January 2011

The Role of Women in the New Forest in Two World Wars – January 2011

The well known local speaker at the January meeting of the Society was John Cockram whose subject was ‘The Role of Women in the New Forest in Two World Wars’.

The speaker said that during the Great War, so far as the Forest was concerned, the provision of timber to support the war activities was paramount. This was primarily a male job but a Timber Cutting Section for women workers was instituted.

However, in addition to the timber requirements, it was quickly realised that additional food production was critical, particularly following the high loss of shipping bringing supplies into this country. Although agriculture was a reserved occupation, it became apparent that additional labour was required to increase food production. Resulting from deputations to Parliament and strong ‘lobbying’ by women of influence, the Women’s Land Army (WLA.) was formed in early 1917. Colleges were started, including Sparsholt College near Winchester, where women could be trained. Prejudices both from individual farmers and the NFU had to be overcome but the WLA was able to show its worth, making a significant contribution to the war effort.

But of particular note in WW1 was the establishment of hospitals, notably at Brockenhurst, Barton and Milford-on-Sea for the treatment of wounded soldiers primarily from India and New Zealand. Holme Mead, in Lymington High Street, now demolished and replaced by the Post Office, became both a training establishment for nurses and a military hospital run under the auspices of the St John’s Ambulance Association. Many women from Lymington and the surrounding area were trained here and significant number served overseas as well as locally.

In addition women were able to contribute to the war effort by working in factories (often achieving positions of responsibility) and as ambulance drivers; bus and tram ‘clippies’ and similar work which in pre-war days had been carried out almost exclusively by men.

During World War 2 the Forest was much more in the front line. It was exposed to air attack; and was a potential area for invasion from the continent. Defences were built including pill boxes, anti aircraft sites, gun sites etc. The role of women changed and their activities were expanded. They were much more evident in the uniformed services, for example, WRNS were stationed at Exbury (HMS ‘Mastodon’), the ATS and WAAF. Their civilian roles included the Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS); Air Raid Precautions (ARP), fire-fighters, etc. Women were also much more involved in industry – at Wellworthy (making piston rings), making parts for ‘mulberry harbours’ along the Waterside and at Bucklers Hard, etc. And, of course, they continued through the reconstituted WLA to have a major impact in the production of food.

The speaker gave a vivid insight into the influence that women had in their role in the two World Wars and his talk, supported by slides was much enjoyed by the audience.

The next meeting of the Society will be held on Friday 25th February at 7.15pm when the speaker will be John Smith whose talk is entitled ‘The Special Operations Executive at Beaulieu‘.

The next meeting is on Friday, 28 October, 2010, where the AGM, starting at 7.15 pm, will be followed by a talk on the ‘Burrards of Walhampton’ given by Roland Stott.

Please note the date of the November meeting on the ‘Coastal Heritage of the New Forest’, is Friday, 26 November and not the 25th as given in the printed programmes.