The Forum, Norwich, is launching a new exhibition celebrating the remarkable effort made by women across Norfolk on active service during the First World War.
Running from Saturday 4 November to Sunday 19 November in The Forum Gallery and the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library, the free exhibition brings their stories to life.
First World War Women of Norfolk: On Active Service is the latest in a series of exhibitions and events as part of The Forum’s three year community project Norfolk in the First World War: Somme to Armistice made possible by £90,000 raised by National Lottery players and awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
Thousands of Norfolk women had their lives completely transformed during the First World War, challenging stereotypes and proving that their strength and bravery was essential to the war effort and beyond. Their stories are uncovered and told by project volunteers and members of the public who responded to The Forum’s call for stories for the exhibition.
One remarkable woman whose life is explored is Win Elwes from Congham, near King’s Lynn. Awarded a Military Medal for her bravery collecting wounded from a burning ammunition dump in northern France Win’s exploits are recorded in letters sent home to her sister Honor and recorded in Honor’s diaries. Thanks to the Elwes family, Honor’s diaries will be on display for the first time. Her story is told thanks to the support of Juliet Webster who contacted The Forum.
A unique book from Catton Hall recording its owners and staff’s role as a Red Cross Auxiliary Hospital will also be on display, showing how all levels of society were affected by the war.
One way women made vital contributions to the war effort was via the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF), as Norfolk was home to over 30 airfields during the War including RAF Narborough Aerodrome, the largest in the country. Another was via the Women’s Land Army helping to keep the nation supplied with food throughout the war years.
The exhibition highlights the essential work undertaken by women during the First World War including in hospitals, and abroad in Norfolk Voluntary Aid Detachments (VAD). Their important role in the Pacifist community is also marked with a study of the remarkable figure of Dorothy Jewson; a pacifist, suffragette and the first female MP in East Anglia.
It also charts the crucial role of women in local businesses such as Norwich engineering company Boulton & Paul. A steel-framed building specialist, the company quickly started production of aircraft at their Rose Lane works. By wars end over 1,200 women were employed at the factory and over 2,500 military aeroplanes produced.
Commenting Sarah Power Learning and Events Manager at The Forum said: “We’re so grateful to Norfolk people for sharing their stories of remarkable women with us. This exhibition is a celebration of the role of women on active service and on the home front in the First World War. It shows what an impact they made not just to the war effort but to wider society as well. We hope visitors to the exhibition will be inspired to think about their female relatives who lived through such a great time of change.”
Robyn Llewellyn, Head of HLF East of England, said: “From active service to engineering and the Home Front, this project offers a valuable insight into the role of Norfolk women during the First World War. Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, and with vital help from volunteers, people across the county have been sharing their stories and this new exhibition is a fantastic opportunity to share their discoveries and learn more about Norfolk in the First World War.”
The exhibition is accompanied by a dedicated learning programme and special events including a talk from author and Former BBC Chief News Correspondent Kate Adie on 7 November. There will also be a series of talks and a hands-on history event with military historian Neil Storey on 11 November. Full details are available on The Forum’s website theforumnorwich.co.uk.
Following its opening at the Forum, the exhibition and accompanying films will go on tour to schools and community venues around Norfolk.