The Beccles women who played a vital role in the First World War
10:00 22 January 2014
A chance find of an old photograph has helped highlight the vital role a group of women from the Beccles area played in supporting Allied troops during the First World War.
Christopher Elliott, who now lives in Wimbledon, was sorting through records to do with the history of Elliott and Garrood Ltd, the former Beccles engineers.
As he was doing so he came across the remarkable photograph we have reprinted on this page which shows a group of local women who made 18-pounder shells during the First World War.
“As the conflict is 100 years old and high on the public agenda this year I thought this picture may be of interest to readers,” said Mr Elliott.
The seated lady in the centre of the picture wearing a bonnet was Mr Elliott’s paternal grandmother, Mary Elliott, who was born in 1865 and died in 1932.
Mr Elliott’s grandfather, Alexander Elliott, who ran the works at that time, died in 1939.
“I had an aunt, now gone, on my mother’s side who was a Fiske and she is also somewhere in the photograph,” explained Mr Elliott.
“It always surprised me to be told that, when the war ended, the girls had to pay two shillings and sixpence (12.5p) if they wanted to take home an engraved reject shell with their names on it.
“My aunt’s shell is at present held by one of her grandchildren. I wonder if there are other surviving examples in Beccles?” he said.
The engineering company was again making shells for the Second World War.
Elliott and Garrood Ltd had been ordered in 1937/38 to tool up for 25-pounder shell production.
“German technicians from Krupps, of Essen, came to the works through our Woolwich Arsenal to install their super grey-painted machinery which never broke down.
“As I reflected in later years on this co-operation to kill one another, I was left wondering, yet today is no different,” said Mr Elliott.
On November 17, 1940, the Beccles works was attacked at dawn in a low-level precision raid which failed as the flare markers were all extinguished by firewatchers.
“Earlier, my father, as works manager, was ordered to prepare a detailed air raid shelter plan for all the shell making workshops, and several had to be displayed by law.
“Two examples are around, one in Beccles Museum and the other in my hands.
“I wonder if German intelligence, probably through foreign fishermen using Lowestoft, quickly digested the plan before the bombing attempt on the factory?” said Mr Elliott.