East Midlands Oral History Archive

First World War remembered

Oral histories of the home front in Leicestershire and Rutland during World War One

At the outbreak of the First World War Leicester had a population of over 227,000, Leicestershire had more than 245,226 people, and Rutland more than 19,601 (figures from the 1911 census). The city (it was actually a town then) was smaller than it is today and had none of the large housing estates that were built in the 1920s, 1930s and after the Second World War. However, if you walked through the centre of Leicester in 1914 there would be many buildings and places you would still recognise today.

The years leading up to the outbreak of war had been turbulent. Although Leicester was a prosperous town with the clothing, footwear and engineering industries leading a diverse economy, between 1912-13 there were more than nine strikes in boot and shoe factories. Disputes arose over job losses due to newly introduced machinery, dismissals of trade unionists and cuts in wages.

In July 1914, the suffragettes Kitty Marion, Ellen Sheriff and Elizabeth Frisby, armed with wood shavings dipped in creosol and an axe to break in, trekked across a field in the middle of the night and managed to burn down Blaby railway station, causing £500 worth of damage. Pillar boxes in Eastgates, Humberstone Road, Rutland Street and Newarke Street were also attacked by suffragettes. So was Leicester Golf Course on Stoughton Drive, where 'No Votes, No Golf' was carved into the turf in February 1913. Telephone lines were cut too.

You can read about what happened in Leicester during WW1 on the Story of Leicester website and in the books that have been written about that period, which are listed on the further resources and links section of this website. While most of the books concentrate on Leicester rather than Leicestershire, this website presents recorded memories from both the city and the county during WW1.

In the 1980s and 1990s oral history projects across Leicestershire made around 300 recordings with people who lived through WW1 either as children or adults. These memories have been edited into sound clips and have been created from the collections of the East Midlands Oral History Archive (EMOHA) with the help and support of the University of Leicester and Leicester Arts and Museums Service.

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