Our first ‘munitionette’? UPDATED

By Judith Phillips

We’ve recently been sent some photographs of Elizabeth Anne Hogget – known as Lily in the family – from Barnard Castle who worked in a munitions factory during the First World War.  There were munitions factories in Newton Aycliffe and Darlington and it’s not clear yet where Lily worked – but the family thinks it was probably Darlington.  Does anyone recognise where the women are standing in this outdoor photograph?

In the more posed photograph Lily is sitting with a group of fellow-munition workers – ‘munitionettes’.  All the women are wearing overdresses and caps, necessary precautions as the materials and machinery they were using were messy and potentially dangerous.  The clothes are practical and look as though they are worn over ordinary blouses and skirts.  But it’s interesting to see that the women have added an individual touch to their uniform, even if only because they were being photographed.  You can see lace and other blouse collars outside their overdress collars and even the caps are worn in rather individual ways. 

The ‘shells crisis’ of 1915 led to an increase in the manufacture of shells under Lloyd George as Minister of Munitions.  Many women took work in the factories because they offered higher wages than other factory work or domestic service – traditionally seen as employment for working-class women.  Lily Hoggett is the first ‘munitionette’ we have been given any real information about.  We know that a sister of George, Tom, Walter and Stanley Croft  ‘worked in munitions’ as she is mentioned in the Teesdale Mercury report of Mrs. Croft receiving the medals awarded to George Croft, killed in 1917. (You can see details of the Croft brothers’ service on the Roll of Honour on www.thebowesmuseumww1.org.uk).  There will have been other women from Teesdale involved in munitions manufacturing – perhaps you know of one?  We’d love to hear about them.

Lily married William Tallentire in 1918, before the end of the war.  I found that out by checking on Ancestry but there’s plenty more research to be done about Lily and her family.  Her descendants who have kindly sent us copies of their family photographs have promised to pass on any family history information and we can use Ancestry to check William’s military service as well as census records and civil registration records (births, marriages and deaths).  

That’s what makes this project so fascinating – piecing together the stories of the men and women from Teesdale whose lives were affected by the war on the front line and at home.  If you have any information or artefacts about Teesdale people and the First World War, we’d love to hear from you.  You can email: libraryandarchives@thebowesmuseum.org.uk or telephone: 01833 690606 ext. 208 (answerphone).

UPDATE: Following on from this article’s inclusion in an earlier newsletter, we’ve been contacted by a few people who say the munitions workers must have been at Darlington as the Aycliffe works weren’t operational until the Second World War.  We’re always grateful to members of the public who are willing to share their knowledge and expertise.  Sometimes we publicise a name or ‘fact’ in the hope that someone out there has more information or can put us right.  So, please, keep on looking at entries on the website and stories in the newsletter, and help us out when we get it a bit wrong or ask a question.

WW1 and food

By Judith Phillips

Just to whet your appetites (or not)!  Several project volunteers have been reading the Teesdale Mercury to pick out references to any war-related items – not just notices of death or wounding or soldiers home on leave, but also more local events, often fundraising concerts or a notice about ‘home comforts’ sent out to the troops.  But the Teesdale Mercury also kept people in Teesdale in touch with the wider world.

Throughout the war the newspaper included national information about the war and other news.  It also included ‘useful’ articles on how to run the home, designed to help housewives cope with life on the home front.  Some middle-class housewives were without servants for the first time in their lives!  Perhaps they were the people who most benefitted from advice on how to make clothing material go further or followed the recipes for dishes that took into account the fact that it was not easy to get a wide range of foodstuffs.

One volunteer has become very interested in the food advice and recipes, but she recently said that she didn’t think she’d have wanted to eat so many dishes created using stale bread!  Food is a theme we plan to explore further when we consider how we will mark the end of the project.  (I know it’s nearly two years ahead, but we need to start planning now).

And, on the theme of food, keeps your eyes peeled for an event later this year when we hope to offer you the chance to find out more about food during WWI.

Robert Donald, Royal Navy

By June Parkin

WW1 must have broadened the horizons of many Teesdale men. One such was Robert Donald of Startforth, who signed up for 12 years’ service in the Royal Navy in September 1915.

Robert was born on July 6th 1894 and in the 1901 Census is living in High Startforth with his father Robert, a general labourer, his mother Margaret and his two older brothers, John George a Flax-spinner’s Clerk and Alfred a Draper’s Assistant. In the 1911 Census Robert is a  Draper’s Apprentice and is visiting John George, now a Grocer’s Clerk in Middlesbrough. (John George had recently married a Stockton girl, which may explain his move.)

Why Robert, at the age of 21, joined the navy rather than the army is unknown, but ‘Ancestry’ does provide a record of his naval service.

Robert Donald M15415, was first assigned to HMS Victory I, which was not a ship as such, but a training base in Gosport, Hampshire. Royal Navy personnel at all times have to be assigned to a ‘ship’ whether at sea or ashore. He became a Probationary Sick Berth Attendant training at the Haslar Hospital in Gosport.


Sick berth personnel did not wear the same uniforms as naval ratings because in 1891they were given a new style uniform, a double breasted jacket with a red cross badge on the sleeve.

Robert’s conduct was reported as ‘Very Good’, he passed his probationary period and his first posting at sea was to HMS Malaya from October 1916 to July 1921. The Malaya was a Queen Elizabeth-class fast battleship commissioned on February 1st1916. Robert was probably fortunate in joining the ship after the Battle of Jutland, because The Malaya was hit by seven 12″ shells, it received two holes below the water line and a 6″ battery was wrecked; 63 men were killed and 68 injured. After repair, her service during the First World War generally consisted of routine patrols and training in the North Sea.



                                                                                                Badge of  HMS Malay. The ship was paid for by the Malay government as a contribution to the war effort.

Robert returned to Haslar Hospital and then to HMS Fisgard, another shore-based facility in Gosport. In 1924 he was promoted to Leading Sick Berth Attendant and in September 1926 was posted to HMS Revenge. This was reported in the Teesdale Mercury on October 26th, mentioning that ‘the “Revenge” is the flagship to the Atlantic Fleet now on manoeuvres in the North Sea off the coast of Scotland’. Robert stayed with the Revenge until she went into retirement as flagship in January 1928. He had completed his 12 years service and received a war gratuity and Long Service and Good Conduct Medals.

Robert must have remained in the Portsmouth area as he married Edith Carter in 1932 at Alverstoke near Gosport.

‘We are making a new world’

By Judith Phillips

Tate Britain (London) is showing an exhibition of work by Paul Nash until 5th March.  I recently went to see it and was fascinated particularly by the sections showing his work as an official war artist in both world wars. 

Nash (1889-1946) joined the Artists’ rifles (part of the 28th London Regiment of Territorials) at the outbreak of war.  In august 1916 he began officer training and was sent to the Western Front in February 1917 as a second lieutenant in the Hampshire Regiment.  He was invalided back to England in mid-1917 after a bad fall.  While he was in England, most of the men in his previous unit were killed in the assault on Hill 60.  Nash returned to France as a war artist in late 1917.

I recognised some of the paintings from books but, of the First World War ones,  I had only seen ‘The Menin Road’ before.  The paintings are striking, partly because they are so quiet and calm on first sight.  But look more closely, and you see evidence of destruction everywhere, even though there is little action.  The sombre colours add to the general feeling of disquiet.

There’s now a reference copy of the exhibition catalogue, complete with colour plates of the paintings and a series of essays, in the museum’s Reading Room, along with several other books on many aspects of the war and its aftermath that you are welcome to come and look at when the Reading Room is open to the public (days and times on the museum’s website).

Another date for your diary – May 27

Hot press announcement – we are delighted the talk on Saturday 27th May will be about the work of the Red Cross Auxiliary Hospitals ‘at home’ by focusing on their work in North Yorkshire.  I believe the afternoon session may also involve coming into close contact with various pieces of equipment, which sounds fascinating.  We’ll circulate more details as soon as everything is confirmed.

Did you know that, during the war, the museum distributed tomatoes grown in its greenhouses to various convalescent hospitals in the region?  There’s a folder of correspondence and photographs in the Museum’s archive (ref. TBM/7/1/14).