Women’s World Cheer-up Club

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Here at Pictorama in recent years we’ve developed a particular soft spot for medals. My discovery of school medals lead to recent post (which can be found here) about these emblems of encouragement that seemed to proliferate as awards in schools in the early part of the 20th century. Improvement! Excellence! Who doesn’t want a daily reminder of these qualities cheering them on? Somehow I imagine accumulating numerous ones to wear on a lapel together although this has not yet manifested.

These school award are not the beribboned ones for athletic prowess or competition, but smaller and sweeter in my opinion. I have both a US example and one from Canada. I have to believe that equivalents existed in Europe. Somehow I like to imagine an earlier society where pins like these proliferated. This one is brass and appears a bit more mass produced than my school awards which would have been, I think, produced blank and then etched with cheering motivations subsequently.

Improvement, Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

I am reminded of those pins by this odd kissing cousin of an item I purchased a few months back from a British jewelry dealer (I have written about purchases from @Wassail_antiques frequently before, a recent post can be found here – hey Rachel!) and while making another purchase I decided that I would acquire this pin from her shop too. I had been eyeing it and in the end I would be disappointed to see it go to someone else. It seems to belong here with me.

Australian. 2 tons of jam made for the troops!

I did think it would be easier to find information about the Women’s Cheer-up Club than it has turned out to be. My limited research skills finally confirmed what I more or less thought I would discover, which is that the Cheer-ups were British societies in WWI. It seems to be an umbrella term for a loosely defined group of organizations which provided comfort and entertainment for troops during the war, raising money for these activities and also to create other resources for soldiers such as physiotherapy and the development of remedial skills. Drives were held for food, clothing and books for the troops as well and I believe some of these ultimately became veterans associations.

Australia. More than 125,000 pairs of socks made and sent to the troops.

I found one other of these pins while doing my research – for sale on Etsy – and it was the exact same one, although it seems there must have been variations on the theme I could find none. The references I ultimately found were largely archival period newspaper articles writing up the activities of a local branch of a Cheer-up Club. The references I found were not specifically to it as a women’s association.

Australian. Instruction book for knitting socks for the troops circa 1915.

Southern Australia had an active equivalent and I was able to find more about those than the British clubs, the establishment of them and the doings of the groups. The Australian Society Cheer-up also seeked to care for their troops abroad as well as at home and there are articles about Cheer-up Huts for Australian soldiers in Britain during the war.

In addition to, of course, urging people to cheer up these pins were a brand of patriotism during that time. I imagine that sporting such a pin might also show a soldier, perhaps on leave in an unfamiliar place, where he might find a hot meal and gathering spot in the area. Of course, it also encouraged people to cheer up during a dark time and now it sits on a shelf near my desk where it does that for me as needed too.

Of Tropes and War: Part 2

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Picking up where I left off yesterday, today I tackle what really made this recent Frances Hodgson Burnett read a bit different, the description of a WWI Britain. I am a bit fascinated with a lot of contemporary fiction which covers the period between the two world wars in Britain. It is an interesting slice of time as people recover from the horrors of WWI and then, in too short a time, the foreshadow of the second world war rapidly creeps over them. Conceivably many of those men who survived the first war had sons in the second and that alone is too horrible to really contemplate. This novel is an eloquent reminder of the reality of that war.

The sequel to her book, The Head of the House of Coombe, Robin occupies itself entirely with the war, the main male character of the story having been marched off at the end of part one, this second half takes place during the war which is central to it. There are things that surprise me about this description. Perhaps because it is so close to the actual events there is a vividness to the descriptions that I have not read before.

The horrors of the pillaging of Belgium is graphically described and a central motivation for young Brits, even from the wealthiest families, to join up. I was well aware that part of the horror of WWI was because of the brutal mix of modern warfare with what had sufficed for ages before – men killing each other on horseback and in hand to hand combat. Now men on horseback and fighting with swords were being killed by mechanized weapons and bombs from the sky. For all of that somehow the kind of on the ground rape and pillage that went on in a more Genghis Khan fashion had escaped me.

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The cynicism of the British nobles about the Americans and if and when we would enter the war was also enlightening. Would the United States only enter if it was of economic value to us? They desperately needed the Americans in the war and as we are aware, for a number of our own reasons that commitment was not so quick to come. This was hugely frustrating and even terrifying for them.

Remember also, Hodgson Burnett had deep loyalties to both countries – that of her birth and the country she adopted as a teen and subsequently lived in most of her life and that conflict plays out here. I assume Burnett, in the final years of her life which were spent living in Westchester, did not see or experience WWI London firsthand. Perhaps these vital descriptions came from accounts from friends and newspapers of the time or maybe she did travel back shortly after.

Finally I was surprised to read that, much like those folks who brought picnics to watch the first battle of the Civil War, there was a practice of going up on rooftops to party while watch the zeppelin bombings on London. Ultimately this ends badly in the novel (as I assume it must have in life) and a brief but horrific plot point turns on this event. There is a description of random body parts being found in the street after, only a hand left to be found and identified, that had a realism which was also chilling.

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I did know from other reading that the bombing of London during WWI was as devastating as that of WWII and again one is stunned thinking about a certain sandwich generation which experienced bombing during both wars fully.

Worst of all were the descriptions of the German prisoner of war camps however. One assumes that a few years after the war these stories were finding their way out and Hodgson Burnett shocked me with some of them.

To me it is of interest that even at the end of her life, Hodgson Burnett was still delivering these very contemporary stories. A few decades before her stories described the emerging 20th century world – where travel between Europe and the New World became accessible to all and the role of women was rapidly emerging. (I have written about the emerging 20th century woman in her novels here.) As in WWII Britain, women took on all jobs at home during WWI which is also described in this novel. She also recognizes that sweeps many of the remaining social constraints and conventions for women aside.

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Knowing that the first half of this novel, filled with the aforementioned tropes of pining romance, rags to riches plot and unearthly communion (as outlined in yesterday’s post found here) was hugely popular in the United States I do wonder about the reception of this second half, originally published on its own the same year. While the first half is all flag waving for the war, this second half contains all the cynicism and pain. Somehow she wrapped all these things together and tucked them into one final novel.