City’s wartime experiences in print

Keep the Home-Fires Burning was a popular patriotic refrain in the First World War and Sheffield did its best to do just that.

Among the many books marking the centenary of the outbreak of the war is one that claims to be the first dedicated to capturing the human experiences, thoughts, concerns, fears and hopes back home during that significant period in history.

The Home Front: Sheffield in the First World War by Scott Lomax covers the run up to the war, the reaction to its outbreak and continuing right through to the Armistice and peace celebrations.

One of the first surprises is to find that Sheffield was in those days a conservative city, both politically (The Tories held a majority on the council thanks to the Lord Mayor’s casting vote) and also in the prevalent views. “There were lots of articles in the press in the run-up to the war complaining of the youth of the time, for example,” says Lomax.

The book also has a chapter on the role of women. “We think of them working in munitions factories in the Second World War but they also did in the First and they had a whole host of different jobs such as nursing, postal workers, tram conductors and manufacturing equiment and uniforms - knitting jumpers and other woollen garments for soldiers in winter.”

Although after the war the women went back to where they were beforehand the war it did mark significant steps in the advance of women’s rights and changing attitudes. The University of Sheffield was only six years old by the time war broke out but it was to have a significant role in recruitment, voluntary work among the wounded and refugees and in research.

“They had an important role in research that’s not widely known,” says Lomax. “They developed new methods of production in the steel industry and also providing new drugs such as anaesthetics.”

In looking at the aftermath of the war, there comes the supreme irony of a devasting influenza epidemic that killed thousands. “Just as people were hoping for a better future and that suffering was coming to an end came this terrible epidemic,” remarks Lomax. “The illness claimed more lives in a few months than the war claimed over a longer period.”

The illustrated book took two years to research by the graduate of the University of Sheffield who now lives in Chesterfield and works as an archaeologist.

“I spent a lot of time at Sheffield Archives looking at newspaper articles, private letters sent by or to soldiers at the front, and diaries. There’s a very good letter describing the air raid on Sheffield in 1916.”

Lomax has written several books on local history and true crime, but will for the time being be concentrating “on the day job,” excavating Nottingham’s medieval history,

The Home Front: Sheffield in the First World War, Scott Lomax, is The Home Front: Sheffield in the First World War is published by Pen & Sword at £14.99.