Object of the Month – October 2014

October 2014 – Photographs of the Women’s March for the Right to Work, July 1915

nmlh.2001.20.488.3By July 1915 Britain had been at war for nearly one year.  Casualty rates were alarmingly high and a series of failed offensives led to a media inquest.  In May the Daily Mail sensationally led with an article ‘The Shell Scandal: Lord Kitchener’s Tragic Blunder’.  The article attacked Kitchener and blamed an inadequate supply of shells for the failures of the army.  This claim ultimately led to the hasty creation of the Ministry of Munitions and coincided with Kitchener’s declining influence over war strategy.  The shell crisis needed to be solved.

David Lloyd George was appointed the new Minister for Munitions.  One of his first actions in the new role was to organise a march with suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst.  Its aim was to show the men of Britain that women could fill the void left by men leaving for the frontlines by taking their place in the factories, foundries and fields.

nmlh.2001.20.488.4As so often when organising an outdoor event in this country the weather will always have its say.  Such was the case on 17 July 1915 as London suffered from persistent drizzle typical of the English summer.  Although the rain did inevitably affect turnout, the march was still attended by tens of thousands of women and the procession was reportedly over a mile long.  In the pictures you can make out a few of the banners that the women were marching with.  Patriotic messages such as ‘Britain needs the aid of all her sons & daughters in the hour of trial’ are typical, whilst others drew a more direct link to loved ones: ‘Shells made by a wife may save a husbands life’.

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In these images of the procession outside Whitehall you can see many of the women dressed ready for work, holding shell cases up in the air pointing towards the politicians on the balcony above, as though handing over the fruits of their potential labour.  There is even a parade car adorned in Union Jacks in which women demonstrate their willingness to work on a mock-up munitions production line.

The souvenir handkerchief below commemorates the occasion and can be viewed, along with these pictures in our current changing exhibition A Land Fit For Heroes: War and the Working Class 1914-1918 which is on display until Sunday 1 February 2015.

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