War Work

Working life changed dramatically during the war years, with so many able bodied men sent overseas, women and children stepped in to fill the gap. Hertfordshire was under enormous pressure to help produce food for the nation after German U boats prevented most imports from 1915 and many people found themselves undertaking roles they never imagined possible.

Hertfordshire Women's War Agricultural Council Executive Committee held its first meeting in April 1916 with the Hon Mrs Abel Smith in the Chair and it was decided to set up a training centre for young women and girls to learn agricultural techniques. Mrs Abel Smith donated a house in Stapleford as quarters and the girls were trained directly over six week periods by local farmers in skilled farm work such as milking, animal care and horse management.


Once the training period was up the women worked on farms across the county. The local press were much enthused by the project; “Think what it means to have an efficient young woman to set free a cowman for the harvest field, and think what it will mean to have an expert woman in the cowsheds when the heavy work of winter feeding comes on again.” However there were some who felt the farm was no place for a woman. The Committee were disappointed to record one graduate of the programme under notice; there was no complaint regarding her work, the men on the farm did not like working with a woman. Agricultural work parties were also made up of local school boys as well as boys from London who spent the summer in tents in East Herts bringing in the harvest, whilst the senior girls of Hertford British School spent every Friday of September 1918 on blackberry picking duty.

Some jobs were declared reserved occupations, excusing the men from military service. These roles were diverse and tribunals had to be set up to determine whether someone had a case for being excused. Hertford tribunals record many such as William Smith, a boot maker from St Andrew Street, Hertford exempted for war work in 1916, presumably making boots for the troops.

Edward Pamphilon

Edward Henry Pamphilon lived in Villiers Street, Hertford, the family having moved out of 18 Bull Plain just prior to its conversion to Hertford Museum. He enlisted in November 1915 with the 3rd Battalion of the 1st Hertfordshire Regiment, which served on home soil. Edward was discharged the following summer as no longer fit for service due to increased deafness caused by a chronic ear condition he had suffered since childhood. He appeared at a Military Service Act tribunal in 1917 where he was excused from further service as his job as an apprentice type machine operator was of benefit to the nation. It is likely that the Stephen Austin printing company, where Edward was employed, were under government contract producing documents for the War.