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Female munition workers at Shoreditch Technical Institute, 1915

Female munitions workers at Shoreditch Technical Institute, 1915. Reference: Collage 180177

Charlotte Scott

As communities and individuals prepare to mark its centenary I am pleased that London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) is now publishing the second edition of the three source guides to LMA's First World War related collections.

The war at home (280KB)

Military service (280KB)

Commemoration (160KB)

Since the first editions which came out early in 2013 we have added some new entries and fleshed out some of the existing ones. New entries in particular draw on the work we have been doing in 2013 to examine some of the very large series of cross-London records from institutional collections for the early 20th century. Here we can begin to glimpse the impact of the war on the lives of ordinary Londoners, examples include:

  • Parish magazines where you can find prayer lists for men on active service and notices about their progress in the war. Some magazines comment on the Angel of Mons phenomenon of 1914 and the growth of street shrines set up by grieving families.
  • School log books can be fascinating. You can read of the effects of air raids on children and the fears of their families during the daylight raids, the gradual disappearance of young male teachers into active service and their replacement by women. In Potters Bar in 1916 the school children lined the route of the funeral of a German Zeppelin crew shot down on British soil while schools in the east end of London heard the explosion from the Brunner Mond munitions factory in Silvertown in 1917.
  • Coroners case files for Middlesex (the London files did not survive) have papers relating to the deaths of people in air raids and not unexpectedly those people who took their own lives due to the pressures of the war. What has been more surprising was finding files (and no small number of them) for airmen who died in service while based at the aerodromes at Northolt and Hendon, often while they were training.
  • Magistrates court registers list deserters from the armed services; enemy "aliens" who did not register with the authorities and men who wore military decorations they were not entitled to. 
  • Local government minutes and reports, often dry in character, can with some digging produce interesting stories. Bermondsey Board of Guardians has correspondence on an incident very early in the war when men on an unemployment scheme in Hollesley Bay walked out after their diet was changed from bread and egg to bread and jam as a result of war breaking out. Condemned by the authorities as unpatriotic, the men refused to back down and left the scheme.

Themes emerging from LMA's collections include community responses to the war. Community can be a parish or locality, but sometimes a business; the Lyons archive for example tells of individuals within the company who went to war through the staff magazines. Thousands of employees of the London County Council (LCC) went on war service over the 4 years and they are all recorded by name and with brief details of their service in the LCC's Record of Service - a breathtaking list of Londoners.

Bomb damaged buildings at 15-17 Aldermanbury in 1915

Bomb damaged buildings at 15-17 Aldermanbury, 8 September 1915. Reference: Collage 36992

​Londoners also had to contend with direct enemy attacks from the air for the first time. LCC ambulance and fire services had to tend to people injured in raids and buildings destroyed by bomb damage and Coroners had to hold inquests for the dead. Air raids come up again and again across the archives. This was a shocking and terrifying new phenomenon for the civilian population. At the end of the war settlement examinations from the Boards of Guardians archives quote people suffering from stress, depression and fear who frequently said fear of air raids contributed to their poor health.

Another subject which people today are already showing a lot of interest in are those people who appealed against military service following the introduction of conscription in 1916. The government set up local tribunals to hear individual appeals against military service, but very few archives survive. There was a move by central government immediately after 1918 not to keep the case papers or other related documentation and instructions were sent out to this effect. However, there are instances of records surviving in localities, so local record offices may have some material. For LMA we have the rough minutes for the Guildhall which name individuals and the reasons for their appeals. There are no indexes and the notes can be scrappy and difficult to read. Interestingly the case files for the county of Middlesex do survive as a lone example for the whole of England. These are not at LMA, but kept at The National Archives (TNA) at Kew where they are currently being digitised and will be available online via TNA's website.

Finally, LMA has images of Londoners and London at war. These include many subjects, but I would highlight those showing the work women started to do such as manual labour in the gas works, making aeroplanes in a Chelsea factory and working for Crosse and Blackwell at Imperial Wharf. We even have a photograph of the Kaiser visiting Guildhall in 1907 with all due ceremony.

We will continue to add to the LMA sources guides; please let us know if you find anything we should add.

You can find out more about the latest news, events and projects on our First World War page.

16 January 2014
Last Modified:
26 September 2019