Nostalgia by Alison Bailey

During World War II local women were required once again to take on jobs that were previously thought of as unsuitable for them.

In March 1941 single women aged 20-30 were called up for war work to fill the jobs of men who were away fighting. However married women also wanted to support the war effort and by mid-1943, in addition to 90 per cent of single women, 80 per cent of married women were working in factories, on the land or in the armed forces.

Many local women were needed for war work: Amersham Prints, a fabric manufacturer in The Maltings, Old Amersham had been taken over to manufacture barrage balloons, dinghies and air sea rescue equipment; radios were manufactured in the London Road; aircraft parts were manufactured at several factories in Chesham; and radiochemical production had started at Chilcote House in White Lion Road.

Many businesses also relocated to Amersham to escape the Blitz in London.

When his factory in London was bombed Sir Michael Sobell, the industrialist and philanthropist, moved his electronics company, which provided electrical equipment to the armed forces, to Plantation Road. The Halstan printing business occupies the same site today.

Women were also needed as land girls, as air raid wardens, as conductors and engineers for Green Line buses, as catering staff for British Restaurants and to work in Military Intelligence.

Extra nurses were also needed, as Shardeloes had become a maternity hospital and Amersham Hospital was now an Emergency Services Hospital led by St Mary’s Paddington.

The working week for these women could be very long. Green Line bus crews for example, were expected to work a 48-hour week. Married women could only work if they could find adequate childcare and in the 1940s there was little provision of nursery places in Amersham and the surrounding area.

Save the Children, which is celebrating its centenary this year, identified this need and established nurseries throughout the UK for children whose parents were working in wartime industries.

In 1941 Californian subscribers to the American Save the Children Federation (equivalent to the Fund) provided the money required to build a nursery in Amersham as a way of aiding the British war effort without becoming involved militarily.

This was some months before the bombing of Pearl Harbour which resulted in America formally entering WWII on 8 December 1941.

In Amersham a site was chosen on farmland adjoining Mitchell Walk, which at that time was an unmade road with only one house. The President of the Californian Save the Children Federation, Governor Henry J Allen of Wichita, Kansas, travelled to Amersham to turn the first spadeful of earth that marked the beginnings of the Henry Allen Nursery.

On 9 February 1942 the nursery opened its doors for the first time with places for forty children aged two to five, although occasionally babies as young as eighteen months were admitted if their mothers’ work was essential to the war.

100 years after it was first founded as a charity Save the Children is still fighting for children every day around the world. In 1919, the marvellously named Eglantyne Jebb was arrested for distributing leaflets in London which showed shocking photographs of malnourished children. In the aftermath of WWI, Britain kept up a blockade that left children in cities like Berlin and Vienna starving.

Malnutrition was common and rickets were rife.

Whilst Jebb’s humanitarian response seems obvious today many considered her a traitor for wanting to help the children of our former enemies.

Jebb was tried for her protest and found guilty. But the public prosecutor counsel was so impressed with her moral argument that he offered to pay the £5 fine himself. She insisted she would pay her own fine but that she would use his money as the first donation for the Save the Children Fund she then founded.

Eglantyne Jebb, was born in 1876 in Ellesmere, Shropshire, and grew up on her family’s estate. The Jebbs were a well-off family and had a strong social conscience and commitment to public service. She is almost forgotten today but surely deserves to be a household name.

Not only did she save thousands of lives, she permanently changed the way the world treats children.

She drafted the first statement of children’s universal human rights which was adopted by the League of Nations and later became enshrined in the UN Convention as the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. She is the subject of a new biography by Clare Mulley and all profits go to Save the Children.