The Scope of War Work

By Dr. Richard Batten, PhD History, University of Exeter

The 4 August 2014 marks the centenary of when Great Britain declared war against Germany. In Britain, this event will usher in four years of commemoration of the conflict from 2014 to 2018. The First World War is commonly associated with the experiences of the British Army on the Western Front and the images of trenches, barbed wire and machine guns. However, this is not the full story of the British experience of the conflict.

From August 1914 to November 1918, the British population who remained at home contributed to the war effort through a variety of activities which constituted to the war work. Across the width and breadth of the British Isles, both the scale and scope of these various initiatives was impressive. In fact, the sheer scope of the various forms of war work provided individuals who could not volunteer into the British Armed forces with valuable opportunities to not only participate with the war effort but also present their patriotism. Forms of wartime participation included collecting eggs to feed the troops, harvesting of sphagnum moss to use as a temporary medical dressing, knitting scarves and socks for the troops and picking blackberries to turn into jam which was sold in aid of the war effort.

These activities were all part of a great flowering of imaginative charitable and philanthropic activities to support the war effort. In addition, men who were unable to fight in the Army or the Navy could claim citizenship in the wartime community by forming committees and societies to help those affected by the war or to organise resources in order to benefit for the war effort. In many instances, women took an active role to work for the war effort. They enlisted into women wartime organisations which ranged from agricultural entities such as the Women’s Land Army to medical organisations including the Voluntary Aid Detachment.

Simultaneously, women became involved with the production of shells, munitions, gas masks and other products that were essential for Britain’s military forces of and the British Empire during the Great War. At the same time, children were encouraged to support the war effort not only through fundraising for different wartime charities but also within their educational activities in school. The great range of different forms of war work reveals the level of support for the war that was invested by civilians. This meant that instances of war work were a distinctive and important part of life on the British Home Front from 1914 to 1918. With the centenary of the declaration of the First World War, now is the time for the stories to be told of the men, women and children who contributed to the war effort in various forms of war work on the British Home Front.

Military Massage

We’re providing information about the myriad professions and industries that evolved during the Great War period, especially where new techniques emerged, or previously excluded groups were able to attain employment or qualifications.

Kay Nias, whose PhD (University of Exeter) researches the history of physiotherapy as a medical discipline, has provided us with an overview of the Almeric Paget Massage Corps:

Women in Uniform: Almeric Paget Massage Corps

Within a few weeks of the outbreak of the First World War, the Almeric Paget Massage Corps (APMC) was founded by American philanthropists Mr and Mrs Almeric Paget, to provide physical treatments to wounded soldiers. From the outset the APMC was a prestigious organisation consisting of only fifty women volunteers, all highly trained members of the Incorporated Society of Trained Masseuses. Members of the APMC worked hard; each masseuse regularly attended 30-40 patients per day providing a range of physical therapies including massage, remedial gymnastics, electrotherapy and hydrotherapy in a concerted effort to get men back to the front.

In November 1914 the APMC set up a massage and electrical out-patient clinic at 55 Portland Place, London, for the treatment of wounded men and throughout the war an average of 200 patients per day benefited from the services of the clinic. Director- General of the Army Medical Service, Sir Alfred Keogh inspected the clinic in March 1915 and the service became a model for the development of massage and electrical departments in major convalescent hospitals and command depots across the UK.

In total 3,388 women and men served in the APMC and a total of 56 masseuses served abroad between January 1917 and May 1919. The work of the APMC was highly regarded; having been recognised by the War Office in early 1915 as the official body to which all masseurs and masseuses engaged in military service should belong, the organisation changed its name to the Almeric Paget Military Massage Corps in 1916.