Watford and south west herts in the great war
Watford and South West Herts in the Great War is a slim volume of 150 pages about the lives of ordinary people in a corner of Hertfordshire during the upheaval that was World War One. Divided into an Introduction, 4 main sections and an Afterword, most of the content is parcelled into section 2 entitled Civilian Life. Which is as it should be for a book aiming to tell the story of ordinary life in Watford and its neighbouring villages at this time.
Drs Eugenia and Quentin Russell have done an admirable job in portraying the everyday life of a community that contributed to the war effort through industry, health, transportation, art and voluntary work. From the introduction we have a brief summary of the growth of Watford, how brewing and printing came to dominate the town. But also how manufacture such as the Cobra Polish Works in Bushey and the Watford Manufacturing Company played an important role in Watford’s growth. The former employed “a large number of young women…. where one employee on the filling line was capable of filling 20,000 tins per hour”. That’s roughly 5.5 tins of polish per second!
As the war progressed and more men were drafted overseas, new opportunities occurred for women. For example, I particularly liked the story of Mrs Pilling of ‘Inveresk’, Hempstead Road “who was teaching potential cooks for the Army Catering Corps in her kitchen”, but there were also women, known as ‘munitionettes’, who worked on the more dangerous activity of assembling explosives at Watford No.1 the local term for the munitions factory in Balmoral Road. Here in October 1917 a woman and two men were killed when a shell was accidentally ignited.
This book is a mine of information about local events and people, both civilians and soldiers, and is liberally scattered with photographs garnered from the newspapers of the day, some of which this reviewer hadn’t seen before. It takes the reader through to the post-1918 world when the question of how we remember the dead was addressed and memorials flourished in the towns and villages of England. Easy to read and drawing the reader into the minutiae of life during wartime, I would happily recommend it to anyone with an interest in the history of Watford.
Review by Andy Elsen - West Watford History Group member