At the outbreak of the Great War, many women were encouraged to 'keep the home fires burning' and sit and wait for when their menfolk returned home.  Some took the opportunity to do other work outside the home and were recruited into jobs vacated by men who had gone to fight. And 100,000's of new jobs were created especially for women in munitions factories and on the land.  

Many women were inspired - by the growing casualty numbers - to train to help the sick and wounded.  Volunteers known as Voluntary Aid Detachment or ‘VAD’ for short -  were taught first aid, home nursing and hygiene.  Others trained as motor-drivers, cooks, and ward -maids.

 And many national organisations galvanised the women to do their bit -


The British Red Cross organised over 90,000 VAD volunteers – at home & overseas during the war.                         

 Amongst them were a vast army of women who did essential work from home -   knitting  and sewing and making ‘war hospital supplies’ and over a  100 Brimington  women stepped forward and volunteered for this invaluable effort. They knitted  scarves, hats and balaclavas for the soldiers at the front.  Some sewed nightshirts  & bed jackets for the wounded men in hospital. 

 And many others were employed to make the never-ending supplies of bandages     and dressings - Brimington mothers such as Mrs Bradley (Queen Street) & Mrs Burr (Oak Close) whose sons where destined to be killed in action.  And Mrs Allen  (Wheeldon Mill) who at one point had 7 sons serving at the front - all joined the effort, together with  many soldiers wives, girlfriends & sisters from the village.

There was an efficient supply network to get the desperately needed items to the hospitals - at home and abroad.

More than 2700 War Hospital supply depots -  organised by private individuals -  were set up during the war – in every major town.  Brimington's depot  –  Depot 4853 -   was organised by Mrs R J Mills at Tapton Grove-  ( two of her sons were to die in the war )  

From the depots, items were sent to Red Cross headquarters or directly to soldiers in auxiliary hospitals at home or abroad.

A few Brimington women joined the Red Cross VAD's and moved away from the village to work in hospitals caring for wounded and sick soldiers  :-

Mabel Atkinson - born in Brimington in 1900 was the daughter of George & Elizabeth and lived at 17 King Street.In March 1917 she volunteered as a VAD and moved away to work as a 'housemaid' at the 5th Northern General Hospital in Leicester, where she stayed until February 1919.  She was paid for the work and on termination of her employment was given a gratuity of £26.  

Below - Mabel Atkinson  Red Cross V.A.D card

Mabel returned to Brimington after the war and eventually married a local man - Henry Wilson in 1927

Two other Brimington women also enlisted as VAD's and served at Leicester Hospital-

Harriet Jane Morley (known as Jenny ) from 31 Victoria Street, joined the VAD's  in November 1915 and  also worked at the 5th Northern General Hospital in Leicester - she too stayed for the duration.

Louie Proud
- 87 Ringwood Road enrolled in April 1918 and was set to the North Evington War Hospital- where she stayed until after the war ended. Eventually she returned home and  in 1922 she married Albert Shaw and went to live in Staveley.



                                WAACs line up to meet Queen Mary at Wimereux, France – July 1917 ( Courtesy of National Archives)



Mabel Plumb was born in Cotterhill Lane, on 11th December 1897 to parents Arthur – a coal miner, and his wife Matilda.

Little is known of Mabel’s early life in Brimington, but in 1913 at the age of 15 she moved to Leicestershire to work in service as a cook for a Mrs Jessie Victoria Harding at Hume House in Loughborough-  for the princely sum of £24 per year.

In September 1917 Mabel enlisted  in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps which was later named Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps. Over 57,000 women served between January 1917 and November 1918. On 31 March 1917 women in the WAAC were first sent to the battlefields in France -  numbering just 14 cooks and waitresses.                                                                               

Mabel was initially assigned to the 2nd Artist Rifles OTC as a cook before she was shipped to France as: ‘4948 Plumb M to work at QMAAC headquarters at Wimereux  - which was a massive hospital centre for the British forces sick and wounded.

                                                        Above :     Mabel Plumbs enrolment in the WAAC

Mabel's duties were to prepare food, cook and serve the meals.   For which she got paid around 24 shillings a week – but half of that would be deducted for food.  Uniforms and accommodation were free.  


                                                  (QMAAC in France)  Photographs courtesy of the National Archives

 She was still serving in France in 1919 but her employer Mrs Harding in Loughborough was taken seriously ill and Mabel was granted special unpaid leave to return home and take care of her employer.  Mabel was finally demobbed in October 1919  and returned home to Cotterhill Lane a short time later. 

Mabel  married 3 times -  first to  Mr James Henry Miers in 1919 in Chesterfield – that marriage ended quickly and she married again in 1925 to Harold Woolley, and the newly weds went to live in Brearley Avenue in New Whittington. Her final marriage in 1964 was short lived – her husband James E Evers, died 2 years later in 1966.

She died in September 1980 after a long and eventful life.

The role these women played was crucial to the war effort.  The endless stream of medical supplies and comforts for the soldiers, destined for the front never wavered throughout the war.  The ward-maids, cooks and cleaners who left their families to work away in hospitals and factories at home and abroad undoubtedly proved the final catalyst for women to finally be given the vote - after decades of struggle.

When the war ended in November 1918 - 8.4 million women were granted the right to vote

However, women would have to wait until 1928 to be granted the vote on equal terms with British men. This was brought by the Representation of the People Act, which stated all women over the age of 21 could vote.


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