Larbert and the Home Front in the Great War

Munitionettes at Carron
Munitionettes at Carron

Over the past few weeks the people have been rightly concerned with remembrance as we make our annual salute to those who fell in combat.

While thousands of brave men travelled far from home to answer the call to arms, back at home our communities struggled to cope without their men and the reduced workforce made life difficult in foundries, factories, schools, shops and offices.

Larbert parish, home to Carron Company, is a good example of how the people of our area coped during the Great War of 1914-18.

This week the Local History Society has published ‘‘Larbert’s Experience of Wartime’’ by Russell MacGillivray, former principal teacher of history at Larbert High School.

It is a comprehensive account of what was going on in Larbert, Stenhousemuir, Carron and Carronshore.

The book is a follow-up to Russell’s first volume called ‘‘The Men of Larbert War Memorial’’ (2017) which told the story of the 286 men who died in the war and whose names appear on the memorial at the Dobbie Hall.

Russell describes the impact of the war on the daily experience of the people from the rush to volunteer in 1914, through the dark years of loss, to the final victory. He places special emphasis on the way in which the role of women changed.

As demand for munitions rose and the men who made them joined the colours, women were recruited in their place.

The ‘‘munitionettes’’, with their distinctive caps and smocks, became a familiar part of the workforce despite the reservations of the men and the opposition of the trade unions.

However, as the years went by, respect for the women grew so that by 1916 George Pate, the manager of Carron said “I have nothing but praise for the manner in which the women workers in the shell factory have laboured to increase the output.”

As well as these changes in working practices, the community had to cope with rising prices, restrictions on alcohol sales and food shortages and did so with varying degrees of success.

As well as the community’s response, Russell covers other topics which add to our knowledge of Larbert in wartime.

There is a section on prisoners of war, of whom there were 66, and on decorated soldiers including Lt John R Graham of Larbert House who was wounded five times while commanding a machine gun corps in Mesopotamia but continued to battle on against a powerful Turkish counter-attack. For this he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

There is also a section devoted to the more than 150 soldiers who died but were not recorded on the war memorial.

The reasons for these omissions are many but one relates to the Royal Naval Hospital which occupied part of Bellsdyke Hospital.

Wounded sailors from across the country were brought here and sadly many of them died – their graves are scattered and names appear on town and village memorials throughout the kingdom.

One section contains individual memories of people with a Larbert connection and vastly different experiences of war: Joe Scott, Falkirk Herald’s correspondent who served in East Africa; Beatrice Reid, a nurse on the Western Front; Syme Wood, a stoker at the Battle of Jutland; Rev. Andrew Anderson, in France with the Scottish Churches Huts; Effie Donley, a nurse in Serbia . . . and ten more.

‘‘Larbert’s Experience of Wartime’’ is available in Waterstones and from Falkirk Local History Society.