RETRO: Teen’s view on living through The Great War

World War I - Fatigue  Party at work in Rivelin Valley'Filed Feb 1 1961
World War I - Fatigue Party at work in Rivelin Valley'Filed Feb 1 1961
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What was life like for a teenage girl in Sheffield with very little education during World War I?

Almost 100 years since war was declared Retro has been given access to the remarkable diary of a young woman who, thanks to the opportunities created by men being sent to the front line, reported for the Sheffield Daily Telegraph between 1915 and 1921.

Sheffield City Battalion Book - British troops belonging to the 13th Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment take up postions to meet advancing Germans during the German Spring offensive 1918. Sheffield City men were serving with this composite battalion after the 12th Battalion was disbanded

Sheffield City Battalion Book - British troops belonging to the 13th Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment take up postions to meet advancing Germans during the German Spring offensive 1918. Sheffield City men were serving with this composite battalion after the 12th Battalion was disbanded

It gives a fascinating insight into the daily life of the woman, whose identity remains a mystery.

Robert Stephenson lives in Henley and recently bought the diary, which was originally a battered Trader Handbook and Diary for 1906 issued by Dunlop Tyres.

He said: “This book has already been lightly used so our reporter’s reminiscences are occasional interspersed with prior notes on the lines of, ‘Mr J E Evans 4 gall 4/8’.

“Our anonymous diarist was in her late teens, a junior whose job takes her to cultural events, the law courts, hospitals and Trib – presumably a tribunal weighing appeals against conscription.

World War I - Soldiers marching through Sheffield'30 April 1993

World War I - Soldiers marching through Sheffield'30 April 1993

“As one might expect there are references to Zeppelin raids on Sheffield, blackout, food shortages, wounded servicemen etc but little at first about national strategy, battlefield tactics and the sporadic carnage reaching its culmination in Flanders.”

However in March 1918 she writes: “The great German offensive has broken at last - the news was that the offensive had been stopped but today comes news of broken sector west of St Quentin. However certain one may feel of the valour and success of our arms it is impossible not to feel great anxiety. Worst of all throughout today from 8am every quarter of an hour gigantic siege guns have hurled 8ft shells into Paris - this endangers Dover and all southern England if we cannot hold Calais.

“When I commenced this diary I intended it to be mainly a personal book intended for perusal by someone who would be mainly interested in my individual girlhood. But tonight the thought of the tremendous battle now raging on the 60 mile front transcends everything.”

n If you know the identity of the young reporter or have information which could help solve the mystery then get in touch with Retro. Email nancy.fielder@thestar.co.uk or write to Nancy Fielder, Retro, The Star, York Street, Sheffield, S1 1PU.

TUESDAY

Very bad news from Warminster to-day. Since last Wednesday week Jean has been down with bronchitis. May writes it has been night and day work. They have had the doctor and a screen round her. May feels it awfully hard after she has waited so long for Jack’s leave but he must have been a blessing and comfort to her. Baby Mary is at death’s door with pneumonia in her left lung. They have the doctor going three times a day and there is not much hope. Mam had a dreadful night. She was very cold and shivered to shake the bedstead. I came in at 10 and found her in bed. After morning Trib I was off at three. After early tea I took the clothes to M’s houses but Auntie was out and I had to leave them at Johnsons. The paper and string broke. Oh, dear. Tonight I have been to a Lit and Phil lecture on Mesopotamia which was very good and well delivered.

SATURDAY

We did not start today at all well. Early this morning Mother overbalanced the tin hat and sent me bouncing out of bed. We got up later and Mamma came down at 10 looking very poorly after her restless night. About eleven I was tied up in knots with my own particular pain which rather frightened poor Chief. I had some Oxo and he remarked, “What a rotten dinner,” till I exclaimed that it was the only dinner I could stomach. I went to Arnindale’s and got a pound of grapes for 2/6. I wanted the black ones but they were old. Then got a beautiful spray of mimosa. When I got back Chief remarked that it looked as if I had been spending money. Later in the afternoon Spurr came in and we had several debates. When I got home Mamma tried to rebuke me for my extravagance - but I guess she liked it. Uncle Rob has heard from Sergeant Ambrose that he is going to Roehampton. I am really sorry for he has been a real interest these past weeks.

Tonight I had a pleasant surprise. I started for chapel before six. I was at the pillar box and saw Uncle, Mrs Hay and Sergeant go by in the car. So I just raced after that car and got aboard below Blacks Square. We had quite a laugh over it. Then we all clambered out at Ecclesall Road and waited for a Middlewood. We left them at the Middlewood terminus and went to chapel.

There was a fine anti-pacifist sermon and there were two very inappropriate hymns.

TUESDAY

A walk home at midnight now-a-days is a sufficiently terrifying experience for anyone and does not need an air raid to add to its horrors. I went to the West Riding Court this morning but was only there half an hour. At 12.10 I was released and came home but neither Mamma or I felt very grand. However, as it was a lovely day we got ready and at 2.45 started for Mrs Spurway’s. It seemed so strange to be walking along the bottom with Mamma again after six years. As we came down Chatfield Winnie ran to meet us. We found Mother and Father at home and we had a nice chat and a delicious tea. Mamma was quite charmed with Ethel’s photo. Louise was reported to be much better and after a week in bed had gained two and a half pounds. Fred had a narrow escape. A bomb passed over the house and fell 20 yards away. Tonight I went to a lecture on early Christian monuments at the Lit and Phil rooms. It finished at 8 so I was working at my copy till 11.30 and then I had missed my car and had to walk home in the pitch darkness. There was not a solitary lamp lit. It was awful.

WEDNESDAY

As soon as Chief came in this morning he told me that the lecture was very well done and very nicely done. I was so glad because it did worry me. Then I rang up Mr Hall about the French shorthand and he promised to come between 5 and 6 but he never turned up. At Police Court Henry Fisher was in the chair and sermonised as usual. Harold Jackson and Irwin Mitchell were nearly shrieking and them and Mr Goodwin passed notes like a lot of schoolboys. Then the Chairman ordered the court to be cleared and as I was leaving he brought me back and said they liked to have me with them, but I was going out for my own good.

The Sergeant was going to Auntie’s to-day but he could not get off so I did not see him. Tonight after school I went to the meeting. He spoke very well but the hecklers were disgusting and later gathered in for a singing around - the boy from the Town Hall wanted to have a go at them.

THURSDAY

Went to a fine meeting to-night at the Vic. Mr Smith was there and when I got there he was scooping money in. There was £100 and 100 guineas and scores of smaller amounts, some of them very pathetic, in memory of the City Battalion and so on. Then the gift of a hut was announced from Lady Fitzwilliam. That was cheered. This afternoon I went up to Burngreave Vestry Hall.