Tank Weeks were fundraising events run by the National War Savings Committee from 1917 to 1918. They encouraged the public to buy War Bonds and War Savings Certificates in order to raise much-needed funds for the war effort. Six tanks, Egbert, Nelson, Drake, Old Bill, Julian and Iron Ration, toured the country publicising the war savings scheme and acting as ‘banks’ from which Bonds and Savings Certificates could be bought.
Norwich’s Tank Week ran from 1-6 April 1918. The week began with a ceremonial opening presided over by the Lord Mayor and a week of festivities, with the aim of raising funds, followed. The week culminated in a County Day where it was announced that Norwich’s £1 million target, just over £5.4 million in today’s money, had been reached.
On the third day of Tank Week, a Women’s Demonstration was organised by the National Union of Women Workers (NUWW). There was a huge turn out after adverts appeared in the local press, particularly after a letter from F.M. Jewson, Lady Mayoress of Norwich, in which she encouraged women to attend. Jewson appealed to employers of women workers to allow them to take part in the ‘great patriotic work of Tank Week.’ The centrepiece of the demonstration was Nelson, one of the tanks used for the publicity drive. Nelson was used as a platform for speeches encouraging Norwich women to contribute to the war effort. These were given by the Lady Mayoress and members of the NUWW who had organised the event.
The women in attendance at the demonstration bought Bonds and Saving Certificates in the Session Court at the Guildhall. By the end of the afternoon they had raised £1,288 towards the Tank Week final total, £69,577.98 in today’s money. The demonstration highlights the active part women played in organising and carrying out fundraising for the war effort and their determination to seize an opportunity to make an important contribution.
THE WOMEN’S INSTITUTE
In 1897, the Women’s Institute (WI) was formed in Stoney Creek, Ontario, Canada. In 1915, the movement was introduced in Britain with the first WI established in Anglesey, North Wales. In 1917, the organisation reached Norfolk. By the end of 1918, there were 760 recognised Women’s Institutes, 24 of these in Norfolk.
The First World War instantly changed everyday life, particularly with regards to food production. British and German forces immersed themselves in submarine warfare, purposefully targeting cargo ships carrying essential supplies. To reduce the effect of these attacks, more food had to be grown on home soil rather than imported. Such a change in food production soon encountered numerous problems due to the lack of men and horse power. Similar to other areas of production, women were introduced to work the land. The
WI supported this as they worked closely alongside the Ministry of Agriculture to support the war effort. WI activities included collecting herbs and vegetables, making jam and bringing wasteland under cultivation, as well as knitting groups and the formation of War Saving Associations. Undertaking tasks such as these enabled the WI to emphasise the importance of village community, while working to benefit all those within – aims that were central to the movement.
Although the work of the WI initially focused on agriculture, towards the end of the war there was a change in how the organisation would function. In 1917, the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI) was created. This was the start of the WI’s independence as they were no longer tied to the Agricultural Organisation Society.
Central to the WI was access to lifelong learning and the significance of community. The WI received greater recognition after the First World War, but this could not have been achieved without their support of the home front. Mrs Christobel Burton-Fanning had a significant role in enabling the WI to thrive in Norfolk, and it was due to her commitment to the movement that she became ‘the first nationally appointed Voluntary County Organiser (V.C.O.) for the county’.
In 1919, Norfolk saw the creation of its own county federation and the number of WIs in Norfolk reached 38.
The WI is a significant legacy of the First World War. Without the conditions of wartime on the home front, it is questionable how the WI would have developed and whether it would have been introduced in Britain. In comparison to the movement in Canada, the WI in Britain grew at a much faster rate and has had a more lasting influence. Today there are still 159 WIs active in Norfolk, showing that 10 years on the work of these astounding women lives on.
Norfolk Federation of Women's Institutes Pageant poster, 1926. Image Courtesy of Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service, www.picture.norfolk.gov.uk