Remembering the Women of World War One: Agnes Raw
The Armistice Centenary exhibition in Embsay Village Hall included displays concerning the women in the Great War.
Amongst the topics we looked at were the work of women in charity work – a vital part of the war effort, although now sadly undervalued in the history books. Women up and down the country rallied together to cope with food shortages, raise funds, provide gift boxes and knitted garments for soldiers at the front and prisoners of war, and organise welfare services for soldier’s families and refugees.
While middle-class women struggled to learn how to cope with the shortage of domestic servants, and employers learnt to accept female labour in their factories and offices, for many women – of all classes – this was a time to explore their potential and break new ground, and even to ditch the corset and wear trousers!
The newly opened Brooksbank Tannery published several advertisements for “good men” and “strong youths” needed to work there, but by mid-1918, the shortage of young male labour meant the Tannery had to modify the adverts to also call for “strong girls” to work there.
Opportunities for women were continually growing throughout the war. The nurses, W.A.A.C.’s, W.R.N.S., and munitionettes, are of course, iconic in histories of the British Home Front during World War One. The munitions factories provided relatively well-paid work for women, one such being Agnes Raw from Embsay. Her story illustrates not only the story of the munitions workers, but also another side to the end of the war in 1918.
Agnes was the 5th of 10 children of Joseph and Annie Raw. The whole family worked in the mills, except for Agnes, who at 16, when her mother died in 1909 took on the household duties, which included looking after her little sister and baby brother.
They all lived at Millholme and with 7 of them earning, were able to afford a house with 3 bedrooms and 2 living rooms. Agnes was 21 when the war broke out.
She had 2 brothers who enlisted – 19 year old John who was killed in Dec 1915, and 17 year old Edward, who had such serious and extensive psoriasis that after 38 days he was discharged from the Scots Guards as unfit for duty.
There was also a little 6 year old brother, Thomas Raymond; 4 older sisters; and one younger than Agnes.
Could one of these munitions girls in a Keighley gala in 1918 be Agnes?
Agnes became a munitionette in one of the two munitions factories in Keighley. Working in a factory in 1918 made Agnes vulnerable to the biggest killer of all – Spanish Flu.
Wherever there were crowds the flu virus spread - Keighley with its overcrowded housing and large factories was badly hit. In November 1918 alone, 55 people were buried at Keighley cemetery as a direct result of the epidemic.
And it was in Keighley that our munitions girl, Agnes Raw, fell prey to Spanish Flu.
Agnes Raw died in November 1918 at the age of 26 and was brought home to be buried in Embsay, less than two weeks after the village had celebrated the Armistice.
Jane Lunnon, Embsay-with- Eastby Historical Research Group, 2018