How life on the home front revolutionised industry
16:02 15 August 2014
Archant © 2012
The outbreak of the First World War - and the four years of conflict which were to follow - were to have a profound and in some cases permanent impact on life in East Anglia. Here, reporter KIM BRISCOE analyses how the home front adapted to life at war.
The local economy received a dramatic jolt from the war. Military demands on manpower led to a decline in the number of available workers in rural as well as urban areas.
The EDP reported that on some farms, half the workforce went off to fight. At the same time, German naval attempts to strangle imports into Britain meant that local produce from East Anglian fields became ever more vital to the continuing war effort. There were shortages of many foodstuffs, including meat, bread and sugar.
The female land worker was to become a familiar figure, as farms tried to make up for the decline in available manpower.
Industries, too, had to adapt. Caleys, the Norwich confectioners, saw a boost, with its signature “Marching Chocolate” bars sent off to troops serving overseas. Norwich’s then thriving shoe and boot industry, meanwhile, supplied pairs for the British army and its allies.
Eight of the county’s firms were put to use on the often dangerous task of producing munitions for the forces, including Laurence Scott of Norwich, Burrell’s of Thetford and Norwich Components Ltd.
Meanwhile, Boulton and Paul made a key contribution to the military effort by building aeroplanes - by the end its workers were making 45 a week.
The first stop for the aircraft was the area between the Salhouse and Plumstead Roads, near Mousehold Heath, where they were handed over to the military. The site had originally been a cavalry training ground until it was taken over the Royal Flying Corps.
Boulton and Paul also built huts and hangars and supplied many miles of barbed wire to the military.
But while some firms prospered, others struggled. The government bought in measures to restrict pub opening hours - a factor cited by many as leading to a downturn in Norfolk’s previously healthy brewing industry.
All sports were affected by the conflict, as participants headed off to the front. First-class cricket was entirely abandoned for the duration of the war, while rugby’s Five Nations Championship was suspended and not resumed until 1920.
From the last match before the outbreak, played between Scotland and England – in March 1914, which England won, 15-16 – only half those who played survived the war.
It was expected that the Football Association would follow the example set by cricket and cancel all matches from early in the conflict.
But, despite opposition, matches were played in the Football League throughout the 1914-1915 season and the FA Cup held as normal. For the remainder of the war, the Football League suspended its programme but allowed clubs to organise regional competitions.
The suspension proved costly for Norwich City, which was facing spiralling debts and ended up going into voluntary liquidation. It was officially reformed in early 1919.
However, the war helped to foster women’s sports, with munitions factories developing their own ladies’ football teams.
Many schools had to adapt to fewer teachers and larger classes, as teachers went off to fight. Some had been part time members of the Territorial forces, while others resigned their posts to enlist.
Other new appointments who had been expected to arrive at the start of term in September also failed to materialise as they had answered the recruitment call. As the war continued, successive generations of boys passed straight from school into uniform, and many to their deaths.
Much research has been conducted, in particular, into the fates of pupils from public schools, such as the Norwich School and Gresham’s School in Holt.
Both had officer training corps and sent many young men off to war. More than 100 soldiers who had been pupils at Gresham’s fought and died. About three quarters were under 25, and the majority were unmarried.
George Howson was the headmaster at the time. He was said to be devastated by the loss of so many former pupils, passing away himself not long after the war ended in 1918. Twenty-six per cent of all First World War VCs were public schoolboys.
There has been much debate over whether public schoolboys suffered a higher death rate than other servicemen. One reason put forward for the high numbers killed is that most were commissioned officers, who led their men into battle and were a conspicuous target for German snipers looking to take out the enemy’s leadership.
For more in depth stories from the First World War click here