WHEN war was declared in 1914, Glasgow was, according to historian Alec Weir, "sizzling with the heady intoxication of war fever".
Those who marched to battle are rightly remembered and Scottish soldiers were prominent amongst those who won Victoria Crosses. But what of the families left behind?
The armed forces were an expression of social inequality, with officers chosen from the privileged. They enjoyed higher pay, better food, even servants. Those in the ranks were treated as inferiors. What is rarely articulated is that the home front suffered the same division.
With many families left to cope without their main wage earners, the Government responded with "separation allowances" for wives. Unfortunately, the army's 300 administrative staff couldn't cope with distributing the money and payments were delayed for up to eight weeks, leaving some families having to pawn household goods to survive. Staff numbers were later increased tenfold but even when the allowances got through, many families struggled. From October 1, 1914, wives of soldiers in the lower ranks were allocated just 12s 6d a week - 52.5p in modern currency - plus up to 3s 6d deducted from their husbands' pay. A wife with one child was guaranteed a total of 15 shillings plus 2s 6d for each additional child. Although these sums were periodically increased, poverty was rampant.
In his book, The Quick And The Dead, First World War historian Richard van Emden cites letters from Lance Corporal Nelson Newman to his wife Edith. "I am not sending you any money as they only give me four shillings". He advised her to apply to "a distress fund", to help support herself and the children and later wrote that he was glad to hear she'd been successful.
"Whatever you do, dear," he added, "don't go short of food even if you need to get rid of half of our stuff as I hope to have enough to get another lot if I come back which I hope I do." Sadly, he did not come home. Nelson was an early fatality, killed on October 26, 1914.
As van Emden explains, the allowances were only intended to cover half of a family's expenditure. The women were expected to work and some were virtually compelled to labour in one of the UK's 700 munitions factories.
In March, 1916, an MP complained in the Commons that at one factory, women worked seven days a week for up to 11 shillings (55p). In Glasgow shell-making plants, men were paid at least double the rate women received for the same work, according to research published by women's campaigner Sylvia Pankhurst.
The incomes of some working-class women did rise in time, but a huge increase in the cost of living meant few were better off. Within a couple of years of the outbreak of war, food prices had risen by 65%. In 1918, rationing was introduced for foods such as meat, sugar and jam. Clothes, shoes, furniture and coal were in short supply.
Writing about the East End of London, Pankhurst said: "The rise in prices has simply wiped out the very narrow margin which separates the weekly budget of most of the families down here from the starvation level. Every day I find cases in which women and girls had no food at all for two or three days." Despite their small incomes, many wives felt obliged to send chocolate, cakes and even money to their needy partners.
Who cared for the children while mothers worked? Neighbours might help but they usually had to be paid. Sometimes, school-aged girls were kept at home to care for younger siblings - a practice officially sanctioned. They were not the only youngsters whose education was interrupted. By April 1916, 14,000 school-aged children were recorded as working on farms; others took jobs in factories. In all, more than 100,000 children missed some education during the war - and the shortage of male teachers meant some schools closed or reduced the number of teaching hours. Another 12,000 schools were converted into hospitals.
Things were different for the families of affluent personnel from the upper ranks. Wives were not compelled to work in munitions factories. They were not short of food, could feast in restaurants and hotels and enjoy holidays. Their sons at public schools were not made to abandon their education to labour on farms, and it was taken for granted that they would be officers. Writing about that time, former MP Shirley Williams points out that for the middle classes their "way of life, its luxuries and privileges, had changed little". The only drawback was that some complained it was harder to get servants to clean their houses.
"The other home front," writes Williams, "ran through the dingy terraces of working-class Britain, where huge families of six to eight children lived in cramped houses with outside lavatories, gas lighting and a cold-water tap for washing everything from clothes to bodies. For them the war meant a loss of breadwinners, long and often futile battles to get the pathetically small separation allowances for dependent wives and children, hunger and sometimes eviction for lack of money to pay the rent."
The war also placed a heavy emotional burden on family life. For some couples, the strain of separation took its toll and the divorce rate trebled (albeit from a very small base). Most wives lived with constant anxiety: news about their husbands was hard to come by as letters were censored and newspaper reports tended not to specify which regiments were involved in the activities reported. Few of those whose worst fears were realised received the news via telegrams, which were reserved for the wives of officers. Those of other ranks received a standard letter in a buff envelope - which sometimes didn't arrive until after the news had been broken through other means.
Casualty lists were sometimes posted in public places. Maud Cox, a grocer's daughter from the Fife village of Methil, would watch the crowds gather as her mother pasted the list up in their shop window. "The lists were always in alphabetical order," she recalled in an account recorded by Richard van Emden, "and as people read them they shouted out to friends, who were too far away to see: 'You're all right, your lad's not on it.' Then you'd hear somebody start to cry."
On one occasion, she saw a woman writhing on the pavement, screaming. "My mother grabbed me and brought me in," she remembered. "And Jessie, a girl who worked for Mum in the shop, said, 'I'm so sorry for Mrs Greer. She's lost her man and she's left with six steps and stairs.' I couldna think why anyone was getting excited about steps and stairs, I didn't realise at the time that it meant six children with only about a year between them all."
The death toll was high. The Glasgow Highlanders lost 182 men in just one day and by the end of the war, 192,000 wives had lost their husbands. Widows were liable for small pensions with additions for children. But the pension was not always granted.
My friend, the late Kay Carmichael, lived in Glasgow with her grandmother whose husband was a soldier killed in France. Kay later recorded that a pension was not granted because "there was no record that her husband's death was due to war service". Another widow was refused because her husband died as a result of an army road accident and not in battle. In both these cases, the women had to apply to "the Parish" for stigmatised relief.
The war also had implications for men who worked in essential industries. Trade unionism was strong in factories which produced munitions and war vehicles. The engineers were frightened that the owners would use the war to introduce new machines and lower wages. There followed walkouts and strikes opposing what was called "the dilution of labour", that is semi-skilled workers threatening their jobs and incomes. These were partially successful, although some union leaders were deported out of Glasgow under the Defence of the Realm Act.
Women were at the core of the home front and in Glasgow, Mary Barbour, Helen Crawford and Agnes Dolan were among the founders of the Women's Peace Crusade, which held rallies on Glasgow Green. These women are better known for their involvement in the Glasgow Rent Strike, one of the most famous chapters in the history of Red Clydeside.
Accommodation was in short supply during the war, partly because house-building had come to a halt and partly because the Government moved workers into areas which had munitions factories. Private landlords took advantage by pushing up rents. Some tenants - including wives struggling to feed their families while their husbands were serving overseas - could not pay and were evicted.
The South Govan Women's Housing Association, with Mary Barbour in the lead, protested loudly. More than 20,000 - mainly from Govan and Partick - refused to pay rents and resisted evictions. When rent debtors were summoned to court on November 17, 1915, the protesting women were in such numbers that proceedings were halted. The Government panicked and quickly passed the Rent Restriction Act which halted rent increases until the end of the war.
To be sure, after the war rents were raised again while the numbers of women in work declined as soldiers returned. But war also stimulated greater involvement by women as they showed that they could do responsible jobs, which was one reason why Government gave votes to some women in the Representation of the People Act in 1918. Mary Barbour was elected Glasgow's first female councillor in 1920.
Working-class women - along with men unable to enlist because of age or sickness - contributed much to the war effort. By taking men's jobs they released them to fight. By working long hours in the war-related industries, they ensured that vital equipment was produced. After the war, the politicians and top army brass received praise and honours, the owners of the private war companies were rich beyond their dreams. But the working women and their husbands never received the promised new Britain, the better jobs, the "homes fit for heroes". The women vacated most of their jobs. Yet many of their husbands were discharged into unemployment. By 1921, more than two million were on the dole.
War always creates widespread damage. The official panel which is organising the commemoration of the war in Scotland will rightly praise the bravery and self-sacrifice of ordinary soldiers.
It should also acknowledge that just as the soldiers paid a tremendous price so did the families at home - a price which continued for generations. Any debate about the justification of the war must take all these factors into account.
Bob Holman is the author of Woodbine Willie: An Unsung Hero of World War One, Lion Hudson, 2013
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