have to do except climbing the signal ladders.’ She recalled: ‘One other porter was on duty...he got the lamps down, I trimmed them and he put them back.’ Her uniform was ‘navy blue with shiny buttons and a peaked cap,’ and a ‘navy blue skirt down to my ankles,’ in which she had to ‘carry things up 36 stairs, or down 36 stairs...you got used to carrying heavy loads.’ [28]

Great Central Railway, Leicester 1915

Image courtesy of Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland




Great Central Railway, Leicester 1915

Image courtesy of Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland

For many men who went out to fight the station was their last sight of Hinckley, and for many of those who did return there was no ‘Hero’s Welcome.’ Some who were paralysed or immobile arrived on a hospital trolley in a goods wagon. Others had to be helped out of train carriages, crippled young men, physically or emotionally shattered. 

Hinckley Station  was also the departure point for some of the Belgian refugee families as they returned to their homeland.  In 1921 the first pilgrimage to the Western Front enabled families to visit the graves of those they had lost.

Railway men from the Midland Railway company are commemorated at a memorial at Derby Station, while the names of those who worked for the the London & North Western Railway are on a memorial in the Queen’s Park in Crewe.




  Belgian Refugees

Belgian refugees in Hinckley

Belgian Refugees in Hinckley -  Image courtesy of The Hinckley Times


As the German army invaded Belgium in August 1914 a quarter of a million refugees began arriving in the UK. The Leicester Daily Mercury of 21st September, reported: ‘OUTRAGES IN BELGIUM - THE BURNING OF VILLAGES.’ A national response to appeals for help generated offers of accommodation, food, clothes, money and transport. The British government initiated national plans to receive the refugees but it was soon overwhelmed with the numbers involved, and responsibility was handed over to Local Boards.  In Hinckley, George Kinton and Arthur Atkins became Chairman and Honorary Secretary of the Belgian Refugee Committee. On September 25th 1914 an advertisement was placed in The Hinckley Times asking for ‘particulars of accommodation available in the town.’ Mr S. Brocklehurst, a local hosiery manufacturer offered a house in Clarendon Road.


Bogus Atrocity Case

Rumours and stories about German atrocities were quickly spread through newspapers, and one which was widely circulated was that the German soldiers had raped nurses and beheaded patients in a Belgian hospital. The story was said to have come from a British nurse, Grace Hume. But the story had actually come from her sister; on 29th September in an article headed ‘Bogus Atrocity Case – Accused Remanded,’ The Leicester Daily Mercury reported: ‘At Dumfries today Kate Hume, aged 17, a clerk, who is under arrest on a charge of uttering a forged letter which purported to be written by her sister Nurse Grace Hume, was brought before the Hon. Sheriff.’ Grace Hume was actually living in Huddersfield at the time.


Antwerp Was in Flames

But the horrors the refugees experienced were nevertheless very real. At a meeting in the Council House in October 1914 it was reported that a family of Belgian refugees, M. and Madame Van Nuffel and their seven children had arrived in Hinckley. They had come from Antwerp and another refugee who had made the same journey recalled: 

Antwerp was in flames; everywhere there was fire, and the sky was lit up in all directions; shells were screaming and roaring as they exploded, and wherever one looked crowds of people were to be seen rushing along the street carrying the possessions they had managed to secure wrapped up in sheets and slung over their shoulders. 

Little children clung to their mothers' skirts crying and screaming, while the mothers were distracted. Old men and old women, feeble and infirm, were trying to keep up with the others, but hundreds had to fall behind. Most of them were making for the Dutch frontier

All the way along people were saying that the Germans were coming in our direction, but we decided to risk meeting them. Many, however, sat down on the roadside, tired and hungry. After a long tramp we had a rest, and then started our journey through Flanders on foot. On the way we passed thousands of others. Some had no hats; many of the women were carrying their boots, which had begun to blister their feet, and they were walking over the hard roads bare-footed and sore-footed. All were trying to comfort the others. Ultimately we got to Calloo, where we had our first night's rest, sleeping in a stable on potato sacks that were wet and muddy. But we slept.

One last impression of that terrible journey. It was terrible, and I could tell you better in my own language of the horrors of those days; of fathers wheeling perambulators, bearing all their worldly possessions, of children hanging on the parents' necks being carried to safety, of tear-stained faces of mothers, grandmothers and grandfathers; of little children in carts being drawn by dogs and mules, all crowding the roads that led to safety.[1]



Belgian Refugee Committee

The Van Nuffel family moved into the house on Clarendon Road, and the Belgian  Refugee Committee reported:

Mr S. Brocklehurst had kindly guaranteed the rent and Mrs Stanley and Mrs A.S. Atkins had guaranteed the furnishing of the house, and to provide food and necessary clothing while the refugees remained there.

 The ladies attending to the family had received promises of 35s a week for their maintenance and gifts of food and other things. The committee wished to thank people who had lent furniture and given money and food for the refugees. An offer of work for M. Van Nuffel had been received from a hosiery firm in the town and the committee gave their consent for him to go, stipulating that he should put aside half his earnings for the maintenance of his family. The committee requested that people should not make gifts direct to the refugees, but would be glad if intending donors should leave them at the Council Offices.[2]

A report published by Hinckley Urban Council at the end of the war recorded:

Many gifts of coal, food and clothing were given to the refugees, people in Hinckley vying with each other to assist, until the Committee decided that everything should go through that body to prevent overlapping. As the fund grew it was possible to make all purchases out of this for the refugees and gifts in kind ceased.

A collection of clothing was organised in the town for the benefit of refugees in the country and elsewhere and 24 hampers full (including 278 ladies’ jackets) were forwarded to Leicester to the County Committee for distribution as they thought fit. [3]

The Hinckley Times of 10th October 1914 reported that:

 Mr Goode, a member of the Committee said that while appreciating the good that had been done with respect to the family that had arrived, he considered it was the duty of the town to do more in that direction, and he expressed his firm belief that the people of Hinckley were anxious and willing to recognise what the Belgian nation had gone through by maintaining a much larger number of refugees. He mentioned one or two houses in the town which he thought might be taken for the accommodation of refugees. It was proposed that the owners should be interviewed.  He went on to say he would be glad to receive offers of furniture and money.

 Another member of the Hinckley refugee committee, Mr. C. W. Emery of the hosiery firm Simpkin, Son and Emery, made available a large house in Bond Street, known as Bosworth House, which was to be converted into three apartments.   Later on another house was made available in Station Road.  They were offered to refugees rent free, and the cost of gas lighting was also paid for them.


Refugees at Antwerp Docks

Belgian Refugees at Antwerp Docks - Image courtesy of The Hinckley Times


Four Belgian Families

On December 2nd Mrs A. S. Atkins and Mrs A. J. Stanley went to Folkestone to meet the refugee boat from Flushing in Holland. They were among a number of influential women involved in the local Belgian Refugees Committee. Nationally, concerns had been raised early on about the trafficking of women and girls and voluntary women’s patrols met the trains arriving from Holland to ensure they were taken to safe accommodation. The post war report stated:

 Four families were brought back to Hinckley:

M. & Mdme. Jacques Dubois and 3 children and Help.

M.&  Mdme Anicet Dubois and 2 children

M. & Mdme Francois Delafaille and 2 children

Mdme. Marie Delafaille and 1 child.

It was also arranged that a family who were staying at Hythe should come to Hinckley also and they joined the party at Folkestone. The people from Hythe consisted of Mdme. Gossett and 3 children. [4]

The report continued:

These refugees numbering 20 in all were housed at Bosworth House. The conditions were somewhat over-crowded but ultimately M. & Mdme. Dubois and family moved to a house in Station Road and Mdme. Gossett and her children left the town for another place of abode and this relieved the situation considerably.

Over the war years 34 Belgian refugees were to stay in the town. It was reported that:

The language question was quite a difficult one at first and only those persons who could speak French could converse with those refugees who could not speak English at all but the latter proved very quick learners of the English language and they had not been in the town many months before they were able to make themselves understood and by the time they returned home they could converse in the English language quite freely.

M. Dubois who could speak English as well as many other languages  acted as interpreter and representative of the Belgian community  while in Hinckley and proved most useful in that respect

M. Francois Delafaille’s brother also stayed in the town several months before going to Leicester and was assisted during his presence here.

The other family consisted of M and Mdme Felix Francois and 1 child and they lived at the house in Station Road after living in rooms in Factory Road. Mdme Francois’ sister joined this family and remained there until they left for Paris in November 1915.

 Olive Hind, who was thirteen when war broke out recalled in an interview in The Hinckley Times:

The arrival of the Belgian refugees was a very great excitement to me as they came to live where the blind Mrs Toft used to live, at Mrs Richardson’s opposite Simpkin Son and Emery’s factory.  There were the two families named Dubois and I believe two of the name of Delafaille. I used to take the children out for Mr and Mrs Dubois. Then they moved to a brewery house in Station Road before returning to Belgium at the end of the war. [5]



Early in the war the stories of the Belgian refugees were dramatically depicted to Hinckley audiences in films such as ‘Naval Secret – Evacuation of Ghent and Ostend’ and ‘When Conscience calls Antwerp – under shot and shell.’ In early 1915 a pamphlet entitled Report on Alleged German Outrages was published by the highly secret War Propaganda Bureau. It claimed that the German army had systematically tortured Belgian civilians, and it made front page headlines in the press. Its aim was to develop and consolidate support for the war at home, and in particular in America whom it wanted to draw into the war. In January 1917, The George Picture Palace was showing ‘Chained to the Enemy, ‘A fine war picture in 3 parts depicting the Cruelty of the Huns to the helpless Belgian Women and Children.’



Fundraising events continued to raise money for the refugees. The Belgian families were welcomed into the community of St Peter’s Priory, and the amounts raised in collections to support them were published in the parish magazine. The January 1915 edition reported that: ‘A prize drawing in aid of the Belgian Relief Fund was held on Saturday December 19th 1914. The prize, a large doll, was given by Mrs. W. J. Hall and was beautifully dressed by Miss E. Hall’. In the same magazine it was recorded that an ‘interesting feature of the recent Whist Drive was the participation of the local Belgian refugees in the games.’


Death of Madame Seraphina Delafaille

 In February 1915 the St Peter’s parish magazine reported:

The Belgian community in our midst have suffered a loss by the death on Saturday 6th February of Madame Seraphina Delafaille, one of the refugees who came to Bosworth House at the beginning of December last. Having to flee Holland with her husband and children from their home in Antwerp at the time of its bombardment, the terrible experiences told on her health and when she arrived in Hinckley she was a total invalid. Father Michael conducted the burial service both in the church and at the graveside on the following Tuesday, and the chief mourners were the husband (M.Francois Delafaille) his two little children and a number of the local refugees. A number of beautiful floral tributes were sent by members of the congregation and others.

The report following the war stated:

It has to be put on record with sincere regret that one of the refugees Mdame Francois Delafaile died on the 6th February 1915. There is no doubt that the exposure and sufferings this lady underwent after she left Antwerp and until she arrived at Hinckley undermined her health completely and notwithstanding constant medical attention and special nourishment which was readily given by the Medical practitioners and members of the Committee she could not be saved and lies in Hinckley cemetery, one of the many innocent people who died through the war. It is pleasant to record that in due course the husband married a Hinckley girl and another refugee married a Hinckley man. Three children were born during the refugees’ stay in Hinckley.


Belgian Employees

The Belgian men had all been ‘engaged in the shipping industry in Antwerp’ and the report continued:

Most of the refugees obtained employment in Hinckley and in due course became very efficient in connection with the hosiery trade and in other trades.  The result was that some considerable time before they returned home they received wages which enabled them entirely to maintain themselves and no grants were made by the Committee except for very special reasons.

The balance of the fund in hand was placed on deposit at the Bank and grants were made thereout to the amount of £47 were made to the refugees when they left for home to help them on their way.

The children were educated free through the kindness of Mrs Whatmore and the Grammar school authorities.  


Alice Delafaille

In 1916 Alice Delafaille was attending Hinckley Grammar School, and she described her family’s escape from Belgium in the school magazine:

One morning, when we had our breakfast we heard the guns nearer and nearer. My father came home with a newspaper, and said placards were on the walls saying that the people had to escape from the town to the North, because the town would be bombarded and that the only way to escape was in that direction. We made ready, and my father went out to fetch my grandmother. While we were a few yards out of Antwerp there was a Taube flying above us, and the soldiers were shooting at it with their guns. And we had to hurry else we should have had some bombs on our heads. Half an hour from Antwerp we stopped at friends of my daddy’s and we slept there for the night. That night the bombardment was starting. We could not sleep all night; it was a terrific noise. In the night we got up at three o’clock. The sky was all red. You could see the flames from the houses that were burning. All the streets were in flames. We could see shells bursting in the air. From every side we could see peasants go by with their cattle. Poor people, rich people, everyone trying to escape.


We marched all day. In the evening we came to a village named Doel. We spent the night in a little farm, and we slept on straw, with my dolls in my arms. In the night we felt that the rats were walking over our bodies. The same morning we were awakened by the heavy explosions of the fortress in the hills. We went to Holland, walking all day, and arrived in Hulst, which though only a town of about 3,000 inhabitants, had then about 60,000 Belgian refugees. Most of the people had to sleep outside. We were happy because we slept under the roof on straw. They could not find any food. We had to stand from about two o’clock in the morning till the afternoon, then we got some bread. We had to pay tenpence for a loaf of bread of about one pound. We heard another day some Belgian soldiers had killed a cow in the field. They asked us to eat with them from the meat, so we got there a dinner and supper with meat alone. We stayed there a week, and then we went away to the middle of Holland, from which we came to England.

Alice Delafaille (Form II.)

Some of the refugees, including Alice Delafaille, gave concerts at St Peter’s and in the war years the Belgian Artists’ Committee performed twice in the town. They were professional musicians who had escaped from Belgium and were raising money for war charities.

Famous Belgian Musicians

In a Sunday concert on 14th January 1917 at Hinckley Theatre they gave a performance in aid of ‘Comforts for the Belgian soldiers in the trenches.’  

They gave a second concert in the spring of 1918 The Hinckley Times reported:

The artistes who performed are all front rank musicians. Their previous concert in aid of fund for providing comforts for Belgian troops had been described as “the best that had been heard in Hinckley.”


They would never forget their visit to England....

As the war ended the refugees made plans to go home. The Council report recorded:

On Saturday 22nd February 1919 there met in the Masonic Hall at the Union Hotel a party consisting of the Belgian refugees returning, members of the Committee and friends.

 Tea was provided and a gift to each family was made by the Committee to help them on their way. The feelings of the persons present at this gathering were very mixed. The Belgians were elated to think that they were after more than four years in this country, returning home and yet they were reluctant to say goodbye to those members of the Committee and others who had been so closely associated with them during their stay in this country and who had endeavoured whole heartedly to make their enforced visit a pleasant one. On the other hand the members of the committee and other helpers experienced a feeling of great sadness at the thought of parting, possibly for ever with the Belgians. [It was].mingled however with a feeling of pride in the work that was accomplished and gladness in the thought that the war was over and the work of the Committee at an end.

M. Jacques Dubois, replying to a farewell speech by the Chairman on behalf of all the Belgian refugees, thanked the committee and all helpers for what they had done for them and stated that when in their native land they would never forget their visit to England and the kind friends they were leaving behind. On the following Thursday the Chairman and other members of the Committee saw the Belgians off from Hinckley Station for Leicester  where they joined the  Refugees from the county and entrained for Hull, the point of departure for Antwerp. [6]

Some members of the Delafaille family however, stayed on in Hinckley and became caretakers at St Peter’s School, living in Rosary Cottage on the corner of Priory Walk and London Road.[7]


6. Christmas Truce

Silent Night... Stille Nacht

Christmas Carol sung by British and German soldiers in the Christmas Truce

Despite early reassurances that the war would be over by Christmas, it was not; it had only just started. In a campaign which started in October 1914 The Leicester Mercury encouraged readers to donate to the ‘One Shilling Christmas Fund’ to provide gifts for local servicemen. Groups of Boy Scouts packed 2,300 parcels and tied them in red white and blue string. Those sent to men on the Western Front included tinder lighters as well as gloves, mittens, mufflers, bootlaces, pipe lighters, stationery sets, tobacco, cigarettes and pocket knives. They also contained a Christmas card signed by the Duke of Rutland and the Mayor, chocolates, two pairs of leather bootlaces, a notepad and envelopes, and a note explaining that two ounces of smoking mixture and 30 cigarettes would be forwarded later from the bonded warehouse.

The khaki Christmas 1914 letter pouch and Princess Mary's Christmas box


All servicemen also received a gift from Princess Mary. It was her expressed wish that 'every sailor afloat and every soldier at the front' should have an embossed brass box which contained one ounce of pipe tobacco, twenty cigarettes, a pipe, a tinder lighter, a Christmas card and photograph. The box was air-tight, and later made a useful container for money, tobacco, papers and photographs.

Image result for christmas 1914 tin


Both the Leicestershire Regiment and the Leicestershire Yeomanry took part in the Christmas truce of 1914 when British and German front line soldiers exchanged greetings, sang carols and played football. Many who had sent cigarettes and chocolate to soldiers on the Front Line would have been very surprised to know that they had been exchanged for German tobacco, although Harry Hayes, who was in the Yeomanry, recalled it as being a ‘bit rough.’[36] His son Frank recalled the story his father told:

Some got out of the trenches, and then others got out. They said ‘We’re not going to shoot at you. He recalled that ‘Our officer threatened to shoot us.’ He went on, ‘the second day the same thing happened, and (a British) officer took his pistol out and threatened me. The men turned their guns on the officer and he backed down. But on the third day the officers had backup, and so it never happened again.’ [37]


Their Christmas carol grew louder ....

Colonel Wylly described the truce in his history of the First and Second Battalions of the Leicestershire Regiment:


Christmas Eve found the Battalion trenches covered with snow and a brilliant moon lit up No Man’s Land and the enemy trenches. After dusk the sniping from the German trenches ceased and the enemy commenced to sing; their Christmas carol grew louder as the numerous troops in the reserve trenches joined in, and eventually ended with loud shouts and cheering. “A” Company of our battalion then began a good old English carol, the regiments on right and left joining in also and this was received by the enemy with cheers and shouts of “Good, good.” On Christmas Day snow fell heavily and as the enemy did not snipe when the men exposed their heads, several of “B” Company got out of the trenches and stood upright in full view of the enemy; they were surprised to see the Germans do likewise, waving their hands and shouting in broken English.

 Orders were given by the commanding officer for sentries to be posted on the alert in case the enemy attempted any treachery and the remainder of the Battalion, quick to take advantage of the opportunity, set to work repairing the trench parapet and collecting wood for fires. At dusk the sentries manned the parapet as usual, but the enemy remained quiet, all except his artillery who continued to shell the back area. That night the ration parties were again subjected to the glare of searchlights on reaching the wood, and, expecting a volley of bullets, threw themselves flat, but the enemy infantry did not fire and after arriving back with the rations etc. the troops gave the Germans a rousing cheer!

Next day rain fell, thaw set in, the trenches collapsed during the day, the enemy recommenced to snipe and shell, Christmas was over and they were back to business.[38]


“All fraternisation with the enemy is to cease immediately”

Private John Lowe was with the 1st Leicestershire Regiment. He wrote in a letter to a friend, ‘The Germans were quite friends with us on those two days. They left their trenches and came over to our officers and shook hands with them as they came along the railway line, but we did not allow them in our trenches.’[39]

High command was appalled at the breakdown of discipline. A terse message was sent from regimental headquarters: ‘All fraternisation with the enemy is to cease immediately. Any further action of this sort will be dealt with severely.’[40] Their concern was well founded. Private Lowe wrote to his friend: ‘It seemed a shame to start fighting them again after giving us cigars and cigarettes,’ and Harry Hayes told his son that in the trenches he and his comrades would shoot upwards to avoid hitting the German soldiers.  [41]

By the end of 1914 the British Expeditionary Force had suffered 90 percent casualties.  Of those, 8,631 were killed, 37,264 were wounded and 40,342 were missing. The casualties, including officers, amounted to ninety thousand men. [42] New hospitals were being opened at Desford Hall, Dalby Hall, and Wistow Hall to care for the many more wounded soldiers who would continue to arrive in Leicestershire. 






7. Orchards, Factories, Slums and Mansions

                      The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate.

                      God made them high and lowly and ordered their estate

           (Verse from popular hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful)


Charles King, in a Hinckley Times article of 1975 described Hinckley in the early years of the twentieth century

The town was about a third of the size it is today and was set among green fields. Its streets were a mixture of terraced houses, many open spaces and orchards, some mansions in private grounds, some ancient thatched and timbered houses.  Church Walks was a quiet cobblestoned way with old framework knitters’ cottages built with timbered beams and thatched roofs.


Church Walks around 1905 - Image courtesy of http://hinckley.netfirms.com


He went on to describe:

 Factories with smoking chimneys, some impressive churches and chapels, and homes where people lived in very poor conditions. Over all stood the massive bulk of the water tower at Mill View, with the ancient church of St Mary, its spire, clock and bells as it had been for so many years, in the middle.


View over Hinckley around 1900



A view of Hinckley from St Mary’s Church Tower.image courtesy of Hinckley and District Past and Present. www.hdpp.co.uk



In 1916 the population of Hinckley Borough was 12,837.[43] The local trade directory lists around 211 people who owned residential property. [44] ‘Desirable’ residential areas of the town included Leicester Road, London Road, Spa Lane, Station Road, Priesthills Road, Hill Street, Mount Road, Butt Lane, Hollycroft, and Ashby Road. Charles King also recalled ‘At the top of Derby Road were three or four high class residences divided from the lower classes by high walls and fences.  [45] One of the largest houses in the town was Leicester Grange, home of Mr and Mrs A. E. Hawley. The family owned Sketchley Dye Works.

Leicester Grange around 1915 -  Image courtesy of http://hinckley.netfirms.com


The Manufacturing Class

The Atkins family whose hosiery factory was on Bond Street, owned a number of properties. The 1911 census shows that John Atkins who was 35, his brother Dudley who was 32, and their older sister Ethel who was 43 lived at ‘The Hall’ on Stockwell Head. They were all unmarried. They had three servants; Florence Cropp, aged 30 was the parlour maid, Susan Moore, 29, was a housemaid and so was Florence Latham who was 16.[46] Most middle class families employed at least one servant; it was considered highly inappropriate that the ‘Lady of the House’ should cook, clean or open her own front door to visitors. Hugh Atkins, who was 34 and his wife Dorothy who was 24, lived at ‘The Cottage,’ Priesthills Road, and they had one domestic servant, Harriett Cadman.  [47] The widowed Mrs Agnes Atkins who was seventy at the time of the census, lived at ‘Middlefield,’ Factory Road with her cook, Hannah Hill and a housemaid, Lilian Osborn, both 22 years old.

In 1911 Clive Atkins, who was 41, and a senior partner in the firm, lived at The Vinery, Regent Street with his wife  Emmeline, 36, and their sons Arthur nine, Robert, seven, John, five  and their daughter  Agnes who was two.  They employed a governess, Gwendolyn Brown, aged 22, a cook, Beatrice Torr who was 38 and a widow, and Jessie Clark, aged 17, who was the housemaid.[48] In 1912 he had Stretton House built, close to Watling Street just over the border in Warwickshire. He was a prominent farmer and landowner and later became Chairman of the Atherstone Hunt. He was a familiar figure in the town; every day he would ride in to Hinckley in a dog cart or pony trap.  During the First World War he commanded the 2/5th Battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment[49]  and he was also a J.P.

Arthur Shirley Atkins, who was to play a prominent role in the town during the war years, lived at ‘Thorneycroft,’ on Station Road. In 1911 he was 38, his wife Hilda was 37, and they had sons aged four and seven. Gertrude Atkins aged 48 was their nursery governess, and Ethel Morton aged 22 was the general domestic servant. [50] Unlike most of the family who managed the hosiery manufacturing company, he was a solicitor. His company, Clay, Atkins and Cocks, ‘Solicitors and Commissioners for Oaths,’ was based at the Council Offices in Station Road. During the war he was Clerk to the Council, Honorary Secretary of the Belgian Refugees Committee, and Commander of the Voluntary Training Corps.

It was noted the local edition of ‘Shoe and Leather’ trade magazine of December 1916 that Mr. F. Jarvis of Trinity Boot and Shoe Works, had also  ‘taken great interest in the joining from the commencement of the formation of the Hinckley Home Defence, afterwards V.T.C.’

However, there was some disquiet about perceived injustices in enlistment; at a tribunal in February 1916  Mr Astley, who was a member of the tribunal  said that ‘at Earl Shilton there was some bitter feeling in respect of married men being called up while a number of manufacturers’ sons remained behind.’[51]

Frank Goode was a hosiery manufacturer who was highly regarded in the town.  He was active in the Belgian Refugees’ Committee, and in the Prisoners of War Relief Fund. In 1911 he was 44 and living on Station Road with his wife Elizabeth, who was also 44. They had a daughter aged nine, a son aged three and baby boy who was five months old.  Annie Crowley, 35 was employed as a nurse, Sarah Jones, 20, was their cook and Caroline Mears was their housemaid. Frank Goode died in 1917, aged 50.  His obituary in the Hinckley Times recorded:

Mr Goode has during the last few years has taken a most active part in the various  war relief funds and has made exemplary efforts in the various funds connected with prisoners of war, and his efforts in this connection, combined with his philanthropic liberality both in purpose and material help will not be forgotten.[52]

The Grammar School magazine also paid him tribute:

Few men will be so greatly missed in Hinckley and District as Frank Goode. Known to all as a man whose word was his bond, of courteous and genial disposition, and of great business ability, he has left a permanent mark on the town. In business, in social life and in the hour of stress he rang the same true man. To the poor and the maimed his death will be a sad blow, for his acts of quiet and unobtrusive help to them were beyond number. [53]

Several other hosiery manufacturers lived with their families in large residential properties in the town. Arthur Jennings lived at ‘Long View’ on London Road and Thomas Jennings lived at ‘Ivy Villa’ on Clarence Road. Edward Orrill lived at 61 Mount Road, and William Puffer at Langdale in Butt Lane. [54] The Bedford family also owned several properties. George Bedford, who was 82 and a widower, lived at Ivy Dene on Station Road with his son Herbert, 43, a solicitor, and daughters Ada, 41 and Florrie, 33, who was a teacher of music.  All were unmarried. The family also owned Glen Bank on Butt Lane and The Briars, Spa Lane.

 Samuel Davis lived at ‘Elmlea’ on Spa Lane. At the time of the census he was 51 and his wife Beatrice was 39. Their son Philip was six. Their parlour maid, Annie Brockwell, aged  39, was married, which was unusual for servants at that time. They also employed May Whitelee, a nurse who was 26. Mary Cotton, their cook was 45 and Elsie Heath, their housemaid was 18.


Strict Hierarchy

Social divisions in the years leading up to the First World war and beyond were strictly hierarchical and those in the ‘lower orders’ were expected to ‘know their place.’ Deference and humility were instilled in working class children at school, and also at Sunday school. Most people attended church or chapel regularly, and seating arrangements reflected social status. Boys and men were expected to ‘doff their caps’ in the presence of their ‘elders and betters,’ and girls and women, if addressed, were expected to avert their gaze, respond politely to ‘Sir’ or ‘Ma’am’ and in some circumstances, ‘bob a curtsey.’ Charles King described how he had learned a salutary lesson after he and two other boys truanted from school to look for wildfowl eggs at Foster’s Pond, a stretch of water between Watling Street and Leicester Grange. He recalled:

We hunted all around the pond for waterhens’ nests but there were none that we could reach. On one of the islands we could see what looked like swans’ nests. The snag was getting to them. There was a punt chained to a post. We found a way to free it and with some makeshift paddles we made our way to the island. We did not find any eggs, but feeling like Huckleberry Finns we made the most of being temporary castaways. This was OK until we saw trouble in the distance – a group of estate workers who evidently were after us. We embarked on our leaking craft and attempted to escape into the woods, but we were captured and taken up to The Grange. There we were interrogated by Mr Hawley and the details taken down. We were allowed to go. At school the next morning our teacher called our names and said that we were wanted in the Head’s where Police Sgt. Clements sat waiting for us. We never went to the Pond again. [55]

In a week of fundraising events for the YMCA in February 1918 Hinckley Times readers were told that on the Tuesday a whist drive and dance at the Drill Hall would conclude with a sale of donated jewellery and antiques. Contributions, it stated, should be taken to Mrs Davis at Elmlea. There were clear divisions in the ‘sort of people,’ invited to social events and this was clearly not a function where working class people would be welcome. Instead, on Saturday February 9th a ‘popular’ dance was held at the Drill Hall.


The ‘Great and the Good’

Management of town affairs was very much in the hands of the ‘great and the good.’ Several names appear frequently in records of the management of town affairs during the war.  Most prominent was George Kinton  J.P. who was  the Chairman of the Urban District Council. He lived at ‘Victoria Villas,’ London Road. His many posts included Chairman of the Belgian Refugee Committee and Chairman of the War Savings Committee. William Bott was Vice Chairman of the Urban District Council. He also lived on London Road. Other councillors included George Cholerton who lived at ‘Blythwood,’ on Leicester Road, and Walter Johnson, of ‘Fern Villa,’ also on Leicester Road. William Payne, a hosiery manufacturer and also a J.P. lived at ‘The Limes,’ Derby Road. Alderman Hurst, of Hurst & Cotton Shoe company was also ‘a prominent member of the Leicester County Council, having served over twenty years, being the first member elected on the formation of that body. He is Justice of the Peace for the County, and chairman of several important committees. ‘[56] Many of the hosiery and boot and shoe manufacturers were also members of the Military Tribunal and the Board of Guardians.


The Limes around 1890 -  Image courtesy of http://hinckley.netfirms.com

Rev. William Hurrell, Vicar of St Mary’s Church took a prominent role in town affairs, and his wife Harriette was active in organising charity events during the war.  Joyce Connor, the Vicar’s sister lived with them at St Mary’s Vicarage, an imposing building set in five acres of land in Argents Mead. They had three servants, Caroline Wise, 27, who was the cook, Ellen Wise, 25, a housemaid, probably the sister of Caroline, and Florence Liquorice who was also a housemaid.

st marys vicarage vicar

St Mary’s Vicarage with the vicar before the war –

Image courtesy of Hinckley District Past and Present - www.hdpp.co.uk


Hinckley from the tower of St Mary’s Church –

Image courtesy of Hinckley District Past and Present - www.hdpp.co.uk

Middle class women were expected to play a philanthropic role in the community. In the war years young single women could, and did, volunteer for war work, despite the disapproval of many of their families. But married women, and older single women, were expected to involve themselves in charity work. An exception was Ellen Wheatley, the wife of Edwin Wheatley of the hosiery manufacturing family who joined the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps. There were a significant number of well connected and able townswomen who put their energies and expertise into the war effort.

Mrs Walter Pilgrim’[57] is a name which appears frequently in reports of voluntary organisations and charities during the war years. She is sometimes referred to a Mrs W. Pilgrim, Mrs I.W. Pilgrim, or even Mrs Walt Pilgrim; according to custom of the time women were known by their husband’s names or initials.  She was the wife of Walter Pilgrim, of S. H. & W. J. Pilgrim solicitors, and ‘Commissioner for oaths, registrar & high bailiff of county court & clerk to the magistrates.’ Their offices were at 57 Castle Street. 

 She was active in the Hinckley District Relief Committee, set up to assist the families of men serving in the Forces, and SSAFA (Soldiers and Sailors Family Association.) She was also local secretary of The Prisoners of War Relief Fund, and after the war organised travel and accommodation to the cemeteries of the Western Front so that families could visit the graves of loved ones

Other women who were noted for their involvement in charity work were Mrs Hall, Mrs Vere Smith, Mrs H Davis, Mrs Jenson, Mrs Barratt, Mrs Orchard and Miss Atkins.[58]

It was acknowledged in the post war Council report written by Arthur Atkins that those who were active in working with Belgian refugees were:

Mrs A.S. Atkins, Mrs A.J. Stanley, Mrs W.H. Bott, Mrs S. Brocklehurst, Ms H.C. Crow, Mrs W.J. Dowding, Mrs F. Goode, Mrs S.A.E. Hawley, Mrs A.W. Jenkins, Mrs A. Surtees, Mrs W. Tomlin, Misses Atkins, Aucott, Hall, Emery, Mason and Taylor, Messrs. C.W. Emery, G.E. Kiddle.[59]


Scarcity of cooks and domestic maids

Before the war many working class women had been employed in domestic service, but when the war broke out new opportunities in factories, shops and clerical work offered them better wages and more freedom. Middle class women were left lamenting the scarcity of cooks and domestic maids. In a letter to Braunstone Hall in Leicester, a servants’ agency apologised that the girl they had sent for interview was so young – fourteen.  Older women, they said, were simply not to be had. [60]

Servants were expected to work very long hours for very little pay. They were usually expected to ‘live in’ and often shared rooms in the attic or the cellar of the house. Even among the servants there was a strict hierarchy. It was considered a matter of pride that a middle class woman kept strict control over her servants, whose lives were ruled and scrutinised by their employers.  On 8th August 1914, in an article advising women on managing the household, readers of The Hinckley Times were warned to be vigilant:

Waste is the outcome of extravagance hence it is advisable for those in authority carefully to calculate the return of the foods supplied for kitchen use...Remnants of food and dripping are invariably wasted by untidy servants.


Forest View owned by Mr and Mrs H. G. Clarke. It is now part of John Cleveland College. A comment on the http://hinckley.netfirms.com/ website states ‘The servants' corridor and staircase survive, together with some original mosaic flooring.’


Financial matters

Pares Bank c.1898

Pares Bank, about 1900. It is now the Natwest Bank  - Image courtesy of http://hinckley.netfirms.com


For the prosperous middle classes in the town personal and business financial matters were dealt with by the banks in the town. Barclay’s Bank was at 2, Castle Street, and Pare’s Bank on Borough, dealt with the Hinckley Union finances. Most people, however, did not have bank accounts. Wages were paid in cash and army allowances and pensions came through the post office. Before the war for those in seasonal occupations or who worked in trades subject to ‘boom and bust’ periods, as in the hosiery and boot and shoe industries, work patterns could be precarious.


The Spectre of the Workhouse

The National Insurance Act of 1911, however, offered some short term sickness and unemployment benefits for those who had paid enough contributions. All wage-earners between sixteen and seventy paid 4d. a week, the employer added 3d. and the state 2d.  Unemployment benefit was set at 7s.a week for fifteen weeks in any one year, The amount was deliberately set at well below the poorest level of wages.

The benefits were paid at Labour Exchanges which provided unemployed workers with information on any vacancies which existed in the area. Hinckley’s was at 6a Castle Street. The Act also provided an old age pension for people over the age of 70. The weekly pension was 5s a week and 7s 6d for married couples. It would have been impossible to live on that amount – it was assumed that families would care for elderly relatives. Those who hadn’t paid enough contributions were excluded, and also excluded were those in receipt of poor relief. 'Lunatics' in asylums, or those in receipt of Poor Law payments could not claim. Only those with a 'good character' could receive a State Pension. Those who had been in prison could not claim until ten years after their release, and anyone convicted of drunkenness or was guilty of ‘habitual failure to work’ was also excluded. [61]

What Charles Dickens had called ‘the spectre of the Workhouse’ remained very real for many. Some would have depended on the two pawnbrokers on Castle Street for ‘one off’ emergencies, or on a longer term basis. Wardle and Co. was at 18 Castle Street and Mrs Rebecca Cooper had a business at 58 Castle Street. Cooper’s pawnbrokers was familiar to generations of poor families:  

The shop was situated on the left hand side ascending Castle Street and numbered in the 1881 census as fifty-six. It stood opposite Taylor’s Yard, the first yard above Church Walk, and just below the pawnshop itself, extended Chapel’s Yard. [62]

Alice Hannah from Leicester recalled the hardships of many poor people in her own neighbourhood, and it is likely that it was similar in Hinckley:

They didn’t have money, you see. Had to pawn everything that they’d got. And they’d pay for the privilege. They used to take big bundles in every Monday morning. You’d see them queueing outside the pawn shop, and then they’d have to go back and fetch it the next weekend you see, otherwise they wouldn’t have anything. And if they didn’t fetch it in as certain time they sold it. It was very sad really.  [63]

‘Sunday best’ clothes, bedding, a wedding ring or a family heirloom might make the difference as to whether the children had food that week.


Distress Committee

  In the war years dependents of men in the armed forces could apply for an emergency payment from the Distress Committee, administered by Mrs Pilgrim. Mrs Arthur Attenborough of 55 Trinity Lane was one of those who applied to the fund. Her husband was a reservist with the 1st Battalion Warwickshire Regiment, and had been employed at Annesley Colliery. She could not work ‘owing to her hands being crippled as the result of an accident at Sketchley Dyeworks.’  Miss Mary Aucott, representing the Distress Committee  visited Mrs Attenborough  at her home, and she was given three payments of six shillings for grocery and milk.

Mrs William Dalby of 11 Blockley’s Yard was given one payment for groceries of five shillings by the Distress Committee.  She worked at Wood and Wheatleys and her husband, who was a labourer, was in Army Service Corps no. 3 - Rough Riders, Woolwich.

Mrs Walter Butterworth, who worked at Jarvis was given one payment of 2/6d. She lived at 40 Stockwell Head and her husband was in the 5th Battalion Leicestershire Regiment.  [64]

Another claimant was Mrs Bolesworth, mother of the famous boxer ‘Togo’ Bolesworth, who was serving with the Leicestershire Regiment. She also had three other sons serving on the Western Front and five grandsons serving with the armed forces. Many of the young men who volunteered were helping to support widowed mothers, younger brothers or sisters, or aged relatives. Mrs Bolesworth lived in Council Road and the records of the ‘visitors,’ held in Leicestershire Record Office, show that Mrs.Bolesworth received several payments of 2/6 for groceries. Payments were delivered discreetly to claimants’ homes – accepting charity was seen by many as one step away from Poor Relief and the workhouse. [65]



Cost of Living Rose by 107%

The cost of living rose by 107% over the four years of the war due to steep rises in the cost of basic foods and coal. [66]Those employed on war contracts, for example, in the hosiery and boot and shoe factories, received war bonuses in return for long working hours, but they did not keep up within the rate of inflation. For those in jobs which did not pay war bonuses, money was very tight. Those existing on army separation allowances would have struggled even more. In 1914 the army allowance for a woman with two dependent children was 17s 6d. By November 1918 it had gone up by 40%, but this was nowhere near the rate of inflation. She would have received 24s 6d a week and Ben Beazley, writing about Leicester in the First World War, calculated that approximate outgoings might be:

Rent   6s 9d

Coal 3s 6d

Milk 2s6d

Bread 2s11d

Meat 8s.0d

Groceries 4s 0d

Bacon 1s 0d

Gas 1s 4d

Total 29s 8d – a shortfall of 5s 2d[67]

There are clearly omissions such as candles, soap, disinfectant, medicines, and clothes and shoes which would have made the shortfall even worse. Most people rented their homes from private landlords, and in the war years many wives moved back in with their parents. In May 1916 a local furniture dealer was advertising:

TO MARRIED MEN CALLED TO THE COLOURS  -  I can offer a limited amount of space for the storage of their HOUSEHOLD GOODS in perfect conditions for their period of service. Terms very moderate – apply H. Arguile House furnisher, Derby Road Hinckley [68]


‘Money Was Never Easy’

Charles King, in 1911, was living at 12 Victoria Street, near Mill View, in one of the most deprived areas of the town. But despite the poverty and poor housing he recalled a sense of pride and dignity, and of people helping each other:

Money was never easy. Halfpennies had a value far beyond the miserable coins of today and to have a penny was considered very lucky! How our parents managed I shall never know. The fact remains that in spite of low wages and large families, we were well fed. Mother performed miracles with the limited resources she had and she always managed to find something for the occasional beggar at the door.

The houses had front doors opening on to the street in a long terrace. At the back the doors opened onto a paved yard, wash house and “conveniences” were across the yard as also were the community water taps. There were board partitions to give a semblance of privacy and in some respects the close conditions of living led to a very friendly relationship and good neighbourliness.[69]

We knew most of our neighbours and the warm friendship between families, both old and young is something that I recall with gratitude.[70]

Olive Hind was also living on Victoria Street in 1911. In the census her father was described as a ‘ragpicker, dealer.’ She too remembered the kindness of many neighbours and people in the town who encouraged her singing career – ‘I’m grateful to them – I, who was really only poor, was very wealthy in friends.’ She later became a professional singer. [71] The Hinckley Times commented on Charles King’s recollections:

 Concerning the houses of those days, he says his greatest admiration was for the wives and mothers who against all the odds created homes and happy children in them. [72]


Slum Conditions

Many of the houses had been built in early Victorian times before the existence of any planning regulations. Framework knitters had added workshops and outhouses to buildings already lacking natural light and ventilation, leading to damp and mouldy conditions.  The toilets were emptied by the ‘night soil’ men and in some areas poor drainage led to pools of raw sewage. There was no water inside the houses and children (and adults) used a tin bath in front of the fire. Women must have faced a constant losing battle against filth and vermin.  The poor condition of some of the housing led a Hinckley Times reporter to make a survey: ‘With a friend and armed with a camera he made a tour of the worst parts of the alleys and squares and came back with a shocking report showing appalling conditions.’ [73]

Other slum areas in the town included Cox’s Abbey at the top of Castle Street and White Lion Yard between Trinity Lane and Lower Bond Street. The site now occupied by the Britannia Centre was once an area of slum housing, and so was Dares Yard halfway up Stockwell Head behind Castle Street. Cork Hole and Waterloo Square were also notorious, and some areas had reputations for anti social behaviour.

Landlords had often named yards they owned after themselves, such as Orton’s Yard and Truslove’s Yard. But many shirked any responsibility in maintaining the housing, and   tenants who didn’t pay the rent faced immediate eviction.  There were three Certified Bailiffs locally, Thomas Aucott at 20 Borough, John Harrold at 5 Hurst Road, and William Reynolds at 43 Hill Street.



Cox’s Abbey at the top of Castle Street around 1932, just before they were demolished.

Image courtesy of Hinckley District Past and Present - www.hdpp.co.uk


‘Workmen’s Dwellings’

In the first Hinckley Council meeting following the armistice ‘Workmen’s Dwellings’ was on the agenda. Mr Bott enquired whether rates would have to be increased ‘in consequence of the building of working class dwellings after the war.’  He went on ‘Many houses would be required at Hinckley and it was a question the Council would have to face sooner or later. No one would be able to build houses to be let at the present rents.’[74]

The first council houses had been built in Hinckley, in Grove Street, in 1914, but building had been interrupted by the war. A lack of decent, affordable housing for lower paid working class people was a national as well as a local concern.

Lloyd George won the 1918 election on a promise of ‘Homes for heroes,’ and plans for slum clearance and new housing were put in place. But many of the men who had fought for their country returned to the same appalling housing they had left. Most of the slum areas weren’t cleared until the 1930’s. Charles King recalled, ‘When as time went by and I saw the streets I knew being demolished, I was glad. I had no tears to spare!’ [75]


Council Report Reflecting on the War Years

Arthur Atkins, writing in a report for the Council after the war commented:

Never was so much money made in Hinckley before in the shape of wages and profits and probably never will be again, but while those who were engaged in industry reaped the benefit of the boon and were able to meet the ever increasing cost of living

 Those who were too old or infirm to work or who had fixed incomes found the purchasing power of the sovereign ever decreasing with the result that they were hard pressed to make both ends meet. That they did so is evident from the fact that no appeals were made to the Committee for help.

Those however who made the money were, with certain exceptions, extremely liberal in their contributions to the various war charities and organisations as these records show and helped in many ways to further the efforts of the various Committees and Public Bodies engaged in charitable  and  other work in connection with the war. [76]

Many men who returned from the war faced unemployment, and in the years following the war financial hardship continued for many. Brian Simpson from Burbage recalled, ‘I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve passed the pawnbrokers up Castle Street and seen First World War medals in the window – pawned for the price of a pack of Park Drive cigarettes.’

From Hinckley Museum exhibition Somewhere in No Man’s Land, 2015







8. Flag Days, Whist Drives and Knitting Circles

Raising money for charities was a way of life during the war years. There were collections in churches, factories, shops and schools, door to door collections and Flag Days. Advertisements for Whist Drives, concerts, film shows and sales of work were regularly featured in the Hinckley Times. Lists of organisations and individuals who had contributed to charities appeared regularly. By far the biggest recipient was the H.R.H. Prince of Wales National Relief Fund set up to assist the families of military men.


By the third week of September 1914 the local committee had raised £2,232 18s 11d from private subscriptions and factory and other collections. £10 10s (Ten guineas) had been donated by the Knights of Malta Lodge (Freemasons,) five shillings from a collection at the Greyhound Inn, and ten shillings from Miss Livia Toone for the sale of lavender bags.[77] Mr G. Kinton, chairman of the Hinckley District Relief Committee placed a notice in the Hinckley Times:

Subscriptions may be sent to me direct or may be paid to the

Hon. Sec Mr A.S. Atkins at the Council Offices [78]


Contributions from local Collieries

By the week ending 21st September 1914 The National Relief Organisation for the Ibstock area had raised a total of £310.13s 3d.  This was made up of contributions from workers at Desford Colliery, Bagworth Colliery, Ibstock Colliery and Brickyard, Ellistown Colliery and Brickyard, Nailstone Colliery, Thornton Wesleyan Chapel, and the Patriotic Fund of Ibstock, Barlestone, Bagworth and Stanton under Bardon. [79]


Belgian Relief Fund

The local Belgian relief fund was also very active and members of the ‘Princess Mary’s League for the Belgian Relief Fund’ were making garments including frocks and pinafores, baby clothes and ‘children’s under linen.’ They had also made collections of clothes, including men’s socks, for the adult refugees.


Women’s War Relief Fund


Hinckley and District Women’s War Relief Fund  raised over £139 in the first few weeks of the war, and it was noted that the ‘Baptist Sewing Meeting (per Mrs Hackett) had raised £3 9s 6d, the Sweet Pea and Horticultural Society had raised £1 1s and Mrs Hurrell had contributed the same amount.’  They had sent the military authorities:

61 yards of army linen,

260 Flannel Shirts

260 pairs of Army Socks

130 Housewives

Cushions, bed socks, walking sticks, handkerchiefs, and helmet covers had also been sent.  The notice continued:

An appeal from Lord Kitchener is made for Socks and Cholera Belts. [80]We would be glad if Ladies would kindly send these instead of Bedsocks of which we currently have sufficient.

A committee meeting will be held in the Council Offices on Monday October 5th at 3pm to pass accounts and to discuss future work. Donations should be sent to one of the secretaries, Mrs Hackett, Miss Hawley, Miss Green or Mrs F. Goode

Contributions to this fund will be acknowledged through this column every week.

    It was signed M. Hawley, President, L.Goode,  Hon.sec.  

The Women’s War Relief Fund members met regularly in the town. A typical notice in The Hinckley Times informed readers:

The Ladies’ Sewing party in connection with the Women’s War Relief Fund fund will commence on Thursday October 12th 1916 at 2.30 at Mrs Liggins’ room, the Borough

Subscriptions for the purchase of materials for comforts for soldiers and sailors of Hinckley and District will be gratefully received

Fruit and Vegetables for the Fleet will be received at Mrs Liggins’ rooms not later than 3 o’clock every Thursday afternoon on and after October 12th [81]

Liggins sweetshop was at 18 The Borough and presumably a storage area for charity contributions had been set up there.


Cholera Belt

Letters from the commanding officers of Leicestershire Regiment battalions, the Red Cross and other recipients regularly appeared in The Hinckley Times thanking the ladies of Hinckley for their gifts, which included in one week ‘a cholera belt from Miss Pitts, two pairs bedsocks from Miss Stafford and one pair of socks from Miss Aucott.’ [82]


Prisoners of War Committee

Early in the war the Red Cross had taken responsibility for sending parcels of food and clothing to men who had been taken prisoner by the Germans. Leicestershire Regimental Committee was also supporting members of the regiment, and their families, and local churches also sent provisions. As the numbers increased overall responsibility was taken over by the Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Prisoners of War Committee and Mrs W. Pilgrim, as the local secretary of The Prisoners of War Relief Fund took an active role in fundraising and liaising with the relevant authorities.

When notification was received that a man had been taken prisoner his family were visited by a committee member, and the Association took over contact on behalf of the family.  Amidst fears of espionage, The War Office issued an order prohibiting private individuals from sending parcels to prisoners, but officers’ families were excluded from the restriction.

The Leicestershire War Hospital Games Committee was another important voluntary organisation. It provided books, newspapers, magazines and games to all military hospitals in the eastern counties. Collections were made for cigarettes, tobacco, pipes and tobacco pouches, cigars and ash trays. Each hospital patient was entitled to forty cigarettes or an equivalent amount of tobacco per week. In July 1915 a ‘duty free’ bonded warehouse opened in Bishop Street in Leicester. In the first three months it was open it distributed 529lbs of tobacco and 509,000 cigarettes.[83]

 Knitting became a patriotic duty for women and girls and the Archbishop of Canterbury gave permission for women to knit during sermons. So many garments were produced by the so called ‘comfort committees’ that concerns were raised about them jeopardising jobs in the manufacturing industries. There was also official concern in the early part of the war about the colour and style of many of the items being sent to soldiers. Women were advised to use only khaki wool and to follow regulation patterns for knitted balaclava helmets, mittens, bedsocks, socks, mufflers, body belts, and sleeveless jerseys. It was said that not all the knitting was of high standard, and that men in the trenches, many of whom were skilled knitters themselves and had plenty of time on their hands, unpicked garments and remade them. Many women supported the Red Cross by making splints and rolling bandages.Wound dressings made from highly absorbent sphagnum moss was much in demand, and in the early days of gas attacks, face masks.

In November 1916 money raised in local charity events contributed to the national ‘Kitchener Day’ fundraising initiative.


Parcels for Prisoners of War

 By the end of 1916 the Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Prisoners of War committee had sent 32,900 parcels to the Leicestershire men via the International Red Cross in Berne. The record was a consignment of 1,830 in one week. Its aim was to ensure the men had at least one pair of boots and slippers, a greatcoat, jacket, a pair of trousers, two shirts, two undershirts, two pairs of underpants four pairs of socks, a muffler, cap, kitbag, and gloves or mittens.  [84]

The Red Cross also sent emergency food parcels which contained:

  • three tins of beef
  • 1/4 pound of tea
  • 1/4 pound of cocoa
  • two pounds of biscuits
  • two tins of cheese or loaf goods
  • one tin of dripping
  • two tins of milk
  • 50 cigarettes

Each parcel contained enough food to keep two men going for approximately one week. The Red Cross was permitted to keep a total of 12,000 of these emergency parcels at any one time in the various German prisoner-of-war camps.[85]





On 31st March 1917 a letter appeared in The Hinckley Times from Frank Goode of the Prisoner of War Relief Fund.  He wrote:

 Their shocking treatment by the huns is common knowledge. I have had scores of letters in the past two years from the men and I am convinced that they rely on these parcels as being their chief and only support of life.

The committee would like to resume [sending] parcels to the men in Turkey, and will do so if permitted. More money might be wanted for this, and further, there is always the fear and probability that in the campaign now raging there will be others, perhaps many other poor Hinckley lads fighting and risking their lives for our safety and welfare, who may fall into the enemy’s hands and likewise need our help. I will be very happy to receive any subscription, as also will Mrs W. J. Pilgrim, the Hon. Sec of the fund.


War Relics

On  5th  May 1917 there was an exhibition in St Mary’s School Hall of ‘Unique War Relics from the Battlefield ,’ held  by the British Red Cross Society in aid of Weddington Hall Hospital. The Hinckley Times informed its readers that ‘Nurses and Soldiers ‘ would be running the event from ‘3.30 – 8  o’clock,’ and that there was ‘No charge for admission but a collection will be made.’  In September 1917 wounded soldiers from Desford and Coalville Military Hospitals were entertained by members of the Constitutional Club.

 Local men who had been discharged through wounds or sickness and others who were at home on leave were also welcomed.  It was reported that ‘An excellent tea was served in the National Schools,’ and they were entertained by a concert in the billiard room.’


On 3rd November 1917 a donation of £4 from St Peter’s parish was acknowledged and appeals for fruit and vegetables for the Fleet continued.

Later that month Merchant Seamen were the focus of a national fundraising effort. The Prime Minister said ‘They deserve the best thanks that we can accord for the services they have rendered.’ Mrs Clarke of Forest View was the local Hon. Sec. of the Mission to Seamen.


In a letter to the Hinckley Times Mrs Hawley also appealed for Christmas gifts for the Fleet:

The first week in February 1918 was devoted to YMCA fundraising events which included an illustrated lecture, whist drives, dances, concerts, a film, and a sale of jewellery and antiques.


Prisoners of War Parcels Fund

The allied blockade of Germany meant that many prisoners of war were starving as the German military administration prioritised feeding their troops. The Red Cross parcels kept many men alive, but in their weakened state many succumbed to typhus and cholera outbreaks in the camps. In July 1918 there was a renewed appeal for funds:


On 6th July 1918 The Hinckley Times printed a letter from a prisoner of war advising relatives of POWs how they could help:  

From Sergt. W. Randall Royal Welsh Fusiliers who is now at Scheveningen,  Holland.

Apart from supplying them with all their wants, correspond with them as often as possible, because any news from home is looked upon with great joy and cheers them up wonderfully. Always write cheerfully. Do not send bad news unless it is absolutely necessary because a fellow soon gets depressed. It preys upon his mind and takes a considerable time before he feels himself again.

He added:

I should be delighted to have the local paper as I am sure it would be very interesting. I am always very anxious to get local news.

They also printed a letter from Corpl. W. Holtham (Canadians) He wrote:

I express my warmest thanks to you and all my Hinckley friends who took such a kind interest in the prisoners of war in Germany...this is just a short letter thanking you and all my Hinckley friends for all they have done for me and other comrades while I was in captivity. I shall never forget it.

In the same newspaper Mrs Pilgrim reported to the local committee:

We have now 76 prisoners of war and their number increase weekly. Two of our Hinckley men are now in Holland, five others have been in captivity for nearly four years and all my efforts on their behalf for internment in a neutral country have as yet been unavailing. Being in touch with all the relatives of the prisoners, I have the privilege of reading most of their letters, besides the ones I receive personally. Their gratitude for the parcels sent is pathetic, and their courage and fortitude marvellous. [86]


Friends of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Help Society

On July 21st 1918 The Hinckley Times printed a notice from the Friends of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Help Society who were funding ‘Lord Roberts’ Memorial Workshops for Disabled Soldiers and Sailors.’ It informed readers that:

 One of these memorial workshops is already in existence in Nottingham. The factory, for brush and basket making consists of a mill for sawing and fashioning and three large well lighted floors. 300 men can work there with about 8 times the amount of air space.  There are machines which can be worked by men with one arm and others which seem to be workable by men who have lost a leg. Each man upon entry begins to earn money which with his pension forms a decidedly living wage. This increases step by step until he gets the usual wages of the trade and is competent to go out into the world as a skilled tradesman. The local general manager, Mr C.H. Caster will be most pleased to show Friends of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Help Society and others interested in the work round the factory and I do hope this will swell the amounts received from this country by subscription, collections and entertainments.

 The notice was signed ‘F.R. Griggs, Hon sec for Leicestershire.’

Fundraising events continued after armistice day – a Women’s War Relief Fund held a Sale of Work on 30th November at the Drill Hall.  The proceeds were ‘for purchasing flannel and wool for shirts, socks, mufflers etc. for Hinckley and District Sailors and Soldiers.’ Prizes in the ‘prize drawing’ included a goose presented by Mrs W.J. Pilgrim and a pig presented by Mr Denis Aldridge.  Other attractions were a lucky dip for children, an art gallery and a fortune teller. It noted however that the jumble sale planned for December 7th had been cancelled.





Amounts Raised for Charities in the War Years

In the Report of the Hinckley District Relief Committee published after the war final amounts were listed of money raised. It stated:

The money for the Prince of Wales Trust was raised principally by private subscriptions and factory and other collections, the former providing £17774.14.6d of the amount collected and the latter £1235.15.9d. The total was £3010 10s 3d.

Amounts raised for other charities were also listed -

Belgian Refugee fund over £491 [87]

Hinckley Patriotic Fund over £205

YMCA National Hut - £2225

King George’s Fund for Sailors £559

Blind Musicians Concerts for St Dunstans Hostel for Blinded Soldiers and Sailors £186

Belgian Artistes concerts £61

British and Foreign Sailors Society £39

Russian Relief Fund £23

Seamens Hospital Greenwich £9

Serbian Relief Fund £206

Hinckley VTU and Leics. Vol Regiment £48

Local Prisoners of War relief fund £125

Sailors Flag Day £51

Blind soldiers children Xmas appeal; £8

The work of charities continued after the war. Many ex-servicemen and their families faced hardship as war production gave way to a peacetime economy of high prices made worse by high unemployment.  The levels of widow’s and ex servicemen’s pensions caused anger, and charities and organisations made up of ex-servicemen, such as the British Legion,  and the National Association of Discharged Sailors and Soldiers took on a campaigning role. 


9. Council House - Distress Committee, Lighting Restrictions and War Pensions


Station Road in 1911. The Council House is further down the road on the left hand side. The building is now occupied by an accountant’s firm. - Image courtesy of  Hinckley Past and Present - www.hinckleypastpresent.org


Distress Committee

In August 1914 one of the first responsibilities of the local council was to set up the local Committee for the Prevention and Relief of Distress in the War. Part of a national charity set up by the Prince of Wales, its aim was to assist the families of men fighting in the forces who were left in financial difficulty.  At a meeting at the assembly rooms in Leicester on 15th August 1914 county representatives agreed that  ‘Clergyman and Ministers of religion be asked to have collections made in their respective places of worship and that merchants, manufacturers, traders and others be asked to subscribe and organise subscriptions among customers, workmen  and others in aid of this fund.’[88] The local fund, ‘The Hinckley District Relief Committee.’ worked in conjunction with the Soldiers and Sailors Families Association. It was agreed that Mrs W.H. Pilgrim, as secretary of the local branch of SSAFA, would be assisted by Miss Aucott. The Tradesmen Association, the Hinckley District Trimmers and Dyers Association, and the Co operative Society were also represented. The Leicester and Leicestershire Patriotic Fund was also set up.

A report was presented by Mrs Pilgrim on the cases relieved by the SSAFA at each meeting of the Committee. In October 1914 she reported that 69 people had been in receipt of relief that week. She also said that ‘new arrangements whereby payments would be made by post came into force that day.’ [89]In 1914 separation allowance for military wives was 12/6d, with an additional 2/6d for each child [90] and many women were left struggling to support their children. [91]  The Hinckley War Relief Sub Committee Report lists the dependents of around 2,000 servicemen from the Hinckley Union area who received payments during the war years.[92] 

Belgian Refugee Committee

The Belgian Refugee Committee was a subcommittee of the relief fund and in the October 1914 council meeting they reported that the first family of Belgian refugees had arrived in the town and had settled in to a house provided for them on Clarendon Road. Throughout the war they continued to raise funds and support the thirty four refugees who came to Hinckley during the war years.

Lighting Restrictions

During the war years the Urban District Council implemented Government and War Office directives.  The Chairman was George Kinton J.P. and the vice chairman was William Henry Bott J.P.  In March 1915, following zeppelin raids on the East coast, lighting restrictions came into force and the War Office ordered that: ‘All lights other than light not visible from the outside of any house shall be kept extinguished between the hours of sunset and sunrise.’ The times the blackout came into force, according to the season, were publicised in the Hinckley Times.  The War Office directive ordered: ‘Where street lights were permitted they were to be made invisible from above by shading or painting over the tops and sides of the globes. Windows of factories on night shifts had to be shaded so they were not visible from outside, and interior lights of trams had to be shaded by curtains. Despite assertions that zeppelins could not reach the Midlands, a raid on Loughborough in January 1916 killed ten people. Warning posters were put up around town, advising residents:

Should it become known that hostile aircraft are approaching the neighbourhood the following steps will be taken:

HOOTERS: Steam hooters will be blown for a period of five minutes (If safe to do so.) This warning will consist of a succession of five blasts – four short ones, followed by one long one.

The Public are strongly advised to remain at home. The windows and doors of lower floors should be closed to prevent the admission of noxious gases in case poisonous bombs should be dropped etc. A supply of water or wet sand should be kept ready so that a small fire could be promptly and effectively dealt with.

Instructions were given regarding electric and gas appliances, and the posters stated that ‘Special Constables, Auxiliary Firemen and St John’s VAD should assemble according to arrangements in force.’  Hinckley Fire Brigade was based at Engine House on London Road. In 1916 Ernest Baggott was the captain, with a crew of two lieutenants and twelve men.


Soldiers and Sailors Help Society

As more men were being discharged from the armed forces on medical grounds, the Soldiers and Sailors Help Society was incorporated into the Relief fund in early 1916. Delays in the administration of allowances and pensions often meant financial hardship, and the fund granted small loans to individuals. Discharged men who had recovered sufficiently from their wounds to do light work at home were assisted in buying tools, and grants were also made occasionally for medicines or ‘comforts’. The local branch of the Hinckley Naval and Military War Pensions committee was set up later that year, and met monthly at the Council offices. Government allowances for wounded servicemen were negligible, and caused much resentment.  Those who had lost two or more fingers from either hand received a Ministry of Pensions allowance of 5s 6d per week. Loss of two or more limbs qualified the recipient to receive 27s 6d per week. Many men were having to turn to charities for help, and resented the loss of independence. [93]


Food, Coal and Gas

The local Food Council also met at the Council Offices to address issues of food shortages and high prices. It was their responsibility to liaise with local farmers and shopkeepers. In June 1917 the Council agreed to support a motion advocating compulsory early closing of shops, at 7pm, to encourage shopping in the day time rather than late night shopping during the ‘blackout.’

Over the war years concerns were regularly raised over shortages and the increasing price of coal. Between August 1914 and October 1917 the cost had doubled and Government posters ordered ‘Think before you Light a Fire.’ The Clerk reported that ‘the Coal Control Department had fixed the price of coal at 2s 6d per ton in bulk and 1s 6d in small quantities, but that merchants were not getting proper supplies.’ Mr Bott said he had been told that ‘factories would have to play second fiddle to munitions works. ‘[94]

At the same meeting it was recommended that there would be an increase in gas prices.  It was stated ‘Few towns were getting gas supplies at lower cost than Hinckley, who had always boasted that they were able to supply to consumers at prices less than many of the large towns.’



War Pensions Committee

In November 1917 the Hinckley Naval and Military War Pensions committee reported:

Supplementary separation allowances and emergency grants had been agreed in some special cases of hardship. Fifty three men notified as discharged by the Ministry of Pensions had been visited and reported on. This new system of reports, lately adopted, was proving of great value in enabling any necessary assistance to be at once given, especially in cases requiring treatment and where delayed pensions and maintenance allowances occur. The assistance given by the VAD organisation to the discharged men under treatment is much appreciated and they have kindly agreed to widen their scope of work and include the visiting of sick wives and dependants receiving help under Regulation 13 (a) as well.

As regards training we have at present one man at the Loughborough Technical Institute being trained as an inspector of munitions. Four applications for training for motor mechanical engineering, hand sewn boot making, draughtsmanship and clerical work respectively have been accepted while two are under consideration. During the month of October 284 letters and communications have been despatched from the Hinckley War Pensions Office and over 300 enquiries dealt with. [95]


Food Rationing

Food rationing was introduced in January 1918, and it was the responsibility of the Food Council to register shops, food suppliers and consumers, and to issue ration books. The first item to be rationed was sugar but by the end of April meat, butter, cheese and margarine were added to the list. 

Proposed Military Hospital

In the spring of 1918 Mr Bott reported to the council details of a proposal to open a military hospital in Hinckley. He said ‘Major Henry had been to see the Catholic club premises which he considered unable to accept under any consideration.’ He did, however, think that the Primitive Methodist Schools ‘would do very nicely.’ [96]It was agreed that the Primitive Methodist Sunday school could be transferred to the council schools. Mr Bott said that it would be left for the authorities at York to decide whether they opened a military hospital in Hinckley. In the event, the war drew to a close and the hospital was not considered necessary.

Before You Light a Fire – Think

By the autumn of 1918 shortages in the supply of coal had reached crisis levels. The council allocated what supplies there were for industrial and domestic use, and notices from the Government Coal Mines Dept. were placed in national and local newspapers. On 27th October 1918 Hinckley Times readers were ordered:




Shortages of coal supplies were made worse by the high numbers of coalminers succumbing to the ‘flu epidemic, perhaps because of the confined conditions in which they worked and perhaps their increased susceptibility to lung diseases which led to pneumonia.


Contagious Diseases

Public Health continued to be a key responsibility and the Highway and Sanitary Committee monitored outbreaks of contagious diseases. The cost of nurses put in place to assist with measles outbreaks was noted, and at the beginning of the influenza epidemic in 1918 posters were displayed in the town with precautionary instructions on how to avoid infection.

War Shrine

The Hinckley Times reported on the first council meeting after Armistice Day:

Before commencing the ordinary business of the Council the Chairman referred to the “great joy” occasioned by the cessation of hostilities and expressed the hope that the day was not far distant when peace would be signed so that they could fully rejoice. [97]

There were cries of ‘Hear, hear.’ He went on:

 It had been a strenuous struggle during the past four years, and they were glad to see the end of it. All were deeply grateful to the soldiers for their brave fight and to the sailors for the protection of these shores. He hoped they would not be wanting in showing their gratitude to the soldiers who had been wounded or disabled in the great fight. While they lightly rejoiced that the end of the war had come there was sorrow and sadness in the fact that many had laid down their lives.  [98]

Mr Bott remarked that in many towns war shrines were to be erected, giving the names of men who had given their lives. He thought Hinckley ought to erect a similar memorial. The Chairman remarked that ‘the brave lads who had fallen in the fight ought certainly to be recognised. ‘It was reported that Mr A. W. Crofts, Hon. Sec. of the local Cottage Hospital, had written to remind the council of their previous promise to support the scheme for the erection of a children’s ward at the hospital as a fitting memorial. The Chairman said the object was a worthy one and the Council would adhere to their previous decision.  He added that there had been great prosperity during the war and money would doubtless be given for both objects. [99]

Workmen’s Dwellings

On the agenda of the Finance and General Purposes Committee was an item on ‘Workmen’s Dwellings.’ A priority for the council after the war ended was to implement Lloyd George’s promises of ‘Homes for Heroes.’

 Monitoring of the influenza epidemic continued. It seems that there were more cases in the rural district council areas than in the town. Dr Hall, the local Medical Officer for Health reported to the council in March 1919 that accommodation for serious cases was being made available at Hinckley Isolation Hospital. [100] The work of the War Pensions committee increased as men were demobilised.


10. The Hinckley Times and Bosworth Herald



A contributor to the Leicester oral archives recalled that during the First World War there was ‘No television no wireless, nothing like that, just the newspapers.’ [101]Many Hinckley households would have been regular readers of the weekly Hinckley Times and Bosworth Chronicle as well as Leicester newspapers which included the Leicester Daily Post, the Leicester Chronicle, the Leicester Daily Mail and the Leicester Daily Mercury. The Daily Mirror  was the most popular of the national ‘daily picture papers’ with a circulation of around 1.4 million in 1915. The Times had a circulation of around 300,000, and The Daily Express and Daily Mail were both popular papers.[102]

Charles King recalled ‘Mr Wilebore (“Bindy”) who for many years sold newspapers in the Market Place. Wrapped in several over coats and a scarf, and with his large bags of papers he was there in all weathers.’ [103]Mary Thompson, who also grew up in the town during the First World War remembered ‘Joey Wood’s newspaper shop’[104] which was at 89 Castle Street. [105]Many would have bought the Hinckley Times directly from their offices at 24 Castle Street.

First War Bulletin

On August 8th 1914, they published the first of what were to be weekly bulletins from the government’s Central News Agency:

Belgium is fulfilling with stern determination her role of delaying to the utmost the troops which Germany has flung into the country.

The (London) Times of this (Friday) morning says: In the North Sea yesterday morning HMS Amphion was sunk after striking a mine. A paymaster and 130 men were lost

            Yesterday’s War News – Defence of Liege – More German Threats

            Destroying the Mine Layer – German Sailors’ Terrible injuries

It also reported:

             Peace Council’s View – “Balance of Power” Theory Condemned

The National Peace Council has met under the chairmanship of Mr Gordon Harvey MP and has placed on record “its utter detestation of the renewed resort by the powers of Europe to the barbarous arbitrament of war, which, whatever the result, must inflict untold suffering upon, and blight the hopes of the peoples in every country concerned.”

 ‘Hinckley and the War,’ became a regular feature.


In the first war edition it told readers that ‘About 80 recruits were accepted for the 4th Leicestershire Battalion Regiment on Monday. Many more are required.’


How to be Useful in War Time

Readers were also given advice on:

            HOW TO BE USEFUL IN WAR TIME – hints and suggestions –

First and foremost – keep your heads. Be calm. Go about your ordinary business quietly and soberly. Do not indulge in excitement or other foolish demonstrations.

Try to contribute your share by doing your duty in your own place, and in your own sphere. Be abstemious and economical. Avoid waste.

Do not store goods and create and artificial scarcity to the hurt of others. REMEMBER THAT IS AN ACT OF MEAN AND SELFISH COWARDICE

On the same page it carried the national news of ‘SENSATIONAL ARRESTS – ALLEGED GERMAN SPIES AT BOW STREET.’  Spy mania was at its height; a Leicester school inspector was arrested for taking holiday photographs on a beach and anyone with a ‘foreign’ accent or name was regarded with suspicion and sometimes hostility. Headlines in the Leicester Mercury of August 12th read:




 On the same page was an appeal for volunteers – ‘WAR – RECRUITS WANTED -  Apply to nearest recruiting office, police station or post office – terms – 3 years or duration of war.’


Patriotic Response

On 8th September 1914 The Hinckley Times listed those men who had joined up:



We have this week made an effort to obtain the names of Hinckley men who are serving with the colours. The list below is by no means complete, as many single men belonging to the town joined before the commencement of hostilities  but we have been successful thanks to the co operation of Mrs W. J. Pilgrim, secretary  of the Soldiers and Sailors Association, Sergt. Emery the local recruitment office and others in securing the complete roll of the territorials and the majority of those local men connected with the army who leave wives and “a lot of little things” behind them.  Recruiting at Hinckley was somewhat quiet until Monday of the present week, but ever since the young men of the town were given to understand that their services for King and country were really necessary, there has been a continual stream of applicants of all classes to the recruiting offices at the Drill Hall, and several batches have been despatched to Wigston each day. The list given below does not represent the entire enrolment of Hinckley recruits. Quite a number have enlisted at Leicester, Birmingham and other centres.

Enquiry at the recruiting office shows that a large proportion of those who presented themselves for enlistment at Hinckley had to be rejected on account of physical imperfections. A rumour has been abroad in the town for several days that the authorities, in their thirst for recruits, are winking at minor deficiencies and that defective eyesight is no serious bar to enlistment in the King’s army. This of course is far from the truth.

The eyesight of every applicant must be good enough to distinguish every letter on a card hung from a wall some distance away, or the would be recruit is rejected without further ado. The Hinckley Times yesterday learnt that some of the applicants were unable to read the letters from a distance of two feet!

Following the article was a list of local men who had joined the colours.

Conditions of Peace

 In the Leicester Daily Post of 21st September 1914 Ramsay Macdonald, MP for Leicester, appealed for new negotiations. He had resigned as Labour Party Chairman because of his opposition to the war, and he was now focusing his attention on the need for establishing what the outcome of the war should be. He wrote:

Peace, if it is to be anything more than a patched up affair, is to raise anew some of the questions which have given Europe most trouble, as for instance the position of Poland. Thousands of men are now flocking to ‘The Colours of Great Britain’ full of the hope that this is to be the last of the wars, that it is to shatter the power of the armed priests of the gospel of Force, that from its slaughtering  and destitution is to arise a purified and peaceful Europe. Are the dreams of these men to be laughed at when, through their sufferings, peace has come? Is the country to deserve them? If not, peace must be prepared, its politics mapped out and it is just as essential for national honour and safety that the preparations should now be made as that men should be trained in arms and hurried to the front.

If we leave all this to the last minute those who see in force the only security and remedy alone will be ready with their simple plans of cutting  and carving, of punishing and awarding. We shall have every blunder of the last century over again and every military burden bequeathed to us anew. The canker will then remain in the heart of Europe. Our sacrifices will have been in vain, and our children will have to tramp over the same battlefields and repeat the price we ourselves are now paying for the short sighted follies which have been our inheritance.

As soon as war had been declared restrictions were placed on the press under the Defence of the Realm Act. ‘D’ Notices were issued to editors to ensure the press did not reveal information which could be damaging to national interests.


Frontline Reports

Early in the war journalists were banned from reporting from the front line, but in April 1915 the restriction was lifted and some selected journalists were allowed to report from battle zones, under strict conditions. Interviews with soldiers on the front line gave first-hand accounts of battles. On 19th September 1914, The Hinckley Times published one of the first reports from the frontline, which was shockingly explicit:



A graphic account of the Battle near Mons was given to a “Hinckley Times” representative this week by Private J. Grant of the 15th Hussars who had been invalided after partially recovering from a wound on the right hand which was caused by a piece of shrapnel during the fighting near Mons.

The wounded man stated that just prior to the occurrence he was engaged scouting to obtain the position of the enemy for the artillery, and was at the time he received the wound under cover behind a hill. A shell flew over him and bursting in the air about 13 yards from the ground a piece of shrapnel struck him, breaking his finger and leaving a nasty wound on his hand. A little later he was ordered to ride to the military hospital and a few days later was taken to hospital at Brighton.

Grant described the first few minutes he was under fire as a very trying time. Soldiers, however, were troubling very little about the flying bullets, but the horrible shriek which accompanied the discharge was nerve racking. He saw a comrade’s  head blown clean off his shoulders by a bursting shell, and on another occasion saw a horse, after having its head severed, run a number of yards before dropping dead.

Private Grant describes the German soldiers as a splendidly built lot of fellows on the whole. Their rifle fire is, however, very poor; they shoot from the hip while the British troops take careful aim, as if at a range.  He added that the losses to the British at Mons were very heavy owing to being so greatly outnumbered, and having to retreat on account of German flanking movements. At one time the majority of them had very little hope of extricating themselves.

The use of the aeroplanes greatly assisted the Germans in ascertaining the position of the British, while our own artillery, owing to the aeriel scouts, had to continually change their position.


In October it reported the first death of a local soldier:


The article continued:

Writing from the East Lancashire Hospital at Worsley Hall,  Pte. T. de Mott of the same regiment explains that it was on the 22nd September when Goadby got killed and adds “I was wounded with the same shell. I did my best for the poor chap. As the shell burst I was knocked two yards and I heard Goadby shout, “Oh de Mott I am hit.” I replied, “So am I.”  When I had finished bandaging myself up I went to bandage Goadby, but my pal was breathing his last. His last words were, “You have been a good pal to me, so goodbye,” and I shook hands with him. I then tried to get him into my trench but found that I could not stand. I watched them dig his grave and bury him. Private Goadby’s last wish was that the Kaiser would be defeated. [106]

The Hinckley Times published weekly reports of local casualties, with a photograph supplied by the family. Studio portraits showing young men proud in their uniforms now took on a tragic meaning. For each man his name, rank and regiment, where they were killed, where they lived and details of family members were given It also reported on men who had been wounded, were missing or had been captured as a prisoner of war. Their names and faces would have been familiar to many; families of  ten or more was not unusual and young men joined up with brothers, cousins, neighbours and workmates.

Prisoner of War

In November 1914 the first local man to be taken as a prisoner of war was T. Harvey of 8, King Street. The Hinckley Times reported: 

On a postcard posted from Doeberitz, Harvey writes, ‘Dear mother, just a few lines to let you know that I have been wounded and am now a prisoner of war in Germany. I am getting good treatment and soon hope to be well again. Can you send a box of woodbines and a few odds and ends?[107]


War and Christmas Tide

In December 1914 The Hinckley Times reflected on ‘The War and Christmas Tide.’ The article read:

Christmas this year will probably rank as one of the quietest on record.  Serious thought as to the awful struggle which is proceeding should, and doubtless will take the place of the light heartedness and gaiety with which the season is inevitably associated. Fortunately perhaps the horror of the conflict have not been brought home to us in Hinckley to any appreciable extent...Business continues “as usual” and the ordinary life of the townspeople has been subjected to merely trifling interference. This is a state of affairs that is satisfactory all round, but which, unfortunately cannot be said of all manufacturing centres throughout the length and breadth of the land. In wishing our readers the compliments of the season may we express the hope that this year Christmas locally will be observed in a manner befitting the occasion – as quiet and as “peaceful” as is reasonably possible. [108]

On 6th February 1915 The Hinckley Times published – ‘Hinckley’s Roll of Honour  - 586 names of Hinckley men serving their King and Country in the Great War 1914-15.’ But the numbers recruiting fell far below those needed to replace the dead and wounded, and it seemed that conscription would be inevitable.

Support for Soldiers

Ramsay MacDonald continued to campaign for a negotiated settlement, but on 1st March 1915 he addressed his constituents in Westcotes, in Leicester:

 I have no love of war; but let there be no misunderstanding about the position, once war was declared and our brothers went out obedient to the call of duty they had got to be supported. If you had seen the men as I have seen them, going into the trenches and laying down their lives, you would have felt that the moment the declaration of war was made, controversies about its origin had to be put into the background.[109]


But MacDonald’s stance made him many enemies. The (London ) Times published a leading article entitled ‘Helping the Enemy,’ in which it was claimed that ‘no paid agent of Germany had served her better’ than MacDonald had done. John Bull magazine, which had a circulation of over two million in the war years claimed that MacDonald was a traitor and that: ‘We demand his trial by Court Martial, his condemnation as an aider and abetter of the King's enemies, and that he be taken to the Tower and shot at dawn.’


Reports of Neuve Chapelle

On 13th March 1915 The Leicester Chronicle reported:


Fourth Corps and the Indians advance - over 700 prisoners taken

An official communiqué by the Press Bureau (is) announcing a British success near La Bassee........

Berlin acknowledges a defeat but attempts to reduce it to the loss of part of Neuve Chapelle.

Colonel H. C.Wylly, in his History of the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the Leicestershire Regiment in the Great War, gave an account of the battle of Neuve Chapelle. [110]

The night of March 9th - 10th was intensely cold, and some snow fell, but towards morning the conditions slightly improved and there was a mild frost which made the going rather better, and day broke on the 10th with mist and low lying clouds.  It had been confidently hoped that the attack would come upon the enemy as a complete surprise, but his patrols and aviators appear to have reported the British trenches as being packed with men, and very soon after 7am the German guns commenced a heavy bombardment of our trenches, which caused a large number of casualties among the 2nd Leicesters. The 1st Battalion (39th Garwhal Rifles,) who were also assembled at that spot, escaped with a few light shells, one of which did great damage, killing four signallers and destroying most of the Battalion telephones.

Despite the initial claims of a ‘victory,’4,233 officers, non commissioned officers and men of the British and Indian army were killed, wounded or reported missing. [111]


War Propaganda

In what was probably a syndicated article from The War Propaganda Bureau, on Saturday 8th May 1915 The Leicester Chronicle reported:


The Germans have not yet exhausted their stores of frightfulness in the conduct [of] war. Sir John French has this week told us little more about the asphyxiating gases the enemy recently introduced  -  not without some success, as must be confessed. The Germans gave out that the Allies were using these gases. That was not true, within the knowledge of those making the statement; the fact was that the enemy were all the time preparing [to] employ them.

And the preparation was deliberate and extensive. The poisons were emitted from tubes in trenches as well from shells, and the German troops had been protected against them by respirators, [which were] not suddenly improvised. The enemy contend that the gases cause painless death, but even that is not true. They may cause death, but they may also involve lingering illness, and permanent invalidity through injury to the lungs. The chemists who concocted these gases know that, and the infraction [of the] The Hague Convention is all the more glaring.

But the enemy are using poison [in a more] insidious way in another part of the world. General Botha caught them infecting wells with the germs of disease, and sent a protest to the German Commandant [who] practically admitted the offence, and said instructions had been given that all infected wells should be marked. [At] Swakopmund, however, wells were discovered poisoned and unmarked, and General Botha has plainly but politely intimated that he will hold the authorities responsible. We hope he will be able act to his word. The poisoning of water [is so] odious that only a power obsessed and illegitimate culture would resort to it.

The article went on:

“Frightfulness” is proceeding [in the] North Sea. [There are] persistent attacks [by] submarines, not upon mine sweepers, which would be fair enough, but upon fish trawlers and their crews, non-combatants. [A] fish trawler is [no] weapon of defence against a submarine, and no military or naval purpose is served [by] sinking these craft. It is war upon non-combatants, and a species of piracy. No doubt it may [not] be on a level [of] “baby killing” and the bombardment [of] bathing machines, but it is contemptible, and those who inaugurate and persist in this kind of thing simply cover themselves [in shame.]

The Hinckley Times of 10th July 1915 reported the death of a local fireman:



The death of Corporal Horace Miller was also reported:




National Registration

More men were needed to replace those wounded or killed, and it was becoming clear there would never be enough volunteers. On 18th September 1915 The Hinckley Times printed details of the government’s plans for conscription:


Every unmarried man between the ages of 19 and 25 will be approached by military men to be sent from Leicester for the purpose, with the view to verifying the information already supplied by means of the National Register. At the same time he will be notified that he will be visited again in a few days. On the second occasion he will be asked if he is willing to join the services, and in the event of a negative reply, will be asked his reason for refusing. This reason will be duly recorded.

R.S Goward Major

It was reported that the recruiting figures for the previous week had been ‘about the lowest since the war started. At the Hinckley office only three men have been received during the past 13 days.’ Only one was from Hinckley, the others were from Leicester and Stockingford.’



Reports of Hohenzollern Redoubt

On 15th October 1915 newspapers reported:



Enemy’s appalling Losses, British Gains in France, Friday morning, General French reports severe fighting (on) the British Front near Loos. The main of the Hohenzollern Redoubt was retaken [112]

But on 20th October the Leicester Daily Mercury reported:

It is with profound regret that we have to confirm the rumours that have been so persistently in circulation the last few days, that the 1/4 Leicesters have suffered severe losses. The battalion was in action on October 13th, and how they suffered may be judged from the list of officers whose deaths have been officially notified to their relatives. The receipt of the news yesterday caused a painful sensation in the town, and the sympathy of all will go out to the relatives of those who have fallen. It is impossible at present to obtain anything like a complete list of casualties among non-commissioned officers and men. [113]

In the same newspaper Lance Corporal Richard Pexton described the battle:


A small ration of rum was handed round, and then a message ‘The CO wishes God-speed and good luck to all his men.’ Officers stood, watch in hand, counting the crawling seconds. “Five minutes to two, Four! Three! Two! One! – then  - over you go with the best of luck.” Brave lads, up they climbed at intervals of a yard apart, liberating a heavy mist of smoke as they went. A few seconds and the next line followed, and we advanced straight to our front through the smoke and suddenly came out into the light of day – and Hell. The spit and phut of the rifles and of machine gun bullets was incessant, incredible but the boys never wavered. Men fell and lay where they fell, but the long, thin line went forward, determined and strong. [114]

As news came through of the devastating losses, families could only wait with dread.  The 1/4 Leicesters lost 20 officers and 453 other ranks. It was left with 188 men. Overall the Division lost 180 officers and 3,583 men within ten minutes.


The Hinckley Times began reporting the deaths of local men. On 6th November 1915 a Hinckley Times article read:

 It is officially announced that Private Geo. Bedford of the Hinckley Territorials has died of wounds while taking part in the famous attack on the Hohenzollern Redoubt on October 13th. His death took place in the Abbe Ville Hospital in France, following a period of unconsciousness of twenty two days.  Private Bedford was shot in the head in the charge, and never spoke again. [115]

In the same newspaper it was reported:

It is officially announced that Lance-Corporal James Orton of the 3rd.Batt. Coldstream Guards, the son of Mr and Mrs James Orton of 3 Victoria Street Hinckley, was killed in the fighting in France on October 23rd.The sad news was received at Hinckley on Tuesday morning of this week. 

In a letter to the bereaved parents, Sergt. R. Maddocks of the same regiment said that the deceased soldier was a gallant soldier who died a hero’s death while performing a hero’s task, and his name would live on in the memory of his comrades, for he was one of the best. 

Orton was 27 years of age. He had seen eight years’ service, principally in Egypt. Formerly he worked at the hosiery factory of Messrs. Hood and Dixon, Hinckley. A photograph of Orton will appear next week.

The death of Lance Corporal W. Jeffs was also reported:

After having been missing for over  12 months, a communication has this week been received from a comrade who is a prisoner of war at Gottengen Camp in Germany stating that Lance Corpl. W. Jeffs  (9415) of the 1st Battalion Leicestershire Regiment, a Hinckley man, was shot through the head and was last seen in a kneeling position in a dugout near Boys Geienia (Bois Genies) in France. He was later seen in the dugout in exactly the same position. His death is now presumed.  The communication is from Private Hunter, of the 1st Leicesters who was unfortunately taken prisoner. [116]



The 1/4 Battalion consisted mainly of local boys between the ages of 17 and 23. It was said that in the Knighton and the West End areas of Leicester where many of them came from distraught families could be heard grieving from house to house. [117] John Milne, the Captain of the 4th Battalion, in an account of the battle written in 1935 reflected:


...what a waste! All these wasted lives. All this wasted effort! What has been held? A few lines of trenches in grazing or arable land. What has been taken? Not 100 yards of ground from the enemy. And yet they have perished, these men of Leicestershire. They were men who put duty to King and Country before everything. They gave their services and their lives while others were thinking a about it, and being persuaded and cajoled to join in the struggle of right against might, the struggle for the freedom of mankind. What a tragedy! What a prodigious loss of life! What a waste![118]

The family of Private Hewes placed a notice in the Hinckley Times:



The decision taken not to repatriate bodies was a hugely emotive issue and caused much anguish.  In ‘normal’ times a loved one would be buried in the local churchyard or nearby cemetery, but the bodies of husbands, sons, brothers and lovers remained in France, Belgium, or in other distant battlefields.   Memorial notices placed in local news papers took on a familiar format expressing sorrow that loved ones had died alone in a foreign place and that the body would not be returned to them.


Derby Scheme

Under the Derby Scheme the recruiting campaign was stepped up and the Government issued a statement that ’if recruiting figures are not met by 30th November, then compulsory measures will be taken. No marriage contracted since the compilation of the Register will be recognised as changing the status of a previously single man.’ [119] Plans for conscription were ongoing. A columnist on The Leicester Daily Mercury of 22nd December commented:

The Premier has asked for a further one million men for the army. At the end of November 1914 the government had voted for an  army strength of two million. The agreed number for the current year, 1915, was three million. Mr Asquith’s present demand brought the number to four million. Lloyd George was asking for 80,000 skilled and 240,000 unskilled men to work in the munitions industry servicing an agreed army of three million. Presumably an army of four million men would proportionately increase the burden on munitions. Where was all of this manpower to come from?

Recruiting figures nationally and locally went up as it became clear that eligible men faced  the choice of either volunteering or being called up. Ramsay Macdonald, speaking at Mantle Road School, in Leicester, warned his audience that Derby had originally asked for 30,000 men a week with the rider that failure would bring about conscription. In his opinion, this was a smokescreen and the government would not be satisfied until every man, including married men, had enlisted. [120]



Reports of Deaths

In 1916 reports of deaths continued relentlessly. One of the first of the New Year was that Sergeant W.S. Pope from Mill View who had been ‘accidentally killed.’


The report continued:

He had represented his regiment at the 1914 Royal and Naval Military Tournament, was a regimental instructor in gymnastics, a first class signaller and a crack-shot. He was a member of the famous Leicestershire Regimental football team and an expert boxer, being frequently associated with “Togo” Bolesworth.  The circumstances of Pope’s death are extremely pathetic. He was standing on the parapet of his trench chatting and joking with others of the Leicesters, when suddenly a gun exploded and a portion struck Pope in the back, killing him within a few minutes. His last words were of his wife, child and mother, 

The sad affair occurred on the very day Pope was to commence a short leave, which would have been spent at his home in Hinckley. He had secured passes for two other Hinckley men – Ptes Taylor and Newman – but the latter was fatally “gassed”, and Pope was heard to remark that Taylor and himself would unfortunately have to make a journey without him. Shortly afterwards the deceased received the wound which laid him low. He had previously written home a letter saying how anxiously he was awaiting the time when he would be with his loved ones. His mother remained up until 12.30 on the night he was expected to arrive.

The late Sgt Pope was buried with military honours in the churchyard at St. Jean, officers and men from the regiment attending, and a party firing three volleys over his grave. The deceased, who had been at the front since the commencement of the war, worked at the hosiery factory of Messrs. Pratt and Copeland before joining the army six years ago. In a letter to the bereaved family, Sgt A Colkin, of the 1st Leicesters, said: “Poor Bill was killed while doing his duty. I can assure you his comrades will feel his loss very keenly, and we offer you our deepest sympathy. God’s will be done, and this is His will. I felt I could not rest until I had let you know. It seems to me as though I have lost my own brother.[121]

In the same edition of The Hinckley Times the death of Pte. Charles Bradbury was reported:

Writing to the deceased’s fiancée, Miss Ghent of Three Pots Road, Burbage, Capt. C.W.Furbison says:

It is with deepest regret that I write to tell you of the death of Pte. Charles Bradbury, of my company. He was killed by a shell on the morning of the 21st and death was instantaneous. We buried him at night and erected a cross over his grave. The number and position of his grave will be forwarded later to his parents. Bradbury was always a good fellow and I was very sorry indeed when he was killed. Will you please give my sympathy to his father and mother whose address I have lost. I am returning the things which were in his pocket and a button which I cut off his coat for you.

Quartermaster Sgt. Cummings of the C Company Leicesters wrote to Bradbury’s parents:

I am awfully sorry to have to write to inform you that Pte. Bradbury was killed on the 21st December. He was killed instantaneously by a shell in his trench and did not suffer in the least. He is buried at St Jean, near the ruined church and where we are putting a cross as soon as we can get one made. We all offer you or sympathy in your loss and your sorrow must be tempered by the knowledge that he was a very good and cheerful soldier who could always be trusted to do his duty in the trenches.


Distinguished Conduct Medal

On January 22nd 1916 it was reported that “Togo” Bolesworth and Lance-Corporal Bullimore had been awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal.




The article continued:

“Togo” (Sidney) Bolesworth, the famous Hinckley boxer who is a private in the Leicestershire Regiment, is one of two Hinckley men who have been awarded a DCM. “Togo,” as a boxer, had a great reputation in the Midlands.  Shortly before the outbreak of war he fought several battles in the ring with Midlands champions, his famous victory over “Billy” Sherwood in the skating rink being followed by two meetings with Dan Hanks, the Birmingham pugilist, the latter during the fight closing “Togo’s” eye and gaining what was considered to be a lucky win. While in India “Togo” was army champion, securing many cups and medals.

Bolesworth was called up as a reservist on the outbreak of war, and it is believed he gained the D.C.M as the leader of a very successful bomb attack on the German trenches. He is one of four brothers who were at the same time in the trenches. One – Corpl. W. Bolesworth – has fallen in action. His mother, who lives at the top of Council Road, also has five grandsons serving with the Colours, altogether a very noteworthy record.[122]


Conscription and more casualties

In early 1916 conscription was introduced and call up papers began to arrive.  A government notice in The Hinckley Times stated that exemptions were allowed in the case of essential war work except for single men under thirty.  There was considerable concern that the government would renege on promises that no married men would be called up until all available single men had been enlisted. Organisations of married men were set up in Hinckley, Leicester and around the country to protest.

Local casualties continued.  In March 1916 Private Albert Edwin Crow of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers was killed. His mother lived at 16 Mill View. He was 28 and had worked at Sketchley Dye Works before he had joined the Colours and served time in India before the war. He had twice been buried at La Bassee as a result of explosions, and been in hospital the previous September to have a piece of shrapnel being taken out of his back. He had also been gassed. It was reported:

One of the deceased comrade’s has forwarded a letter of sympathy to Mrs Crow, and in account of the doings of the Welsh Fusiliers states that on one occasion they marched for 20 hours with two hours’ rest, covering 38 miles. The following day they continued the march and by night time had covered a total of 70 miles in 30 hours. [123]


The Battle of the Somme


On July 15th 1916 in an article headed ‘GOING STRONG’ The Hinckley Times reported: ‘The progress initiated by the British and French allies in the Battle of the Somme continues, and over a dozen miles of German first line trenches and gun positions have been conquered and held.’ But many local men lost their lives in that battle. On 5th August 1916 it was reported that ten had been killed.  


On 30th September 1916 the death of Private Buckingham V.C. was reported:



 He was well known locally as he had taken part in recruitment drives in Hinckley, Barwell

and, as the accompanying photograph showed, Earl Shilton.


On 6th January 1917 The Hinckley Times published an appeal from a soldier’s parents:

Private S. Musson 40181 of the Leicestershire Regiment has been reported wounded and missing since September 25th 1916. He is the eldest son of Mr and Mrs A. Musson of 12, Three Pots Road, Burbage and his parents would be glad to hear of any further news concerning him. He is 27 years of age and enlisted in September 1914, just after the outbreak of war. He had been at the front for about six months.  Before enlisting he worked at the coal pits at Bedworth.


War Loans

The cost of the war was spiralling and the Government War Loans scheme was stepped up. In February 1917 Hinckley Times readers were challenged:





Throughout 1917 war casualties increased. On 28th April a headline read: 


On 12th May, the editor was urging readers to send photographs of dead and missing men promptly:



A memorial notice in The Hinckley Times of 19th May 1917 read:

The Hinckley Times of 9th June 1917 reported more casualties:

In Memoriam notices, such as these from the Hinckley Times of June and July 1917 often included both recent deaths and anniversaries:




On 27th October more deaths of local men were reported:

Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps

Appeals to women to join the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps appeared in the Hinckley Times of 1st December 1917


Women of the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps have done magnificent work in taking over army duties - work better done by women – releasing great numbers of men for the army. 5,000 women are needed every week at home and abroad


This is one of the duties undertaken by women in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps.



Casualties and Memorials

By the beginning of 1918 there was no sign of the war ending, and reports of casualties and memorial notices took up pages of The Hinckley Times. One of 25th January read:

The escalating cost of the war meant the government was continuing to promote War Bonds.   This cartoon appeared in the Hinckley Times of 23rd February 1918:



Anniversaries of deaths continued to be commemorated – this one was in the Hinckley Times of 6th April 1918:

Men up to 50 needed

Also in April a Hinckley Times recruiting notice appealed to local men:

Urgently wanted - Recruits over military age - For Royal Garrison Artillery and Army Service Corps - (Mechanical Transport) Men up to 50 Years of age of medical grades one and two will be accepted for Home Service. [125]

On 11th May 1918 an appeal went out to women readers of the Hinckley Times:



Anniversary memorial notices continued. In June 1918, a family remembered a brother they had lost a year previously:




and more recent  deaths were memorialised:

In Loving Memory of my dear husband

Gunner A.G. Taylor

R.G.A. Killed in action June 6th 1918,

Aged  30 years.

A loving husband, true and kind

a beautiful memory left behind

From his sorrowing wife. [127]


On 3rd August 1918 a ‘rag and bone man’ from Alma Road was advertising in the Hinckley Times:



On August 17th 1918 an official government press release appeared in The Hinckley Times:


But concerns about an epidemic of ‘Spanish ‘Flu’ were increasing. On 9th November 1918 the Hinckley Times reported:

Happily the influenza epidemic has not taken a serious hold on the Hinckley district although it is a matter of regret that two deaths which have been registered in the town during the past week are both attributable to the disease. Generally, while the doctors have been busy, the cases have not been of a serious nature.

Ralph Warner a driver of Queen’s Terrace had died on 3rd November and William Whitehead, a soldier home on leave also died of the disease. Their obituaries were printed the following week.

But the report continued:

At Leicester the mortality from the disease has reached alarming proportions. Official returns show that during last week 335 people of all ages and all classes have died. Instead of the epidemic declining it continued to spread and the most distressing scenes were witnessed. There were thousands of cases and in many of them it was impossible to obtain medical aid. Two or more deaths occurred in one house within a few minutes of each other. Pneumonia is the chief cause of the mortality and the medical men declare that the complaint will not yield to the ordinary remedies.

There have been long queues at the surgeries of the medical men, and the undertakers have been quite overwhelmed with work. The corporation had to step in to assist with the collection of the dead and in their conveyance to the municipal cemeteries and mortuaries. Special carpenters had to be called in to make plain coffins, as the ordinary men were quite insufficient. On Thursday it was stated the situation had considerably improved. There were fewer new cases, and the death roll for Tuesday was 37, 25 of which were attributable to influenza, as against 57 on the corresponding day of last week.



On 15th November headlines read:


The Hinckley Times reported on the breaking news of the armistice:

The prolonged blowing of sirens in the far distance (Birmingham and Coventry) was Hinckley’s first intimation that the armistice had been signed. But even then the townspeople were not convinced and so there were many telephonic enquiries at the office of the “Hinckley Times” where for these four long, weary years, news has first reached the town of the progress of the war in its various stages.

Almost simultaneously with the sounding of the far-distant sirens a crowd gathered outside the “Times” offices and repeatedly demanded to know if the good news was true. They had not long to wait for presently  the Central News message arrived with the official  announcement and when this was read to the rapidly increasing gathering there was a remarkable outbreak of cheering.

The notice was posted on “The Times” office window and then from all directions hundreds of people streamed into Castle Street. The workers in the factories took French leave and the manufacturers had no option but to close down. Before mid day thousands of people were in Castle Street, whose indescribable relief from the darkness of war led eventually to unforgettable scenes of rejoicing.

As if by magic thousands of flags and streamers appeared simultaneously at the windows, and the various shops were besieged with young factory workers clamouring for red, white and blue ribbons with which to entwine their hair, and other patriotic favours. A Castle Street tradesman, who having anticipated the rejoicings, had that morning obtained delivery of a stock of ribbons and flags, and was later in the day practically sold out.

The joyousness of the crowd became infectious, lads and lassies passed in rows, stretching the entire width of the street, singing songs of patriotism and victory and bursting into laughter every few minutes as they collided with a similar party coming in the opposite direction. Not infrequently were smiling Tars and Tommies drawn in to the intoxicating melee of fun, and they never failed to add to the good humour and gaiety of the meetings.

 After the dinner hour there was a continuation of the rejoicings. Impromptu processions passed along the streets, the Salvation Army and the Church Lads’ Brigade marched to martial music and the Boy Scouts, looking smarter than ever, made a tour of the town, headed by their drums and bugles while the bells of St Mary’s rang joyously throughout the afternoon. All business was suspended, and when the afternoon arrived the townspeople had given themselves over to holiday and rejoicing.

News of the removal of lighting restrictions arrived during the afternoon and at night the town was brilliantly lighted.

At the Parish Church as soon as the news of the armistice was received a peal was rung on the bells which was repeated during the afternoon and evening. ...A special service of thanksgiving and praise for the successful issue of the war was held at the Parish Church at 6.30 in the evening. [128]

But many must have shared the feelings of disassociation and bewilderment that Vera Brittain described in Testament of Youth. She had lost her brother, her fiancé and close friends in the war:

For the first time I realised, with all that full realisation meant, how completely everything that had hitherto made up my life had vanished with Edward and Roland, with Victor and Geoffrey. The war was over; a new age was beginning, but the dead were dead and would never return.[129]



A planned ‘Feed the Guns’ fundraising week on November 25th – 30th was renamed ‘Thanksgiving Week.’ Local people were urged:

Secure the fruits of victory -  Buy National War Bonds

To help in the Re-settlement - Buy National War Bonds

To aid the suffering - Buy National War Bonds

To get our Boys home soon - Buy National War Bonds

To “Carry on” - Buy National War Bonds and

War Savings Certificates

In The Hinckley Times memorial notices continued to be published:

In Loving Memory of our Dear Brother

Pte. W. Brown

of the 2/4th East Lancashire Regiment

died of wounds November 28th 1917

He’s gone, the one we loved so dear

To his eternal rest

He’s gone to heaven we have no fear;

To be forever blest.  

From his loving brother and sister

And there were more recent deaths:

 In ever loving memory of our dearly beloved


Who on the 20th October 1918 in the 21st years of his age, passed from this cruel, cruel world, we hope to enter a kinder one.  Oh, how much we all loved him and bitterly mourn his loss.  We also desire to help the many kind friends for their expressions of sympathy shown to us in our greatest sorrow, hoping that they will accept this, the only intimation.

Mrs J. Copeland and family, 14 Leicester Road

Notices of Victory Balls, Armistice celebrations, and services of thanksgiving appeared in The Hinckley Times. But alongside them were the obituaries of the two men who had died from influenza:



The following week it reported that there had been six burials in Hinckley, ‘some of which are attributable to the prevailing disease.’ In one family in Sharnford there were two deaths, and the mother of a large family, including a baby of a few months old, also died in the village. The report concluded: ‘Seven or eight’ victims were ‘lying dead in Barwell.’ [130]


Khaki Election


In December electioneering news began filling the pages as the country prepared for the ‘khaki election.’ Women over thirty who were householders, the wives of householders or were graduates were allowed to vote for the first time, but many, if not most women who had been working in the factories or doing other war work were under thirty and therefore excluded. All men over 21 were also now able to vote - previously many had been too poor to qualify.






On the date of the election, Saturday 14th December 1918, a Hinckley Times headline read:

Bosworth Division – Candidates’ Busy Week –

Lord and Lady Aberconway assist Hon H.D. Maclaren –



The article went on:

Lady Aberconwy was the  principal speaker at a crowded meeting held in the Co-operative Hall in Hinckley on Tuesday Mrs G. Bott who occupied the chair said that there were 12,700 women voters in the Bosworth division, and they would realise from that how fortunate would be the mere man who got a fair proportion of their votes.

Lady Aberconwy observed that it had been a long struggle to get women the vote. She was at the first suffrage meeting ever held. Her father was in the chair and her mother the chief speaker. Since that meeting neither had neglected any opportunity of helping women’s suffrage. When she looked back upon her life she always seemed to have been going to one suffrage meeting or another. She could not tell them the joy she got now that women had got the vote...It was a great comfort to women to know that they were not publicly classed with idiots, lunatics, criminals and paupers who were deprived of political rights. As to the age of 30 it was not meant to cast reflection on the intelligence of women under 30, but the fact was there were too many of them. They felt grateful to men for having given them the vote.

Everyone would be disappointed if women did not bother to exercise their new privilege. Man had always been a fighter. He had been a discoverer and a wanderer. But woman was always ministering to life, taking the tender infant, caring for humanity, and weeping the bitterest tears over the dead. They were prepared to fight against evils, to fight for their children that they should have a happier and better life than they had had themselves. They wanted every person in the country to work, and no one to work too much; they wanted the  rich to work for their country’s good and the poor working man to be paid not only a living wage but something extra for joy. They wanted a world where the slacker and the loafer wouldn’t find a place and would gradually disappear, a world where every child born in every class would have a chance to live a healthy and happy life. Be he the duke’s son or the cook’s son let him live a healthy and happy life. To get these things they must work against the disasters of disease, poverty, drink, dirt, ignorance, preventable sickness and crime. With a united effort they would have an England better and happier than they had hitherto known. It was a big task and many might wonder how it was going to be accomplished. But women had never had the vote before (Laughter.)

Lord Aberconway had been the local MP in the Coalition government of the war years, but he had decided to step down, and his son, Henry Duncan Maclaren was standing in his place as the Liberal candidate.  The Hinckley Times of the same day reported that the party believed that:

In Mr Maclaren they had the right man to help forward the Coalition programme of reconstruction. They wanted to be sure now they had won a great victory on the field of battle they were able to follow this up with victory at home in view of the great problem of reconstruction. This was the time for the knockout blow and full punishment for those who had caused the war.

It went on:

Mr Maclaren favoured full punishment for those responsible for the war, the greatest calamity that had ever been known to civilisation. They not only wanted to punish the authors of the war, but those who broke every law of war and civilisation – those who had been responsible for the introduction of gas, for the sinking of passenger ships containing women and children, the devastation of countries they had invaded, those who took thousands of people from conquered territories into slavery and had treated the prisoners of war they had captured with brutality must be made to pay for their crimes.

There was applause from the audience. H. D. Maclaren continued:

Some of the Socialists told them they ought to be friends again with the Germans. They said “Oh Well, a few people are responsible for those crimes, and we have no problem with the German people themselves. Leading members of the Socialist party had called the German socialists their friends. While he did not wish to say that the German people as a whole were responsible for every outrage, he did say that they never uttered a word of protest against these crimes and brutalities. From the first to last the German people had never issued a word against the brutalities that had been committed. It was true that they had thrown the Kaiser out. But it was because he had not succeeded in leading them to victory and consequently to power to oppress other nations. They must not suppose for one moment that if the Germans had won the war the Kaiser would have gone. On the contrary he would have been the beloved man in Germany. ...Therefore there must be no holding out the hand of friendship to those who had permitted these atrocities.

There were shouts of ‘Hear, hear.’ In answer to a question from the audience Maclaren said that farmers should have security of tenure.  He made it clear he was ‘all out to help agriculture in every respect although he did not agree with tax on imported corn.’ He added that ‘on the question of industry in rural parishes he supported plans for the introduction of electricity on a large scale, and that it would be a great advantage to industry in rural parishes.’ A member of the audience remarked that ‘one day they might see electric trams running down the streets of Stoke Golding.’ There was general laughter.

The Hinckley Times also reported on the campaign of the Labour candidate, Tom Richardson, who, in June 1918 he had raised questions in the House of Commons about the death of a Leicester conscientious objector, William Stanton and the prison conditions in which conscientious objectors were kept.  The Hinckley Times headline on 14th December 1918 read



It went on:

Mr Richardson was anxious to quash rumours that he supported temperance and that he ‘would close every public house and bar in the town.’ He would not deprive the poor man of his beer,’ he said. In reference to clubs, he said he had stated again and again he was in favour of absolute equality as to rich man’s and the poor man’s clubs whether that be of a social or political character.

He was, he said:

concerned about censorship of the British Press – over the last few days instructions had been sent out to newspaper editors forbidding them from discussing  terms of the peace. In his judgement that was a very sinister policy and in conjunction with other tendencies, if allowed to develop unchecked, might threaten and defeat the whole idea of a basis of peace laid down by the 14 points of President Wilson.

He continued, ‘If a League of Nations was to materialise as an effective institution for peace, then there must be open diplomacy - secret diplomacy must go.’

Another article was headed:


went on:

In a meeting in Barwell supporting Tom Richardson Mr R. Dell, Paris Correspondent of The Manchester Guardian  pointed out ‘the dangers which the Coalition Government were inviting by their foreign policy.’. He opposed the possibility of continued conscription in order to repress democratic institutions on the continent. He went on to ask why our men were being sent to die in Russia? If it was because of the excesses of the Bolshevik government why did we not intervene years ago when the Czar was murdering thousands of people and suppressing the Dumas? [131]

Also in The Hinckley Times of 14th December a report read, ’Last Local Victims of the Great War.’


 Readers were told:

Private Daniel Merrick who, as a prisoner of War died in a German hospital of Peritonitis - He had been in the army about three years, prior to which time he had worked at Sketchley Dye works. He was 33 years of age. His wife and five children live at Manor Place.

Former Hinckley clerk’s death in captivity – Mrs Blower of 23 Bushby Road, Leicester, has received official information that her husband, 203732 Pte. G. Blower, 1st Leicester, died a prisoner of war on March 23rd 1918. He had previously been reported as missing. The deceased was for 11 years a clerk at Hinckley Railway Station, afterwards being transferred to Leicester. He was 38 years of age. Mrs Blower is a daughter of Mr Willoughby Farmer of Queen’s Road, Hinckley.

There were three more deaths reported: of Pte Richard White (Royal Air Force) from Barwell who died of pneumonia at Chatham, Pte W.J. Neal (King’s Own Hussars) of Aston Flamville, and Pte F H. Robinson, who died of wounds at Tooting Military Hospital on December 2nd, his 19th birthday.

 The election count did not take place until 28th December because of the time taken to transport voting papers from soldiers serving overseas. Henry Maclaren, who later inherited the title of 2nd Baron Aberconwy, and the family seat of Bodnant in Snowdonia succeeded his father Sir Charles Maclaren to win the Bosworth constituency.

There were, of course, further deaths as a result of the war. The Hinckley Times of 8th February 1919 reported the death of ‘Private Stanley Watts, son of Mr Henry Watts, 3 Occupation Road.’ The following year two more deaths were reported:  Private Ernest Hamill Nichols who died on 5th July 1920 and Sergeant W. H. Roden who died as a result of gas poisoning in 1920.

They were the last ‘official’ war deaths in Hinckley but over the following years many more died as a result of their war experiences.




11.‘Defend the hearth and home if need arise’ The Voluntary Training Corps



In 1914 there was a very real fear that Britain would be invaded.  German troops were in Belgium, only a very short sea crossing from the English coast, and U boats patrolled the English Channel.  Preparations for Home Defence were put in place nationally and locally, and the Voluntary Training Corps was set up. In Leicester the Mayor, Jonathon North told the first recruits that their purpose was to ‘defend the hearth and home if need arise.’[132] There was a mounted section, a cyclist section and a Motor Corps.

By October 1914 about 130 Hinckley men had joined the Voluntary Training Corps. In a notice printed in The Hinckley Times, ‘members and others who wish to join were requested to meet at the Drill Hall on Tuesday next at 8pm.’ [133] Units had to be financially self-supporting and provide their own uniforms, which could not be khaki -  “lovat green” was the preferred colour. No weapons or equipment were provided, although local Territorial Army Associations were asked to supply a few "DP" rifles, which were dummy weapons intended for ‘drill purposes.’ As well as at the Drill Hall, the local unit also met regularly at Trinity Hall and the central training ground, on Castle Street. Any man up to the age of 35 who was not in the military due to essential war work or for other ‘genuine reasons,’ was encouraged to join the VTC which met on weekday evenings and on Saturdays.

Shelling of the East Coast

Many local families had spent holidays in Scarborough, and when news came of its shelling by the German Navy in December 1914 it must have seemed very close to home. The Hinckley Times reported:

The East Coast watering places appear to be a favourite target of the German raiders, either by sea or air. Early on the morning of December 16th an attack was made on Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool by a German cruiser force. The bombardment lasted about half an hour. [134]

In the January 1915 edition of the St Peter’s Church magazine an extract from a letter dated December 16th from ‘Jack Ginns to his brother Mr Phil Ginns,’ was printed:

You will probably have seen in the papers by now of the little entertainment here this morning. I was putting my boots on at about 8am when there was a sudden roar. I heard a lot of shouting and on going to the window I could see dozens of shells bursting on the Castle Hill. From the upper rooms two large four funnelled cruisers could be distinctly seen about a mile from the coast. They were both blazing away at the coastguard station on Castle Hill. The shells were dropping all over the town.

Of course we were quite helpless as there was not a single gun in Scarborough. All our men were served out with a hundred rounds of ammunition and we stood by to prepare for an attempt at landing. After shelling us for about 30 minutes they steamed away and about 20 minutes later we heard them peppering Whitby.

I went into the town about 11am to see the wreck; dozens of houses have had the doors blown away. We reported tonight that 200 shells were fired so you can tell it was a bit warm.

There are 13 deaths reported. Our barracks escaped with one shell bursting at the back. I have a large fragment in the office.

The Hinckley Times reported: ‘In all three places over 100 civilians were killed and several hundreds wounded, many of them severely. A large number of the victims were women and children.’ [135]

Duties of the VTC

Home Defence preparations were stepped up, lighting restrictions were introduced and government films advised on what to do if the country was invaded. Commander A.S. Atkins set out the responsibilities of the Voluntary Training Corps:

It will be the duty of members of this corps in case of imminent invasion, to guard a length of the railway line and approaches near at hand day and night. To enable this to be done efficiently more members are required and an appeal is made to local men to give a hand. The movement is now officially recognised and is open to all men from 17 years of age upwards. The advantages of the corps are: Rifle practice on miniature range and Burbage common range, drill company, platoon and squad, route marches and field exercises etc. and the consciousness of doing something, however little, for the nation in its present crisis. Now is the time – the fine weather is approaching when healthy outdoor exercise in the form of route marches etc. can be indulged in. Men desiring to join should attend at headquarter, Trinity Hall, on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday next at 8pm and hand in their names. [136]

The Hinckley Times printed the weekly orders for the Voluntary Training Corps. For the last week in April 1915 they included trench digging and ‘class firing.’


In June 1915 St Peter’s Church magazine printed more first-hand accounts of Zeppelin raids:

Two members of our congregation (and strangely, both brothers,) have had experience of the recent Zeppelin raids on Southend and Ramsgate. Mr “Gus” Bond was billeted in Southend at the time of the first visitation (May 10) and in an interesting letter to his relatives said: “The (Zeppelins) came at 3 o’clock on Monday morning and passed over my billet and dropped bombs on two houses (about as far as you are from Far Lash) which was burnt to the ground. There were also large holes in the main street where bombs were dropped. It was quite an exciting time. Over a hundred bombs were dropped altogether.

Orders for the VTC for the third week of July 1915 included rifle practice and signalling.


Zeppelin Raid on Loughborough

In early 1916 Hinckley people were shocked at the news that on 31st January a zeppelin raid on Loughborough had killed ten people and injured twelve. It had been thought that the zeppelins could not reach that far inland but over the next few weeks, 67 people were killed and 117 injured by zeppelin raids across the Midlands. Home Defence units were trained in how they should respond in the event of an air raid.

 As conscription was introduced in the first few months of 1916 many members were called up. The Military Service Tribunals were given the power to order men exempted from military service to join the VTC; not all of them were enthusiastic. At a Tribunal meeting at the Council Offices Captain Atkins, said that a number of men had failed to comply with the condition imposed on them.  He complained that ‘Some exempted men were so unpatriotic that they did not want to drill themselves, but laughed and sneered at those who did.’ The Hinckley Times reported his comments: [137]

As more men went to the Front, the age restriction for the VTC was extended. There were jokes that the "GR" on their armbands, which stood for ‘Georgius Rex’ actually stood for ‘Grandpa's Regiment’, ‘Genuine Relics’ or ‘Government Rejects.’ Orders for the week ending April 28th 1917 included ‘railway guarding,’ ‘physical and bayonet training’ and ‘musketry.’

Enfield Rifles

During 1917, Enfield Rifles began to be issued, followed by Hotchkiss Mk I machine guns. At Hinckley the VTC had been attached to Rugely for the ‘purposes of training. Orders for the week commencing 24th November 1917 included:

Wednesday 28th November – musketry, bayonet fighting, anti gas and Hotchkiss gun courses for officers and NCO’s at Leicester at 7pm. Leave Hinckley by 6.31 train L and N W. (London and North Western.)

Sunday December 2nd – special parade for instruction by instructors at Rugely.

It was also noted that:

Govt. Stores – A D.P. Rifle is missing it is requested that the member who has this will return it to the Armoury at once. Platoon sergeants will enquire of the men n their platoons as to the whereabouts of the missing article.

In December 1917 orders for the week before Christmas included ‘Examination of members of Officer Class,’ drill, musketry instruction, a route march and a church parade.


For the last week of January 1918 orders included ‘bayonet training and anti gas classes for NCOs at Leicester.’

The VTC took part in the Thanksgiving Parade on 24th November 1918. They were ‘called upon’ to provide a ‘continuous Guard’ for the 6in. howitzer sent by the War Office.’


The Volunteer Training Corps was suspended in December 1918, but it was not officially disbanded until January 1920, and the Volunteer Motor Corps was retained until April 1921 in case of civil disorder. After the success of the Russian revolution and mutinies in the French army, the British government was extremely nervous. Thomas Redfern from Leicester recalled on the Leicester Oral History Archives:  ‘The politicians here were afraid of civil commotion.....The troops were getting a bit nasty as well.’[138] Delays in demobilisation had caused unrest, and many ex servicemen came home to face unemployment, high prices and food shortages. In a memo to Lord Derby in October 1917 'A worried Home Office Agent' commented that ‘In the event of rioting, for the first time in history the rioters will be better trained than the police.’[139]  





12. Voluntary Aid Detachment and Grammar School ‘Old Girls’

Image result for vads leicester midland railway station

The Hinckley Voluntary Aid Detachment Brigade, popularly known as VADs, met regularly at Baxter’s premises at 24 Castle Street for training, inspections and demonstrations. Set up by the Red Cross, and linked to St John’s Ambulance Brigade, the mainly women volunteers were trained in first aid, home nursing, hygiene and cookery. Most were from a privileged middle class background, used to having servants at home. Many had never been expected to do even the simplest domestic tasks. There were, however a few from less well of families who were already trained nurses, and who were paid from the outset. 

Interview procedures and personal references would establish whether applicants were ‘suitable.’ Terms of Service for untrained nursing volunteers included one month’s probation, when they were expected to support themselves. If they were accepted, they were given a contract for seven months in one hospital.  After that payment was £20 per month, increasing incrementally if the contract was renewed, with a uniform allowance of £2 10s every six months[140] Many VAD’s served in several hospitals over the war years. Some VADs offered their services on a full time basis, others worked part time.

As well as performing nursing roles in hospitals, a ‘general service’ section of the unit, which was generally unpaid, was established in September 1915. Women could offer their services in a range of duties such as cooks, cleaners, store keepers, and running restrooms in railway stations.

Among the first to join the VADs, it was noted in the Hinckley Grammar School magazine, were ‘Miss Coate and Miss Friend,’ both ‘Old Girls’ of the school. [141]

Gladys Heaton, another ‘old girl’ of Hinckley Grammar school was serving as a VAD in the spring of 1916, when she was 23 years old.  In the 1911 census she was listed as living in Holliers Walk with her parents William aged 60 and Susannah aged 64, who were both head teachers employed by the county council. Also living there was her sister Muriel, who was a ‘certificated assistant teacher’ aged 27, and single, and Elizabeth Heaton, who was described as a ‘general servant (domestic.)’ She was 46 and also single.

Another ex-grammar school girl, Amy Pigott also joined the VAD in 1916. She was 24 years old when war broke out. The 1911 census lists her as an ‘elementary school teacher’ living at 15 Duke Street with her father James, 59, who was a ‘bootmaker dealer’, her mother, also named Amy, who was 52, and her younger sister, Myrnie, who was fifteen and a ‘shop assistant, confectionery.’ Myrnie, too, joined the VADs in 1917.

A third ex-grammar schoolgirl, Elsie Moore of 27 Hill Street had also joined the VAD in 1916. They were described in the School Magazine of Spring 1916 as being ‘zealous workers in the cause.’[142]  Katie Aucott of Hollywood, Station Road was also in the VAD by the autumn of 1917, and Olive Watherston was another ‘Old girl’ from Hinckley Grammar school who joined the detachment. She was the daughter of the first headmaster, Rev. A. E.Watherston and had grown up in a house near the school on Leicester Road.

Local Detachments had to meet at least once a month. Notices were printed in the Hinckley Times -  Brigade Orders for May 1916 were:

Nursing Division -  the next meeting at Baxter’s Premises will be held on Monday  May 8th

E. Brise (Lady Supt.)

Men’s Division meet at Baxter’s Premises, Castle Street on Tuesday May 2nd General Practice.

E. Mehew (Div. Supt.) [143]

Women had to work towards gaining certificates in Home Nursing and First Aid within twelve months of joining, and they also learned the basics of invalid cooking and hygiene. Men were trained in stretcher and ambulance work.

Records of VAD service can be found on the Red Cross Archives website, although they are, by their own admission, incomplete.[144]  The archive lists two local men who joined the VAD. Thomas Harries of 70 Castle Street was 42 when he joined the Motor Ambulance Department in 1915.  Thomas Willock of ‘Copston Lodge, Cottages, Copston, near Hinckley’ also drove ambulances.   

Mrs Elizabeth Brise of 71 Mount Road, as well as being the ‘Lady Superintendent’ of the local VAD unit, was Commandant of the local detachment of the War Pensions Committee. She is recorded as providing ‘care of sick soldiers & their dependants in own homes.’

VAD card 1

VAD card 2

Elizabeth Brise’s Red Cross records


Mrs Ada Bodycote of 6 Leicester Road was also ‘Nursing sick soldiers in own home for the War Pensions Committee.’

Caroline Tuckerman of Fern Villa, Mount Road, was serving in Hinckley as a ‘Night Nurse & Housemaid.’ She was working part time – the records state ‘1945 hours served.’

Annie Mason of ‘Arima’ London Road Hinckley did ‘Attendance & Work at home’ as well as working at the War Hospital Supply Depot in Nuneaton. She worked in total ‘686 hours.’

Thomas Willock was driving ambulances, possibly in the local area from November 1916 to the end of 1917.


‘No Petticoats Here’

The VADs initially worked in the UK; the War Office was resistant to sending the women to the battle zones. When an Edinburgh surgeon, Elsie Inglis, went to Whitehall in August 1914 to discuss her proposal to found a hospital, she was told, ‘Good lady, go home and sit still – no petticoats here.’ [145] Through personal connections she went on to open a hospital in Serbia, which was staffed only by women. She was joined there by Lillian Lenton, a Leicester born suffragette who had been on the run from the police when war broke out.

Through personal connections and family resources, Lady Dorothy Feilding, daughter of the Earl of Denbigh, from Monks Kirby, about eight miles from Hinckley, was able to go out to the Western Front in September 1914. She had undertaken a short training course at Rugby Hospital, then went out to France with the Munro Ambulance Corps, transporting wounded men from front line positions between Nieuport and Dixmude to the hospitals at Furnes.

 She received the French Croix de Guerre (Bronze Star) in 1916 and went on to be the first woman to be awarded the Military Medal for bravery in the field of battle. The letter of recommendation to Prince Alexander of Teck, head of the British Military Mission in Belgium read:

I venture to submit that Lady Dorothie Feilding should in like manner be rewarded. The circumstances are peculiar in that, this being an isolated Unit, no Medical organization existed for clearing casualties other than this voluntary one and owing to indifferent means of communication etc, it was necessary for the Ambulance to be in close touch with the guns when in action. (She) was thus frequently exposed to risks which probably no other woman has undergone. She has always displayed a devotion to duty and contempt of danger which has been a source of admiration to all. I speak only of her work with the Naval Siege Guns, but your Serene Highness is also aware of her devoted services to the Belgian Army and to the French - notably to the Brigade des Marins.[146]


http://www.acenturyback.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Dorothy-Feilding-e1416756222757-191x300.jpg         http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/uploads/monthly_11_2010/post-9885-038285400%201290717343.jpg

Lady Dorothie Feilding – Images courtesy of  www.acenturyback.com/ and http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/


A Hinckley woman, Edith Mills, was also awarded the 'Croix de Guerre’ on 15th April 1918. She is recorded on the 1911 census as aged 24, single and an ‘elementary school teacher.’ Her sister Winifred aged 19 was a dressmaker, and she also had another sister aged nine and a brother of sixteen.   They were living at the hairdressers’ shop at 76 Castle Street which was run by her father John, who was 37. By 1916 he had died and the business had been taken over by her mother Sarah, also known as ‘Betsy.’

Edith joined the VAD in July 1915 when she was thirty, and she trained at Weddington Hall VAD Hospital in Nuneaton. She was then posted to the Military Hospital in Oswestry before going to Egypt at the end of October 1917. She was serving at the Citadel Hospital in Cairo when she was given the award. As yet the citation for the French or Belgian military honour has not been located; it was usually given to recognise acts of bravery in the face of the enemy, and it was very unusual for it to be given to a woman. It is to be hoped that further research will reveal her story.


VAD card 1


VAD card 2



Edith Mills’ Red Cross Records and the Croix de Guerre


Serving Overseas

From 1915 women VADs had been allowed to serve overseas provided they had served for at least two months in an auxiliary hospital at home and had received a favourable report.  They also had to be at least 23. Many worked in military hospitals in France and Belgium and others served in Egypt, Gallipoli, Malta and Mesopotamia.

Catherine Evans of ‘Wolvey Grove,’ near Hinckley, was mentioned in ‘Sir A. Murray's Despatches of 28th June 1917.’ She was also serving in Egypt. She was 33 when she joined the VADs and her ‘rank at engagement’ was ‘Trained Nurse.’ She was ‘still acting’ in August 1919.

Olive Watherston was serving as a nurse in Etaples in the Autumn of 1916, as was noted in the Grammar School magazine. 

Beatrice Harris of ‘The Shade’ Sharnford trained at North Evington War Hospital in Leicester before serving in France.

Agnes Pugh of 8 Khartoum Cottages, Tenfoot Factory Road, trained at the Canadian Hospital, Basingstoke before serving at Abbeville, at the 4th. General Hospital, France (General Service.) Her address is also given as 33 Factory Road.

Edith Adkin of ‘The Birches,’ Burbage was 26 when she joined the VAD on 24th September 1916. Her rank at engagement was ‘Nurse.’ Her first posting was the Military Hospital in Malta. She was then transferred to the Military Hospital in Croydon in January 1918, and then Isleworth. Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps. where she was still serving in March 1919.

Ellen Haddon of 28 Queens Park, Davenport Terrace, was 23 when she joined on 22nd October 1917. She worked as a cook at the Military Hospital in Dartford before being transferred to a Military Hospital in France in October 1918.

Thomas Harries served with the No. 2 Motor Ambulance Corps at Merville, Verdun from June 1915 to May 1918.



Local Hospitals


The Fifth Northern General in Leicester was the main hospital locally. The University of Leicester, founded in memory of those lost in the First World War, now stands on the site.  The Fielding Johnson building is the only part of the hospital which survives. Clara Pratt of 13, London Road in Hinckley was 28 and a trained nurse when she started work there on 26th October 1916. From July 1918 to July 1919 she worked at Grantham Military Hospital.

There were more than sixty auxiliary hospitals in Leicestershire including Knighton House Hospital, Gilroes, Brooksby Hall, and at  Wigston, Desford and Coalville. Plans in 1918 to open a hospital in the Primitive Methodist School premises in the town were not put in place as the war ended.



Weddington Hall Hospital, Nuneaton

Several Hinckley VADs worked at Weddington Hall Hospital, Nuneaton. Henrietta Cooper, of Castle Street did night-duty nursing there and Dorothy Pickering of Spa Lane served as a night nurse doing ‘Occasional duty.’  

Gertrude Ismay of 118 Trinity Lane did ‘Night duty’ nursing there and she is also recorded in the Red Cross archives as doing ‘Holiday duty at Torquay Town Hall August 1916, 1917, 1918.’ In June 1919 it was recorded that she had been doing ‘Prisoners of War work since Sept 1917 and was ‘Quartermaster of Detachment /36.’

Ethel Granger of Wykin Hall, Wykin also did ‘Occasional duty’ at Weddington Hospital. She went on to serve at the Military Hospital in Chatham, and then became Resident Nurse at White & Poppys Engineers. Her sister Edith was also a VAD. She served at ‘Fort Pitt’ in Chatham

Katie Aucott was a night nurse and housemaid in Nuneaton, and Amy Pigott was doing ‘occasional duty’ nursing at the ‘Weddington Convalescent hospital, Nuneaton.’[147]

There were also at least three local women doing General Service there: Gertrude Featherstone of Hollycroft, was a ‘Housemaid’ who did ‘occasional duty,’ and so did Mrs Dorothy Gardener of ‘Knapdaar’ Mount Road, and Elsie Moore of 27 Hill Street.

North Evington War Hospital

Several local VADs served at North Evington War Hospital in Leicester. Among them were the four Harris sisters, Beatrice, Constance, Rose and Theodisia of The Shade, Sharnford.  While Beatrice went on to serve in France, Rose, Theodisia and Constance also served at Newarke Military Hospital. Constance and Rose served at Queen Alexander Military Hospital, Millbank, and Theodisia at the Royal Herbert Hospital, Woolwich.

In September 1917 Constance was awarded two ‘Scarlet Efficiency Stripes.’

During the war years Dorothy Bedford worked in the stores at North Evington War Hospital. She was the daughter of William Bedford, the hosiery manufacturer, and she was nineteen when war broke out. In 1911 she had been living in Leicester Road with her parents and brother, William Headley Bedford aged ten, her sister Winifred, nine and a servant, Elizabeth Clamp who was seventeen. [148]

 Image courtesy of Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland

 Image courtesy of Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland


Military Hospitals in the UK

Most women VADs and nurses were single, but Ellen Wheatley was one of the few who were married. She was well known to many through her performances with the Hinckley Amateur Operatic Society. She was 34 when war broke out, and she joined the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps. She was married to the son of Edwin Wheatley, the hosiery manufacturer. In 1911 she was living on Spa Lane with her husband and parents in law. She served as a VAD at Fazakerley hospital, near Liverpool, where she probably nursed a number of Hinckley men who were recovering from wounds, including Herbert Bailey and Walter Bolesworth.[149]

Mrs Ellen Wheatley of Hinckley, a VAD in Fazakerley Hospital in Liverpool

Ellen Wheatley - Image courtesy of The Hinckley Times

Isabel Hulbert of 20 Stapleton Lane Barwell was 23 and a trained nurse when she joined the VAD in September 1916.  She served at the 2nd Northern General Hospital in Leeds until 31st March 1919.

Ethel King of 99 Factory Road was 27 and also a trained nurse when she joined in January 1918.She served at the Military Hospital Cambridge 1st East General until May 1919 and in August 1919 she was still serving at the Military Hospital Manchester, 2nd West General.

Myrnie Pigott of 15 Duke Street was a nurse at Military Hospital, Kimnel Park, Rhyl, from April to November 1917.

Ethel Shaw of 32 Clarendon Road was 26 when she joined the VADs in September 1916.  Her address is also given as 7 London Road. She also served at Kinmel Park Military Hospital, and in Manchester, at the 2nd Western General Hospital.

 Elsie Thompson of 2 Edward Street was 25 and a trained nurse when she joined the VAD in October 1918. She served in Liverpool at the 1st. Western General Military Hospital, Birkenhead Section. In June 1919 she was still serving at the Military Hospital, Wallesly, {sic} Cheshire.

Frances Wheeler of Peckleton Rectory Hinckley, was a trained nurse. She was 35 when she joined in July 1916. She became a Staff Nurse at the American Hospital for English Soldiers, Caen Wood Towers, Hampstead. But it is recorded that she left two months later on 5th  September 1916. Her records are marked ‘Gone away 23/3/21.’

Mrs Ada Young of 57 High Street Barwell, was 26 and a trained nurse when she joined on 14th August 1917. She served at the Military Hospital in Lincoln until 13th March 1919. 


General Service


Linda Sorrell of ‘Highfield’ Stoney Stanton did ‘Occasional duty at Knighton VAD Hospital.’ A Leicester woman, Alice Henderson, also worked there. Early in the war she described her experiences in the magazine for Wyggeston Grammar School for Girls. She wrote, ‘My duties lying kitchenwards, I can better describe the life of the hospital from that happy spot.’

She went on to describe her daily routine. Breakfast was ‘porridge, tea and cocoa, bread and butter, treacle, and on the welcome occasions when gifts have been sent, eggs, ham or tongue.’[150] It was served in the dining room ‘usually (to) more than half the men who are in hospital...the night nurses and some of the ward nurses take breakfast to those who cannot come down for it.’  Lunch was then prepared, which involved peeling potatoes, preparing vegetables, and cooking roast dinners, gravy, soups puddings and ‘special diets.’

She continued ‘Besides there is the dining room to be swept and dusted at least thrice daily, the pantry and kitchen to be kept clean, and last but by no means least, there is the inevitable washing up after each meal.’[151]

Lily Geary of 10 Wood Street was a cook at Ripon Drill Hall. She was twenty when she joined in October 1918. 

Sarah Clarke from Sharnford served at the Ullesthorpe Court Auxiliary Hospital from June 1916 to December 1918. She worked part time, ‘2-3,000 hours.’  

Emily Hardy, of Hardy Cottage, Coventry Road volunteered in ‘General Service’ between April 1918 and June 1919. In that time she served at the Canadian Red Cross Hospital, Cooden Beach, Bexhill, Catterick Camp and Fargo Military Hospital.

Adelyne Smith of Stanley House Barwell, served ‘Part Time in Warwickshire,’ from November 1917 to January 1919. It is noted in her records that she worked for the ‘First year 18 hrs – after, 12 hrs per week.’

Mrs Annie Wood of 13 Edward Street was a housemaid for two months, from 24th September 1918 to 2nd November 1918 at the Royal Herbert Hospital in Woolwich. She was paid at the ‘army rate.’


Midland Railway Station

VADs were a familiar sight on the Midland Railway station in Leicester, on London Road, where they met the ambulance trains as they came in from the Western Front via Southampton. The male volunteers carried the casualties on stretchers off the trains and on to the platform, and the women volunteers took over their care, providing tea and cigarettes for the less seriously wounded before they were driven to local hospitals.  Mary Lovett of 61 New Street is recorded in the Red Cross Archives as doing ‘occasional duty at Rest Rooms on Railway Station,’ but it doesn’t specify which station.



VADs in the rest room at Leicester Station. The soldier in the foreground is William Buckingham.

 Image courtesy of Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland

Vera Brittain who later wrote of her experiences as a VAD in A Testament of Youth described meeting her fiancé, Roland Leighton at the station  in 1915. ‘At Leicester, Roland, who had started from Peterborough just after dawn, was waiting for me with another sheaf of pale pink roses.’ [152]Their courtship had been strictly chaperoned, and she recalled: ‘To be alone with one another after so much observation was quite overwhelming, and for a time conversation in the Grand Hotel lounge moved somewhat spasmodically.’[153]


Image result for VADs Leicester midland railway station

VADs at Leicester Railway Station

Image courtesy of Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland

Hinckley Nurses inspected at Leicester

A report in the Hinckley Times of 29th July 1916 gives an insight into the training and responsibilities of the VADs: 

The report continued:

After the nurses had been reviewed they marched past the inspection party and then commenced the serious part of the afternoon. This consisted of dressing the patients and making them ready for the stretcher, subsequently to be taken up by the VAD Motor ambulance and conveyed to hospital.

At the close of the demonstration the visitor obtained a peep at the patients in their cots in the Junior Training Hall, which on this occasion was formed into a Base Hospital. This comprised a laundry, sewing room, rest room, operating chamber and kitchen. There was also a competition for nurses in the polishing of utensils and the making of beds.

Addressing the gathering at the conclusion of the demonstration the Duke of Rutland said that one of the most remarkable developments of this horrible war had been the part played by women in taking the place of men, which they had done most effectively and admirably, especially in work connected with the war and the work of nursing. Wherever the nurses had gone they had done their work well.

One of the most remarkable developments of this work had been the extension of the VAD movement throughout the country, and nowhere in the country, having regard to the extent of the population and other conditions, had there been more effective VAD work performed, than in the county and borough of Leicester, for which the wounded soldiers would heartily thank them.

Not only had the women of England come forward in regard to this work, but everywhere they were taking over the work of men  who had been called to the fight. They were doing all that the men had done, and were doing it with great skill and admirable results. The country was indebted to the nurses for their work, whether they were professionals or amateurs. It had given him extreme pleasure, and also his wife, to see them that afternoon.

He had inspected many battalions of troops, and had never yet seen a battalion steadier on parade than these nurses had been. They were all deeply grateful to the VADs of Leicestershire for their work in helping the sick and wounded who had come home. He had been told that about one hundred members of the VAD were serving abroad; but whether they were serving abroad or at home he was confident that all appreciated their admirable, self sacrificing and continuing work for the sick and wounded.


There was applause at the end of the speech. Competitions were regularly held during the war to test the VADs’ knowledge of nursing standards. They were also used to highlight the expertise of VADs and encourage funding from local residents.

The competitions included questions in first aid and home nursing for women, first aid in the field, and stretcher drills for men.  Examples included:

What are bedsores? What precautions would you take to prevent their occurrence, and if they occur, how would you treat them?

 How would you prepare a patient and a room for a major operation?

 Write a brief history of a case of enteric fever during the third week, giving a temperature chart

 How would you prepare a linseed meal poultice, an ice poultice, and a mustard poultice? What are the indications for their use?  

What do you mean by Crisis and Lysis? In what illnesses do they respectively occur?

 How do you make peptonised beef-tea?[154]




Daily Routine

The VADs served a gruelling apprenticeship doing menial tasks such as sluicing, mopping and general cleaning.  They were tested to the limit in what was demanded of them, and those that failed did not have their contracts renewed. They worked alongside professional nursing staff, and inevitably there was some friction between the trained staff, and what were seen as  amateur middle class ladies.

 Daily routine involved dealing with bedpans, septic wounds and sputum cups. Vera Brittain described cleaning an amputation stump for the first time after the operation, and dressing gangrenous wounds. She also described the unremitting tiredness, which led to low resistance and constant infections, colds, and septic fingers. Chapped hands and chilblains were a persistent misery. This must have been a particular problem in the 5th Northern General Hospital, as a number of open air wards had been completed in March 1915. Along the entire length of one wall of each ward were a series of opening canvas screens, similar to shop window blinds. The fresh air was believed to be beneficial to the recovery of patients.  However, staff and patients complained of freezing conditions – there was only one fireplace heating each ward. After an appeal was made for donations by local residents three stoves were provided for each ward.


Twelve hour shifts, day and night

The VADs were responsible for the intimate care of men, yet before the war many of those young women had not been allowed in the company of unrelated men without a chaperone.  They were quickly broken in to a life of hardship, working twelve hour shifts, day and night. Vera Britain described the night shifts as particularly gruelling when the order and discipline of the day gave way to the screams, shouts and groans of men suffering nightmares. The most common cause of serious illness and death among servicemen was infection; there were no antibiotics until the end of the Second World War. In the fetid conditions of the trenches even a minor scratch could become infected. Bullet, shrapnel or shell wounds could lead to tetanus or gas gangrene. Trench Foot, and also Trench Mouth and Trench Fever were also commonplace, and many soldiers became infected with dysentery, typhus and cholera.

Treatment for gas poisoning had to be developed quickly. Chlorine was the earliest gas used, in 1915. It caused acute bronchitis with gradual suffocation and those who initially survived a considerable dose generally died from pneumonia.  Phosgene caused severe inflammation of the lungs, and Mustard gas was regarded as the most lethal. Comparatively minor ailments could become debilitating in trench conditions. Haemorrhoids were a persistent problem, and infected wasp stings were common. Rheumatism was another problem as soldiers were unable to stand up and increased pressure on their knees and ankle joints from having to constantly crouch down led to complaints of arthritis despite their relatively young age.[155]

Syphilis was an endemic problem.  A man was more than five times more likely to be admitted to hospital suffering from venereal disease than Trench Foot.  Roughly 5% of men who enlisted to the British army became infected. [156]The special hospitals which were set up in 1915 to concentrate expertise and keep patients away from their ‘honourably wounded’ comrades often had a poor reputation for care, but that did not prevent some men from becoming deliberately infected in order to get some respite from the frontline. There were concerns that women who became infected and did not seek help were passing the infection on to unborn children, and a clinic was set up at the 5th Northern General Hospital in Leicester.

Shell shock was first identified during the First World War. Some believed it was caused by physical damage resulting from shell explosions, but others recognised the role of a whole range of complex psychological factors and experiences. For some casualties, one traumatic experience could trigger their symptoms while for others it might be the cumulative effects of sustained battlefield service. Symptoms varied in type and severity. Some became mute, others shook uncontrollably, or became comatose. In 1918 a hospital for men suffering with shell shock was opened at Leicester Frith, near the site of Glenfield Hospital. Initially it took 100 patients. While some recovered fully, others were affected long term.

Patients did not generally spend more than sixty days in an auxiliary hospital. As men were rehabilitated, and where possible returned to the war, a steady turnover of patients was established. Auxiliary hospitals in Leicestershire dealt with 14,759 patients between October 1914 and September 1919.[157] Before being discharged a soldier would have a medical to establish his level of fitness and decide on any further treatment.  If he was declared fit he would go to a depot in England to regain fitness and from there back to France to a depot such as Etaples, to regain full battle strength.  He would not necessarily be sent back to his old battalion; a returning soldier could be posted to any battalion which needed replacements.  A patient too ill or disabled to return to military service would go before a Medical Board and an ‘appropriate’ level of pension would be awarded.


A Blighty One

While some with relatively minor injuries were relieved at getting a ‘Blighty one’ which got them out of the war for a time, many more were traumatised by their experiences. Those who fell in battle were left to die or to survive as best they could. Orders were given that advancing troops could not stop for them. Many of those men who survived the journey back to British hospitals may have endured a similar experience to Robert Sherriff, who later wrote the play Journey’s End.

 How badly we were wounded we didn't know. We were covered with blood and mud. All that mattered was that we were still on our feet, with our wits about us, and we stumbled back the way we had come. The company commander took one look at us and said, "Get back as best you can, and find a dressing station".

We began the long trek back, floundering through the mud, through the stench and black smoke of the coalboxes (howitzer shells) that were still coming over. Here and there were other walking wounded, mainly in pairs, supporting themselves pitifully with arms around each other's shoulders. Many were so badly wounded that they could barely drag themselves along, but to save themselves was their only hope. There was no one else to save them. How many survived I don't know. We saw some fall and lie prostrate in the mud. We could only hope that they went on again when they had rested.

It seemed hours before we reached a dressing station, then only by a lucky chance. It was a ramshackle tin shelter amid a dump of sandbags that once had been a gun emplacement. [158]

Victims of gas attacks would be retching and vomiting yellow froth. Those who could not make their own way to a first aid post had to wait for the stretcher bearers to find them, which could be hours or even days if they were half buried in a shell hole. One stretcher bearer recalled that they ‘sometimes had to improvise medical equipment, using a bayonet scabbard or an entrenching tool handle as splint. Another recalled: ‘as one carried a wounded man you got stuck in the mud and staggered. You put out a hand to steady yourself, the earth gave way and you found you were clutching the blackened face of a half-buried, dead soldier.’[159]

Men who were seriously wounded were transferred by horse drawn or motor ambulance, or lorry along  rutted, shell holed roads to the Casualty Clearing Station about 20 km from the front where specialised surgical teams were available. Patients and staff were accommodated in tents or huts a few miles behind the lines. Most could hold about 1,000 casualties and at peak times of battle they were overflowing. Serious operations such as limb amputations were carried out there. For men had been gassed, the critical stages were a few hours after they had been exposed. Those who would not survive further travel were cared for in their last hours or days, and the sites of many Casualty Clearing stations are today marked by large military cemeteries. The casualties who were going on the ‘Blighty’ would be moved from the CCS to a Base Hospital by ambulance train. From there they were taken to one of the ports, to continue the journey on hospital ship. From Southampton they were taken by ambulance train to military hospitals in the UK. 


The VADs received no government funding, and in March 1917 a fundraising event was being publicised in The Hinckley Times:

A whist drive and dance in aid of the Leicester VAD is to be held at the Drill Hall on Tuesday next, April 2nd. After three year of strenuous endeavour it should not be necessary to call the attention of Leicestershire people to the work of the transport of the wounded. Here we cannot share the experiences of the battlefield, but we can lighten the burden of the mutilated and broken boys who are brought by ambulance train to the county town, by giving them the attention which they have a right to expect and conveying them in comfort to the military hospitals. To everyone comes the call of sacrifice. Our sons are giving of their best and many have yielded their all on the altar of a righteous cause. So long as the war lasts our responsibility remains. Familiarity with the man in ‘hospital blue’ should not make us unmindful of our obligations to the brave soldiers who are fighting for us. The local VAD unit, since the war began, conveyed over 35,000 wounded men from 228 ambulance trains to the war hospitals. The cost is not borne by the State but by private contribution. The sum of £4 per day is now required and this amount will probably be larger in future owing to the increase in the price of petrol which is the largest item of expenditure. [160]

In June 1917 the annual inspection of the St John ambulance and VAD was held at Baxter’s Premises -



At Easter 1917 Olive Watherston had  returned to Hinckley for a short break from nursing in Etaples.  She spoke to Hinckley Grammar ‘Old Girls Association’ about her work in France. Vera Brittain was also serving in Etaples and she described her experiences at the Field Camp Hospital there in 1918.

I am a sister VAD, and orderly all in one. Quite apart from the nursing I have stoked the fire all night, done two or three rounds of bedpans and kept the kettles going and prepared feeds on exceedingly black Beatrice stoves and refilled them from the steam kettles utterly wallowing in paraffin the whole time. I feel as if I have been dragged through the gutter. Possibly acute surgical is the heaviest type of work there is, I think more wearing than anything else on earth. You are kept on the go the whole time but in the end there seems to be nothing definite to show for it – except that one or two are still alive that might otherwise have been dead.

The picture came back to me of myself standing alone in a newly created circle of hell during the ‘emergency’ of  March 22nd 1918, gazing half hypnotised at the dishevelled beds, the stretchers on the floor, the scattered boots and piles of muddy clothing, the brown blankets turned back from smashed limbs bound to splints by filthy bloodstained bandages. Beneath each stinking wad of cotton wool and gauze an obscene horror waited for me and all the equipment that I had for attacking it in this ex-medical ward was one pair of forceps standing in a potted meat glass half full of methylated spirit.

The cold is terrific; the windows of the ward are all covered in icicles. I’m going about in a jersey and long coat. By the middle of December, our kettles, hot water bottles and sponges were all frozen hard when we came off duty if we had not carefully emptied and squeezed them the night before. Getting up to go on duty in the icy darkness was a shuddering misery almost as exacting as an illness.

Our vests, if we hung them over a chair, went stiff and we could keep them soft only if we slept in them. All the taps froze; water for the patients had to be cut down to a minimum and any spilt in the passages turned in a few seconds to ice.

Sometimes in the middle of the night we have to turn patients out of their beds and make them sleep on the floor to make room for the more seriously ill ones who have come down the line. We have heaps of gassed patients at the moment - there are ten in this ward alone.  I wish those people who talk about going on with this war whatever it costs could see the soldiers suffering from mustard gas poisoning. Great mustard-coloured blisters, blind eyes, all sticky and stuck together, always fighting for breath, with voices a mere whisper, saying that their throats are closing and they know they will choke.’[161]

A Hinckley Times headline on 23rd February 1918 read:

Hinckley St John Ambulance and VAD

A Year’s Splendid Progress

The report continued:

A meeting of the committee of the Hinckley St John Ambulance and VAD was held in the Council Schools Friday night last, Mr T. Yeomans (Vice Chairman) presiding.

The annual report of the lady superintendent of the Nursing Division (Mrs E. Brise) stated that a nursing class [had] commenced on October 9th 1916 and at the examination on March 21st 1917 by Major T. Gordon Kelly, 27 students presented themselves and 23 were successful.

On Thursday November 23rd the nursing members, assisted by wounded soldiers from Desford Convalescent Hospital organised a flag day in connection with the local committee of the Farmers’ Red Cross fund which realised the sum of £60.

It was noted that members attended the memorial service at St Mary’s Church on January 7th for officers and men of Hinckley who had fallen during the war. The collection, which amounted to £13, was given to the British Red Cross and the St John Ambulance Headquarters fund. The VAD had also organised a social in aid of child welfare on February 15th which raised £19. The report continued:

The annual re-examination of the brigade was made by Dr Jenkins on May 21,st when 17 were successful in gaining labels, nine qualified for medallions and seven for service badges for which  three years’ service  in the division was necessary.

The regulations allowed that members on active service were efficient without the formality of an examination, and by the generosity of the committee, medallions and labels had been presented to those members. The annual inspection by Miss Noble, superintendent of the Leicester corps and Assistant County Director of the VAD, and [also] Miss Musson, Hon. Secretary, was held in the Central Tennis Grounds, Castle Street, kindly lent for the occasion by Mr Baxter.

Miss Noble congratulated the division most heartily on the safe return of their medical officer (Dr Stanley) from Mesopotamia.

It was reported that twelve new members had joined the division which now numbered 55, and that ‘Military work in connection with discharged soldiers was being undertaken by the VAD.’  The increased work necessitated the appointment of other officers, and Miss Mason had been appointed an officer of the brigade and assistant commandant of the VAD. Miss H. Ward, late Hon. Sec. of the VAD was appointed as superintendent of the VAD, and Miss Ismay was appointed as Hon. Sec of the division of the brigade and quartermaster of the VAD.

It was also noted that:

Two of their members had served for 13 months in military hospitals – Mrs Wheatley at Liverpool and Miss Adkins at Malta. Seven were still on active service – Miss A. Bott at Manchester, Miss G. Curdsley and Miss C. Pratt at the Base Hospital in Leicester, Miss Hulbert at Leeds, Miss M. Pigott at Rhyl, Miss Mannering at Mitcham, and Miss Mills had gone to Egypt.

 Miss G. Bott, Miss Ismay, Miss Cooper, Miss Granger, Miss A.M.Pigott and Miss Yeomans (now Mrs Gardner) had taken duty at Weddington Hall.

Mrs Brise commented that:

This work was taken voluntarily, in addition to their own duties, and members who undertook it during the winter, seeing that the hospital was a mile from the station, did so at great sacrifice.

She added:

Military work in Hinckley was undertaken by Mrs Bodycote, Mrs Burton, Mrs Connal, Miss Lovett, Miss Mason and myself. By the kindness of the Matron members continued to take duty at the Cottage Hospital. The recorded cases of first aid treatment by nursing members reached a total of 167, the majority of which were cases of accident and sudden illness in the factories.

She said this showed:

the great need for qualified ambulance members in all industrial establishments, and it is to be hoped that the manufacturers who had liberally subscribed to the funds would give every encouragement to their employees to acquire the knowledge of first aid and home nursing.

This she said, would render:

immediate efficient help which in many cases prevented further complications, unnecessary pain and suffering, prolonged absence from work and in some cases death from haemorrhage, blood poisoning etc. All praise was due to those who gave valuable voluntary help in this direction. They were anxious that their numbers be increased.

She added:

Warm coats were being provided for nursing members, who had hitherto been much inconvenienced by not having suitable garments for winter wear, especially by those who cycled or travelled by train in uniform; moreover vouchers for travelling at reduced rates could only be given to members travelling in uniform.

It was reported that ‘During the winter special lectures were given by Dr Jenkins of Hinckley and Dr Bessie Symington of Leicester.’ Dr Symington was a Consultant in Venereal Disease at Leicester Royal Infirmary. Mr E. Mehew (Superintendent of the men’s division) then presented his report. This showed that:

since his last report nine members had been called up for active service, making a total of 43 who had joined from the division. This left only a small number to keep up the reputation of the Division at home, but it was still being well maintained as the following detail explained: during the year 74 accidents had been reported as dealt with in the town, the most serious of which were three cases of fractured legs, and one case of haemorrhage dealt with on public duty. There had also been 27 cases of removals of sick and injured, which was the highest number of one year in Hinckley.

He went on:

A class of instruction on first aid was held during the winter session under the County Council Education Committee. Dr Murray delivered the lectures to an interested class, which was however small in numbers compared with classes in other sessions.

On 6th April 1918 The Hinckley Times reported:

A whist drive and dance organised by the Hinckley members of the Voluntary Aid Detachment in aid of the VAD funds for transport work was held in the Drill Hall on Tuesday night, there being a large attendance...

The prizes were distributed by Mrs Hurrell who made a touching reference to the late Miss Atkins who shortly before her death had promised to attend the evening’s gathering and give away the prizes.

 After ‘war refreshments’ had been served there was a programme of dances.

At the end of the war many VADs volunteered to help deal with the influenza epidemic. In the 1919 Red Cross records many were recorded as ‘still serving.’  The VAD was reorganised and the 1920s and its role changed to one of supporting the medical services. While some women returned to civilian life, others took the opportunity to volunteer with the Territorial Army, or to train as professional nurses, radiographers, pharmacists, and laboratory assistants.

It would be fascinating to know more about what happened to local VADs, like Edith Mills.  She never married, and she was living at 25 Spa Lane when she died on 19th November 1961 at the George Eliot hospital.




13. Khaki Contracts, Boots for the Russian Army, and Munitions Factories


Samuel Davies factory, New Buildings around 1911.  B & Q now stands on the site.




Hosiery was the main industry in Hinckley. During the war years there were at least 36 factories in the town. Atkins in Bond Street was one of the biggest, and other hosiery factories in Upper Bond Street, including Simpkin, Son and Emery, D Payne and Sons, Sydney Brocklehurst, and William Hamson. Samuel Davis was on New Street and there were also several large factories on Stockwell Head, including Francis and Wilebur, Moore, Eady and Murcott, and Orrill, Son and Orrill. Manchester Hosiery and Jenning and Son were on Queen’s Road, and James Bennett was on Trinity Lane. [162]

There was also Bedford Brothers, and Mason and Blakesly on John Street, and G. Bedford and Sons on Druid Street. Bolesworth and Co., and Pratt, Copeland and Co. were on Wood Street, and Bromley and Co. and Ginns, Son and Moore were on Castle Street.

Jennings and Wilbur were on Alma Road, and G.P.Lord and Co., and William Puffer and Co. were on Druid Street. Thomas Dixon was on Hill Street, Leonard Grewcock was on London Road, and J. Jones and Co. was on Mount Road. Arthur Robinson, was on Derby Road, Wood and Wheatley were on Hill Street and W. Hurst was on Regent Street.


Women Working in the ‘Hosiery’

There is a long history of Hinckley women working in the hosiery industry.  Charles King recalled: ‘Local factories drew on a wide area for labour and every morning of the week several hundred girls came in by train from Nuneaton. There was a rivalry between the two towns and a difference of speech.’   [163]As in other industrial towns, the factories and residential areas were close to each other. Many women worked in factories on the street where they lived, or a few streets away, and it was usual for the whole family to go home for the midday meal. Charles King remembered:

One of the main problems was caused by the need for the women to go out to work, but we never lacked a good dinner. Food was prepared in baking tins, and on the way to work the tins were taken to the nearest bakehouse where the baker looked after them in the bread ovens for a small fee. ‘[164]

 Sisters, mothers, cousins and aunts often worked alongside each other in the hosiery factories. In the war years many were working on the ‘Khaki contracts’ for socks, pants, shirts and other items of military uniform. While some children were looked after by relatives, there was no organised provision of childcare, and if there was no extended family, children could be left on their own. Women were criticised when their children were unsupervised and some were prosecuted for failing to ensure their children attended school.



Before the war ‘male’ and ‘female’ jobs had been strictly differentiated, with women doing the less highly skilled, and therefore poorer paid, operations. Many women did ‘outwork’ in their own homes, for considerably lower pay than those who worked in the factories.  From the outset of the war there was much concern about women taking over ‘men’s’ jobs as the men volunteered or were called up. There were fears that the pay rates for skilled jobs which had been fought for by the unions would be undercut, and after much negotiation ‘Dilution’ arrangements made with the unions. It was agreed that a man’s ’skilled’ work would be split into smaller component jobs to be carried out by several women, at a lower rate of pay.

Sketchley Dye Works was also a large employer in the town, and it took on increasing importance during the war years.  Germany had a very large chemical dye industry and at the outbreak of the First World War, the only khaki dye available for British army uniforms had to be imported secretly from Germany until the British dyeing industry had developed production. [165] Sketchley also had government contracts for cleaning uniforms. An outlet on Castle Street meant that soldiers home on leave could get their uniforms cleaned there rather than asking mothers or wives to deal with the fleas, lice and foul smelling mud. 

From Hinckley Museum exhibition 2015 No Man’s Land


Sketchley Prosecution

In June 1917 Sketchley Dye Works was prosecuted under Defence of the Realm regulations for issuing a certificate for priority work without the authority of the Ministry of Munitions. It had prioritised an order for a weighbridge it claimed was necessary to increase capacity to press military clothes after cleaning, and it had also prioritised, without authority, replacements for broken down machinery and for new lighting. It was stated that the court had received a letter from Mr Hawley regretting the offence, which he explained was due to a wrong interpretation  of the regulations by their staff, which had been very much depleted during the war. [166]

Tanseys needle factory also increased production during the war as many of the needles which were vital to the hosiery trade had previously been imported from Germany, and British manufacture had rapidly been increased to meet the demand. [167]



Industrial Unrest

Wages, despite war bonuses, did not keep up with sharp increases in the price of food and coal over the war years. In April 1915 the Amalgamated society of Dyers, Bleachers, Finishers & Kindred Trades (Hinckley Branch) met at the Princes’ Feathers on Rugby Road to plan a pay claim.  A Hinckley Times headline read: ‘Hosiery Workers and a War Bonus.’[168]


The report went on: 

Trimmers and warehousemen (are) demanding 20% increase in wages in response to ‘Increased cost of living brought about by the war....The Societies, (the unions) have had under consideration for some time past the question of the increased cost of living brought about as a result of the war, and in order to meet this have decided to ask for an increase in their present prices of 20 per cent, the same to be payable from April 8th. [169]

 The manufacturers refused the demand, and stated that rather than offering  the relatively few trimmers or warehousemen a 20% rise and leaving the majority of the workers out, they would offer a five percent bonus to every worker under the factory roof, staff included.  They said the union ‘ought to accept that while the offer did not meet their demand, they should  accept that all must make sacrifices.’[170] At a crowded union meeting at the Co-op Hall the Chairman passed a resolution that the offer should not be accepted. But under government legislation compulsory arbitration was brought in to settle disputes and agreement was eventually reached.


War Bonds and Charities


The government was keen to raise money for the war effort by encouraging local factories to set up savings clubs, and a local hosiery factory was praised for its efforts in The Hinckley Times of 17th July 1915. Under a headline of ‘Silver Bullet War Bonds’ it reported:

Hosiery manufacturer Eady and Murcott have set a patriotic example in the Hinckley district in connection with the War Loan. According to a notice which was handed to every employee on Tuesday the company will buy War Loan stock for £5 or multiples of £5 for all employees (male and female) who wish to invest in the war loan and will accept payments of  not less than 1s a week (holiday weeks excepted) for each £5 of stock. Each £5 of stock will cost the investor £4 19s 4d.

Each investor will receive a full half year’s dividend on December 1st. The success of the proposal was instantaneous, and over £2,000 of stock was taken by employees in the first two days.

The amount local factories raised for the H.R.H. Prince of Wales National Relief Fund  appeared weekly in The Hinckley Times. In October 1914 it was reported that Messrs A. E. Hawley and Co. had raised £7 16s 3d and Messrs. Simpkin Son & Emery had raised £3 13s 9d. Over 25 factories were listed, together with the amount contributed.  [171]


Young Workers and Women in ‘Men’s Jobs’

Many school leavers, especially girls, went into ‘the hosiery.’ Olive Hind recalled:

 When I was 13 years old [in 1915] I followed the usual custom of going to work in a factory, mending hose. My mother paid 5s for me to learn the trade but I found that all I had learned really was to play “God Save the King” with one finger. All I was interested in was music and singing. Fortunately I soon picked up a liking for needlework. I took a great interest and must say that I was most happy there, although the others would often do some of my work while I sang songs to them like “Keep the Home Fires Burning,” God Send you Back to Me” and “Give me your Smile.” I needed no encouragement, I was only too happy to oblige.  [172]

As more men volunteered factory owners became increasingly concerned at the loss of key workers, and when conscription was introduced in 1916 they represented workers at tribunals to request exemption. Employers had to make a compelling case, and it was not always granted. In one of the first Hinckley tribunals a representative from Jennings and Wilbur was refused exemption for a Cotton’s patent hand. Employees were often given only temporary exemption for a fortnight or month and the employer was told to ‘make other arrangements,’ usually to offer the job to a woman.

Charles King recalled, ‘As the young men left the factories the women were called on to fill the gaps but they also kept the home fires burning with their usual competence.’[173] But there was extreme reluctance to employ women in jobs previously regarded as a male preserve, and in July 1916 an agreement was reached between the Trimmers Union and the local manufacturers, that women could only be employed ‘when there were no men available, and only for the duration of the war.’  It was stated that ‘Under no circumstances are the females to be used to the detriment of the Unions after the War.’ A minimum wage for female labour was set at 20 shillings a week. There was no mention of union membership. [174]

There were occasional diversions in the long working day. Charles King recalled, ‘One day a battalion of the Durham Fusiliers marched through the town. They stopped for a rest in Bond Street, opposite Atkins factory and soon there was a fraternising between factory people and the soldiers until headed by the band they marched away. ‘[175] For some young women with few responsibilities the war was a time of prosperity.

 Work in factories was better paid than domestic service, and it also meant women had more freedom in the evenings to go to the music hall or cinema. There were ‘moral panics’ generated by newspapers such as the Daily Mail that women were drinking in pubs and spending money on ‘fripperies.’


By May 1918 it was clear that hosiery manufacturers were becoming increasingly desperate to find staff. They were advertising in the Hosiery Trade situations vacant column in The Hinckley Times for “Girls just leaving school” and “men over military age.”  

They were not, however, willing to increase wages to attract workers, and unions were continuing to campaign for higher wages to keep up with inflation, which had risen by over 100%   between 1914 and 1918.

In a dispute over unfair allocation of food allowances, in February 1918 Thomas Peach, Vice Chairman of the Hinckley Trades and Labour council pointed to the amount factory owners had contributed to the war loan as evidence of the profits they had made in the war years. [176] This was confirmed after the war as Mr A. S. Atkins, Clerk to the Urban District Council recorded that:

Hinckley was very fortunately placed during the war from an industrial point of view for so great was the demand for Army Hosiery and Boots and Shoes and other things that everybody was kept fully employed and there was no civil distress at all, at any rate none or practically none came to the notice of the Committee.

The Committee during the first few months of the war kept in touch with the conditions of employment in the town and made periodical reports thereon the County Committee. As however the factories became engaged on the manufacturing of hosiery and boots and shoes for the Forces and the number of the employees grew less owing to enlistment the conditions of employment as far as wages were concerned became and remains throughout the war very satisfactory and there was no unemployment. Indeed the demand for Army goods was so great that it was practically  impossible to meet it and it was only be extending the hours of working and employing more female labour that contracts could be executed.  [177]

When armistice was declared, Charles King recalled, ‘a party of soldiers and sailors got together and toured the town.  Girls from the factories joined them and everyone let off steam in their own way.’ [178] Transition to peace time working wasn’t always smooth; at Sketchley Dyeworks there was a strike over women workers being retained in what had been men’s jobs before the war.

Many factories had memorials for workers who died in the war. A copy of a roll of honour was found recently in a skip.  It was from the former Samuel Davis hosiery factory in New Buildings, Hinckley, Of the sixteen names on the roll, two are of members of the Davis family, who lived at Elmlea on Derby Road. It is now in Hinckley Museum.


Boots for the Russian Army


In 1916 there were about thirteen Boot and Shoe manufacturers in Hinckley. They included Bailey and Simmons and Frank Griffin on Stockwell Head.  On New Buildings were Pick and Whitmore Forward Works and John Foxon.  John Bailey was at 36 Clarendon Road, and  Frederick Palmer was at  42 Clarendon Road. Briggs Boot and Shoe were in Castle Street, Henry Jayes was at the Lawns and G. H Callington was in John Street.  J. Harris was in Factory Road and F. Jarvis in Trinity Lane. William Johnson was in Regent Street, and Andrew Payne was at 12 Wood Street.  


New Buildings probably during the war years.- Image courtesy of The Hinckley Times

There were over thirty five boot and shoe manufacturers in Earl Shilton including Pratt and Chesterton on Church Street, Morson’s on Wood Street and H. Orton and Sons on Oxford Street. In Barwell there were over twenty including Arthur Geary, at the Central Works, British United Shoe Machinery on Chapel St and Hodgkin and Powers on King St.

Charles King’s father is listed in the 1911 census as boot repairer, and his mother as a boot machinist. He recalled: ‘Long hours and low wages were the things which affected our lives most.’[179] During the war years a number of Hinckley, Earl Shilton and Barwell boot and shoe companies gained large contracts for making military boots In 1916  Ney Brothers of Barwell stated in a trade magazine:

 The services of the firm were early placed at the disposal of the R.A.C.D. after the outbreak of the war, and the following boots were successfully produced for the Allied Armies;

First: British Counter Boot

Second: British Standard No.1 Ankle Boot

Third: Russian Ankle Boot

Fourth: Russian Wellington (Cossack) Boot

They claimed: As far as the Hinckley District is concerned they hold the premier position for the quantity of Army Boots supplied to the R.A.C.D.[180]

Other local firms producing boots for the Russian Army included F. Jarvis of Hinckley, J.W. Wolloff & Son of Earl Shilton, and Geary Bros. of Barwell.





Unbending hostility

Before the war there were fewer women working in the boot and shoe factories than there were in the hosiery industry, and there was a reluctance to employ more. Manufacturers in all trades preferred to upgrade young male apprentices who were normally subject to five years’ training, or recruit older men. The Midland Free Press of 22nd May 1915 reported:

At a meeting of the Leicester Trades Council at the Trades Hall on Tuesday night a rather heated discussion on the question of war service for women took place. The attitude of members towards the employment of women in the place of men was one of unbending hostility. This hostile attitude was due to a deep rooted suspicion that women’s labour would be used as a powerful weapon in the hands of an unscrupulous capitalist class against trade unionism and the principles embedded within.[181]


But as more workers volunteered, or if they were reservists, called up, it was becoming impossible to meet deadlines for government orders.  A motion put forward at the Boot and Shoe Trades conference in July 1915 stated: ‘The Manufacturers’ Association and the Operatives’ Union agree that ‘as a war measure only, women may be employed in the industry to fill places where no men are available.[182] When conscription was introduced in early 1916 some skilled workers in the boot and shoe trade were given reserved occupation status, but it was still becoming increasingly difficult to employ staff.  On 8th April 1916 Green, Colver and Cobley of Earl Shilton were advertising in the Hinckley Times

Wanted - good clickers and fitting cutters.

Also good heel parer, heel scourer and bottom scourer.

Good wages paid to competent workmen.

Also in the newspaper was an advertisement for ‘SEVERAL experienced FINISHERS  wanted at once – apply L. Grewcock and Co. Stockwell Head.’ 

It was clear that manufacturers would only be able to complete government orders if they took on women, and on 27th April 1916 the Hinckley Times printed a notice:



Women were grudgingly taken on in the workplace ‘For the duration,’ to replace men who had left for the Front. The National Shoe Union, whose Hinckley branch was based at 59 Stockwell Head, was fiercely opposed to the possibility of manufacturers undercutting skilled men’s wages, and as in hosiery manufacturing dilution agreements were made with the unions. Until September 1916 clickers, sole cutters, lasting machine and screwing machine operators were given reserved occupation status. After that, they were called up as the government regarded the need to replace casualties on the front line as outweighing the need for supplies to the armed services.


Shoehands Scarcer than Gold

Local manufacturers represented skilled workers at tribunals, but they were often refused exemption altogether, or given temporary exemption of a few weeks. A  Hinckley Times headline on 22nd September 1917 read:  ‘SHOEHANDS SCARCER THAN GOLD.’ The article went on ‘Mr Amos Moore (Barwell) told the tribunal that he was worse off than ever as regards employees. When he got scent of an unemployed man, he went straight after him. Boot operatives were now scarcer than gold.’  Employers were told to take on women to replace male workers, but there was great reluctance. When it became clear that there was no alternative, women were trained to use the machines which before the war had been deemed to heavy or complicated for them.




Rich Profits and Poor Wages

Throughout 1917 and 1918 local industrial unrest reflected the national situation. Despite war bonuses, pay had fallen way behind the cost of living. Food prices had soared and there were severe shortages.  At the end of 1917 coal cost between 28s 6d and 35s a tone – more than the weekly wage for many. Rumours of rich profits for manufacturers fuelled discontent. Under the Defence of the Realm Act industrial disputes which could not be resolved between unions and managers had to go to a government appointed arbitration board. In July 1918 The Hinckley Times reported:

At the meeting of the Hinckley and District Board of Arbitration and Conciliation at the Queen’s Head, Barwell on Wednesday night (a) rise of 15% on weekly rates of day and piecework operatives employed in the clicking department. It was awarded to male and female workers exclusive of war bonus.....for the period of the present war.’[183]

Holiday Spirit

In November 1918 The Hinckley Times reported on the ‘rejoicings of Armistice day [which] continued at Hinckley on Tuesday, there being a holiday spirit manifest among the whole population. Practically all the hosiery and boot and shoe factories remained closed.’ As in the hosiery industry, as men returned from the war they reclaimed their jobs, and women either lost their jobs or were put back on work considered suitable for females.

Many factories had memorials for workers who had died in the war, and the tradition of two minutes’ silence in all work and public places  which started 11am on the 11th November 1919 must have been a poignant time of reflection on the memories of all those who had worked in the factories.




.                          Munitionettes and Howitzer Shells

There were four munitions factories in Hinckley during the First World War. Moore Bros. and W.K. Flavell were both on Wood Street. H. & F. Moore was on Albert Road and Peacock and Waller was at the Alma Works. The Hinckley factories were part of a consortium of munitions factories in the East Midlands which had been set up in response to the ‘Shell Scandal’ as it became known. Too few and poorly equipped munitions factories meant that only a fraction of the orders from the military could be produced, and failure of the allied attack  at Neuve Chapelle was blamed on shortage of shells. 

Kitchener, Secretary of State for War, was accused of mismanagement and responsibility was taken from him. Under a coalition Government Lloyd George became Minister of Munitions. Locally, over sixty engineering companies set up The Leicester & District Armaments Group of Engineering Employers with a view to manufacturing shells. It was a groundbreaking initiative as previously munitions had only been produced by the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich and other government approved private armament firms. ‘An Experiment in Engineering Co- operation 1915 – 1918,’ published shortly after the war, described its development. At the initial meeting Major-General Mahon, representing the War Office, expressed grave doubts as to the consortium’s ability to do the work. In his opinion, he said, ‘shells could only be made properly after many years’ experience.’ But Mr Dumas, representing the consortium said he ‘saw no difficulty in the way of local manufacturers, provided the different firms were willing to pool their resources.’

He explained that ‘by division of work into processes, the manufacture of shells might be carried out by the firms in the district.’ The report went on ‘Mr Dumas’ strong advocacy of the group system greatly impressed the War Office as to the utility of the scheme, and the local project was strengthened by the offer of  Mr Charles Bennion to manufacture a fuse for every shell produced in the district.’


Munitions Factories

The bid was successful, and on 23rd March 1915, at a meeting chaired by Mr J.A. Keay, of the British United Shoe Machinery Co. Ltd, plans were made to turn factories over to munitions production.  As well as the four in Hinckley there were 39 factories in Leicester and others in Northampton, Loughborough and Rugby. Early in April 1915 the first contract, was secured, for the production of 500 4.5 Howitzer High Explosive Shells per week. The report described how:

 On May 6th 1915 six forgings were received from Messrs. John Baker and Co. for experimental purposes, and after these had been turned and bored, Mr Dumas arranged for the process of closing to be done at Woolwich Arsenal.

The later stages of machining were undertaken by the British United Shoe Machinery Co. Ltd. whose prompt and efficient execution of experimental work was always of great value, and thus the group were enabled to send six completed shells to Woolwich for approval at the end of July. The first consignment of shells was delivered to the government on 12th September 1915 and it is believed that these were the first 4.4 shells delivered by any English organisation outside the government.’


‘Substituting women for unskilled men’

With too few men available to work in the factories, the report went on to describe the challenges of using female labour:

In addition to, and apart from, technical and financial difficulties, there arose other problems. Among those was the necessity of substituting women for unskilled men. Happily, the Committee were not without experience in this respect, for Mr Charles Wicksteed, anticipating a shortage of male labour through the various exigencies of war, has tried the experiment of running a munitions factory almost entirely by women, Mr Wicksteed’s experience was very helpful, and the difficulties in connection with the employment of women were probably felt less by the Group than by many others.

The women were nicknamed ‘munitionettes,’ and social interaction and camaraderie helped to make up for long shifts, often in noisy and badly ventilated work environments. Workers employed by the Leicester and District Armaments Group did not, however, have to fill the shells with TNT and other explosive chemicals; they were sent on to other establishments, including Chilwell in Nottingham for that process. Those who worked with the chemicals were given the nickname ‘canaries’ as their skin turned yellow  Many suffered chest pains, nausea, skin irritation and depression. Some who were exposed to the chemicals for many years died from the effects. The dangers of working with explosive material became apparent later in the war when there were horrific explosions at Faversham, Kent, in 1916, at Silvertown, Essex, in 1917 and at Chilwell in 1918, where 134 workers were killed and 250 injured. Body parts were hurled through the air and landed in nearby fields. The force of the explosion broke windows in Long Eaton, two miles away, and local people rushed to help. The details were hushed up and it was only reported in newspapers as ’60 feared dead in Midlands Factory Explosion.’ [184]

 In Leicester a Welfare Department and canteen were set up at the Leicester Tramways Department on Belgrave Gate. They were, according to the report:

Greatly appreciated by the employees. Indeed, wherever women were employed by members of the Group, all possible consideration was shown for their welfare and comfort. And of the women it must be said that they responded splendidly to the many calls made upon them.  By the end of 1915, the Group had produced almost 16,000 shells, and was central to the war effort. [185]



Munitions factory in Leicester

Image courtesy of Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland


On 6th January 1917 the company was advertising in The Hinckley Times for munitions workers, offering ‘Good Wages’ and ‘Short Hours.’


Security in the munitions factories was tight, and the owner of Munition Badge no. 110593 would no doubt have been disciplined. On 4th May 1918 a small advertisement appeared in The Hinckley Times:

By the end of the war the consortium had produced almost 800,000 shells. The report, published on November 13th 1919, concluded:

When Armistice came operations were immediately slowed down and finally discontinued a month later. By this time many of the women employees had obtained berths in other industries, and the whole of the work on hand had been inspected and taken off Members’ hands by the Group Management. Members were therefore free to resume their normal trade as soon as they could secure the return of the men who had left them for the Army or to take up skilled work as munitions volunteers.

























14. Military Tribunals, War Work and Conscientious Objectors



Under the Military Service Act of 1916 all able bodied men between the ages of 18 and 41 were conscripted to join the armed forces. Despite opposition by a significant number of Liberal, Labour, and also some Conservative MP’s it had eventually been passed when exemptions were allowed for men in reserved occupations, where severe hardship would be caused to domestic or business situations, and for conscientious objectors.

Those applying for exemption had to appear before a Tribunal which would decide whether or not their appeal would be allowed.  ‘Urban’ Tribunals for Hinckley town were held weekly at the Council Offices on Station Road and ‘Rural’ Tribunals which dealt with the surrounding villages were held at the Workhouse on London Road.  Tribunals were made up mainly of local hosiery manufacturers and councillors. In the last week of February 1916 members of the Tribunal were Rev. Disney, (Chair,) T. Powers, C. Hands. H. Orton, G. Geary, D. Astley, J. Warner and J. W. Preston (Clerk.) Military representatives were Colonel J.F. Harris, Captain Bedingfield (Recruiting officer) and Mr W. Baldwin.  [186]

Nearly eighty appeals were dealt with in that tribunal. Of those, twenty three appeals were ‘assented to’ and there were thirteen conditional exemptions. All the others were refused outright.  Applicants who were given conditional exemption were ordered to report to the tribunal at the end of the allotted time, usually fourteen days, a month, or sometimes two months.  Employers were told to ‘make arrangements’ to find an alternative worker, and men who were self employed were sometimes given a few weeks to ‘sort out their affairs’ before joining their regiment.




Essential Work

Most of those appearing before the Tribunals were those who sought exemption because of essential work, and they were often supported by their employers who were desperate not to lose skilled workers. Many local manufacturers had taken advantage of ‘Khaki contracts’ and were supplying the military with socks, shirts, underwear and army boots. Initially most workers in the boot and shoe trade were given reserved occupation status, and many agricultural workers were also exempted. It was not, however, automatic. Mr A. Payne, a boot and shoe manufacturer who was appealing on behalf of a clicker said ‘eleven men had enlisted from the factory and he did not know where to get other men from to complete a large army order. He had not one clicker under forty and all had attested.’[187] He was given one month’s exemption for the clicker but his application for a finisher was refused.

If the applicant, or his employer, wanted an extension he had to appear before the tribunal again at the appointed time and his case was re-considered.  He was either given another temporary exemption, or it was refused and he was ordered to enlist. At the February tribunal a Hinckley florist appealed on behalf of his son, a chauffeur–gardener. He told the Tribunal that four sons were already in the army. The Chairman said ‘nobody could say this family had made no sacrifices,’[188] and two months’ exemption was given. Messrs Tebbett and Garrett appealed on behalf of an edge setter and a conditional exemption was granted, ‘this being on the list of reserved occupations.’ [189] Messrs Simpkin and James, a grocer’s shop in the Market Place,  made an application for a housekeeper and deliverer who, it was stated, ‘did the whole of the deliveries to the country districts.’ Captain Bedingfield said ‘it was a pity a man of 27 was doing the work.’ The applicant’s representative replied that ‘an older man could not do such heavy work. They had lost five men out of eight.’ [190]Two months’ exemption was granted.

Bitter Feeling

The War Office had initially stated that no married men would be called up until all eligible single men had enlisted, but that promise had been quickly broken. The Hinckley Times reported on a meeting at the end of February 1916:

Mr Astley said that at Earl Shilton there was some bitter feeling in respect of married men being called up while a number of manufacturers’ sons remained behind.

Mr Geary asked if the military representative could inform them why so many single men were walking about. Captain Bedingfield replied that he did not know. At the present moment there was no accurate register available, but there was no doubt a reason for every man remaining behind. Mr Geary said that there was bitter feeling at Barwell. Married men had received cards calling them up, and yet some single men had not received a call of any description.

 Mr Astley mentioned that one firm at Barwell had two single clickers exempted yet they were not appealing for married men working in the same department.  Mr Warner added that scores of married men would go up from Hinckley next week in spite of many single men remaining behind who had heard nothing of their papers. He knew of cases where lads 23 years of age had heard nothing of being called up yet.

The Chairman pointed out that it was within the province of the Tribunal to adjourn the whole of the cases of married men. Colonel Harris suggested that in view of the discontent throughout the country in respect of attested married man that the whole of the cases be adjourned until the Government made up their minds what they were going to do. Mr Warner said it would be especially hard on those married men who had not appealed who were going up next week. The Chairman said it would be impossible to smooth out all those inequalities. [191]



On 18th March 1916 The Hinckley Times reported:


 Married men who have attested and been called up are protesting against being compelled to serve until all the available single men have been called to the colours, and are forming an organisation to make their protest as effective as possible.

Manufacturers were told to take on women to replace male workers, but there was significant opposition.  ‘Finishing’ in the shoe trade had traditionally been regarded as a male occupation before the war, and an Earl Shilton shoe manufacturer told the Tribunal he had no females in that department. ’It was dirty work,’ he said, and he ‘did not approve of them doing it.’ He got short shrift from Captain Bedingfield, the military representative on the tribunal -  


A hosiery manufacturer appealing for a foreman of the waste department to be given exemption said it was not possible to get a woman to do the work.  ‘Women would not do it,’ he said,’ as they can get better jobs.’[192]


No agreed guidelines

There was no training in the interpretation of the complex Military Service Bill clauses which dealt with exemption, and no agreed guidelines. Captain Bedingfield, the military representative, was known to take a consistently hard line. A ‘clicker’ in the shoe trade  who said he supported each of his grandparents with 2/6d a week  and had a wife who was almost blind, was told ‘there must be hundreds of thousands of  men in the army whose case was as hard, but all had to put up with some little hardship  in these days.’[193] He was given fourteen days to ‘make arrangements.’ In contrast Frank Kelly, a businessman who applied to the Leicester tribunal was allowed to do ‘essential work’ in a local boot factory, as his wife was disabled.


At a tribunal reported in the Hinckley Times of 6th May 1916 Mr Geary complained that some firms who were appealing for single clickers were not appealing for married men working in the same department. He thought this was ‘very unfair and the Tribunal should see to it that no married men were sent until the single fellows had gone up, or it would cause no end of friction in the factories.’

 As the need for more men to join the military intensified, regulations about what were or were not ‘certified occupations’ changed. From 1st May 1916 unmarried men under 25 who were working as stockmen, ploughmen carters or waggoners were no longer automatically exempted from conscription.

A Hinckley Rural Tribunal that month  granted a certificate of three months’ exemption to a Shackerstone wheelwright for a blacksmith’s striker, and the applicant was advised to appeal again at the end of that time. A dairy farmer applying for a cowman’s total exemption was given a six months’ certificate and also told to apply again. A smallholder and milk seller was given temporary exemption for six months, and so was a Dadlington farmer who applied for exemption for a waggoner and ploughman. A three months exemption was granted to a farmhand employed at a Nailstone farm. At the same Tribunal certificates for six months were granted to Ellistown colliery for three married man. One of those exempted was a colliery weigh clerk, another a land sale weigh clerk and the third was in charge of the pipe works. By a casting vote of the chairman a month’s exemption was granted to an Ibstock cinema manager for an electrician and operator. [194]


Applicants were allowed to appeal against the decision of the local tribunal, and the case then went before the Appeal Tribunal in Leicester. In a case reported in the Hinckley Times of 29th July 1916 a Hinckley hairdresser and tobacconist went to the Appeal Tribunal. He was a single man aged 33.  He said he had built up the business over sixteen years, and had advertised the business for sale but had received no offers. If he were called up, he said, it would mean financial ruin. His widowed invalid mother, who he supported, would suffer because his two brothers could not maintain her. He said had remained single because of his obligation to his mother. The appeal was dismissed.


The Appeal Tribunal also dismissed an appeal on behalf of the son of a Hinckley butcher who had two shops and had only a branch manager and his son to assist him. Another son had joined the army on the outbreak of war and had been in France for 12 months. An appeal on behalf of a coal deliverer was also passed to the Leicester Tribunal as there was a doubt whether coal delivery was a certified occupation.

In July 1916 at Hinckley Urban tribunal Mr Brocklehurst, a hosiery manufacturer appealed for a mechanic who was single and aged 25 years. He stated that ‘if the man went, the whole of the 87 XL machines engaged on government work would be idle within three months.’ [195]He said there were only four men of eligible age employed by the firm. Mr Bott said they were in a difficult position when dealing with these appeals for single men. While they appreciated the firm’s difficulties it was felt that married men with families should not be sent while single men remained. One month’s final exemption was granted.  The tribunal refused the application of a tripe dresser to re-open his case, with a view to further exemption, on the ground he had had time to settle up his affairs.



‘Happy Hunting Ground of Warwickshire Colliers’

There was much debate over the applications of several publicans in the town. Mr Walter Hood of Leicester appeared for the licensee of the Prince of Wales in Hinckley. Referring to the suggestion that the wives of applicants might manage the businesses during their husbands’ absence he said that’ if the country asked a young woman to do this sort of work the magisterial morals would have greatly deteriorated. He reminded the tribunal that’ local hairdressers (single) had been granted as much as three months’ exemption.’

He understood that ‘Hinckley was now the happy hunting ground of the Warwickshire colliers who were unable to get a drink in  that county in certain hours of the daytime, and this being the case, they ought not to expect any decent young woman to take charge of a public house while her husband was away.’ [196]

The publican of the Prince of Wales was given a fortnight’s exemption to settle up his affairs.  It was stated that the licensee of the Marquis of Granby had been medically rejected by the army. The tribunal also granted a fortnight’s exemption to the licensee of the Blue Boar who had been passed for labour abroad, and one month’s exemption to the licensee of the Queen’s Head.

At the same tribunal a warehouseman employed by Messrs Simpkin, Son and Emery appealed on the grounds he was ‘the mainstay of the home.’ Captain Bedingfield suggested that the man ‘should do more direct war work. The counter was not a man’s work in these times.’[197] One month’s exemption was granted.

The need for more men to replace the huge numbers of casualties was gaining in pace, and employers and employees alike were shocked by the announcement that from 25th September 1916 boot and shoe repairing and manufacturing would no longer be a reserved occupation for any single or married man under 25. If a man was unlikely to be accepted by the military on health grounds, exemption was more likely to be granted. A representative from Jennings and Wilbur, a hosiery manufacturer, was refused exemption for a  Cotton’s patent hand, but at the same tribunal  conditional exemption was granted in the case of a loose nailing machinist employed by W. Johnson and Co., ‘it being stated that the man was suffering from valvular disease of the heart.’

In May 1917 a Hinckley baker employed by the Barwell Co-operative Society was stated to have been passed for general service after having been rejected five times. Mr Geary commented, ‘His health has improved very much!’ There was laughter. The co operative society representative responded ‘It’s the co-operative that’s done it.’ There was renewed laughter. One month’s exemption (final) was granted. [198]



A Mother’s Appeal for Her Son

At an Urban Tribunal in July 1916 the owner of a fish and chip shop on Castle Street stated that serious hardship would ensue if he was compelled to join the army. He said his wife was unable to manage the business and it was impossible to obtain other assistance. The application was refused. The stage manager at Hinckley Theatre also made an appeal, and owing to the state of his health he was granted three months’ exemption.  The Hinckley Times also reported on ‘A MOTHER’S APPEAL FOR HER SON’

A somewhat unusual appeal was made to the Tribunal by a Hinckley woman respecting her youngest son a private in the Essex regiment. She said that she was informed that when a widow lost a son in the war and the other sons were in the army she was entitled to have the youngest son discharged from the army. She had only a married daughter at home whose husband had been in the army since 1914 and was now in hospital. She was badly in need of him at home. The clerk said the regulation respecting the widow’s only remaining son applied only to those sons who were remaining in civil life. The chair added that once they were in the army there was great difficulty in getting them out. Lieut. Arculus said he knew of no way of getting a son out of the army. Applicant stated that her only other son was killed last August. She would not mind if this lad could come back and go into munitions. The worry over him being away had caused her to be ill for over six weeks.

The Chairman said there appeared to be little chance but the Tribunal directed that the Clerk should write to the War Office to see what could be done. [199]



Opposition to the War and Conscientious Objectors

Those appealing for exemption on grounds of Conscientious Objection faced accusations of cowardice, treachery and of being ‘shirkers’ and ‘degenerates.’ There was a great deal of local antagonism towards peace protestors. An incident in July 1915 was reported in the local press:


At Hinckley last night a party of peace preachers, including “Miss A. M.” (authoress of The Great Adventurer”) and Mr. J. Lewis (Cambridge), conducted a peace meeting in the Co-operative Hall, when apparently some remark they made roused the ire of their listeners. At the conclusion and after the speakers had left the hall the crowd made a combined rush for the male speakers, chasing them down Castle-street. Two sought shelter from the fury of the crowd in Mr. Shakespear’s pharmacy. They remained there till the police came to their assistance and smuggled them through the back way and escorted them the railway station, where they entrained for Leicester on the 2.40 mail train.

Meantime a third member of the party, not as fortunate as his confreres, was found hiding in an entry in Castle-street, and was immediately set upon by the crowd. Before the police could come to his rescue he had been very severely handled. A small section of the crowd discovered the whereabouts of the motor living van used by the peacemakers. This was taken in a rush down Hollycroft, where it was set on fire.[200]

Throughout the war The Hinckley Times was vitriolic in its opposition to Ramsay Macdonald, MP for Leicester who had resigned as Leader of the Labour Party because of his opposition to the war.  Once war had been declared he wrote in the Leicester Daily PostIf this war is not to be the beginning instead of the end of wars, it is necessary, now, to get a settled public opinion as to the conditions of peace; these must be determined, not by the military men, nor by the diplomatists, but by the people.’ [201]

Ramsay MacDonald speaking outside the Corn Exchange, Market Place Leicester

 Image courtesy of Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland

With a group of leading Liberals, socialists and pacifists he set up the Union of Democratic Control, whose Leicester branch met at the Secular Hall in Leicester. They believed that Britain’s involvement in the war had been the outcome of a number of secret treaties and negotiations. Its main aims were:

1. That in future to prevent secret diplomacy there should be parliamentary control over foreign policy

2. There should be negotiations after the War with other democratic European countries in an attempt to form an organisation to help prevent future conflicts.

3. That at the end of the war the peace terms should neither humiliate the defeated nation nor artificially rearrange frontiers as this might provide a cause for future wars. [202]


In the Hinckley Times, and in many other national and local newspapers, MacDonald was satirised, ridiculed and accused of being a traitor.  In a Hinckley Times ‘Lines from Leicester’ article on 10th April 1915 he was depicted in a cartoon as ‘MacDonaldstein’ wearing a pickelhauber and smoking a Meerschaum pipe


The article read:

MacDonaldstein not only maligns his countrymen on every possible occasion by accusing them, directly or indirectly, of duplicity, falsehood, treachery, cruelty and every other crime in the national decalogue, but he also goes out of his way to palliate the obvious misdeeds of the enemy, and to compound his felonies by promises of comfort and support after the war is over. He is a very artful dodger in all this because he pretends all the time to be a British patriot. Thus, by running with the hare and hunting with the hounds he expects to be at the right side at the finish, whatever the outcome of the war.  [203]  

It continued:

The free and independent, if not over intelligent electors of The Borough, are beginning to write to the papers demanding that action be taken to enforce Ramsay von Macdonaldstein’s retirement from the misrepresentation of Leicester in the House of Commons and in the eyes of the world. I know life-long Radicals who have had occasion, since the war broke out, to feel ashamed of admitting they are Leicester men. One chap, who went to France to secure a contract for the supply of goods to the French army, told me that he should never forget the look of contempt with which the Frenchman received his announcement that he hailed from Leicester. It made him squirm. [204]


Glen Parva Barracks

Glen Parva Barracks.jpg


When call up papers started to arrive in early 1916 those refusing to join their regiment had to appear before a tribunal to state their reasons.  Some COs waited to be ‘fetched’ and were arrested by a civilian police officer. They appeared at a magistrate’s court on a charge of desertion, were fined £2.00, to be taken from army pay, and handed over to the military.  They were then taken under guard to an army barracks to await a Court Martial. The local barracks at Glen Parva, Wigston, had reputation for brutality. It is thought that there were at least 250 men in Leicester and Leicestershire who refused to fight. There may be more which have not come to light as, following government orders, all but a few records of tribunals were destroyed after the war. [205]



Local Conscientious Objectors

Edward Oliver was a Conscientious Objector from Hinckley. He was forty years old, single and a fruiterer’s assistant. He lived at 61 Bond Street. Like many COs he was a member of the ‘No Conscription Fellowship’ which had been set up in 1914 as ‘an organisation of men who will refuse from conscientious motives to bear arms, because they consider human life to be sacred and cannot therefore assume the responsibility of inflicting death.’ The local branch of the NCF met in Leicester at the Cafe Vegetaria on Cheapside, near the market place. Horace Twilley was its first secretary. The NCF manifesto which had been published in the spring of 1915 stated:

We have been brought to this standpoint by many ways. Some of us have reached it through the Christian faith… Others have found it by association with international movements; we believe in the solidarity of the human race, and we cannot betray the ties of brotherhood which bind us to one another through the nations of the world. All of us...believe in the value and sacredness of human personality, and are prepared to sacrifice as much in the cause of the world’s peace as our fellows are sacrificing in the cause of the nation’s war.[206]

They opposed the Military Services Bill and continued to campaign for its abolition after it had been introduced. Edward Oliver was also a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, which was an inter-denominational Christian pacifist association. Reverend Beddow, Minister of Wycliffe Congregational Church in Leicester, chaired the local branch. E. A. Olwin, was another Hinckley CO, who lived on Castle Street, but little is known about him. Alfred Geary was a CO from Barwell. He lived at 1 East Green, was 23 years old and a teacher.

There were several COs from Blaby, who appeared before a tribunal there.  Alan Shoults was 24 and from Whetstone Road. He worked as a nurseryman in the family business. His younger brother Edward, 22 was also a CO. They were Congregationalists and opposed conscription on religious grounds.

21 year old Albert Hatton, a clicker in the shoe trade from Welford Road in Blaby was another  Congregationalist religious objector, and so was Walter Sutton  of 20 Wigston Road, Blaby, who was a 33 years old, married and had his own business as a grazier.

Thomas Potter was also married and a builder’s foreman; he was a Baptist.  Arthur Freer of Sunny Dene, Blaby and William Freer of Chapel Street, Blaby were members of the No-Conscription Fellowship. Edward Severn, a Quaker teacher appeared before the tribunal at Blaby, but little more is known of him.

Charles Smith aged 26 from Blaby was a poultry farmer. He cited the Adult School as an influence in his decision to oppose the war. The Adult Schools of the time educated and influenced many working class men who had little formal education; most had left school at twelve or fourteen.  Charles Monk, a Leicester CO who had left school at twelve, attended Vaughan College, and he said in an interview in 1983 that the Adult School ‘Gave you the chance to express yourself.’ He spoke of how most people believed what they read in the papers, but he had learned to question it, saying, ‘the Adult School more than anything made me think, not accept things blindly.’ [207]

William Johnson, 40 who was a ‘fancy silk band manufacturer’ was another religious objector, this time Church of England, from Lutterworth Road in Blaby. A.Rest was also from Blaby, but little is known about him.

Brothers Leonard and Roland Payne lived at 27 Church Street Lutterworth. Leonard was 22 and Roland 20. They were Congregationalists, but their local church did not support them and they had links with the Salvation Army.  They were basket makers in the family firm, attended an Adult School, and were members of the NCF. William Golden was 28 years old, from Leire and was a poultry farmer. He was a Church of England religious objector. 

Harry, Herbert and Joseph William Poole, who was known as Bill, were members of the Desford Free Church.  Bill was the eldest of the brothers at 26, and like his brother Herbert, a miner. Harry was a market gardener. The church disagreed with their position and the minister and a former president of the Leicester Free Church council tried to make Bill change his mind. He never returned to the church. Arthur Stewardson, aged 18, was also from Desford but little more is known of him.

Arthur Vesty, 21 of 96 Hermitage Road, Coalville, was a Baptist and market gardener. Victor Harding a 35 year old insurance agent from Sutton Cheney was a religious objector who cited the ‘Testament of Jesus.’Arthur Fountain was 24 and a quarryman from High Street, Enderby.



Conscience  Clause

The ‘Conscience Clause’ in the Military Service Act had been included as a concession to the vigorous opposition by several Liberal Quaker and Independent Labour Party MPs to compulsory conscription. But there were widely differing interpretations of the clause. Walter Long, President of the Local Government Board advised tribunals to ‘recognise only genuine religious or moral convictions.’ While Quakers were mostly regarded as ‘genuine’ COs, there were questions raised over the validity of any other cases. [208]

Tribunals had the powers to order COs they regarded as ‘genuine’ to do Work of National Importance, (WNI) in hospitals, factories or in food production. While Leicester Tribunals regularly used this option, there is little evidence of the Hinckley tribunals doing so.


Friends’ Ambulance Unit

The Blaby tribunal allowed three local men, Arthur Freers, William Freers and Thomas Potter to join the Friends Ambulance Unit which had been set up by the Quakers in 1914 to run convoys of ambulances on the Western Front. It is not  recorded whether  Arthur and William Freers were Quakers, and Thomas Potter was a Baptist  While many who joined the FAU were Quakers it was open to any who shared their values, but it was not an automatic right. Edward Severn, a Quaker who appeared before the tribunal at Blaby was refused exemption and denied permission to join the FAU.


Ambulance ww1

FAU Ambulance



Non Combatant Corps

Many COs were ordered to join the Non Combatant Corps. It was a military unit, which meant wearing a uniform and obeying military orders. Their duties included working on transport, in stores or on road or railway maintenance. They were, however, exempted from carrying weapons or taking part in battles.  Local men who joined the NCC included Albert Hatton, from Blaby, Alfred Geary from Barwell, and Arthur Fountain, from Enderby. Alan Shoults was also ordered to join the NCC, but he refused, saying:

I am a conscientious objector under the Military Service Act. They have refused to exempt me and it now remains for me to prove by my body that I will not take part in military service. Asked if he would object to assisting a wounded soldier he replied, ‘Yes, under military law’. It was not, he argued, a situation like that of the Gospel story of the Samaritan, It is a question of patching up a wounded man and sending him back to the front, and I will not do that.[209]

Edward Oliver received call up papers for the NCC, but he refused to sign army documents.


Horace Twilley, the former secretary of Leicester NCF, did join the NCC, but he refused to obey orders and was sentenced to 28 days’ Field Punishment, which meant he was put in irons and tied to a heavy object, probably a gun wheel. He described how he was ‘Hauled around for an hour, by one soldier after another...scores of soldiers [were] laughing at the fun.’  He recalled, ‘[The] Corporal told me he hoped to be one of the shooting party when my time came.’[210]

Horace Twilley 

 Image courtesy of Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland

Those who were not recognised as ‘genuine COs’ or who refused to obey orders, for example to put on a uniform, were sent to prison.  Bill Poole wrote to his family:

Just a line to let you know we are in the pink and don’t worry about us. We are winning the day although things seem hard. But never been happier, it’s a grand cause. We are proving the 15th chapter of Mark is true to a letter. They are fighting against God so know that’s not good. I have been through the mill a bit but it’s got to be to kill me before I give in. I’ve never been more proud of my brothers than now. I have been in solitary confinement until today since my Mother came – now we are altogether again. We are waiting Court Martial now for refusing to sign so don’t know what we shall get and don’t care. We are making grand history for old England. The soldiers don’t like to do what they have to do to us. I made the tears come in one’s eyes yesterday and if they had left me there long he would have been a CO, I’m thinking. They don’t understand us and they don’t understand about Christ. [211]

Imprisonment with Hard Labour

The first men to be sentenced had been sent to Military Prisons, where they faced extreme brutality, and the government conceded to demands that the men be sent to civil prisons. At the first Court Martial the sentence was usually 112 days’ imprisonment with hard labour. On his release into military custody, a CO then had to appear before another tribunal. If he again refused to join the military he was sentenced again for to up to two years imprisonment, and the cycle would be repeated, so many men served sentences in several different prisons.

Edward Oliver was sentenced to six months with Hard Labour at Welford Road Prison in Leicester, but it was later commuted to 56 days. Harry, Herbert and Bill Poole from Desford also served time in Leicester Prison. Herbert Poole also served time in Wormwood Scrubs.  Horace Twilley went to Leicester Prison as well as Durham, Wormwood Scrubs and Wandsworth.

COs in Leicester Prison 1916 Horace Twilley is in the middle row, third from left

 Image courtesy of Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland


Edward Shoults, Charles Smith, William Johnson, Walter Sutton and A. Rest, from Blaby were sent to Wormwood Scrubs. Victor Harding of Blaby was also sent to Wormwood Scrubs, and so were William Golden from Leire, and Arthur Stewardson from Desford

Roland and Leonard Payne from Lutterworth were sent to Wormwood Scrubs and also Newcastle Prison and Durham Gaol. Arthur Vesty from Coalville was sent to Wormwood Scrubs and also Rouen Military prison in France. It is possible he was with the NCC there. Alan Shoults was sent to Lincoln Prison.


No Conscription Fellowship

The NCF supported those in prison by monitoring conditions and making public particularly harsh and brutal treatment. From March 1916 they produced a weekly newspaper called The Tribunal, which the government made great efforts to suppress. The first printers were raided and their printing machinery destroyed, but the NCF had a secret press which continued to publish the paper, and distribution networks were set up all over the country.




In May 1916, through appealing directly to Asquith, the Prime Minister, the NCF managed to get the death sentence served on thirty five men commuted to ‘penal servitude.’ Despite assurances that no absolutist objectors would be taken out of the country, fifty men had been transferred to France where under military law they had been sentenced to be shot for disobeying orders.

NCF members, increasingly women as the men were arrested, maintained contact with COs and their families, and helped to keep up their morale. Thomas Redfern, whose brother in law had been a pacifist, recalled singing outside Welford Road gaol on Sundays.[212] The ‘Lines From Leicester’ in The Hinckley Times illustrates the hostility the peace protestors faced:

Macdonaldites, and other earth worms, assemble near the jail, every Sunday evening, for the purpose of singing psalms, hymns and songs of praise in order to cheer up the conscientious objectors, who happen, for the time being, to be incarcerated.

Last Sunday, as is their wont, they gathered near the frowning wall of the King’s Hotel, hoisted the red flag and sang pugnacious hymns about the fight for freedom, and stand up for truth and justice, and trample tyrants down and all the rest of the inspiring doggerel appropriate to the occasion.  The spectators were irreverent, not to say ribald. Far from being overwhelmed by the solemnity of the occasion, some of them – flippant blasphemers and the like – started a more or less musical counter- irritant in the shape of “God save the King,” “Rule Britannia” etc.

That is where the trouble began. What was the use of the earth-worms carrolling “Fight the good fight” if the message were drowned beneath the waves that Britannia was being vociferously exhorted to rule? These considerations led one of the more valiant conscientious objectors of the choir to expostulate with the crowd. The argument was taken up by a man with strongly patriotic feelings, and then the fun began.

The patriot expressed, in flowing terms, his personal opinion of the Conchy, and of the Conchy’s ancestry, upbringing, cleanliness, courage, personal appearance, character, and destiny in the next world. The Conchy retaliated; for even an earth worm will turn, if too strenuously trodden on. From the patriot came a particularly stinging rejoinder, and then the miracle happened.

The Conchy promptly gave to the patriot what the Moira colliers call “a puck in the gob.” It was a beauty.... The patriot countered a second punch with his left, and he paid the Conchy’s first peace offering with interest, with his right, and a very pretty mill was in progress.

My own opinion is that the Conchy would have won, if only on points, but at this most interesting stage of the combat, some interfering person who preferred music to pugilistics, fetched the police, and the Conchy was compelled by force majeure to desist from carrying out his promise to kill and eat the patriot, and a dozen more like him.

I’ve a deal more respect for Conchies after seeing that little bout. I’m sure if the military authorities will only urge him in the proper way he will jump for a rifle and set out to give the Germans Hell.[213]



‘Blaby Blabbers’

In May 1916 The Hinckley Times reported on an Independent Labour Party meeting in the Baptist Church schoolroom in Blaby. The ILP had been outspoken in their opposition to the war from the start. In the days before Britain had declared war on Germany 100,000 people across Britain had demonstrated for peace, and Keir Hardie told crowds in Trafalgar Square, ‘You have no quarrel with Germany.’[214] Leicester ILP held an anti war rally in the market place. Alderman George Banton, the leader of the Leicester ILP on the town council had opened it by asking:

Is the Archduke’s body worth more than the body of a common soldier? No, yet there will be thousands and thousands of lives lost and seas of human blood spilled as a result of that order. We are here to protest against Britain taking part in the war. As common people, we will join with the Social Democrats of Germany and the Socialists of France and cry out against war.[215]

The Blaby meeting was chaired by Mr J. Walker. The Hinckley Times commented:

Another Blaby blabber had been selected and announced as the presiding genius of the function, one Alan Fred Shoults, but unfortunately for that gentleman’s ambition he had a previous engagement before the County Bench, which resulted in him being convicted as a defaulter from military service, fined £2 and handed over to the boys in khaki who incontinently hauled him away to his duty and left the great anti-military meeting without its expected military chairman.

 The report went on:

Mr J. Walker was still “going strong” as they say in the advertisements so he took the chair instead. The common sense of Blaby was, of course, opposed to the object of the meeting. The men in the audience were frankly flippant and vehemently vociferous. The ladies were pugnaciously patriotic and were not ashamed to let it be known. The Shirkers’ Sacrament were content to wear an appropriate hang-dog look of injured innocence and to content their souls with the thought that their views were more or less imperfectly presented by one of the Rev. F.L.Donaldson’s  henchmen, the Rev. John Maillard and by Miss D.E.Gittins.

The Rev. F.L. Donaldson of St Mark’s Church in Leicester was an active opponent of the war. He declared ‘War betrays the innocent, crushes the weak, violates purity, destroys and devastates fair and noble cities and wrecks their habitations’. He pleaded that ‘the heroism and courage evoked cannot compensate for the terrible sins of war.’[216] The report of the Blaby meeting went on:

 Every time a speaker asked a question it was promptly and effectively answered by members of the audience whose verbal agility and patriotic readiness set an example which Leicester audiences, on similar occasions would do well to follow. The resolution, demanding an immediate repeal of the Military Service Act, was moved by “Mr Twilley of Leicester.” Everybody asked who in the name of fortune Twilley was. Some asked why he was not serving as a volunteer if he was so fond of voluntarism. Mr Twilley vouchsafed no audible reply but continued to talk platitudinous sentiment which slipped off the attention of the audience like water off a duck’s back While this Twilley was talking silly, willy-nilly, he had to listen to unpalatable truth. Never did an orator look more uncomfortable than, or display so pitiable self stultification as the egregious Mr Twilley when his hearers commented on his age, his courage and his military qualifications.

It continued:

And then came the goddess of the cause disguised as Miss D.E. Gittins, who said that she had great pleasure in seconding the resolution because she believed with all her soul in spiritual and moral force rather than in physical force. Miss Gittins might say she had ‘great pleasure’ but she did not look it. Her aspect and tone were those of a lady suffering from the reverse of great pleasure. But the audience would not accept her affected jocularity or her Socratic solemnity so she too dried up and it was left to Sergeant Payne to move the rejection of the resolution: the audience emphatically responded to his appeal by an overwhelming majority and sang the National Anthem which suitably wound up a most instructive and entertaining meeting.

The writer commented

Blaby is to be congratulated on its sense of humour and on the absence of Mr Alan Fred Shoults; Miss Gittins is to be congratulated on living in England instead of in Belgium; and the Germans are to be congratulated on not having to listen to that lady’s most convincing and irresistible arguments against the use of Force, which are worse to bear than a good hiding any day.   A.B.T.


Locked in a Dark Cellar

Following a meeting at the Cafe Vegetaria in Leicester on 24th May 1916 a group of local Conscientious Objectors had been arrested and taken to Glen Parva barracks in Wigston. Among them was Roland Payne, who wrote home: ‘They wanted to put us in the Non-Combatant Corps, which we did not accept.’ Leonard Payne wrote to his family:

There are nine of us here, all members of the NCF, Green, Linnell, Stevens, Dix, Adkins, Hassal and others. We slept on boards, with three blankets last night. It was jolly hard but we shall get used to it. Most of the fellows have been forcibly dressed in Khaki yesterday but they are only wearing part of their clothes. They refuse all orders and are on good terms with the soldiers. Alan Shoults (is) having a rough time of it as he was the first here and has been given 14 days solitary confinement, the first 24 hours on bread and water. Still we are not down hearted we have some good fun.’

 Leonard and Roland Payne were sent to a military camp in Whitburn where they were court martialled on 8th July. Leonard wrote

It is an awful place here just like hell on earth The soldiers keep on telling me awful tales about what we shall have to go through and keep telling me to give in. This morning a soldier locked me in a dark cellar but I pulled the door down and got out.

The brothers were separated and each was told the other had ‘given in’ and agreed to join the military. In the summer of 1916 the numbers of COs in prison, around 6,000, caused questions to be raised in parliament. [217]

Home Office Work Schemes

In July 1916 the government set up Home Office Schemes for Work of National Importance as an alternative to prison. The first settlement was at Dyce near Aberdeen, where the men worked at stone breaking. They were malnourished and despite harsh weather, housed in dilapidated tents rejected by the army as unusable.  Following the death of one of the men, in December 1916 a new Code of Rules was agreed with detailed guidelines about the treatment of Objectors. Home Office Work Schemes were set up in Dartmoor and Wakefield Prisons. Locks were removed from the cell doors, and the CO’s were allowed to congregate. The Home Office Schemes cause divisions in the NCF as some saw the work as furthering the war effort.  Leonard and Roland Payne were serving sentences in Durham Jail when they were ordered to go to a Home Office Scheme. Leonard wrote in a letter home: ‘If this work is against our conscience, or if it prove to be helping the Military we shall still be at liberty to give it up and come back to prison to finish our sentence.’[218]

William Golden, Edward Oliver, and E.A. Olwin, were sent to HOS Dartmoor, where two hundred COs were put to work inside the former prison walls. Others were sent out to work on farms or quarries for nine hours a day. On the moor they were ordered to clear a rectangular patch and built round it a seven foot high drystone wall. It had no use or purpose, and decades later it was still known as 'Conchies Field'.

Postcard of ‘The Prison, Princetown, Dartmoor’ sent by Leicester CO  Mark Rothery to Miss H.Rothery at ‘Glen Helen’ Humberstone Suburb, Leicester.  Image courtesy of Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland

Although the Schemes enforced a regime of gruelling physical work with little food or health care, there is no doubt they saved the sanity of many men who in prison had been forced to endure solitary confinement and enforced silence. There seems to have been community of men belonging to the Fellowship of Reconciliation at Dartmoor, and the regime at the Home Office Schemes at least allowed religious conscientious objectors to pray together.

Transfer to the Home Office Scheme came too late, however, for William Stanton of 24 Lansdowne Road in Leicester, who died at home shortly after being released from Dartmoor. Sidney Collins, from 36a Evington Road in Leicester kept an autograph book during his stay at Dartmoor. William Stanton contributed a drawing.

Drawing by William Stanton in Sidney Collins’ autograph book

 Image courtesy of Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland

Benjamin Hudson’s entry in Sidney Collins’ autograph book.  He lived at 40 Hartington Road in Leicester -  Image courtesy of Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland




Conscientious Objectors at Dartmoor Home Office Scheme

Photograph courtesy of the Peace Pledge Union 


Alan Shoults, William Johnson, Roland and Leonard Payne, Victor Harding, Harry Poole, Herbert Poole, and Edward Oliver were all sent to HOS Wakefield. Bill Poole wrote of a tour they had been given around the former prison:

To see the gallows where the men were hung was a terrible shock. The Condemned cell just near to this horrible trap on which the Rope hung above I have never forgotten.  I had a talk to one of the warders who had been connected with this terrible business and he told me that people who talked about the Prisoner walking bravely to the Gallows was absolute rubbish, nine times out of ten they were dragged out 

The psychological strain was considerable. They really did not know what would happen to them, and they would have known of the COs who had been sentenced to death in France. They faced a great deal of antagonism when, under guard, they were let out of what was locally known as ‘shirkers shelter’ on work requisitions.   Bill Poole kept an autograph book in which fellow CO’s wrote their thoughts, poems and did drawings Alan Shoults signed it and Edward Oliver wrote an extract from the famous Rudyard Kipling poem ‘If.’.


Image courtesy of Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland



Leicester CO Charles Kinton’s entry in Bill Poole’s autograph book

 Image courtesy of Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland


Other work schemes were set up across the country. Alan Shoults was sent to the Brick and Tile Works Newport, Charles Smith and Walter Sutton went to HOS Knutsford, and Edward Shoults was sent to Llangadoc in Wales.


‘Conchies’ Home Raided’


On 20th October 1916 the Paynes were allowed home for a visit but there was great hostility to them as many Lutterworth men had been killed on the Somme. In May 1918 there was widespread newspaper coverage of a large bombing raid on London which had killed 49 and injured 177. Locals in Lutterworth took out their anger on the Paynes’ business. In an attack lasting four hours windows were smashed with stones, child’s crib was set alight and their allotment was destroyed. A workshop further down the road was smashed up. In an article headed:


Extraordinary Scenes at Lutterworth

The Hinckley Times reported on 1st June 1918:

Extraordinary scenes were witnessed in Lutterworth on Tuesday night when the shop of Mr Payne, basket maker, Church Street, was practically wrecked, on account of the presence on the premises of two young Conscientious objectors, the sons of Mr Payne.

‘Slackers Rest’ was scrawled across the shutters of their basket-ware shop, where during the war the family had a contract with the Dryad Cooperative in Leicester to make protective baskets for the storage of shells and aeroplane seats. The Police Constable of Leicestershire, who happened to be in Lutterworth, heard about it and ordered the violence to be stopped. The next day the workshop was burned down but there were no arrests and no charges.



‘Creating a Dangerous Precedent’

In March 1918 the Hinckley Rural Tribunal heard an appeal by George Geary who asked that he might go back to educational work instead of being employed in unloading stones for the Northumberland County Council. The Hinckley Times reported that ‘the applicant (was) an old boy of Market Bosworth grammar school where he had had a distinguished career.’ He had later become a senior mathematics master at a public school in Wellingborough. He had joined the NCC and Lieutenant  J. Shrubsole, the National Service representative said ‘they  would be creating a dangerous precedent as the applicant had already been two years in the army. To grant the man exemption from military service would mean the whole of the conscientious objectors in the country applying for similar exemption.’

On 22nd June 1918 The Hinckley Times reported –

A court martial assembled to hear a charge against Private Basil Taylor for  refusing to obey an order given by a superior office and refusing to fall in on parade at Leicester on June 11th. Taylor belongs to the Non Combatants Corps and is a Quaker. Captain Groves appeared for the prosecution and the accused, who was not legally represented, pleaded guilty. The sergeant ordered the accused to fall in on parade and he said, “I am sorry, sergeant, but I refuse to obey any military order.” The seriousness of the offence was pointed out to him but he persisted in his refusal. He was therefore placed under arrest.

In a written statement Taylor said his refusal was prompted by no spirit of obstinacy but after two years of imprisonment for the same cause he again took a stand, even though it meant a repetition of his imprisonment. He adopted the course he was taking because he could not get from the tribunals that which he was entitled to – absolute exemption. He believed he was doing good work for his country by taking up an uncompromising opposition to militarism. He thought that while Britain entered the war with high ideals, those ideals had not been maintained. Its treatment of neutral nations and the recent disclosures of secret treaties showed what stand Britain took in regard to the rights of small nations.

As a result of the Russian revolution documents had come to light showing the extent of the secret treaties between the Tsar and other Allied nations. The report continued:

He had twice been convicted for refusing to obey an order. He had also been sentenced by courts martial to terms of imprisonment of 112 days, six calendar months and one year respectively. The court was cleared for consideration of sentence which will be announced in due course.

Basil Taylor was a 25 year old from Yorkshire. By 1919 he had served four prison sentences with hard labour.  His records show that he had a serious heart condition.  Private Harry Johnson also appeared before the Tribunal:

Private Harry Johnson, also of the Non Combatant Corps was charged with refusing to obey an order to fall in on Church Parade at Leicester on June 2nd. He pleaded not guilty. In his defence the accused said, “I am a soldier of Lord Jesus Christ. I obey His superior orders by commanding absolute exemption  by the law made for me. Letters were sent in testifying to the accused’s conscientious objection to military service. He was found guilty and his sentence will be published later.

Harry Johnson was 24, from Fenton, Stoke on Trent and had been a potter’s mould maker. He was a Methodist.


Women’s Peace Crusade

In August 1918 a Women’s Peace Crusade meeting was advertised in the Hinckley Times:

The crusade had been started in the summer of 1917 by a group of women in Glasgow.  Helen Crawfurd, a radical working-class feminist and socialist wrote in the Labour Leader of June 1917:


For nearly three years the war has gone on, and we women have been afraid, afraid to trust our own judgement, afraid to speak, afraid to act. The ghastly slaughter of our sons, our husbands, our brothers has gone on and the spirit of fear has paralysed us. We believed our Government until it has been convicted so often of dishonesty that we are forced to think and act for ourselves … The people of Russia have appealed to the common people of every country to let their voices be heard demanding peace without annexations and without indemnities! They have called to us to subdue our Imperialists as they have vanquished theirs … It is to the Common People that the people of Russia have appealed. Shall we remain silent any longer?     [219]


With the slogan ‘Peace Our Hope’ its central demand was ‘a people’s peace’ - a negotiated end to the war without annexations or ‘crushing indemnities.’ [220] The Crusade’s aim, according to historian Jill Liddington ‘was not genteel lobbying but persuading thousands of women out of their houses and on to the streets for popular open-air rallies to confront the militarist government’ [221] Members of the Crusade travelled through towns and cities and rallies were publicised by word of mouth and chalked messages on pavements.

By 27th September 1917 a Women’s Peace Crusade ‘directory’ published in the Labour Leader  listed 33 branches, including one at Leicester which was organised by Ethel Beddow. When the rally came to Leicester in 1917, 3,000 people listened to the women speakers.[222] By 1918 there were 123 branches across the country.



Arrests and re arrests

The relentless cycle of arrests and re-arrests of Conscientious Objectors was continuing even after enlistment had finished.  Opposition to this and to the continuing poor conditions in prisons contributed to an outbreak of prison riots including one at Leicester.  When the war ended there was a reluctance to let the COs out of prison for fear of inflaming an already tense situation as servicemen returned to face unemployment. The last were released in the summer of 1919. Many suffered long lasting physical or psychological damage as a result of their treatment. William Stanton was one of at least 73 who died in prison, or shortly after being released.

Cyril Pearce who has spent many years researching and publishing work on the COs believes their overall number during the First World War was around 20,000.  In 2015 the Imperial War Museum made available online The Pearce Register of British First World War Conscientious Objectors. [223]He writes:

The database attempts to cover the whole range of CO experiences. At one extreme are those who, while refusing to carry arms, were prepared to ‘do their bit’ in Work of National Importance. Other COs were prepared to do hospital work in the Friends’ Ambulance Unit or the Royal Army Medical Corps. The men who agreed to serve in the specially created Non-Combatant Corps are there, too. Over 600 of them served in France behind the lines.  The database also includes the cases of the men who refused all service. Their Courts Martial have been recorded as have their prison sentences or time in Home Office Work Centres at Wakefield, Dartmoor or Knutsford. Many of their stories have already been told. Others are less well known. For example, what of the COs who gave up their objection and joined the army? The stories of nearly two hundred ‘Soldier COs’ have been recovered and there are probably many more still to find.  [224]

There were, perhaps, many men who actively avoided killing if they could. Harry Patch, who died in 2009 at the age of 111, was the last survivor of those who fought in the trenches. He did not speak of his experiences until he was nearly one hundred years old, and he wrote in his autobiography The Last Fighting Tommy :

You used to look between the fire and apertures and all you could see was a couple of stray dogs out there, fighting over a biscuit that they’d found. They were fighting for their lives. And the thought came to me – well, there they are, two animals out there fighting over a dog biscuit, the same as we get to live. They were fighting for their lives. I said, ‘We are two civilised nations - British and German - and what were we doing? We were in a lousy, dirty trench fighting for our lives? For what?  For eighteen pence a flipping day. [225]

He described a friend and comrade in the trenches: ‘I never knew Bob to use that [Lewis] gun to kill. If he used that gun at all, it was about two feet off the ground and he would wound them in the legs. He wouldn’t kill them if he could help it.’[226] He also described his own aversion to killing:

(A German soldier) came to me with a rifle and a fixed bayonet. He had no ammunition, otherwise he could have shot us. He came towards us. I had to bring him down. First of all, I shot him in the right shoulder. He dropped the rifle and the bayonet. He came on. His idea, I suppose, was to kick the gun if he could into the mud, so making it useless. But anyway, he came on and for our own safety, I had to bring him down. I couldn’t kill him. He was a man I didn’t know. I didn’t know his language. I couldn’t talk to him. I shot him above the ankle, above the knee. He said something to me in German. God knows what it was. But for him the war was over. [227]  

Commenting on graves in a Flanders war cemetery in July 2007 he recalled: ‘I had about five seconds to make the decision. I brought him down, but I didn't kill him.... Any one of them could have been me.’[228]

Frank Hayes, from Hinckley, recalled that his father, Harry, who was in the Leicestershire Yeomanry, described how he and other men in the trenches would aim upwards, to avoid hitting the German soldiers, or would aim at their legs. [229]

More names are still being added to the Pearce Register, and it may well be that there are more local conscientious objectors to be added to the list.






Abbreviations used

CO - Conscientious Objector

FAU - Friends Ambulance Unit

NCC- Non Combatant Corps

NCF - No Conscription Fellowship

UDC - Union of Democratic Control

WNI - Work of National Importance









15. Food Queues, Green Margarine and Ration Books


Castle Street around 1900  -  Image courtesy of http://hinckley.netfirms.com


During the First World War there were over forty  food shops on Castle Street alone, including grocers, dairies, tea dealers, butchers, bakers, greengrocers and fruiterers, wet fish shops and fish and chip shops. Many were small family owned shops, but Simpkin and James on the Market Place also had branches in Leicester, and there were several Co-ops in the town. Many people shopped there to get the ‘divi,’ the dividend that was paid to regular customers. Charles King remembered:

The Co-op often gave the children special treats on the opening of new departments. On very special occasions the children and adults were entertained in thousands as in Jubilee year when 2,000 children sat down to a slap up tea and then marched to the farm in Ashby Road for a gala. Hinckley Society must have paid the highest dividends in the country at that time. It is on record that many men founded their businesses as a result of the thrift practised by our local society.  [230]

He also recalled:

 In Orton Square, Charles St, Druid Street, New St. Derby Road and Victoria Street people lived busy lives. The shopkeepers were often hard put to maintain credit for the customers from week to week, but they did good service. At the bottom of Victoria Street were a group of shopkeepers starting with Taylor’s at the bottom, Mustin’s fish and chips, Philpott’s (sticky buns and bread) and then a Mr Spencer’s shoe repairs, with a family named Payne in between. At the top of Victoria Street was a general store run by a family named Robinson with two boys, Tom and Harry who were part of the crowd of boys. [231]


Co-op in Castle Street around 1911

Image courtesy of Hinckley District Past and Present - www.hdpp.co.uk


Mary Thompson lived on New Buildings. She also recalled the families of the shopkeepers in the town:

We often played with the children in the shops on Castle Street and New Buildings in particular with the Farmers, on Castle Street, who had a fish and poultry shop. We played ‘Hide and Seek’ at the back of the house where there was what was called “the glass house” which was always full of feathers from the plucked chickens. Also there was a coke burning stove with a glue pot on top – I never discovered what purpose this served. There were also various outhouses with lofts and straw. All this backed on to the Salvation Army temple.

On one side of Farmer’s was Joey Wood’s newspaper shop and on the other side Smith’s fruit and confectionary shop where  my sister Madeleine helped in the shop on Saturdays for about sixpence or so. At Christmas there was always a huge chocolate Father Christmas in the window which was later broken up and sold in pennyworth’s. At that time most of the shops were lit up and stayed open until about 10pm.

Nearby Mr Hall, our milkman had a shop. He delivered milk by horse drawn milk float and the milk was measured by ladle from a can into jugs at people’s back doors. The Hall family had a farm at the top of Priory Row.

Next to Smiths on Castle Street was an opening which led to the slaughterhouse (abattoir) where cows were led to be slaughtered. On the opposite corner was Whittles pork butchers.

She recalled that her friend Mabel had an aunt and granddad who owned a corn chandler and grocery shop and said ‘it was fascinating to watch the corn being scooped out of the big bins.’ She went on

In those days we seldom had any money to spend but if we were sent to a grocery shop at the corner of Stockwell Head and New Buildings we were allowed to buy a halfpenny worth of mixture (sweets.) These were taken from a huge glass cone shaped container on the counter. The shop specialised in Horniman’s Tea, Pearce Duff’s Blancmange and custard powder.  Most grocery shops at that time weighed up and packaged sugar, dried fruit, rice etc. in thick blue paper, made into neat little parcels. [232]

She also had vivid memories of Ginns Black Knob (humbugs) shop. Olive Hind, also recalled ‘visits to Ginns black knob shop in Castle Street to purchase ¼ d worth of black knobs, which were such a treat.’ [233]

Panic Buying

As soon as war was declared there was a rush of panic buying. The Hinckley Times reported on 8th August 1914:

In spite of official assurances that there is an ample food supply, there have been extraordinary efforts made by local people this week to lay in stocks of foodstuffs. Butter, sugar and other foodstuffs immediately went up in price, but the rush continued and so great has been the demand that many grocers and provision merchants have taken action in the interests of their poorer customers by curtailing the orders.

The purchasing of unnecessary quantities by those people in a position to buy, to the hurt of the less fortunate, amounts to an act of mean and selfish cowardice.

If people will only make their purchases in the usual way there is plenty for everybody for the next six months.

Do not store goods and create an artificial scarcity to the hurt of others.



In the same newspaper the Maypole Dairy was reassuring its customers on its stocks of tea, butter and margarine, and the following week it was offering ‘Nuts captured from German ships.’



 Despite early reassurances, there were significant shortages, and food prices rose sharply. In early 1915 the German U-Boat campaign began, with attacks on merchant and passenger ships in the seas around the British Isles. Most wheat came from the United States, so the price of bread increased rapidly. Sugar had doubled in price and the cost of cereals had risen by 50%. Scarcity of eggs pushed the price up to 1s for seven.[234]

There were accusations of profiteering. In Leicester the Trades Council demanded that the government restrain food prices. In 1915 Alderman Jabez Chaplin, asked at a Council meeting, ‘When are these increases to stop? The government could help by saying to the Food Kings ‘Thus far and no farther.’[235] Those who could afford the high prices were buying up foods which were in short supply and there was widespread resentment about black market and ‘under the counter’ practices for those who could afford it. The food crisis prompted Lloyd George, the Prime Minister, to establish a Ministry of Food. Local Food councils were set up to manage supplies and liaise with producers and retailers, but rationing wasn’t introduced until 1918. Instead a ‘self rationing campaign’ was set up and it was proposed that each adult should restrict themselves to four pounds of bread, two and a half pounds of meat, and three quarters of a pound of sugar a week.


Queueing For Food

Hours each day spent queuing for food became an established routine during the war years. Mary Thompson recalled, ‘During the war we children all queued up at various shops for such things as sugar, tea, bacon and butter.’ Their mothers would take over before and after work and at lunchtimes to avoid having their pay docked. It was not unusual for those in the queue to reach the front only to find that supplies had run out. Women with the time to spend in queues had an unfair advantage over those who were working, and so called ‘butter fiends’ who hoarded butter came in for particular hostility. 

Sugar was also in very short supply. A glut of strawberries in the summer of 1915 must have been welcome, but the high cost and scarcity of sugar would have made jam making a problem.  Many women made their own jams and preserves, but Simpkin and Jones on the Market Place were advertising ready preserved bottles of ‘Damsons, Golden Plums and Gooseberries, Raspberry and Strawberry Jam,’ and ‘7lb jars of  Marmalade or Plum Jam.’ Surprisingly, it seems that oranges and lemons continued to be available for those who could afford them.  By the autumn of 1915 the price of sugar had almost doubled and if a rumour spread that a particular shop had received supplies there would be a rush to queue there.

But Aucott’s ‘Baker, Pastrycook & Confectioner’ of 8 Castle Street Hinckley were still advertising that their ‘Cakes, pastries and PORK PIES are unsurpassed.’ The only staple food that did not rise dramatically in the early months of the war was home produced bacon and pork; the price had remained stable as farmers were forced to kill their pigs because of shortages of food for them. The poorest families relied on bread and margarine or dripping. A Leicester woman remembered, ‘We used to go to this big place on London Road ...we used to queue outside before school, to buy pork scratchings and bits of pork, and pork dripping and lard....we used to have it on bread...we were so poor, my mother was ashamed, she wouldn’t let us out.’  [236]Many young men who volunteered at the beginning of the war were rejected because they were underweight and suffering from underlying health problems caused, or exacerbated, by malnutrition.

Bread shortages in 1916 caused by a bad wheat harvest hit many families hard.  There were concerns about bread being adulterated, and government controls were placed on how much additives bakers could use. A government notice in The Hinckley Times simply said: ‘Eat Less Bread’ and the Board of Guardians at Hinckley Workhouse decided that the inmates would not be given Hot Cross buns at Easter.



Margarine continued to be in very short supply throughout the war.  It was often oil based, and oil was needed for the war effort. Much of it was of very poor quality, with a greenish hue, and was popularly known as ‘cart grease.’ But Maypole Dairy was offering in May 1916 ‘Maypole Margarine – 2 kinds – made with choicest nuts and milk.’ In January 1917 it was advising customers:

 Don’t pay a shilling for foreign made margarine

 The very best British made

 Maypole Margarine - 7 ½ pence per pound

Mary Thompson recalled: ‘“The Maypole” at the bottom of Castle Street allowed ¼ lb butter if we bought 1lb of margarine. It was fascinating watching these patted into shape. We got used to having margarine on toast and although food was scarce we always had adequate meals.’ [237] The cheapest margarine had a greenish hue and was known as ’cart grease.’ As an alternative to margarine in cooking Atora Suet was advertised weekly in The Hinckley Times:

Use Atora Block Suet -  Atora Beef suet in blocks for frying, cooking, preserving, or ready shredded for puddings and pastries -  Sold by all Grocers and Stores.


Meat became Scarcer

 As meat became scarcer recipe books of the time, and ‘household hints’ articles in the newspapers suggested replacing meat with rissoles made of rice, lentils and nuts. Queues outside butchers’ shops were often long. Butchers resorted to selling horsemeat, and sausages with sometimes dubious ingredients. With no refrigeration, either in the shops or in the home, meat and dairy products had to be bought daily. Mary Thompson recalled the tripe shop on New Buildings where ‘they sold hot tripe, chitterlings and cowheels. [238] Charles King also remembered ‘Mr Ernie Ayres (Bunny) who sold tripe and other good things from a dray. The sound of his bell was a signal for mothers to send out for six pennyworth of tripe and gravy in a large jug. On almost every street there was a fish and chip shop and fish and chips were an important way of making ends meet. ‘[239] Some women did their shopping late at night, particularly on a Saturday, as butchers and fishmongers sold fresh produce cheaply to avoid it going ‘off.’ In the later years of the war pork became scarce, which made obtaining bacon, a staple food of the time, difficult and expensive.

In January 1917 a Hinckley Times headline read: ‘ECONOMY IN USING POTATOES.’  The article continued: ‘Apart from the course of eating fewer potatoes, very considerable economy may be effected by careful, intelligent cooking. The Board of Agriculture’s Valuable Hints advised referring to the special leaflet issued by the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries.’  On 24th March 1917 Bennetts on Castle Street,’ were offering their customers rabbits and hares, and in October 1917 they were advertising ‘Finest Brancaster Mussells.’




Sugar Shortages`

Sugar continues to be in short supply and Atora was advertising a way of preserving fruit by layering suet over the fruit to replace the sugar. By August 1917 preparations were being put in place to ration sugar. Simpkin and Jones was urging its customers to apply for a ‘preliminary registration form’ with them.



The Co-op was also in competition for customers – its advertisement for 15th September 1917 urged customers to ‘sign for sugar at their own shop’ and in October it told them to put their Co-op branch’s address on their National Sugar card.


In October 1917 the Leicestershire War Agricultural Committee was arranging for the distribution at the Council Office of sugar for jam making, and listing the names of ‘persons entitled to it.’


Preparations for Rationing

In the autumn of 1917 preparations for rationing began to be put in place. The Hinckley Food  Control committee met at the Council Offices on  20th  October  1917, and the Hinckley Times reported that  ‘The following members attended: Mr G. Kinton (Chairman,) Mrs Hudson, Mrs Iliffe, Messrs F. Burton, A.H. Gittins, T. Harris, W. Johnson, J.Mann, A. Payne, W.J. Pilgrim, [and] C.A. Whatmore.  Mr L. Jones, the executive officer, was also in attendance.’ The main items on the agenda were meat and milk prices.  It was also noted that, ‘a great deal of work ... needed to be done regarding [the] issue of sugar cards.’ [240]

Simpkin and James told customers - ‘IT IS NOW RATIONING TIME – GET OUR NAME IN YOUR BOOK.’ The Co-op was asking ‘Where will you register for sugar? Call in at any of the Co-operative Stores ... Men combine in Trade Unions, Housewives join Co-operative stores to help make ends meet.’ 



The Co-operative movement had long established links with trade unions, many of whom were involved in industrial action to campaign for higher wages.

At Hinckley Workhouse supplies of sugar had not come through and the Guardians were ‘In communication with (the) authorities.’ While shortages in bread continued, but it seems that the potato harvest had improved; on 9th November 1917 Hinckley Times readers were told:

Tests [which] have been carried out by the Ministry of Food in conjunction with the Food Production Department go to show that the use of potatoes in bread renders the bread much more palatable and of better texture than that which is made from Government flour alone.

Posters appeared locally to warn of the ‘Enforcement of Orders of the Food Controller.’





Food Control Committee

On 24th November 1917 an article appeared in the Hinckley Times written   ‘By a member of the local Food Control Committee.’ It read:

By the courtesy of the Editor it is proposed that week by week, or as the occasion arises, a short article on the food question will appear, which is hoped will be helpful and interesting to the public of the neighbourhood. Orders are issued galore by the Ministry of Food, but they are inaccessible to the public and to the tradesmen they affect, and moreover they are drawn up by lawyers for lawyers and consequently so full of legal jargon that they would make very dull reading. But we must consider this a necessity. When a week comes round that is fairly free from the issue of orders it may be advisable to give a resume of what has already been enforced, but for the present it will perhaps be wise to give some information about the most recent happenings. [241]

It went on to explain that meat prices were now fixed and that each butcher should display them. There was a scarcity of pork because butchers had been unable to buy pigs at a price that would enable them to sell it at the controlled price. The Committee, it said, were now also engaged in organising the distribution of butter supplies. The article continued:

The rise in the price of milk has caused some commotion in the town and district, and both the Food Control Committee and the retailers of milk have been blamed for the present high price. It should be remembered that the maximum wholesale price charged by the farmer to the milkman has been fixed by the Ministry of Food.

In view of the shortage of foodstuffs generally it may seem absurd to speak of hoarding but it may be said that it is an offence for any person to acquire food beyond the needs of his ordinary consumption. Moreover, a tradesman must not supply any article of food when he has reasonable ground for believing that the quantity ordered is in excess of requirements. The Food Controller may order an inspection of premises in which he has reason to believe that hoarding is taking place. One other point; no trader, in selling an article, may impose a condition relating to the purchase of any other article.



On 12th January 1918 a Hinckley Times article was headed: ‘Hinckley and The Food Question.’ It went on: 

We are told that due to shipping difficulties there was a “grave shortage of margarine,” and it would be “somewhat problematical to maintain the very modest ration of four ounces per head per week.” Margarine factories in this country are not working at their full strength due to shortage of materials, and yet the Government is allowing these to be exported to Holland, thus risking the action of enemy submarines on both journeys, the short-sightedness of which policy is about on a par with sending a ship and cargo which has arrived safely at an English port to some other place, and getting it torpedoed on the way.

Truly the ways of the Government are wonderful and beyond the comprehension of the man in the street, to say nothing of the woman in the queue!

The article continued:

Potato Butter – the ministry of Food announces that its experts have been experimenting in order to find a substitute for butter. The results of the experiments by its scientists is that housewives are advised to peel potatoes and boil or steam them until they fall to pieces and become floury.  Rub through a sieve into a large basin which has been previously warmed. To every 14 ounces of mashed potatoes add two ounces of margarine and butter and one teaspoon of salt. Stir thoroughly with the back of a wooden spoon, until the whole is quite smooth. The butter may then be made up into pounds or half pounds and kept in a cool place. The concoction is to be called potato butter, but most people will say that housewives have made something very similar before, and called it mashed potatoes.

Meat – the shortage of beef has been very acute of late, but the Ministry tells us that the situation will soon improve. Meanwhile, as the price of live mutton is not  yet controlled, farmers, are, with their usual acumen, rushing the supplies of sheep onto the market  to be bought by those butchers who are anxious to keep their family trade going, at a price which not only cannot possibly pay them, but which must entail great loss. Thus the farmer exploits the butcher. Of course, he is not a profiteer, no farmer would be. It is only business foresight. His friend the Food Controller tells him that in a couple of weeks’ time maximum live weight prices will be fixed, so naturally he does not hold the sheep back as he does the cattle.

Apropos of this, it was told the other day that the high producer’s price for milk was not desired by the farmers, they would rather have had it remain at what it was, but it does not appear that the desire was strong enough to prevent them charging the maximum price, nor to stop them making butter because it paid them better to sell the milk.

Milk – dealers in milk, both wholesalers and retailers, will shortly have to be licensed. After the 15th January no wholesaler may deal in milk unless he has applied for a licence, nor after 31st January unless he has received one. Similarly after that later date no retailer may trade unless he is registered in the form prescribed by the Food Controller. Forms for application for a wholesaler’s licence have to be obtained directly from the Ministry of Food, while those for retailers may be obtained (when they come) at the local Food Office.  By the way, it may be mentioned that similar licences are required to be held by the wholesalers and retailers of margarine, and the dates are the same.

Reverting to milk, a priority scheme is being put into force, at the option of local Food Committees all over the country. By its means priority in the supply of milk may be secured to infants and to invalids to whom a supply is essential. The scheme has not yet been discussed by the Hinckley Committee.

The following week ‘Every Woman’ was invited to a cooking demonstration:


Inadvertent Food Hoarding

On 9th February 1918 a Government notice was published in The Hinckley Times giving guidance on what to do if they have ‘inadvertently’ hoarded food.


‘I was tempted to look into the cart as I passed....’

On 9th March 1918 a letter from Thomas Peach appeared in the Hinckley Times. He wrote:

Sir – Will you allow me as a delegate to the Hinckley Trades and Labour council, representing over two thousand workers, a space in your valuable paper to let the Hinckley Urban Council know the views of the public on the Food Question. [242]

It went on:

You see cause to laugh amongst yourselves when a public meeting, which includes the wives and mothers of the men who have gone to fight our battles, complain of the unequal distribution of food. But here the question arises, who are the men who laugh when the complaint is laid before them? Are they not nearly all profiting through this war? (The amount they have contributed to the War Loan alone proves that.) Hence the cause to laugh at the expense of the friends belonging to our fighting men. Has anybody heard of the wives of these councillors standing in a queue for a bit of meat or other commodities for hours, and then getting turned away without any, and if they did what part of their wages would they lose in the process?  I have never heard of one of them being seen in a queue. On the contrary, although the manpower of the country has been so seriously affected, sufficient men are found to deliver their goods.

As I was going home on Saturday last a butcher’s cart harnessed to a white pony overtook me and stopped at a certain house in the Leicester Road, where the man delivered a nice little joint of meat. I was tempted to look into the cart as I passed, when I saw a leg of mutton and several nice joints of meat, each one according to the scale of rations allowed by the Food Controller, sufficient for about eight to ten persons – each joint labelled for delivery.

With a family of small children I secured half a pound of sausage for our Sunday dinner. Thank God we got a bit of something! This makes the fourth week this year without butcher’s meat and are there not scores of cases worse than mine in the town? Yet they don’t complain because we are at war with Germany. They do not complain of a shortage, but of unequal distribution. 

We all know there is a shortage. Then let us do as we were told it should be. When some of you were appealing to the men to go and fight, the men went willingly enough, as records show. Few men had to be fetched from this town of ours, and it is up to you now to see that whatever supplies come in to the town are equally shared. Then there will be no trouble as far as the Labour movement are concerned. Again, it is strange that you should treat with such contempt a public meeting at Hinckley which was so largely attended, seeing that the member of Parliament for the Division, when he knew about it, should see fit to ask a question in the House of Commons regarding the supplies of the town. Also when the results of the meeting were made known to the Parliamentary Secretary of the Food Controller, he immediately ordered an enquiry to be made, with the result that the week following the meeting we got an additional allowance of two ounces of margarine per head.

Gentlemen, let us help the Food Controller in the task which he has before him. It is an unthankful job, but he wants your help. You are the men in charge of the affairs of the town and only last week it was stated that Lord Rhondda intimated that where Labour sought additional representation, it was to be sympathetically treated. If the supplies of the town will only allow a ration of one ounce of meat per head, see to it that nobody gets more than his ounce, and the same with all commodities that are short and essential to the bodily health of the people.

The Food Controller has given the necessary power to carry out equal distribution. Why are you afraid to tackle it? I will not believe that it is because you are afraid it will pinch your own stomachs. Then why this delivery of butter, groceries, meat, etc? Again, I say the lack of man power in this country is acute, and can you wonder at it when men know that their wives, after working ten hours in a factory ,have to queue, when there are no queues for them having to fetch their requirements. The labouring community has been appealed to again and again. Don’t you think it’s about time you took them a little bit more into your confidence with regards to the Press, and let the people of the town know what is being done and let it come to light if anyone hinders being done what ought to be done.

The letter ended with an appeal that Labour Council members should be allowed representation on the Food Council, and it was signed, ‘Thos. A. Peach, Vice Chairman  Hinckley Trades and Labour Council, 8 Klondyke, Butt Lane.’[243]



Food Coupons and Fish and Chips

In the Hinckley Times of 27th March 1918 the council gave notice that application forms to register for sugar for jam making were now available at the Council Offices. In April 1918 rationing was finally introduced and The Leicester Daily Mercury explained to its readers how the system worked:

Coupons are dated for the week in which they are valid...When a purchase is made, the seller will detach the relevant coupons from the purchaser’s card. Each coupon on an adult’s card permits the purchase of 5d worth of meat.

Beef and mutton may only be purchased at the butcher with whom the person is registered. Pork and offal can be purchased anywhere. (Each coupon valid for 5d worth of tongue, kidney or skirt, or 10d worth of edible offal other than tongue, kidney or skirt.)

Until 5th May, bacon and ham may be bought at any shop – an adult coupon entitling the holder to 5oz uncooked bacon or ham on the bone.

Coupons may be used anywhere for the purchase of poultry, game, rabbit, tinned or cooked meat.

In restaurants or eating houses, meat dishes can only be sold in exchange for the customer’s relevant meat coupons.

Children are on half an adult ration. [244]

In order to prevent hoarding, tinned meat could only be sold at the rate of one pound a person after the tin had been opened in the shop.  Fish and chip shops were allowed to remain ‘off ration’ during the war; it was said that Lloyd George believed they were keeping the munitions workers going.

The festive season of 1917 was likely to be frugal for many families but George Bennett was advertising ‘A Good Show for Xmas.’


Eggs for Wounded Soldiers

In May 1918 the War Office was asking for donations of eggs to send to wounded soldiers in hospitals abroad.  The Hinckley Times appealed to its readers:

Every week the War Office are asking for 280,000 eggs for France alone, a need which must be met, and Hinckley is asked to contribute at least 100 eggs a week. If everyone who enjoys a fair share of what is going round at the present time were to ask himself or herself  “Can I afford to give one egg a week?” and answer that question honestly and generously there is no reason why the 100 eggs required of us should not be increased tenfold. [245]

Tea Rationing

Also in May 1918 preparations were being put in place for tea rationing, and the Co-op was reassuring its customers that the weight of tea sold never included the wrapper, and that supplies continued to be obtained from ‘their own estates in Ceylon and India.’ The Maypole Dairy was urging customers to register with them to make sure of supplies.


Tinned Salmon for Some

Nationally and locally there was industrial discontent as wages fell way behind the costs of food and coal, and army allowances failed to keep up with inflation. The ‘luxury’ items offered by Simpkin and James in May 1918 would have been unaffordable for many people. They were selling -‘Unrationed – no coupon needed - COOKED DINNERS 2/3 PER TIN.’ They were also offering tinned salmon. The Co op was reassuring customers they would get ‘Full Quality and Full Quantity. ‘



 It was not only shortage of sugar that was causing problems for jam makers in the summer of 1918.  A Hinckley Times article read: ‘JAM FROM HEDGEROW, FIELD AND GARDEN  -  The failure of the orchards forces us to look elsewhere. Those of us who know the wealth that Nature offers us when the summer is on the wane have no fear of lack of material for our jam making.’ It recommended using blackberries, crab apples, barberries, wild plums, and rose hips. In September 1918 the Hinckley Food Office published in The Hinckley Times details of application for new ration books, and instructions for their use:

The Hinckley Urban and Rural and Food Control Committee wish it to be distinctly understood that persons can only buy ham or bacon from the shops at which they are registered and it is an offence under the Defence of the Realm Act to purchase otherwise.

Poultry – when the price charged for poultry sold by a retailer does not exceed 1s4d per lb, no coupon need be required therefore.

Butter order 1918 – it is not the intention of the Ministry to sanction any variation in the retail price of butter which (with the exception of Government butter, which is now 2s 6d lb,) is fixed by the above order at 2s 4d a lb.

The Alteration in Meat Coupon  -  the value of the meat coupon or after the 22nd September is 4d. From the same date beef sausages as well as pork sausages must be sold against coupons at the rate of 16oz per coupon. It has also been decided that no meat pies using canned meat can be sold coupon free and that one coupon must be surrendered for each 2 ½ oz of canned meat in the pie. [246]

Shortages continued well after the armistice had been declared, and men returning from the war looking forward to an abundance of home cooked food were disappointed.  Butter remained on ration until the 1920’s.
























Some of the Food Shops in Hinckley - 1916

As well as shops in the main streets, there were of course many ‘corner shops’ all over town. [247]


Castle Street

Shepherds Dairies Limited, Grocers, 4 Castle Street

Maypole Dairy Co Ltd, Grocers & Tea dealers 5 Castle Street

Brown, Alfred, Confectioner, 5½ and 112 Castle Street

India & China Tea Co Limited, Grocers & Tea dealers, 7 Castle Street

Aucott, Fred Elliott, Baker and Confectioner, 8 Castle Street

Allsop, Edward Freeman, Pork Butcher, 5 Regent Street and 10 Castle Street

Smith, Cornelius, Fruiterer, 20 Castle Street

British and Argentine Meat Company, 28 Castle Street

Melias Limited, Grocers, 28 Castle Street

Cuer, Thomas, Fruiterer, 28½ Castle Street

Mayne, Samuel, Fried Fish dealer, 30½ Castle Street

Worthington Cash Stores Grocers, 32 ½ Castle Street

Garratt, Charles, Fishmonger, 37 Castle Street

Taylor, Herbert, Butcher, 43 Castle Street & 36 Derby Road

Hincks, George, Fruiterer, 44 Castle Street

Hinckley Co-ops – 45 Castle Street, 11 Bond Street, 23 Upper Bond Street, 36 Druid Street, 25 Rugby Road and Hill Street.

Bennett, George, Fish, Game and Poultry dealers, 46a Castle Street

Burchnall, John Glover, Fruiterer, 51 Castle Street

Baggott & Sons, Grocers, 80 & 63 Castle Street

Robinson, Sarah (Mrs), Fruiterer, 64 Castle Street

Baggott, Joseph, Beer retailer, 65 Castle Street

Ginns, William, Confectioner, 66 Castle Street

Richardson, Ernest, Butcher, 67 Castle Street

Moore, Thomas, Greengrocer, 68 Castle Street

Smith, Arthur, Greengrocer, 69a Castle Street

Farmer, Arthur, Fishmonger, 71 Castle Street

Burton, Frederick, Grocer, 74 Castle Street

Whittle, John Davis and Sons, Baker, 82 Castle Street and 14 New Buildings

Faulkes, John, Fishmonger, 91 Castle Street

Pearce, Alfred, Baker, 95 Castle Street

Mason, Joseph Arthur, Fried Fish dealer, 116 Castle Street

Taylor, Charles, Greengrocer, 118 Castle Street

Green, William, Fruiterer, 122 Castle Street

Loomes, Edward, Fried fish dealer, 126 Castle Street


The Lawns

Jenkins, A., The Lawns Bakery

Hincks, Ann, Dairy, 3 The Lawns


New Buildings

Ball, Thomas William, Tripe dresser, 7 New Buildings

Buckingham, Edwin Henry, Grocer, 10 New Buildings

Dimmock, William, Fruiterer, 16 New Buildings




Stockwell Head


Wright, Misses, Greengrocers 9 Stockwell Head

Mawby, William, Baker, 16 Stockwell Head

Harding, Frederick, Fried Fish dealer, 20 Stockwell Head

Hall, Joseph, Greengrocer, Stockwell Head


Market Place and Borough

Simpkin and James, Grocer, Market Place

William, Davey, Fried fish dealer, 3 Marketplace

Liggins, Harry, Confectioner, 18 Borough

Stavely, Francis, Grocer, 22 Borough

Toone, John and Percy, Butcher, 24 Borough

Prosser, Henry, Grocer, 27 Borough




Thanks to Vicky Gilbert for help in compiling this list.






16. Black Easter Bonnets and Christmas Gifts for Soldiers

The Borough around 1900, looking towards the Market Place - Image courtesy of http://hinckley.netfirms.com


Alongside the food shops in Castle Street, The Borough and New Buildings there were small family run shops which supplied every need from hatpins to tin baths.

There were four milliners’ establishments in the centre of town; no respectable person went out of the house without a hat. It just wasn’t ‘done.’ Men’s hats ranged, according to class, season and occasion from flat caps to boaters, bowlers and top hats. Ladies’ hats ranged from the everyday felt hat to the stylish Sunday best, and for society women, elaborate creations of lace, feathers and silk flowers. Mrs Elizabeth Marshall’s shop was at 1 Castle Street, Mrs Ethel Hyde-Mann’ shop was at 21 Borough, and Mrs Edith Evans’ shop was at 9 Market Place. Noon’s, Mantle and Millinery Warehouse, at 53 & 55 Castle Street were offering their customers in the autumn of 1914, ‘Free Latest War Map, Either call in or send a post card when one will be sent post free. ‘


Noon’s were continuing to offer their customes the latest fashions in 1917:

Draper’s shops also sold hats. Buying a new ‘Easter bonnet’ was a traditional pleasure, but in April 1916 Harries’ draper’s shop were advertising on the front page of The Hinckley Times: ‘Harries – Millinery Department – Have just received New Stock of Black Hats.’  Their shop was at 70 and 72 Castle Street.

Ladies who couldn’t afford a new hat had to content themselves with new trimmings on their old one. Richard Bassett’s Haberdasher’s shop at 46 Castle Street sold ribbons, artificial flowers and fancy hat pins according to the season. ‘Hawley’s Hygienic Black Dye,’ made at Sketchley Dye works, was much in demand during the war years. If an umbrella was needed to protect a hat from the elements, it could be purchased at John Griffiths ‘umbrella maker’ of 65 Stockwell Head or at one of the many draper’s shops in the town, who also sold gloves, another essential fashion item for the ‘ respectable lady.’

There were at least ten clothing and draper’s shops on Castle Street. Anthony Bradley’s was at number 4a, Hunt & Robinson Outfitters was at 11, and the Midland Clothing Company was at 13. Headley Ellis was a ladies' and children's outfitter at 23 Castle Street and Franklin James had a draper’s shop at 35a.  Miss Henrietta Cooper had a draper’s shop at 39 Castle Street. Mrs Frederick Brocklehurst’s ‘fancy draper’s’ shop was at 110 Castle Street and Miss May Bond was a draper at 124 Castle Street.  Miss Winifred Pearce also had fancy draper’s shop on Castle Street. Foxwells Wholesale Clothiers was at The Lawns and Harry Chamberlain’s draper’s and hatters was at 2 - 4 New Buildings.

At the other end of the town, Mrs Ernest Palmer and Mrs James ran a Ladies’ and Children’s outfitters  at 2a Borough, and Albert Dudley’s draper’s shop was at 7 & 9 Borough. Dale and Reeve, who were a ‘general drapers, dressmakers, carpet factors and funeral undertakers’ were at 5 Borough. In 1915 they were advertising:



Being in constant touch with the leading firms in the Drapery trade, are in consequence able to replete their stock with the newest and most up to date goods. Give them a call, The Borough, Hinckley

Gentlemen’s tailors included Hall and Sons at 2 Borough, Solomon Flude at 138 Castle Street, Henry Hill at 3 New Buildings, and  John Burton’s at 11 New Buildings.

Many women made clothes for themselves and their families. Those who worked in the hosiery factories were often skilled machinists, and Singer Sewing Machines had a shop at 50 Castle Street. Draper’s shops sold fabrics such as cotton, linen, wool, silk, and ‘rayon’ the newly developed artificial silk.

Those who could afford it hired a dressmaker which was one of the few ‘suitable occupations’ for ‘respectable’ single women, Miss Edith Watson was a dressmaker of 58 Queens Rd, Miss Elizabeth Calvert was at 58 Derby Road, Miss Maggie Fox was at 64 Mount Road and Miss Miriam Gilbert was at 40 Coventry Road.

 Sewing patterns could be purchased and they regularly appeared in women’s magazines. In order to save on fabric, in 1915 fashionable hemlines rose to mid-calf and traditionalists complained of immodesty. A corset continued to be obligatory wear for women, however strenuous their work might have become. Many were made in Leicestershire factories; one of the largest in the country was Symington’s in Market Harborough. Puffer’s Hosiery manufacturers in Hinckley were the first in the country to make artificial silk hosiery from rayon produced by Courtauld’s in Coventry.

For boots and shoes there were Hilton’s bootmakers at 34 Castle Street, Price’s on the Borough or outlets from the bigger factories on Stockwell Head.



During the grim war years perhaps the regular fancy dress events held to raise money for charity offered some opportunity for frivolity. Buttons, bows, buckles etc. were sold in ‘fancy repositories.’ William Robinson ran one at 38 Castle Street, Mrs Florence Gould’s shop was at 101 Castle Street and Mrs Emma Lord‘s was at 6 New Buildings. There was also the ‘Braebaum Penny Bazaar, fancy goods dealers,’ on Castle Street. In January 1915 they were advertising:

Business BETTER than usual!


Because the cost of most articles has increased,

whereas the retail price is the same as before at the


Small prices and Quick Return is our motto

 There were four watch makers in the town centre - Henry Doughty was at  12 Castle Street William Weston was at 19, Frederick George Orams ‘Watch maker and jeweller’ was at 102 Castle Street and John William Avins, was at 17 and 19 New Buildings. Before the war it had been the custom for women to wear wristwatches while men had pocket watches, but as these were impractical in the trenches men began to wear wristwatches, with the glass face on the inside of the wrist to prevent it from shattering. They were a popular, if expensive gift for soldiers. Parsons, Sherwin and Co. was also advertising gifts for soldiers. A Hinckley Times advertisement appealed -

To all who have friends at the Front

Send them the Crossman Body Shield

The Finest infantry body shield ever invented

Specially constructed and patented for the purpose of saving the lives of our gallant soldiers

who are fighting so bravely and so nobly not only to uphold the honour this country

but the freedom of the whole world

Front and back the whole set 42/- the set

The price would have been almost double the weekly income of a lot of people in the town. Many families treasured photographs of their men posing proudly in military uniform before they went off to war. At Christmas 1914 Herbert Parker in New Buildings were advertising:


Other photographers in the town were Heawood and Co. on Station Road. Heawood and Hipwell Picture Frame Makers were next door, and Thomas Bass Boswell, Picture Frame maker was at 52 Castle Street. Many of those photographs came to be printed alongside reports of their deaths in The Hinckley Times and after the war became ‘shrines’ on the mantelpiece.


John Baxter & sons, who were ‘printers, stationers, newsagents, paper and twine merchants’ at  24 Castle St. were also selling Christmas cards, books and  their toy department had a range of mechanical toys on offer including for ‘the warlike children... Clockwork Boats, Torpedo Destroyers, Submarines and Dreadnoughts.’




Before the war many clockwork toys and teddy bears had been imported from Germany but it was unthinkable that a British child should receive a German made toy in his or her stocking. There was a rush by British manufacturers to fill the gap, and toy factories staffed by disabled ex servicemen were set up during the war.  At Christmas 1914 Baxters were also offering their customers ‘Leather Goods - a large collection of Ladies and Gentleman’s purses, attaché cases, Gents pocket books and wallets.’

Dale & Reeve were offering ‘A quantity of useful articles for Soldiers at the Front.’

Cigarettes were always a welcome gift for men on the frontline. It was claimed that:

There are many reasons why our Soldiers should be supplied with smokes. The first thing is because nothing comforts them so, nothing soothes their nerves in the same way, and there is nothing they enjoy so much. There are, however, other reasons that could be given such as from a hygienic point of view. A trench cannot be the sweetest place imaginable, even with the greatest care for cleanliness, and the smell of tobacco helps. [248]

Before the war many men ‘rolled their own’ with loose tobacco, but it was awkward in the cold wet conditions of the trenches. Tobacco manufacturers saw a market for cigarettes in small neat packs which could be kept in uniform pockets. An added incentive was the picture cards which offered collectable sets of war heroes, military vehicles, and weapons. Carreras offered pictures of cheerful women doing war work. They were depicted in munitions factories, driving tractors and stoking engines.   Tobacconists in the town included Bennett & Co, at 16 Castle Street and Station Road, Miss Betsey Ellen Payne’s shop at 75 Castle Street and Joseph Henry Wood at 89 Castle Street.

Sweets and chocolate were also popular gifts and on Castle Street Alfred Brown’s confectioners was offering:


Harry Liggins of 18 Castle Street claimed on the masthead of the Hinckley Times, however, to be ‘Still Leading.’

 Fred Elliott’s sweet shop was at number 8 Castle Street and William Ginns at number 66 was famous for ‘Black Knobs’ humbugs. It’s likely that many bags of them were sent to men at the Front to remind them of the taste of ‘home.

For those who could afford it grocer’s shops would make up hampers full of Christmas treats to send to the Front, or you could make up your own with a hamper from ‘Samuel Knight, hamper maker’ at 45 Upper Bond Street, or a fancy box from Hinckley Box Co on Castle Street.

Gifts for the home could be purchased at Arthur Garner, glass and china dealer at 114 Castle Street, hardware dealer Henry Clarke at 25 Castle Street or Albert Buswell another hardware dealer of  28 New Buildings. If you needed new window blinds Goodly’s of Leicester were advertising on the front page of The Hinckley Times – ‘Zepps again..darken your windows.’



Also in Leicester, Goode’s were advertising in December 1917 -

The Atmosphere of Christmas Cheer

is provided by the Knick-Knacks and novelties  now displayed in our showroom.

They are suitable for gifts of remembrance also.

From a wonderful selection we draw attention to a few:

 Framed pictures, basket chairs dainty piano stools and adjustable chairs.

When armistice was announced local shops did a brisk trade in selling red white and blue ribbons, rosettes and favours. Celebrations and ‘Victory Balls’ offered an excellent opportunity for a new outfit or some patriotic trimmings on an old hat. But inevitably during the war years military production had taken precedence over ‘Fancy goods’ and luxury items and shortages and high prices continued well after the war ended. 











Some shops and businesses in Hinckley 1916 [249]


Castle Street

Marshall, Elizabeth, (Mrs,) Milliner, 1 Castle Street

Wardle & Co, Pawnbrokers, 1b Castle Street

Barclay & Company Ltd, Bankers (Henry Arthur Hall, Manager)

Pridmore, William, Chemist & Druggist, 2 Castle Street

Haylock, J. W. Limited, Bootmakers, 3 Castle Street

Bradley, Anthony, Clothier, 4a Castle Street

Copeman, Frank S., Artificial teeth maker, 5½ Castle Street

Ellis, Joseph & Sons Limited, Coal Merchants, 6 Castle Street and Station Wharf

Board of Trade Labour Exchange, 6a Castle Street

Foxon, William Lawrence, Fancy Repository. Also assessor and collector of taxes and local agent for the Unemployment Bureau, Board of Trade, 6a Castle Street

Hinckley & Country Permanent Benefit Building Society (Benjamin Ryley Manager,) 9 Castle Street

Ryley, Benjamin, Land & Estate Agent, 9 Castle Street

Hunt & Robinson, Outfitters, 11 Castle Street

Doughty, Henry, Watchmaker, 12 Castle Street

Midland Clothing Company, 13 Castle Street

Briggs & Co, Boot & Shoemakers, 14 Castle Street

Shakespear, William, Chemist & Druggist, 15 Castle Street

Bennett & Co, Tobacconists, 16 Castle Street and Station Road

Aucott, Albert Wm., Wine & Spirit Merchant, 17 Castle Street

Wardle and Co, Pawnbrokers, 18 Castle Street

Smith, Cornelius, Fruiterer, 20 Castle Street

Headley, Ellis, Ladies' and Children's Outfitter, 23 Castle Street

Baxter, John & Sons, Printers and Stationers – publisher of The Hinckley Times, 24 Castle Street

Clarke, Henry, Hardware Dealer, 25 Castle Street

Sketchley Dye Works (A. E. Hawley & Co Limited proprietors) Dyers & Cleaners, Sketchley Dye Works, receiving office, 26 Castle Street

Bedford, John & Sons, Plumbers, 29 Castle Street

Jenkins Arthur William MB, BS, LRCP Lond, MRCS Eng, physician & surgeon, medical office of health to the Urban District Council, medical office & public vaccinator for Hinckley district, Hinckley union, certifying factory surgeon & surgeon to Hinckley Post Office (firm, Jenkins, Passmore & Donnell), 31 Castle Street

Knight & Crofts, Chemists, 33 Castle Street

Hilton and Sons, Boot Makers, 34 Castle Street

Franklin, James, Draper, 35a Castle Street

Robinson, William, Fancy Repository, 38 Castle Street

Cooper, Henrietta (Miss), Draper, 39 Castle Street

Shaw, James, Beer Retailer, 40 Castle Street

Feyne, George, Hairdresser, 42 Castle Street

Bassett, Richard Henry, Haberdasher, 46 Castle Street

Hinckley Permanent Building Society (G E Kiddle Manager) 48 Castle Street

Kiddle, George E, Assistant Overseer, 48 Castle Street

Kiddle, Thomas, correspondent to the Hinckley Council Schools, 48 Castle Street

Singer Sewing Machine Co. Limited, 50 Castle Street

Bass, Thomas Buswell, Picture Frame Maker, 52 Castle Street

Noon, John Thomas, Milliner, 53 & 55 Castle Street

Holt, William, Beer Retailer, 54 Castle Street

R. White and Sons, Cycle Agents, 56½ Castle Street

County Court Offices (Stephen Henry Pilgrim, registrar and high bailiff) 57 Castle Street

Pilgrim S. H. & W. J., Solicitors, 57 Castle Street

Pilgrim Stephen Henry (firm Pilgrim S H & W J), solicitor, commissioner for oaths, registrar & high bailiff of county court & clerk to the magistrates, 57 Castle Street

Pilgrim Walter John MA (firm Pilgrim S H & W J), solicitor, 57 Castle Street

Cooper, Rebecca (Mrs), Pawnbroker, 58 Castle Street

Hollick, George Thomas, Beer Retailer, 60 Castle Street

Baggott, Joseph, Beer retailer, 65 Castle Street

The King's Head Public House, proprieter Robinson, Daniel, 69 Castle Street

Vernon, Allen Albert, Artificial Teeth Makers, 70 Castle Street

Harries, Bernard P., Draper, 70 and 72 Castle Street

Payne, Betsey Ellen, (Miss), Tobacconist, 75 Castle Street


Mills, John (Mrs), Hairdresser, 76 Castle Street

The Crown Public House, 78 Castle Street, proprieter Ballard, William

Garner, George Redfern, Gasfitter, 83 Castle Street

Lee, Arthur, Furniture Dealer, 85 & 87 Castle Street

Goosey, Robert, Newsagent, 89 Castle Street

Joseph, Henry Wood, Tobacconist, 89 Castle Street

Morley, Frederick Wm., Registered Plumber, 96 Castle Street

Payne, John Allen, Cycle Agent and Dealer, Motor Engineer and Motor Garage, 97 Castle Street and 1 Hill Street

Payne, Arthur, Hairdresser, 97 Castle Street

Ginns, Son and Moore, Hosiery Manufacturers, 100 Castle Street

Gould, Florence A. (Mrs), Fancy Repository, 101 Castle Street

Orams, George Frederick, Watchmaker and Jeweller, 102 Castle Street

The Crown and Anchor Public House, 106 Castle Street, proprieter Pratt, Charles

The New Inn, 108 Castle Street, proprieter Hood, Frederick J.

Brocklehurst, Fredk. (Mrs), fancy draper, 110 Castle Street

The Castle Public House, 113 Castle Street, proprieter Thorne, James,

Garner, Arthur, Glass, China etc. dealer 114 Castle Street

Iliffe, Jane, (Mrs), Shopkeeper, 120 Castle Street

Bond, May, (Miss), Draper, 124 Castle Street

Davenport, Arthur, Hosiery Manufacturer, 126a Castle Street and Wood Street

King, John Thomas, Shopkeeper, 128 Castle Street

Cassell, John, Carpenter, 132 Castle Street

Flude, Solomon, Tailor, 138 Castle Street


Also on Castle Street but no number is given in the 1916 trade directory are:

Braebaum Penny Bazaar, fancy goods dealers, Castle Street

Bromley & Co, hosiery manufacturers, Castle Street

Campion's Cycle Depot, cycle and motor cycle dealers, Castle Street

Flavell William Kerr, builder and contractor, Wood St and Castle Street

Hinckley Box Co Limited, fancy box manufacturers, Castle Street

Nicholls Herbert, plumber & painter, Castle Street

Pearce Winifred (Miss), fancy draper, Castle Street


New Buildings

Burton, John, Council School Attendance Officer, New Buildings

Samuel Davis and Sons Hosiery Manufacturers, New Buildings

Pick & Whitmore, Boot & Shoe Manufacturers, Forward Works, New Buildings

Chamberlain, Harry, Hatter, 2 New Buildings

Hill, Henry, Tailor, 3 New Buildings

Chamberlain, Harry, Draper, 4 New Buildings

Lord, Emma (Mrs), Fancy Repository, 6 New Buildings

The Greyhound Public House, 9 New Buildings, proprieter Brown, William H.,

Burton, John Charles, Tailor, 11 New Buildings

Foxon, William, Furniture Dealer, 12 New Buildings

Avins, John William, Watchmaker, 17 and 19 New Buildings

Buswell, Albert Edward, Hardware Dealer, 28 New Buildings

Parker, Herbert, Photographer, 32 New Buildings

Blower, Charles, Yeast Dealer, 34 New Buildings

Foxon, John, Bootmaker, 42 New Buildings

Arguile Harry, House Furnisher, 64 New Buildings

Jennings, Arthur, Plumber & Painter, 66 New Buildings


Stockwell Head

Bailey and Simmons, Boot and Shoe Manufacturers, Stockwell Head

Flude, James, Coal dealer, Stockwell Head

Francis and Wilebur, Hosiery Manufacturers, Stockwell Head

Griffin, Frank W., Boot and Shoe Manufacturers, Stockwell Head

Hinckley Club (T. Aucott, Hon. Sec.), Stockwell Head

Hinckley Club Co Limited (Ernest Randle, Hon. Sec.), Stockwell Head

Hinckley Working Men's Club (J. E. Harper, Sec), Stockwell Head

Leicestershire & Warwickshire Electric Power Co. (F. Thursfield, Manager,) Stockwell Head

Marston, Thompson & Evershed Limited, brewers (Bernard A McCarthy, agent), stores, Stockwell Head

Moore, Eady & Murcott Goode Limited, hosiery manufacturers, Stockwell Head

Orrill, Son & Orrill, Hosiery Manufacturers, Stockwell Head

Smith, Frederick George, Superintendent of Police & Inspector of Weights & Measures, Police  Station and Magistrates Court, Stockwell Head

Walker, George Henry, Laundry, Stockwell Head

Aucott, James, Hairdresser, 4 Stockwell Head

The Three Tuns Inn, 7 Stockwell Head, prop. Warren, George,

Hopewell, Wm., Hardware Dealer, 8 & 10 Stockwell Head

Mustin, Charles Arthur, Beer retailer, 12 Stockwell Head

Everton, William, Shopkeeper, 15 Stockwell Head

Morris, Joseph, Boot repairer, 41 Stockwell Head

Payne, John, Beer retailer, 43 Stockwell Head

National Shoe Union (Hinckley branch) (W. Warner sec.,) 50 Stockwell Head

Griffiths, John, Umbrella Maker, 65 Stockwell Head

Hall, Joseph, Greengrocer, 67 Stockwell Head

Boulstridge, William, Blacksmith, 69 Stockwell Head

Moore, George, Chimney Sweeper, 1 Harold Square, Stockwell Head


Market Place

Boots Cash Chemists (Eastern) Ltd, Market Place

Brown, Arthur, House Furnisher, Market Place

Davey, William, Fried Fish dealer, 3 Market Place

The White Hart Public House,(proprieter Carter, John,) 5 Market Place

Evans, Edith, (Mrs) Milliner 9 Market Place

Hinckley Coffee House (Jones, Frederick, Manager) 10 Market Place

Hinckley Permanent Money Society (Jenkins, Arthur, Sec.)

Midland Bank Ltd., Market Place (Green, Frederick, Manager)

George Hotel and Hinckley Electric Picture Palace, (Prop. Powers, Mawby)

Gilder, Walter and Sons Tailors, Market Place







The Borough

Hall & Son Tailors, 2 Borough

Palmer, Ernest (Mrs) and James (Mrs) Ladies’ and Children’s Outfitters, 2a Borough

Heaton and Walker, Architects, 3 Borough

Cleaver, Thomas, Saddler 4 Borough

Dale and Reeve, General Drapers, Dressmakers, Carpet Factors and Funeral Directors, 5 Borough

Dudley, Albert, Draper, 7 & 9 Borough

Gilbert, Albert, Billiard Room Proprieter, 8 Borough (The Billiard Hall was on Station Road.)

Bedford, Arthur, Hairdresser 10 Borough

Parr’s Bank, 13 Borough

Advance Box Manufacturing Company, 15 Borough

Pickering and Sons Printers, 17 Borough

Hinckley and South Leicestershire Permanent Benefit Building Society (Arthur James Pickering Manager) 17 Borough

Price, Charles Frederick, Bootmaker, 19 Borough

Aucott, Thomas, Brewer’s Agents 22 Borough

Aucott  Thomas Jun. Auctioneers 20 Borough

Hyde-Mann, Ethel, (Mrs) Milliner,21 Borough

Bass, Ellen, (Miss) Fried Fish dealer 26 Borough

Bass, William, Carrier, 26 Borough

Hinckley Theatre (Orchard, Alfred D., Manager)

Union Hotel Randle, Ernest, Borough

Dog and Gun Public House 28 Borough, proprietor Marshall Martha (Mrs)


Thanks to Vicky Gilbert for help in compiling this list.









17. Women workers are urgently needed on the Land

Government notice 1916

Recruitment poster for the Women’s Land Army, 1917.



Hinckley in the early years of the 20th century was much more rural than it is today. Charles King, writing in 1975, recalled:

Some of the town limits may be imagined from the fact that John Street ended at Callington’s factory, from where a pathway led over the fields to Leicester Road and the Grammar School.  Ashby Road, from the junction with Derby Road, was open land. The cricket ground and cemetery (Sparrow’s Garden was the popular name) were in close proximity to the brickworks and apart from a small group of houses around the Mineral Baths Inn there were no other houses in sight, except a little group in Barwell Lane. This closeness to the country scene was the same in Trinity Lane, Rugby Road and the road leading outwards and would be unrecognisable today.

The many orchards in the town were well known to us. In the Grammar School gardens were good pears, and many places grew apples and plums, which became highly popular! I have an idea that Sgt. Clements and PC Hirons also knew a lot about the lads who went “scrumping.” They were kindly man, and their police activities often ended with a few words of caution, or a good scare.[250]

He also recalled:

At the top of Occupation Road was a field belonging to a Mr Blower, who kept poultry. These hens were very obliging. They had ideas of their own and they laid their eggs in nests hidden by nettles beneath the high wall. Innocent lads we were, we believed in ‘finders keepers,’ so far as we could see it was the same as finding birds’ eggs. [251]

Local farms included Mill Hill Farm and Limberlands Farm which were both on Hollycroft. Priory Farm was on Leicester Road.  Jericho Farm and Wharf Farm were on Coventry Road, and Cold Comfort Farm was on Rogues Lane. Arthur Tomlin was the farmer of Hinckley Fields Farm. Harrow Farm, Westmorelands Farm, and Whitehouse Farm are also listed in the 1916 Trade directory of Hinckley.  Frederick Earley is also listed as ‘a grazier’ of Barwell Lane.

Wykin farms included Wykin Hall, Home Farm, Spring Hill Farm and Manor Farm.  Mrs Elizabeth Thorpe is listed as the farmer of Wykin House Farm and another local woman farmer was Mrs Sarah Arnold, of Higham.


Sixty percent of food supplies were imported

In 1914 sixty percent of food supplies were imported. Most wheat came from the United States, and a loaf of bread which cost sixpence ha’penny in August 1914 had gone up by two pence in January 1915. In early 1915 the German U-Boat campaign began, which prevented merchant ships from reaching Britain. It was estimated that the wholesale prices of food rose by between 15 and 20 percent in the first six months of the war.[252]

It was clearly essential to increase home production, and the County War Agricultural Committee was established to work with farmers. The Leicestershire branch was based at 33 Bowling Green Street, Leicester, and the local organisers met at Trinity Hall in Hinckley.

As more men enlisted, farmers were losing much needed labour and many resorted to employing boys or older men. Women like Elizabeth Thorpe and Sarah Arnold who were born or married into farming families had worked the land for generations but many farmers were resistant to employing women ‘outsiders.’

When conscription was introduced in 1916 many farming occupations were included in the list of essential work, but in a letter to The Hinckley Times, Thomas Hacking, the Leicestershire Agricultural Organiser, warned local farmers:

The men who will cease to be included in the list of certified occupations on the 1st May 1916 are as follows: all unmarried men under the age of 30 working as farm bailiffs or stewards; all unmarried men under the age of 25 and working as stockmen, ploughmen, carters, waggoners; all unmarried men under the age of 25 working as fruit and market garden foremen; also men who were not engaged in the same occupation on or before 15th August 1915.[253]


In June 1916 The Hinckley Times printed an appeal to local women:

Many farmers, however, would have nothing to do with taking on women, and the Board of Trade had to send officers around the country to persuade them to accept women employees. The Hinckley Times reported on a meeting of the Women’s Agricultural Committee for Leicestershire in July 1916.

Miss Talbot, representing the Board of Agriculture said that:

A great deal could be done, and had been done in many parts of the country by the help of women. Five million men had gone to the army and navy, and this would no doubt go down in history as one of the greatest achievements accomplished by any nation at any time. It had, however, meant a great many gaps in the industries at home. No less than 300,000 men labourers had gone from the land and it was most important that they should do their best to see that these men’s places were filled as far as possible, and, if practicable, still more spared. The fact that there was a reduced supply from abroad made it all the more necessary that there should be increased production at home. It was for that purpose that women’s help had been called upon. [254]

In February 1917, German U-boats sank 230 ships bringing food to Britain, and over half a million tons of British shipping was lost in March. Lloyd George wrote in March 1917 that it was imperative to ensure that there would be a good harvest that year.







 As more men who had been working on the land were sent to the front, the government were calling for older men to help out. A Notice in the Hinckley Times of 12th May 1917 stated:

National Service Man Power required  -

 Apply to Agricultural Services Committee

 Trinity Hall Hinckley.

 The Women's Land Army was set up by the government and posters ordered ‘Women of England - Wake up and answer your country’s call for help.’ At a meeting of the Leicestershire Women’s War Agricultural Committee in August 1917 Mrs C.H. Morris, reported on the appeal which had been made through the National Service Department for Women to recruit for agricultural work. She explained:

Should a woman with some knowledge of agricultural work offer her services, she was sent direct to a farm where the Board of Agriculture paid her 15s a week for her board and lodging while the farmer teaches her all he can and guarantees to keep her on afterwards as a regular worker at a minimum wage of 18s. [255]

She went on:

The advantages to the farmer of this training  can readily be recognised as he has three weeks  in which to show a recruit his own particular  methods, and the work she may be able to do for him free of cost, before she becomes a regular worker  at the minimum rate of pay fixed by the Board of Agriculture  The advantages to the women are also considerable, as in addition to being taught their work by the farmers, they are provided by the Board of Agriculture  with a useful working outfit, renewable at the end of six months. Women workers, who not from any fault of their own, are temporarily out of employment, or who need a little rest, can be sent to a depot which has been opened, at the Warren, Gracedieu, lent free by a Leicestershire lady for this purpose.

All farms and all lodgings to which women are sent are either inspected by the organising secretary or vouched for by a member of the committee who personally knows the neighbourhood. In almost every district there is a representative of the committee. [256]

During the war years poor wheat harvests and outbreaks of potato blight contributed to food shortages.  Farmers, smallholders, allotment holders and gardeners were advised to use lime on the soil and the Food Councils supplied uncontaminated seed potatoes. A Hinckley Times headline read:

A government directive that any land lying idle should be cultivated and all available land should be put to use as allotments was not always popular. In August  1917  Mr H. G. Pay of Clarendon Road, Hinckley wrote to Board of Agriculture and his letter was forwarded to the Highways and Planning committee at Hinckley Council.

Mr Pay was opposing the decision to take over land at the rear of his, and his neighbours’ properties, for allotments.  He said that ‘Residents did not want the land to be taken over under this order and they would not dig up the turf if it had got to be given back after the war.’[257] However, under the ‘Cultivation of Lands Order’ they had no choice.

On 3rd November 1917 a recruiting appeal appeared in The Hinckley Times:

Appeals were made in March 1918 to ‘every Man who has a farm, a garden or an allotment’ to ‘plant more potatoes.’[258]


An advertisement in The Hinckley Times in July 1918 showed a member of the Women’s Land Army, wearing breeches, sitting astride a Fordson tractor. The image would have been unthinkable in 1914. The question ‘And what are you going to do for yourself after the war?’ raised a question which had been current even before the war, when demographically there were more women than men -  of what to do with so called ‘superfluous’ women who would never marry.






18. Childhood in Hinckley Before and During the War Years

New Buildings around 1900 from outside the Drill Hall on the corner of Wood St.

-  Image courtesy of http://hinckley.netfirms.com


 Mary Thompson was born in 1906. Her father was a recruiting sergeant in the Territorial Army, and as a child she lived in New Buildings. In an article in The Hinckley Times she recalled:

Our house was next to the Drill Hall with interesting shops across the road and various activities going on in the street. I remember Major Percy Atkins and my dad, Sergeant Thomas Arthur Kempton leading the soldiers on Church parade and other marches after they had assembled on New Buildings.

Nearby was the Greyhound pub run by Mr and Mrs Arthur Draper. They were very friendly to us and I remember Mrs Draper taking a picture of us children and friends, which is interesting to look back on. 

 When the weather was wet we played in the armoury – part of the army premises attached to the Drill Hall. We also found a peephole there through which we watched the Saturday night dances which took place in the main hall and were organised by a Mr Warner. Imagine our delight when some of us were invited to throw confetti on to the dancers. We were paid sixpence each.

She went on:

 When we were young some of the Goodmans (our next door neighbours) and some of our family went to a house at the bottom of Queens Road, usually on Saturday mornings where we were given slices of new bread and home rendered lard with salt on (sheer bliss.)  Then we would go for a walk round the ‘Courting Stiles’ at the side of the railway lines near the station, and in the spring we picked ladysmocks and kingcups, then finishing up having a paddle in Sketchley Brook. Our special neighbours and friends at the time were the Quigleys. Miss Ely played the organ at church and also gave piano lessons, which we attended later. Miss Winnie told fortunes with cads and was a most entertaining raconteur. Their mother was French which was interesting for our mother. They always kept us well supplied with rhubarb. [259]


Queens Road around 1915 - Image courtesy of http://hinckley.netfirms.com

Mary Thompson’s mother was French. Her parents had met while her father was serving in Guernsey.  Mary went to St Peters School and she wrote ‘I remember knitting vests, in a two plain two purl pattern.’  Olive Hind, who had been born in John Street in 1902, also recalled ‘starting school at about three and a half years old.’ She was later to become Madam Olive Hind, a professional singer.  In an interview in The Hinckley Times she recalled ‘The very first solo that I sang was at school. I had to stand upon the table and sing to the children.  The song was ‘Come little Girl for a Sail with Me.’  She went on to describe ‘The lovely summer holidays and the glorious summers we used to get at that time. A woolly coat was never even thought of. We used to play in fields, especially in the Middlefield Lane area, uninterrupted by traffic. We could pick flowers to our heart’s content.’[260] Charles King also recalled his childhood in the town just before the war. His family lived in Victoria Street.  



Back of houses in Victoria Street in 1956 - Image courtesy of http://www.hinckleytimes.net/news/local-news/past-times-history-hinckley


Victoria Street was a centre of activity for the younger people who were closely associated. They had a united front against all comers. Its football team would take anyone on, and it was with pride they named it ‘Hinckley Victors.’ Among the more responsible neighbours was Mr Arthur Taylor, who became a bandmaster of the Warwickshire Yeomanry, and Tom Armstrong was also a cornet player in the town. His father was a fishmonger with a dray and horse for his business trading.

Sometimes there were tragedies which concerned our neighbours as when one winter’s night an ambulance came into the street carrying the form of a young girl who had been found drowned in the brickyard pit. There were also the joyful times of weddings and family occasions to which neighbours were invited.

In October preparations started for Guy Fawkes night. Material was collected and piled up on any space available. Hedges, fences and anything burnable was added to the heaps and rivalry between different bonfire groups led to raids for materials and “battles” often broke out. Money for fireworks was with “a penny for the guy,” and making toffee for sale, or chopping wood for firelighting at 2d a bucket, and by 5th November a supply of  cannons, roman candles, rockets and jumping jacks were assured and fires were lit all over the town.  

During the darker nights of autumn and winter the activities of the young people were confined to the gas-lighted streets. [261]

He went on:

During the summer the canal was a popular place for bathing. Mostly near the bridges where the water was deeper, the lads were in the nude. The dangers were ignored until tragedy came – two boys drowned. Practically the whole town mourned for them.


Boys Joining Up

When war broke out many of the boys who had built bonfires and swum in the canals volunteered to join the army. Charles King was thirteen at the time and he wrote ‘I can clearly remember some of my friends joined the band of the 10th Battalion Leicestershire Regiment and marching through the New Buildings and Castle Street on a recruitment drive.’ [262]Mary Thompson was eight years old at the start of the First World War. She remembered:

My mother’s sister and her husband came from France to live with us –my uncle was exempt from [the]forces because of very bad varicose veins. He went to work at a garage in Derby Road and my aunt worked at Tansey’s needle factory. She also took pupils for French lessons.

 Many refugees came to our town and we were all encouraged to make them feel welcome. Some of them came to our school. In particular I remember the Delafaille family.”

Charles King had three younger sisters, Mary Thompson had one brother and five sisters and Olive Hind was the fourth of a family of seven. Many children had fathers, brothers, uncles and cousins serving in the war. Some men who were serving in Mesopotamia or other distant war zones didn’t return to their families for four years. While officers on the Western Front may have returned on leave several times during the war it was more difficult for ordinary servicemen. If they had only a few days’ leave there was not enough time to get home and back. Olive Hind recalled how much she missed her older brother:

Mr Oscar Denton, who was the pianist at the Odeon Theatre composed a song called “My Love is All for You” and after hearing me sing asked me to sing it for him one Sunday evening, which I was thrilled to do. I have never forgotten singing it to a photograph of my brother who was out fighting in France at the time. I meant every word of it although Mr Denton had composed it for his wife Lillian. [263]

Mothers were left to keep the families together and many had to work in the factories to supplement the military allowance. With no childcare facilities available some children were cared for by grandparents or other family members. Older children took on responsibility for younger ones, and they were also expected to carry out tasks such as queuing for food before and after school.


Hopscotch, buttons and cigarette cards

Children played in the streets or yards around their homes, and Mary Thompson recalled:

All the children in the neighbourhood gathered together to play in our yard, skipping in a long rope, ball up the wall - head, shoulder, knee to heel – clap behind – clap, patter pan fishes etc. and tip tap, hop scotch, buttons and cigarette cards. Also ‘A Pin to see a Sight.’ Flower petals pressed between two pieces of glass and covered with brown paper. A pin was paid to see the flowers.

Most children could only dream of the toys available at Baxters on Castle Street, which included, at Christmas 1914, clockwork teddy bears, cats, dogs, aeroplanes and railway trains, as well as clockwork boats, Torpedo Destroyers, submarines, and Dreadnoughts. Mary Thompson remembered ‘old Mr Hill’ who lived in a small house on Castle Street. ‘His workshop backed onto our garden. He was a craftsman carpenter and mended furniture etc.  and he also made us a scooter. He was the grandfather of Arthur and Dorothy Bodycote.’ With crowded conditions at home, children were encouraged to play outside, in the parks and fields around the town.  Mary Thompson continued:

In the school holidays when the weather was fine we often spent long periods at “The Rec.” (Queen’s Park or Ten Acres) and often had picnics there. Another popular place for us was Argent’s Mead where we climbed trees and sometimes dropped into the vicar’s orchard and helped ourselves to the odd apple!

During the war I got friendly with Kate Orrill and we and others from St Peter’s attended Hinckley Baths for swimming lessons which cost one penny per session.

She went on:

My sister Jeanette was born in 1916. Just after this dad was wounded in France and was sent to a hospital in Nottingham. When mam went to visit him I was left ‘in charge.’ Besides other chores this included making toffee, which was a real treat in wartime, and I found time to take some to my friends at school.




The bandstand was opened in 1908. Image courtesy of Hinckley District Past and Present - www.hdpp.co.uk


Most children attended Sunday schools and one of the highlights of the year for them was the first Sunday in July, when the annual procession took place. The schools competed