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World War One home front records

The records are largely broken down by the various Committees that produced them but the sources also include material not produced by the Committees themselves. What follows is an edited selection of what we have.

War Agricultural Executive Committee (WW1/AC series). This Committee provides the largest group of records in the collection, hardly surprising given the overwhelmingly rural nature of Bedfordshire in the years 1914-1918. War Agricultural Executive Committees were formed in each county under the Cultivation of Lands Order, 1917, as it became clear that the U-Boat menace could drive the country to its knees by destroying merchant shipping, particularly ships carrying food. So real was this threat perceived to be, that it was one of the principal causes of the major campaign in the latter half of 1917 officially known as Third Ypres, but more commonly known as Passchendaele, which was designed to sweep up the Belgian coast and liberate ports such as Ostend and Zeebrugge which were being used by the U-Boats. The records we have include the following major classes:

* Minutes and agenda papers of the Executive Committee itself and of its various sub-committees dealing with machinery, seeds, labour, finance, horticulture and drainage (WW1/AC/M and WW1/AC/P series).

* Orders to Plough up Pasture for Crop Planting (WW1/AC/OP series). This was a most important function of the Committee, to bring into arable production fields used for grazing. The experiment frequently failed since farmers had no choice on which fields they were to break up and plough with a particular crop and such actions were resented. Moreover, many of the farmers ordered to grow arable crops had only experience of livestock. We have details of claims made by 148 farmers for compensation by the Committee for their time and loss of grazing when crops they were growing failed. Each claim gives details of the land owner, tenant farmer, farm, fields concerned and additional information such as details of ditches needing repair or legal wrangling over the actions of the farmer or the Committee.

* Employment of enemy prisoners of war (WW1/AC/PW series). The series includes pay and time sheets for gangs of German prisoners used for agricultural labour. These have largely been destroyed due to their bulk and low informational value, but the names of the British soldier guards and the prisoners have been noted down in the catalogue as well as the POW camp from which they came (and these include Ampthill, Barton-le-Clay, Bletsoe, Broom, Clifton, Leighton Buzzard, Melchbourne, Meppershall, Pertenhall, Shillington, Souldrop, Stopsley, Sundon, Tempsford, Turvey and Woburn).

* Records of Stratton Park Agricultural Training Centre, Biggleswade (WW1/AC/TC series). This centre was set up to provide instruction to wounded ex-servicemen wishing to start a new life as smallholders. The men were trained at the Centre for a year and with a farmer for six months. The series includes records of the sub-committee running the Centre, correspondence on setting the Centre up, returns regarding beekeepers and general training and a series of 101 case files recording: name; age; address; former Regiment; former occupation; training being received; wounds; and other details. Disabilities vary from varicose veins to gunshot wounds and amputations - many suffered from "neurasthenia" (shell shock).

Women's War Agricultural Committee (WW1/WA series). The First World War saw the first great national mobilisation of female labour and the creation of the Women's Land Army, which re-appeared more famously in the Second World War. The material includes minutes and reports of the Committee and its sub-committees, records of efficiency tests at such activities as milking cows, and various national leaflets, posters, instructions etc., many of them having a a paternalistic tone that would be unthinkable today such as: "Like your brothers who are fighting, you must keep your uniform in good order. You should never decorate it with badges or ribbons or jewellery. You should not wear smart blouses under your overall - it makes the whole effect ridiculous....Remember when you are in uniform always to behave so as to make it respected. Silly behaviour that may be harmless in itself is out of place from a girl who is serving her country."

War Charities (WW1/CH series) This section includes registration by all the local groups in the county set-up to "help our boys" and assist in other areas concerning the war, including such groups as Flitwick War Memorial Fund, Sandy Belgian Relief Fund, Aspley Guise & Woburn Sands branch of League of St. George (founded to erect bungalows for disabled ex-servicemen), and all the parish Comforts Funds and Christmas Parcel Funds.

County Emergency Committee (WW1/EC series). These are largely the records kept by Lieutenant Colonel F.A.D.Stevens, Chief Constable of Bedfordshire, in his capacity as an ex-officio member of the Committee and include correspondence on such topics as emergency hospitals, motor transport, Volunteer Training Corps and material on Special Constables including names and addresses of Specials in various parts of the county.

Nursing Records (WW1/NU series). These largely relate to the Bedfordshire Branch of the Red Cross and, in particular, to VADs (Voluntary Aid Detachments - young women, often from well-to-do backgrounds, who volunteered to assist in emergency hospitals at home and abroad) and include details of posting of individuals, reports from Commandants and returns from hospitals in Luton (Wardown Park, now Luton Museum), Sandy, Ampthill and Bedford.

War Pensions Committee (WW1/PC series). This material includes minutes, agenda papers and correspondence.

Relief of Distress Committee (WW1/RD series). This committee dealt with cases of hardship resulting from the war which were not covered by war pensions and included such people as tradesmen put out of business, physical disability and illness. The material includes minutes and correspondence as well as assistance cards for 14 individuals one of whom was a victim of an explosion at an ammunition factory - the Venesta Explosives Works in Silvertown in January 1917.

Rolls of Honour and War Memorials (WW1/RH series). Parishes were urged to make returns of: (i) all who had died on active service, (ii) all who had served abroad and survived and (iii) those who served at home. The resulting lists are very variable in quality and the catalogue notes what details are given by each parish - principally: which of the three classes explained above are noted; whether women are noted; whether full name is given; whether unit is given; whether decorations are noted; and other notes. Sadly, 43 parishes sent in no return. The series also includes the Diocesan Roll of Honour, broken down by parish. There is also correspondence regarding the Bedfordshire Regiment war memorial opposite Kempston Barracks.

Military Diagrams (WW1/ VA 4)These stray items include a communications diagram for the Suez Canal defences, 1916 and plans of the Brigade Artillery Training School in Biscot [Luton], 1916.

These County Council records provide comprehensive information for those interested in a range of subjects, including the home front, agriculture, the role of women, and genealogy.