Memories of Heath Hayes during the 1914-18 war by Gwen Stanfield, formerly Foster:

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Gwen Stanfield, formerly Foster c.1912

Gwendoline Foster was born in 1906 and was the youngest daughter of Albert and Maud Foster, who ran a successful shop and bakery on Hednesford Road, Heath Hayes.

In later life Gwen recalled her memories of growing up in Heath Hayes during World War One:

‘The consequences of war soon started to affect us and the first one I remember is when one our bakers Dave Chadburn was called up.  He was already in the Territorials and wore his red uniform for special occasions.  I liked him very much – he always sang to me … ‘sweet Gwendoline, sweet Gwendoline’.

At home changes were taking place and people began to adapt. As there were no tanks until 1916, the soldiers trained for trench warfare and faced appalling conditions. Horses were being commandeered and some of ours were taken, including Dolly, the bad tempered one!

Hopes soon fled of a speedy end to the dreadful war, so our lives had changed and the carefree days were no longer taken for granted.

When we received the newspaper in January 1915, a strange event was reported.  On Christmas Eve the hostilities from the trenches on both sides had ceased.  During which time the British and Germans met on No-Man’s Land.  They shook hands, and talked to each other. They even exchanged souvenirs and peacefully brought out each others dead for burial.  They sang ‘Heilige Nacht’ (Holy Night) and called ‘Happy Christmas’ to each other. Sadly the truce only lasted 24 hours.

Back at school, we were all rapidly adjusting to war conditions.  Miss Markham [Headmistress of Heath Hayes Girls School] decided that we should knit socks for our soldiers in France.  She obtained a large amount of khaki wool and had about 8-10 of the best knitters in the cookery room each morning making socks.

The dreaded telegraph boy was often seen on his bicycle, as local parents were informed of their sons deaths.

The beautiful area known as Cannock Chase became the site for new temporary camps for soldiers. From Brocton to Penkridge Bank, miles and miles of army huts were erected with roads, a bank, a bookshop, a theatre and even a church.  The nearest towns to these camps were Cannock, Hednesford and Rugeley.  In the evenings they were crowded with soldiers who were off duty.

Meanwhile girls went into factories to make munitions as soon as they were old enough.  This work was very well paid and consequently the girls liked this job much better than that of domestic work.

At home, Jack Daft who had worked for us for many years, left to go into the Navy. and my sister Olive drove the Ford delivery van in his place.  

In the autumn of 1916, many activities were arranged to raise money so that parcels could be sent to our soldiers in time for Christmas. Patriotic plays were produced and khaki wool purchased with the proceeds.  Socks and gloves were knitted to be included in the Christmas parcels, which also contained non-perishable food and letters with photographs were also sent.

In 1917 one of the Boys School Teachers, Edwin Gwyther, was killed.  I remember my mom taking me to dances at St. Johns Institute before the war – Edwin Gwyther always did the Veleta with me and he would pick me up in his arms when it came to the waltzing part.

Although the war was still the cause of great anxiety, it seemed to be gradually turning to the advantage of our soldiers and finally an Armistice was signed on 11th November 1918.

Although the war had finished the effects were very long standing.  For many it was a time of great sadness, when their loved ones didn’t return or were buried in a far off land.

For others their brave sons, husbands and fiancées came back needing hospital treatment, many with loss of limbs or long standing illnesses due to the deprivation they had suffered’.


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