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Inspirational story of women’s role in First World War in Norfolk to be told events to coincide with Armistice Day

PUBLISHED: 12:55 09 November 2017 | UPDATED: 12:55 09 November 2017

First World War Women of Norfolk exhibition at The Forum. Exhibition research volunteers. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

First World War Women of Norfolk exhibition at The Forum. Exhibition research volunteers. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2017

The crucial role women played in the First World War will be celebrated at a series of talks which poignantly coincide with Armistice Day.

First World War Women of Norfolk exhibition at The Forum. Honor Elwes. Picture: ANTONY KELLY First World War Women of Norfolk exhibition at The Forum. Honor Elwes. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

The free First World War Women of Norfolk on Active Service exhibition opened on Saturday, November 4 at The Forum, in Norwich.

It is the culmination of months of painstaking research by volunteers, who made a public call for any stories and materials people had from the 1914 to 1918 conflict.

That appeal yielded an array of fascinating exhibits, including photographs and diaries from women who lived during the period, as well as employment records.

MORE: How Norfolk’s women transformed the First World War

As part of the exhibition a series of talks will be held this weekend to give people the opportunity to look in more detail at what women did during the war.

Women working for Boulton & Paul during the First World War. Picture: THE FORUM Women working for Boulton & Paul during the First World War. Picture: THE FORUM

Sarah Power, learning and events manager at The Forum, said of the exhibition: “It shows what an impact they made not just to the war effort but to wider society as well.

“We hope visitors to the exhibition will be inspired to think about their female relatives who lived through such a great time of change.”

Military historian and author Neil Storey kicks off the day of talks on Saturday, November 11, between 10am and 11am, by telling people about the many roles women performed during the First World War.

Before 1914, many women were seen as domestic workers – but the prolonging of the war and loss of men from factories and the land propelled them into new-found responsibilities.

First World War Women of Norfolk exhibition at The Forum. The war diaries of Honor Elwes. Picture: ANTONY KELLY First World War Women of Norfolk exhibition at The Forum. The war diaries of Honor Elwes. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

“Thousands of Norfolk women had their lives completely transformed during the First World War, challenging stereotypes and proving that their strength and bravery was essential to the war effort and beyond,” a spokesman for the The Forum said.

MORE: The EDP says...Women’s role in the First World War helped save the country - and changed social attitudes

Between 11.15am and 12.15pm, Mary Bradford and Rita Gallard will talk about how women at Boulton and Paul aircraft factory adjusted to the demands of engineering work, as well as how the new female workforce changed the company.

From 12.45pm to 1.45pm, Juliet Webster will talk about the fascinating diary of Honor Elwes.

The historic pages not only reveal what life was like for women at the time but also chronicle the adventures of her sister Win, from Congham near King’s Lynn, who was an ambulance driver in France.

Win Elwes was awarded the Military Medal for Bravery – the highest honour a woman could receive at the time – for driving wounded men from an ammunition dump.

At 2pm Daryl Long will talk about the work the Women’s Royal Air Force did at Narborough Aerodrome, while from 3.15pm Jen Hooker and Claire Penstone-Smith will talk about Norfolk’s Auxiliary Hospitals.

The day will end with Tom Greenwood’s talk on Norwich High School for Girls during the First World War, between 4.30pm and 5.30pm.

The exhibition is open for people to look around each day, between 10am and 4pm, until Sunday, November 19.

Robyn Llewellyn, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in the East of England, said: “From active service to engineering and the Home Front, this project offers a valuable insight into the role of Norfolk women during the First World War.

“Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, and with vital help from volunteers, people across the county have been sharing their stories and this new exhibition is a fantastic opportunity to share their discoveries and learn more about Norfolk in the First World War.”

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