NORWICH HIGH SCHOOL FOR GIRLS AND THE FIRST WORLD WAR
At the end of the academic year 1914 the Editor of the Norwich High School for Girls Magazine wrote cheerily about the success of the year, “splendid in weather, splendid in sports, splendid in the fame brought to the School from Cambridge, and still more splendid in the thought of the holidays.” It was on 4 August 1914, during those much anticipated holidays, that war was declared.
On the Home Front Norwich High School girls were keen to do their bit: a School Allotment, fundraising drives, and weekend work in munitions canteens and laundries suggest the war became embedded into school routine and culture. However, there was also a focus on the future post-war. In 1917, Miss Wise, the Headmistress, argued that girls should not go into war work too early, to do so “was misdirected patriotism”. The school was not simply responding to war and it saw greater patriotism in efforts to make the nation better after the war. To do this education was needed, without which “…women cannot expect after the War to retain and improve their present position in the fields of work suddenly thrown open to them by the War.”
The First World War had significant consequences for the school community. Fifty five Old Boys served in the armed forces, with fifteen being killed. At least two hundred and twenty one Old Girls served in war related employment. Many received decorations for nursing, or achieved positions of managerial responsibility in industry and administration. Some of the Old Girls’ stories are shared below.
ETHEL WILLIAMS – PHYSICIAN, MOTOR-CAR DRIVER, SUFFRAGIST AND PACIFIST
Ethel Williams, the daughter of a landowner, was born in Cromer in 1863. She attended Norwich High School for Girls from 1879-1882. In the 1881 census she is shown as age 17 years, a scholar, and staying at The Chantry House, Theatre Street.
From there she went on to study at Newham College Cambridge (1882-85) and graduated from the London School of Medicine for Women (LSMW) in 1891. At this time women were not permitted to train in British hospitals so to gain her hospital experience she went to Paris and Vienna. She then returned to the LSMW and gained her MD (Doctor of Medicine) in 1895.
Dr Williams moved to Newcastle in 1896 where she became the first female doctor in the city. In 1906 she founded a general medical practice in Newcastle, the first woman to do so, and worked there alongside Dr Ethel Bentham. In 1917 she co-founded the Northern Women’s Hospital and became an early member of the Medical Women’s Federation.
As well as her accomplishments in medicine, in 1906 Dr Williams was reported as being one of first women in the North of England to drive a motor-car. She was also known for her support of the suffrage movement and was chair of the North East Society of Women’s Suffrage.
During the war, Dr Williams worked for the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom and the League of Nations Union, both organisations which opposed war. Later, she served as a Justice of the Peace and was a member of Newcastle’s Literary and Philosophical Society.
Ethel William’s lifelong companion was Miss Frances Hardcastle, an English mathematician, with whom she built a house on Northumberland moors at Stocksfield. She retired there in 1924 and died 29 January 1948 aged 85.
After her death it was written of her “Essentially feminine in her cultural interests and recreations, she yet had a tough streak in her character. She was always willing to lead where other faltered and pull out the extra ounce of strength”.
RACHEL AUGUSTA HALDINSTEIN – CAMPAIGNER FOR INDIAN WOMEN’S HEALTH CARE AND MUNITIONERS WORKER
Rachel, or Ray, was born in 1877 in Norwich and was the daughter of a Norwich boot and shoe manufacturer. The 1881 census shows her living at Heigham Lodge with her parents Alfred and Emma and siblings Constance and Henry.
By 1891 the family had moved to 43 Unthank Road and Emma had died. Rachel was now 13 years of age with four younger siblings. Her father later remarried and all the girls in the family attended Norwich High School for Girls.
In 1897 Ray married Alfred Edward L Emanuel, a lawyer in Paddington London. Alfred was an employee of the East India Company and together they moved to Bombay, India, where it is believed they had two children.
Around 1901 Alfred joined the Indian Civil service and became Collector of Larkana. An extract from Palgraves Dictonary of Ango-Jewish History continues:
“Rachel Augusta Haldinstein 1878 – 1/2/1919 daughter of A.L.Haldinstein accompanied her husband to the sub-continent. So appalled was she by the medical deprivation facing rural Indian women that she performed welfare work among them which lead in 1912 to the foundation of India Women’s Aid Society and its associated hospitals. In recognition of this work King Edward VII in 1901 awarded her the Kaiser-i-Hind medal, hitherto awarded only to missionaries and doctors.”
Ray had two more children and returned permanently to the UK in 1915 where she organised women’s work in munitions factories for the war effort. She died in Essex in 1919 but is buried in the Jewish section of Earlham Cemetery, Norwich.
DR MARIETTE LEON (NÉE SOMAN) MBE – TRANSLATOR AND ACADEMIC
Hariette Maria Soman – known as Mariette – was in born in 1889 in Norwich. Her father, Asher, was a newspaper proprietor and managing director of the Norwich printers. Her mother Naomi was from Connecticut USA. Although of Jewish decent her family had converted and attended the Church of St John Maddermarket.
Mariette attended Norwich High School for Girls, around 1905 and was remembered by fellow pupils “to leave a memory of charm and radiant zest that had be shared linked with deep seriousness.”
From there she went on study at Girton College, Cambridge where she gained a 1st in German and subsequently took her doctorate in Sorbonne, Paris.
During the First World War, Mariette worked in Room 40 at the Admiralty decoding naval messages. She was later awarded an MBE for her service there.
In a newspaper cutting she is quoted as saying “We all worked in great secrecy, and those in the corresponding department in the War Office used to tease us about it and say we disguised ourselves in wigs. That was not true enough.”
“The codes were worked out by Oxford and Cambridge dons, and our task was to decode the messages as they were received by our wireless stations. We dictated them direct to a typist. Nothing was written on paper.
The movement of the German battleships were known to us, and we, of course, received the first news of the battle of Jutland and the death of Lord Kitchener.
Some of the officers slept in the department, and the place was not left empty throughout the war until Armistice.”
Dr Mariette Soman was one of the first eight people in Britain to hear of the signing of the Armistice at around 9am. She immediately stopped working and went on the roof of the Admiralty to see London receive the news – which she described as a “wonderful sight”.
In 1919 Dr Soman attended the Paris Peace Conference as Secretary to the Director of Naval Intelligence. In 1927, she married Philip Leon.
Dr Leon, as she then became, was regarded as an authority on French literature. She held a doctorate from the University of Leicester, where she in charge of the German school from 1933 and later lectured in modern languages. She died in 1941.
GRACE OCTAVIA CORDER – NURSE AND QAIMNSR
Grace Corder was born on 3 December 1875 to Chemist Octavivus and his wife Margaretta. By 1901, she was working as a nurse at Guys Hospital, London, where the nursing register showed she trained in midwifery and physiotherapy and masseuse (sic). She also trained in fever nursing and from 1904-1907 worked as a ward Sister in two hospitals in Ceylon.
From 1909, Grace Corder was Acting Matron of the Colonial Hospital Port of Spain, Trinidad but applied to the War Office for ‘unconditional leave’ to be relieved of her duties to help the war effort. Her offer was accepted and she was enlisted into the QAIMNSR on 24 July 1915. Her first posting was as a Sister at 21 General Hospital, Alexandria, Egypt but from 30 November 1916 she also spent some time on the hospital ship Asturias and on Malta. From January 1918 – April 1919 she served as Assistant Matron at 81 General Hospital, Marseille, France, after which she was demobilised.
Grace Corder was awarded the Victory and British War Medals, The Royal Red Cross First Class for services in Malta and the French medal of Medaille d’Honneur des Epidemies en Vermeil.
Immediately after the end of the First World War, Grace resigned from her role as Assistant Matron in Trinidad. She moved back to Norwich where she lived at 24 Mill Hill Road and later moved to Brundall. She never married and died in September 1962.