Women’s stories in WW1

Meet six real people who lived through World War One. Their stories will help us to imagine what life was like for women during the War and to create a profile for Poppy, her life and family. 

1 An Introduction to Project Poppy
2 Mental health then and now
3 Women’s stories in WW1
4 Letters home

Mabel Lethbridge

Mabel was just 17 when she took a job as a munitions worker, making bombs at a factory. Working conditions were very dangerous. and she lost a leg in an explosion at the factory. Because she’d lied about her age when she got the job, she wasn’t entitled to a war pension for those injured in the war. Mabel is still the youngest person ever to receive the Order of the British Empire.

Hear from Mabel as she looks back on her experience of working in a munitions factory.

From the BBC series I Was There: The Great War Interviews.

Elsie Knocker and Mairi Chisolm

Elsie Knocker, later Baroness de T’Serclaes, was a nurse and ambulance driver working at the front line in Belgium. She set up a hospital with friend Mairi Chisolm and was credited with saving the lives of thousands of soldiers. Elsie and Mairi were nicknamed ‘the Angels of Pervyse. They were both keen motorcyclists and were keen to help with the war effort.

Elsie Knocker and Mairi Chisolm driving an ambulance in Belgium

🌸 Read this article about Elsie and Mairi

Dr Helen Boyle

Dr Helen Boyle was a pioneering doctor who set up a clinic in Hove to help working class women and children suffering from mental health issues. During the war she went to Serbia to help treat wounded soldiers.

Dr Helen Boyle

🌸 Read this article from the Brighton Argus about Dr Helen Boyle

Katie Morter

Katie Morter was a civilian whose husband died in the war when she was pregnant with her first child. She spoke movingly about being severely affected by his death.

Katie Morter interviewed in the 1960s

🌸 Read this interview in the Liverpool Echo with Katie’s granddaughter

Vera Brittain

Vera Brittain left her studies at Oxford to become a voluntary nurse and served in the UK, France and Malta during the war. She lost her finance, brother and closest friends in the war. Her book, Testament of Youth, detailing her experiences of the war and arguing for pacifism, became a best-seller and in 2014 a movie. 

Vera Brittain
Trailer for the 2004 movie based on Vera Brittain’s book, Testament of Youth

🌸 Read this article, written by Vera Brittain’s daughter Shirley Williams, on helping with the film about her mother’s war experiences

Get creative

🌸 Pick one or two of these women that you’d like to know more about. What else can you find out about them online?
🌸 Find someone new who lived through the First World War and create a short biography about them and what happened to them during the war
🌸 Make a list of how the war affected their mental health – both in positive and negative ways. How might that relate to what’s happening today with the Coronavirus pandemic?
🌸 Write about how their stories might help us to think about developing our character ‘Poppy’
🌸 Design a postcard (for example, using photographs, drawing or montage)
On the reverse, write a message to someone living through World War One (it could be a real person found in today’s research or someone imagined like Poppy). 
🌸 Then write a reply from them to you. 

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