Text Box: February 2015

Welcome to the new edition of Brumration. I will certainly welcome any contributions from members and I will do my best to ensure that we cover as wide a range of topics as we do in our monthly meetings.                


Returning P.O.W’s

Newspapers have proved to be a very useful source on the treatment of British P.O.W.’s on The Western Front by the Germans. Many captured in the Spring Offensive 1918 seem to have spent many weeks working behind the lines before being taken to a registered camp. Some were never in a registered camp, and Corporal Newman from Birmingham was one of these. If they were in reasonable health and close to Allied lines these men were among the first to be repatriated. It should be noted that the condition of some of these men was so bad that it took weeks in Hospital for them to recover sufficiently to be returned to England.

In Corporal Newman’s case the guards just abandoned him and his comrades, but left a note to inform them that Tournai or Ath were the nearest towns where the Allied lines would be for the next seven days. It took them many hours to walk to Ath where they arrived totally exhausted  not having eaten for three days. Their breakfast next morning of ham, bread and butter and tea was a feast.

Newman was among over 800 prisoners who sailed on the liner France for Dover. They were met by The Prince of Wales on behalf of the King. They  had a meal in the Station Hall, and heard a speech from The Prince. The King had sent them all a gift of tobacco, cigarettes ,chocolate and toffee.  They were taken to North Wall Camp by motor car for processing and were cheered all the way by an enthusiastic crowd.

Newman with others arrived back in Birmingham on 20TH November, they were the first prisoners to arrive home, but there was nobody at the Station to greet them. The following day The Birmingham Mail reported the arrival of the first ‘official ‘ batch of prisoners to New Street Station. The majority of these men had been interned in Holland and had therefore had better food and a good supply of parcels from home. They were met by The Lord Mayor and other Civic dignitaries and the Police Band. Cheering crowds had assembled in New Street as rumours spread of the arrival. Cars had been arranged so that all the men could be driven to their homes.

By contrast to Birmingham where over 2,000 prisoners had returned, by mid-January 1919 only 7 men had returned to Aberystwyth. These had arrived singly and unannounced and the Town Authorities felt that these men had not been properly honoured. As it was known that two further men would return on January 10th a celebration was organised. All the returned prisoners and other returning soldiers were conveyed around the Town with a torchlight procession and accompanied by the Town Silver Band.

All Soldiers who were in camps had to wait until transport could be organised, and many who were in outside work-camps had to brought back to their parent camp. These men would have been among the 1,200 men who are recorded as having returned to Birmingham in December I918.

By the end of March 1919 all prisoners were assumed to have been returned with the exception of those still in hospital and considered too ill to travel. There remained however a concern as to the numbers repatriated. Sir James Edmunds was among those convinced that there were at least 20,000 unaccounted for.

Women in Munitions Factories.

Lyn Macdonald in her book ‘Voices and Images of the Great War’ records the story of a soldier convalescing in Sutton Coldfield in 1916. He recalled meeting what he described as ‘munitions lassies’ when drinking in a local pub. They would be dressed in overalls and clogs and would never allow any of the wounded men to buy a drink. On one occasion one girl hitched up her dress and from under a garter produced a large roll of notes.  These girls might earn ten times the pay of a soldier at The Front, and he and his two comrades had seven gold wound bars between them.

In 2008 in a Sutton Coldfield Nursing Home Maud Barker died aged 108. She had been a munitions worker at Barnbow, officially known as National Shell Filling Factory No 1. She had started working at the factory aged 16 in 1916 having lied about her age. Munitions workers were supposed to be 18.

Plans for Barnbow, a suburb of Leeds, were drawn up in the summer of 1915. The site was operational by December 1915 and eventually covered 200 acres. Within months it was producing 10,000 shells a week and by October 1916 it was operating a 24hr,3shift system, 6 days a week. The workforce by then was 16,000 and the average earnings were £3 per week. It took 38 trains a day to transport the workforce to and from the site. The factory even had its own farm with 120 cows, producing 300 gallons of milk a day. One of the effects of working with cordite was to turn the workers skins yellow. It was discovered that drinking milk helped to prevent this. The farm was therefore a rare example of concern for the health of the workers, but the workers were still known as The Barnbow Canaries.

Workers employed in handling explosives had to strip to their underwear and had to wear button-less smocks and caps, and rubber soled shoes. Despite these precautions an explosion took place in December 1916 in Room 42 where four and a half inch shells were fused and capped . Thirty five women were killed, many identified from their ID tags. Despite this there was only a brief halt in production.

No account of the accident was made public at the time as a result of wartime censorship. The only clues to the event were the death notices in The Yorkshire Post of those ‘killed by accident’.

Birmingham Women and Theatre Group.

The group are running a project ‘Women’s Work’ that will investigate the role of female factory workers in Small Heath in World War 1. The research will be used to create a new piece of theatre, to be performed in the community in March.

Xmas Day Menu 1917

¨ Soupe Maitre De Dugout

¨ Poisson Pilchard Dans La Boite

¨ Bulle au Boeuf

¨ Pouding Noel.

JRL Feb. 2015


This being the first edition of BRUM RATION, compiled and created by Richard Lloyd, I feel that I must express my thanks and gratitude to Bob Butcher.

Over the years Bob has been a true pillar of the branch with most recently stepping in to produce the BRUM RATION. For this, Bob, and all your other support, I thank you.

I thank Richard for taking on this task and ask you all to support him with ideas and articles in the future.

JD Chairman Feb 2015



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Text Box: The Bulletin of the Birmingham Branch of the WFA
February 2015
Compiled by Richard Lloyd