Women and WW1 War Memorials

Heaton Moor War Memorial outside St Paul’s Church © Adèle Emm

700,000 British men were killed in World War 1, their names inscribed on War Memorials in hamlets, villages, towns and cities all around the country.  I’ve also seen plaques in post offices, hospitals, foyers of old  buildings, outside funeral directors, on church lychgates… but the names are invariably those of men – but women did die in the First World War!  Some nurses lost their lives on torpedoed hospital ships (e.g. Miss Kate Beaufoy on HMHS Glenart Castle February1918), some from military action, many from illnesses – Spanish flu (with a higher mortality rate than the War itself) and pneumonia.

On the back of Heaton Moor’s war memorial outside St Paul’s Church, Stockport, the name Gertude M Powicke is found, the plaque clearly placed retrospectively.   Who was Gertrude? Following a degree in languages from Manchester Victoria University, Gertrude was teaching at Manchester High School for Girls  when war was declared. Her skills in languages being invaluable, she joined French Quaker nurses in France to help with refugees and her letters home are at held Manchester University.  After the war, she travelled to Poland to assist those affected by a typhus epidemic and there, on the 20th December 1919, she too succumbed; news of her death reached British newspapers by January 1920. She was 31.

Memorial to Gertrude M Powicke © Adèle Emm

I haven’t discovered the date when her name (with six others) was added to the memorial. Your suggestions appreciated… From at least 1923 until his death in 1935, her father, congregational minister Frederick Powicke, lived about a quarter of a mile away at 4 Langford Road, Heaton Chapel.

I know of no other women commemorated for their ultimate sacrifice in WW1 apart from Edith Cavell and Kitty Trevelyan.  In 1915, Cavell was shot by the Germans for harbouring allied soldiers; one monument (there are others) stands outside London’s National Portrait Gallery. Nineteen year old Kitty Trevelyan’s name was added to Meavy war memorial, Devon, in February 2017. Serving with the Army Service Corps, she died of measles and pneumonia in France. Like Gertrude, never returned home.

Emm Waifs and Strays 1939 Register

Why have I not updated my blog recently?  Because I’ve spent days and days collating all Emm(ses) in the 1939 register – over 300 now and still counting….

The 1939 Register was compiled for national security reasons when the British Government was faced with the prospect of all-out war.  It is one of the UK’s most important documents of the 20th Century and crucial for family historians bridging the gap between the 1921 census (unlikely to be released before 2022 due to the cost and effort of digitisation) and the destruction of the 1931 census by enemy action. An individual’s ID card number became their NHS number at its foundation in 1947.  It listed all civilians living in the UK in 1939. Military personnel were not listed unless they were on leave when the register was being conducted.

My forays into 1939 have been fascinating, illuminating and unbelievably frustrating! You can’t believe the number of Alfreds, Alberts, Mildreds, Georges, Daisies (plural of Daisy anyone?) Who is who?   And when an Emm was obviously living away from home, trying to match a a husband and wife living and working elsewhere was horribly time consuming.

One little lad, for instance, Thomas Emm, aged 6, was in Langwith  Isolation Hospital, Blackwell, Derbyshire.  It took me ages to work out his parents were Samuel Emm (colliery hewer heavy worker born 1893) and wife Avis (nee Whitfield) who lived just down the road at 70, the Woodlands, Blackwell.    This isolation hospital, opened 1908, treated infectious diseases like diphtheria and scarlet fever.  Thomas’ treatment was clearly successful as he married in 1957.

The Blackwell Rural District Council Annual Report of 1938 (the same time the 1939 Register was compiled) is a fascinating statistical insight into the area including the number of privies, middens, condemned housing etc – stuff you wouldn’t normally discover…

Information (continuously updated until 1952) revealed in the Register  includes name, address, date of birth, gender, marital status (widowed, married or single) and occupation. The majority of women were performing ‘unpaid domestic duties’.  This is transcribed online but viewing the original document reveals crucial defence-of-the-realm annotations like ‘ARP’ and ‘air raid warden’. Even more useful is when a woman’s surname is crossed out with a handwritten amendment (often in a different colour ink) stating her post 1939 married name.

For anyone still alive, their details are obliterated by a black bar and ‘closed record’ however, this gives a clue to any children a couple may have had.

See the National Archives page for more information. The Register can be accessed at subscription sites Ancestry and FindMyPast, often accessible for free at public libraries.

A reminder, if you are an Emm, descended from an Emm, or married to an Emm, you can discover more at our next Emmposium taking place in Wiltshire on the late May bank holiday 2019.  Please contact me for details.  Our Emm trees are now even more informative and over 70 feet long!  You have been warned….