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How jobs were filled in WW1
when men were away fighting

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The uniform of a special constable in World War One

Jim Clarke in the uniform of a special constable in Edmonton, about 1914. I had thought that it was his truncheon in his hand, as this is still in the wider family, but Iris and Mark Bailey have pointed out that it looks more like a rolled flag and that a truncheon was kept in a special pocket in the right leg of the uniform.

So many young men were away from home, fighting during WW1, that their essential jobs needed to be filled. Doing so fell to women and older men.

Filling police jobs - Special constables

My grandfather, Jim Clarke, was a special constable in the the First World War. His regular job was in insurance, but he became a special constable because of the shortage of regular policemen.

I do not know how much time he had to serve as a special constable. All I have is the photograph with its explanation written on the back. I can only say that in World War Two men were expected to do a full-time day job and still serve as wardens and fire-watchers overnight - albeit in shifts.

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Child labour

special constable long-service medal, early 1900s

A special constable's long-service medal from the early 1900s. Photo courtesy of Iris and Mark Bailey. The medal was awarded to Philip Richer who served as a special constable in Edmonton around the same time as my grandfather.

heads side of a special constable's long-serving medal in World War One

tails side of a special constabl'se long-serving medal, in the first world war

The two sides of a special constable long-service medal from the 1914-18 war: For faithful service in the Special Constabulary. In those days it was the custom (as with military medals) to have the name of the recipient engraved around the rim, and Philip Richer's name is engraved round this rim. The practice was discontinued in World War Two. Photo courtesy of Iris and Mark Bailey.

Children were not immune. Young boys were taken out of lessons to do manual labour in the fields, and children had to do deliveries, either before school or by missing school entirely.

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Tram and bus drivers

My mother told me that her aunt worked on the trams in the Second World War. Apparently she would let her and her brothers to ride free.

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Arms factories workers

Munitions workers' yellow skins

One of my aunts worked at a munitions factory, the Royal Small Arms Factory in Ordnance Road Enfield. She filled shells and had a yellow tinge to her skin due to the explosive powder that was used with very little personal protection.

Peter Johnson

Arms and munitions were required in abundance for the fighting front and there were several munitions factories in the area. My mother told me that you could recognise the women who worked there by the yellow tinge to their skins. Apparently they were well-paid to compensate, but many women said that nothing would recompense them for a job that made their skins that colour!

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Shop workers

Children and women fill men's jobs

After World War One broke out and the young men of the family were either away at the Front or in the Special Constabulary, my great-aunt Nancy had to do the milk round, while her mother and elder sister ran the shop. She was just 12 years old!

Miranda Pender

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer, webmaster

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