Sunday, 28 June 2015

Schoolgirls and War Work

 From The Times, 26th June 1915.



What schoolgirls have done during the past 10 months of war has passed comparatively unnoticed. They have been somewhat unjustly overshadowed by their elders.

When war first broke out it occurred to Miss F. R. Gray, the headmistress of St. Paul's Girls' School, Hammersmith, that the thousands of girls in secondary schools, most of them with relatives at the front and all of them burning with desire to help, would be, if organized, a splendid asset to the service of the country.  The Association of Headmistresses took up the idea with enthusiasm, and in a short while 325 girls' schools in all parts of the country had joined in forming the Girls' Patriotic Union at Secondary Schools.  Princess Mary became patroness, and Miss Robertson, Principal of Christ's Hospital, the then president of the Association of Headmistresses, the president.

Schools were strongly advised from the first to work in connexion with local organizations and to ascertain their probable needs before undertaking any work.  Almost the first suggestion of national service was found in a suggestion in one of the early circulars that girls should learn and practise all kinds of domestic work so as to set older women free to do work that girls could not do.

The record of these schoolgirls' work since August contains many thousands of acts of self-denial.  Sugar, cakes and sweets, the prizes or part of their value, were given up to Red Cross or relief funds.  Pocket money was used for contributing to various funds; half games subscriptions were devoted to buying materials; outside matches were relinquished and railway fares paid to relief funds; half-holidays were given up to set free other people, men and women, for war work.

Many schools were connected with local service hospitals and assisted in equipping them, providing bed linen, swabs, bandages, and all necessaries.  One school supplied for the use of the wounded stamped envelopes containing a sheet of paper and a pencil with a message of good wishes from the sender. Others did mending for neighbouring hospitals and troops quartered in their neighbourhood.  A few, like the Manchester High School, supplied quantities of jam, which the men much preferred to the ordinary camp preserves.

Sometimes a distraught mayoress of a town wanted warm garments for soldiers as quickly as possible, and the girls never failed her.  Secretarial work was done for local Red Cross centres; wither pads were made for horses at the front, books were collected for the troops, flowers were sent to hospitals, motor-cars were begged from parents and friends to take convalescent soldiers for drives; and boxes were placed conspicuously for self-denial money for hospital comforts.  Elder girls who had mastered French and who formed a Girls' Guide Corps at one school, became extraordinarily useful in helping with refugees, interpreting at some of the centres.

The schools in the long list include names well known in every part of the United Kingdom, from Dr. Sophie Bryant's North London Collegiate School to Miss Mackillop's Victoria High School in Derry.  Every denomination is represented in that patriotic company.

 [Although it is not mentioned, I think that the schools involved in the Girls' Patriotic Union were all private schools.  The minimum school leaving age at this time was 12, and in working class families, children had to leave school to start earning as soon as possible. The luxury of 'self-denial' and giving up outside matches and half-holidays was reserved for girls from richer families.]

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