Belford, Hidden History

Belford Museum's winter programme for World War I got off to a flying start with a talk by Anthea Lang on Life At The Home Front.

Often the focus is on men who served in the armed forces so it was refreshing to hear what life was like for the people who remained at home.

This was a war that took people by surprise and lasted much longer than anticipated. The first obvious sign that war had broken out was the movement of troops. Then followed numerous new regulations, nicknamed DORA (Defence of the Realm), which affected almost every aspect of daily life.

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Posters were used to convey Government messages and many examples were shown, from Eat Less Bread to One Man Today Worth Three In Three Months. Appeals to the more privileged classes asked, ‘Do You Need Your Chauffeur, Butler Or Groom?’

A huge drive for volunteers was followed by conscription from 1916. White feathers were handed out to men who did not volunteer, although many were in exempted occupations.

Those at home threw themselves into fund-raising, with such events as smoking concerts proving popular. Much knitting took place – socks and balaclavas galore.

Newcastle’s department stores supplied officers’ uniforms and mourning wear.

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New roles emerged for women – bus conductors, firefighters, munition workers and ship workers to name a few. The war even affected fashion. Full-length skirts proved impractical for some jobs so hems rose.

Rural landscapes changed when training trenches at Rothbury and Otterburn were created.

Before war broke out no one had imagined warships and zeppelins. DORA introduced heavy penalties for striking a single match outside.

Enemy aliens were tolerated until the sinking of the Lusitania, which resulted in riots on Tyneside and destruction of shops owned by German pork-butchers.

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Letters between soldiers and home were censored, although some devised their own family secret codes.

Women entered nursing to care for thousands of wounded soldiers, often in country houses converted into hospitals, such as Howick Hall.

Other rulings of DORA included the veto on buying another person an alcoholic drink, flying pigeons and buying binoculars.

Rationing was introduced in 1918, but people could consume up to 4lbs of bread per week. Potatoes, instead of flowers, adorned parks. The familiar clip-clop of horses down the street began to disappear as they were requisitioned for war use, with motors replacing them.

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Those who could afford to buy War Bonds did so with an interest rate of up to 30 per cent. Newcastle sold the third highest number in the country.

One of the most bizarre consequences of the war was its influence on baby names. In one year 68 newborns received the forename Ypres, three Zeppelina and 900 Verdun. The trend did not last.

Anthea’s talk was packed with fascinating details, which provided a unique insight into life on the Home Front.

The next talk, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, is on Sunday, November 26, at 2.30pm, in Ferguson Hall, Belford. Artist Olivia Lomenech Gill will talk on Illustrating War Horse And Other Books. All talks are free and everyone is welcome.

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