Poetry & The Great War, a series: 4 The Home Front

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The absence of great numbers of men resulted in changes on the Home Front where they were replaced by women in many of the essential industries. At the height of the war one million women worked in munition factories, some of whom died as the result of explosions or TNT poisoning. Women took over farm work, drove buses and trains, moved into various clerical and industrial jobs. By the end of the war 37% of women were employed. The Suffragette movement suspended its activities during the war and resumed them after the Armistice which eventually saw women enfranchised in 1928.

For the first time it was total war which included the civilian population along with children. All played an important and significant role. German Zeppelins bombed the principal cities. 2000 were killed as a result of these raids. Food was rationed and the endless lists of dead and wounded found their way to mothers, wives, girlfriends and others. The emotional impact was enormous. The Home Front was as crucial to the war effort as the front line on the battle field. But what of women poets and writers? Most of the major anthologies of war poetry concerned men at the front and this cast a shadow on those women who took up pen and paper to express their emotions and plight. These women were often overlooked or simply ignored but a great deal can be gleaned from their writings.

Here are a few who are certainly worthy of mention:

Vera Brittain  -  nurse, writer, feminist and pacifist. ¨Because you died ¨- a selection of poetry and prose

Mary Wedderburn  -  Book ¨The War in Poems ¨ and particular the poem -¨Women Demobilised ¨.

Margaret Posgate  -  The poem ¨The Falling Leaves ¨ an anti-war poem from a woman´s perspective

Rose McCaulay  -  Poem ¨Many sisters to many brothers ¨.

Alice Meynell  -  ¨Parted ¨a poem in summer 1914

Margaret Sackville  -  ¨There was no sound at all, no crying in the village ¨.

As a consequence of severe numbers of casualties, whole communities throughout the country lost significant numbers of its menfolk. Nearly every family in the nation had lost someone. On one day thousands were killed, most of whom came from one town and its neighbouring villages. Whole streets went into mourning. No one could comprehend the great losses which were endured. Men who had left in a fervour of patriotism were never to return.

Immense Sorrow

An agonising scream, a piercing wail, a door slammed shut.

Heartfelt sobs, the sounds of bitter weeping broke the stillness of the dawn

A kaleidoscope of human suffering

Sadness concealed as blinds were drawn,

but nought could stifle the chorus of those who wept

till tears came no more.

Women, old and young donned black attire

Symbols of irreparable loss.

A lad from every street never to return, hurt beyond belief

Souls lost in grief, hearts ached with pain.

Lost in a moment.

Lives, families destroyed, communities fragmented

A town scarred by a grevious blow

A maze of streets, pathways of grief

An opened wound never to heal

Widows, orphans created overnight

Memories left of happier days as salt in the wound

A church bell tolled as if counting the dead, again and again.

A town immersed in sorrow, drenched in tears

Despair, despondency and abandonment.

Would any return? A glimmer of hope perhaps,

or had all gone for eternity?

Mournful countenances, some veiled, others with vacant expressions,

wide eyed and disbelieving: lost foresaken, empty and bereft.

A woman´s voice was heard to cry

How many?

◄ Notes from a Poetry Crowd Surfer

The Write Out Loud Poem of the Week is ‘The Dogs of Athens’ by John Short ►


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keith jeffries

Sun 28th Oct 2018 10:36

Jennifer, Big Sal and MC.,

Thank you indeed for your interesting and valued comments. Each one of you brought to light other aspects of the role of women in both world wars and the enormity of the conflicts along with their significant contribution.

Thank you again

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jennifer Malden

Sat 27th Oct 2018 17:32

Perhaps should have been a reason for Bremain? we have had peace 'in our time' for over 70 years. Also in the 2nd WW women had an even more important role, although in 1914 this was a real novelty. In WW2 my mother was in the WRACs - first driving an army lorry -then promoted to driver to a general. She greatly lamented the lack of facilities for women at the barracks!!!! and finally worked as a landgirl on a friend's farm - driving a tractor. One grandmother was in the Red Cross, and the other was an air raid warden with a whistle, tin helmet, and a v large torch. her job being to ensure people went to the shelters if there was an alarm.Jennifer

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M.C. Newberry

Mon 22nd Oct 2018 16:37

The need for women to work in war-related industries was
a significant step in their progress towards a much
greater participation in ordinary life on a more equal
footing with men, subsequently enhanced by their later
similarly vital importance in WW2 when they were even
delivering aircraft for operational use across the country.
Only a fool would deny their essential role in both wars -
or their deserved greater emancipation thereafter.
Here's to the ladies!

Big Sal

Mon 22nd Oct 2018 12:49

Entire towns depopulated due to patriotic fervor. America could learn a thing or two by studying its allies past war feats - it may put it into perspective a little bit. The last time the US had such conditions was the American Civil War, and even then a large portion of the population (excluding the Confederacy) did not participate in the war.

Either way, another one for the books Keith, and the poem had it sold with its hopeful-yet-grim reality that it put across.

Women really picked up the brunt of duties didn't they? Such a shame it takes a world war for men to admit they need women in a civilized nation.


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