The Working Parties
As soon as Britain declared war on Germany in August 1914, the nation set about making preparations to support the forces in any way it could. Working Parties were set up, the aim of which was to provide ‘comforts’ for the troops, the wounded and the hospitalised. An excellent account of what the volunteers up and down the country achieved can be found on the Scarlet Runners website here.
In Newark on August 10th, the Mayoress of Newark, Mrs Annie Kew (1873-1963) presided over a packed meeting in Newark Town Hall and launched the Mayoress’s Ladies Working Party. Whether Collingham’s Dorothy Browne (1881-1954) and Edith Brooks (1874-1958) were in the audience is unknown but on August 11th, a similar meeting was held at the Browne’s home at South Collingham House on the Green. This was followed by a further two meetings on the 18th and 25th by which time over forty parishioners from North and South Collingham had volunteered to form the Collingham Working Party and £12.12s 6d was raised in subscriptions.
The rector of South Collingham, Rev. Albert Maxwell, used his monthly newsletters to provide updates on the Collingham ‘depot.’ These newsletters, held in Collingham and District Local History Society Archives, give a glimpse of how our villages responded to appeals for supplies as the casualty lists grew to unimaginable levels.
The volunteers met every Monday afternoon in South Collingham House at 2.15 pm apart from during holidays. Dorothy Browne became the Hon. Secretary and John Wigram at the Manor audited the books.
Fundraising to buy Materials
Rev Maxwell’s newsletter for December 1916 (see gallery below) provides a detailed list of events held during 1915/1916 to show how monies were raised. Events included the ever-popular whist drives as well as concerts, garden fetes, dances, rummage sales and collections by pupils at all three schools (Collingham Girls’ and Infants under Miss Wilson, Collingham Boys’ School under Mr Coging and Brough School under Miss Griffiths). In addition, there were donations of money from various benefactors, as well as gifts of much needed blankets to send to the troops.
These combined efforts raised £90. 6. 3 by the end of the financial year.
The money raised bought wool, calico, flannelette and other materials. Local drapers George Nicholson and Walter Holland provided much of the fabric. These materials were used to make socks, face flannels, mittens, scarves, pairs of ‘knee caps’, roller bandages, pyjamas, ‘helpless case’ shirts and nightshirts etc. all made as instructed in the British Red Cross handbook here.
Brown paper to wrap the bandages was purchased from Davage’s printer and stationer’s in Newark. Postage and carriage costs had to be found, too.
‘Helpless Case’ Shirts
One of the main requests from hospitals was for ‘helpless case’ shirts and bed jackets. The ‘helpless case’ shirts were the simplest form of cotton garment, designed to minimise the need for severely wounded soldiers to be lifted or moved unnecessarily when being dressed. Sewing them must have given the working party much food for thought. What poor soul might wear their carefully-stitched garments? Would it be their brother? Husband? Son?
Locals didn’t have far to go to see the after-effects of trench warfare. Newark was full of those who had ‘Blighty Wounds’ – i.e. injuries severe enough to be sent home to recuperate but not extreme enough to require treatment in a specialist hospital such as Napsbury. There were two hospitals in Newark at the time – Newark Hospital itself on London Road and a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) unit on Lombard Street. The year-end report for Newark Hospital in 1916, for example, shows that ‘…of the 482 In-patients, 198 were soldiers, 187 of whom came from Newark.’
Dispatching the Items
Once finished, items were dispatched to either the Mayoress’s Working Party Depot in Newark, a Mrs Handford in Southwell (collecting for the Newark and Notts Regiments) or straight to Miss Evans, the British Red Cross Working Party regional co-ordinator, at 27 Bridlesmith Gate, Nottingham.
The first recorded contribution from Collingham was made and dispatched by mid-September 1914 and listed in the October newsletter as: 18 day shirts, 19 night shirts, 8 pairs pyjamas, 6 bed jackets, 5 operation shirts, 5 pillow cases, 10 pairs socks (all made by the volunteers). There were further gifts of sheets, blankets, bed socks and bandages. All these were sent to Miss Evans who wrote back to say a large case of items was heading for Belgium. ‘I tell you this,’ Miss Evans added, ‘as I think it may interest you and your workers to know we try to send off things quickly wherever they are needed.’ The following month 80 pairs of socks sent to the Grimsby Hospital for Soldiers (Nov 2014 newsletter).
Other functions of the Collingham Working Party
In July 1915 the working party was called upon to head to the Rectory to make sandbags ‘for our troops fighting in the trenches.’ ‘These are wanted in very large numbers to protect our soldiers from bullets, and these working parties will give an opportunity to many people to help in the war who are anxious to do something but hitherto had no practical way of doing it open to them.’
1916: Notice was given of plans to run a First Aid course.
Dec 1918 There was an urgent appeal for fresh vegetables to feed those recuperating at the Newark Military Hospital. Parishioners were asked to send any vegetables from their gardens they could spare. Mrs Seagrave of ‘The Lodge’ would collect and take all donations to the hospital.
By August 1917 the working party appears to have moved premises to ‘workrooms’ – perhaps in one of the schools? Expenses for the year included the cost of £3. 8s 6d for cleaning the said workrooms. This may coincide with the working party joining forces with other fundraising groups in the village and coming under an overall ‘Collingham War Charities Committee.’ There was a Xmas Fund Committee for example, specifically set up to send presents to soldiers serving on the Western Front.
In September 1917 a plea was made for more volunteers to help with the working party. The amount collected was lower than the previous year - £79.15.9. ‘The need of swabs and bandages is still very great,’ the statement ended. The following year the amount collected rose to a generous £195. 3. 8.
One can only imagine the gratitude a soldier must have felt to receive a pair of knitted socks to keep his feet dry in the trenches or the bliss of a cool, cotton nightshirt to wear in the heat of summer in a casualty clearing station bed.
Apart from Dorothy Browne and Edith Brooks there is no record of the names of those who tirelessly sewed, knitted and made ‘comforts’ for the soldiers throughout those four long years. We know that Constance Woolley of The Small House received an OBE for her work in a ‘canteen depot in Nottinghamshire’ and can only presume she was based in Collingham. The names of Mrs Lucas, Mrs Berry (widow of Thomas Letts Berry killed in action 1915) Mrs Bradley (of The Willows) Mr Frederick Hoe, the Misses Manuel, Miss Wigram, Mrs Longman Rice (The Gables) Mrs Gould & Mrs Maxwell crop up time and time again. Many other names will go unrecorded.
A hundred years later all we can do is say a retrospective and heartfelt thank you to all those who made such a valuable contribution to the war effort and helped make life more bearable for those of our ancestors serving in the forces.
 See Newark Hospital Annual Dispensary Reports 1906-1920 in Newark Library Local Studies section
South Collingham Parish Newsletters reproduced by kind permission of Collingham and District Local History Society Ref: EC/B/46-50