Nearly 18,000 charities were established across the UK during the First World War. Most of these were founded to help medical services, to provide Comforts for ‘Soldiers’ – such as clothing and food, support disabled servicemen, help the families of serving and fallen soldiers and to aid refugees.
Lady Smith-Dorrien’s Hospital Bag Fund
In response to huge casualty numbers on the front line, Lady Smith-Dorrien and volunteers across the country stepped in to creat simple, labelled drawstring bags to store the personal possessions of the sick and wounded soldiers when they were admitted to hospitals and casualty clearing stations. It was estimated that 60,000 bags a month were needed.
By the end of the War more than five million bags had been sewn and distributed to hospital ships, medical units and field hospitals both in Europe and further afield. Bags were to be made of unbleached calico, although flowered cretonne (chintz) was preferred by the soldiers because they reminded them of cushions and covers at home. They were all made 12 inches by 14 inches and featured a plain label with a red cross symbol where the name and home address of the wounded could be written.
For those men who did not come home, the bags with their treasured possessions were returned to their family. The bags went by a variety of names including Comfort Bags, Treasure Bags, Blighty Bags, Sister Susie Bags or Dorothy Bags.
Events were held regularly throughout the town to raise money for causes and to help keep up moral. The Rev Maurice Lutener and his wife Annie Laura Lutener, who lost their son Richard to the War, organised balls to entertain serving soldiers on leave from the front line.
In February 1917 the Llangollen Advertiser reported that the King’s Liverpool Regiment held their first ball at the Drill Hall in Oswestry. There was a large turnout and a “very enjoyable evening was spent”. Music for dancing was supplied by the Regimental Band under Bandmaster Leadbetter. The M.C.’S included Capt. Murphy and Lieut. Gilbert. The following week the Holy Trinity Soldiers Institute also held a dance at the Drill Hall. This was a fundraising event in aid of the St Dunstan’s Hostel for Blind Soldiers and Sailors and the Ardmillian Hospital. Music was provided by Mr H. H Tim’s band.
The Soldiers Club
Soldiers clubs were set up to provide entertainment and a place for soldiers to socialise when they were on leave from the front line. In 1917, Lady Ellen Webb purchased the premises of Messers Rodgers & Co, Oswald Road (now KC Jones garage) and converted the building to house to a soldier’s club. Lady Webb was the wife of Lieutenant-Col. Sir Henry Webb, MP for the Forest of Dean, who commanded labour at Park Hall Camp nearby.
The Morda Workhouse
There had been a workhouse in Oswestry since 1776. The workhouse at Morda was built in 1791. There was very little state welfare at the beginning of the 20th Century. In 1902 The Education Act had raised the school leaving age to 14 years and children started working as young as thirteen. Young girls often went into domestic service as this offered the prospect of board and lodging. This could reduce overcrowding in the family home. If you did not have employment and therefore had no income life was harsh. Many elderly people ended up in the workhouse. There was only very limited old pension for some aged over 70 years. Unemployment and health insurance did begin in 1911 but it was very limited. Many of the workhouse inmates were physically and mentally disabled. The workhouse offered, however basic, meals and a place to sleep. Inmates were also given work to do. The workhouse was not a prison and inmates could leave if they wished though some did stay for many years. Click here to find out more about the workhouse and some of the women who worked there…
Smale’s Home Helpers Scheme
A charity endowment run from Oswestry Guildhall Mr Richard Bill Smale (a retired Chemist) was born on 27 October 1830 and died on 18 March 1908. In his will dated 10 April 1908 he left his estate, 30,277 pounds 12 shillings 7 pence, (a huge sum of money worth around 2.5 million pounds in 2018) for the benefit of the deserving poor. This endowment was put under the Eure and Smale charity (which was then absorbed by the Town
Hall Charities Act 21 December 1979).
At the start of the War, the Smale’s Home Help Scheme was up and running. The committee had taken advice from Annie M Peterkin the acting General Superintendent of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Institute of Nurses. The charity was originally founded to organise the training of District Nurses. It was instrumental in developing a comprehensive, highly-skilled service to meet the healthcare needs of millions of people every year.
‘District nursing’ began in England in 1859 when William Rathbone, a Liverpool merchant, philanthropist and later an MP, employed Mary Robinson to nurse his wife at home during her final illness. After his wife’s death, he retained Mary Robinson’s services so that people in Liverpool who could not afford to pay for nursing would benefit from care in their own homes. Nurses went into the home and nursed those who could not go into hospital as there was no room for them or they could not afford to pay for their care. These nurses were all married local women. They were paid well; 22 shillings per week. Dr Beresford, in his annual reports, noted the valuable work these nurses had done around the town. They did not deal with large numbers but covered a large range of illnesses, such as pneumonia, cancer, bronchitis, cardiac paralysis, phthisis, abscesses, gastroenteritis, broken leg, flu, etc and worked the whole day in the patient’s home. Click here to read about some of the nurses working on the Smales Home Helpers Scheme…
National Egg Collection
The National Egg Collection started in November 1914 with the aim of providing thousands of eggs each week to hospitals treating wounded soldiers. By Easter 1915, the number of eggs collected had reached 200,000 a week.
In August that year Queen Alexandra became patron of the scheme and the War Office decided to use this to push for a target of one million eggs a week. In the week commencing 16th August 1915, 1,030,380 eggs had been donated. There were over 2000 egg collection depots across the country run by local groups and churches. A central collection point was set up in London in a warehouse initially provided free of charge by Harrods. Transport to the collection point was provided for free by the railways.
During WW1 Gertrude Venables was in charge of the National Egg Collection for Oswestry and the surrounding area. Find out more about Gertrude Venables here…
When Germany invaded Belgium on 4 August 1914, refugees began to arrive in Britain very quickly, 16,000 arriving in Folkestone on one day alone – 14 October 1914. In total, over 250,000 refugees arrived from Belgium in the United Kingdom, leaving no part of the country untouched. Agatha Christie’s most famous detective was Hercule Poirot – a Belgian refugee she met while working as a VAD in Torquay. This was the largest influx of people the UK has known and it is now almost totally forgotten.
At the end of the war, Belgians had their work contracts cancelled. The Government gave each person a free one-way ticket home and within 12 months of the end of the war 90% of refugees had returned home. As reported by the Border Counties Advertiser, Belgian refugees arrived in Oswestry on 1 October 1914. People of the town turned out to greet them and offer space in their homes for them to stay. The town rallied round these people and gave clothing knitted by the war guilds run by local women in both Oswestry and Llangollen.
Fundraising Concerts and entertainments were put on for the refugees. We have yet to find out exactly how many Belgians were homed in the town, but they stayed until the end of the war. Many of the men joined the army and fought after their arrival in Britain.