Sunday 11 November is the centenary of the end of the First World War. To mark this historic day, we have delved into the GDST archives to reveal a fascinating glimpse at what life was like during this time. Our family of schools played a significant role in the war effort, from fundraising and collections to the contributions of our alumnae.
Contributions of our schools
Girls at many of the schools quickly got involved in the war effort, gathering gifts to send to soldiers. Notting Hill’s school magazine records the girls sending gifts of chocolate, tobacco and stationery to soldiers each week. They also held work parties to make shirt, blankets and bags for military hospitals.
South Hampstead High School held collections of Christmas gifts to send to the troops and held fundraisers to raise money. Like many of the schools, they chose to forego the extravagance of their usual prize-giving ceremonies, donating the money instead to war charities.
Streatham Hill High School magazine documents the contributions the school made, including collections of garments and money which was donated to various war relief charities.
The Sheffield Daily Telegraph, wrote in February 1916, “Girls as well as grown women have been doing memorable work for the war. The report of the Council of the Girls’ Public Day School Trust records a remarkable output of war-work at the schools. They have collected money by means of school entertainments, sales of works and sales of the produce from the girls’ gardens. It has been a common occurrence for thousands of swabs, bandages, hospital bags and such things to be produced at forty-eight hours’ notice. Prisoners of war have been adopted and one girls’ school in Brighton has even “adopted” a whole torpedo-boat destroyer."
A history of Northampton High School The First Hundred Years remembers life during this time for the school:
“Throughout the war years, the girls sang both the National Anthem and the Marseillaise (in French) every morning at assembly; needlework lessons were given entirely to knitting comforts for the troops, and to making pillows, which were sent to France for the use of the wounded in Red Cross trains. Feather pillows went to the Duston War Hospital, and at all school functions there would be, by special invitation, groups of convalescent soldiers in hospital blue."
Portsmouth High School girls wrote letters and poems, including Return of the Peace, written by Margaret Foote.
Miss Bell, Headmistress of Sutton High School in 1914 led the way in providing mittens, helmets, semmits and socks for the soldiers by insisting that each child should learn to knit. They also dug parts of the school grounds to grow vegetables.
Blackheath High School ploughed the school field to use as allotments and the Book of Blackheath High School documents the “knitting craze that invaded the school,” with everyone “knitting furiously between lessons and at recreation.”
The Old Girls of the GDST
For many girls and women during this time, the war offered opportunities to play a role in society that they had never seen before. As the Notting Hill High School magazine of March 1915 says: “We cannot be slothful or aimless; we must do more for the Nation than knit or sew; this is incumbent upon us but this is only a fraction of our duty.”
The role played by Old Girls of the GDST is well-documented, spanning everything from nursing to medicine. An entry in the Croydon High’s 50th anniversary magazine says: “No reference to the war years can omit the work done by our Old Girls. It is with pride and affectionate admiration that we have watched their patriotic and unselfish work. I think there cannot be many forms of women's work during the Great War in which our old girls did not share…."
Hilda Collins, Sutton
Sutton High School Old Girl, Hilda Collins “caused quite a stir” when she went to work in the National Projectile factory in Lancaster. Many others volunteered as nurses at Benfleet Hall which had been transformed into a military hospital.
Harriet Chick, Notting Hill
Pioneering microbiologist and Notting Hill Old Girl, Harriet Chick was appointed Dame of the British Empire for her contributions to medicine. During the war, her expertise helped to develop methods for diagnosing typhoid and related diseases in troops. Harriet also studied wartime diets and her research helped to understand the causes of scurvy and rickets, along with methods of cure and prevention. Along with her six sisters, Harriet attended Notting Hill High School, a school considered outstanding for its teaching of science.
Olive Mudie-Cooke, Notting Hill
Olive Mudie-Cooke, Notting Hill Old Girl was one of only a handful of women to become an official war artist in the First World War. Along with her sister Phyllis (also an NHHS pupil), volunteered for the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry and were sent to France where they drove ambulances. Olive’s sketches depicting the sights and her experiences from the war were given to the Imperial War Museum.
Voluntary Aid Detachment
Many of our Old Girls worked as part of the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) including Gertrude Roskell (Howell’s). She was awarded a Star Trio for her contributions to the war effort. She worked as a nurse for the 17th General Hospital in Egypt, where she died of appendicitis in 1915.
Kate Banks (Old Girl from Howell’s) was a member of the VAD and volunteered for a military hospital in Somerset during the war. She sadly died due to septicaemia contracted from washing bandages at the hospital.
Hope Elizabeth Clarke
Hope attended Notting Hill and Ealing In 1884. She set up the Silver Thimble Fund to raise money for ambulances in WW1. She began by collecting silver thimbles and jewellery, raising over £60,000. This was put towards the purchase of ambulances, mobile field hospitals and X-ray sets.
Croydon High School Old Girl Rhoda Brodie received an MBE for her work in the war. Rhoda established the Croydon Women’s Patrols, a voluntary arm of the Metropolitan Police. The women patrolled for several hours every evening, wearing a heavy blue coat and carrying a police whistle and lantern.
Teacher and governess, Kate Luard worked as a teacher and governess in order to pay for her nursing training at Kings College Hospital. She joined the British Expeditionary Force at the start of the First World War. Kate worked on ambulance trains bringing the wounded from the battlefields, and was the Head Sister of No.32 Casualty Clearing Station at Brandhoek during the Battle of Passchendaele. Kate wrote two books about her experiences and cited her time spent at Croydon High as one of the defining moments of her life.
Kathleen May Leeds
Once a pupil at Croydon High, Kathleen May Leeds went on to teach at Portsmouth High before returning to Croydon as Assistant Headmistress. Kathleen was the secretary of the School War Savings Association, founded in 1916, that raised £6,000 in War Savings Certificates. She also served as a member of the Croydon Women’s Patrols.