As part of our series of newspaper articles from the First World War comes this piece about the work done by Harriette Ellen Jewell during the first year of the war…Barum Athena
The war into which, as an Empire, we were so suddenly plunged twelve months since found us quite unprepared in the country, whatever might be said of the naval or military position. We had allowed ourselves to be lulled into a feeling of false security. With the outbreak of war a heavy burden of responsibility was thrown on the municipalities—a far heavier burden than they had ever previously been called upon to bear. Barnstaple, on common with other towns and cities throughout the country—many of them, perhaps, more “before the footlights,” but very few of more ancient origin or possessing a finer record of patriotic traditions—through its representative authority, manfully accepted the task imposed upon it. The surrounding districts of North Devon looked to its metropolis for a lead in the unprecedented situation with which they were faced, and their confidence in the respect was not misplaced. It is to the part the women are playing in the present crisis that the writer would particularly refer in venturing to pass a few observations. It has been characteristic of the English that a leader could always be found in whatever phase of life or society the particular circumstances required. In Barnstaple we have strong successful leaders in the Mayor and Mayoress of the borough, Councillor F. A. Jewell and Mrs. Jewell. The Mayoress immediately set herself to the task before her, and having put her hand to the plough there was no turning back. Mrs. Jewell has not contented herself with the pleasantries of performing opening ceremonies or leading her patronage respecting functions for deserving objects, she has not been satisfied with making speeches at the various functions as to the pleasure it gave her to be present, but her pleasure is derived from the inward satisfaction that she has unostentatiously taken a major share in the work of organisation.
It was the great Napoleon who said that in any great crisis it was the women’s special lot to soften misfortune. Barnstaple’s Mayoress has clearly recognised that the majority of the people of this country seem loathe to admit—the gravity of the situation. “The fack can’t no longer be disguised that a Krysis is on to us,” words attributed to Artemus Ward, seem applicable to present circumstances. Thanks to the admirable foresight of Mrs. Jewell preparations were early astir in Barnstaple. Relief Committees were formed, and various other organisations set up. At such a time numerous charitable institutions, many of them of a promiscuous character, sprang into existence throughout the country, and it became extremely difficult to separate the grain from the chaff. Gifts which were ear-marked for specific purpose did not always reach their proper destination through certain channels. The fact of the Mayoress lending her help and patronage on behalf of a movement, however, is to guarantee as to it genuineness. Mrs. Jewell soon had around her a willing band of helpers ready to work under her direction in bringing to a successful fruition various movements which she had devised. Among the earliest steps taken was the manufacture locally of hundreds of pounds of jam, the ingredients for which were freely given in response to the Mayoress’s appeal. Schoolchildern, willing to do their little bit gladly spent their half holidays in the country lanes picking blackberries for “The Mayoress’s jam.” Nor was this response confined to Barnstaple, but from various parts of North Devon Mrs. Jewell received contributions of fruits, many of them accompanied by beautiful little notes from schoolchildren stating that having seen the appeal in the “Herald” they wished to do something to help. The result of this happy thought of jam making proved an inestimable benefit to the poorer classes of the community last winter.
Shortly after the commencement of hostilities Mrs. Jewell convened a meeting of ladies, as a result of which the borough was divided into five districts—the ecclesiastical parishes being chosen as the dividing line—with a responsible head to each district. Consequent upon the endeavours of the respective committees thousands of useful articles have been sent away to the various relief and other organisations. The Mayoress has also raised “a mint of money” towards a number of relief funds. The Prince of Wales and Princess Mary’s Funds were among the first to claim her help and in each case her appeal met with most gratifying results. Towards the Belgian relief fund, Mrs. Jewell was instrumental in raising 100 guineas, which together with nine large cases of excellent clothing were forwarded to the headquarters, a personal letter of grateful thanks being subsequently received. With the arrival of Belgian refugees, Mrs. Jewell immediately set to work to promote a local fund towards the care of refugees as “guests of the borough.” Nicely furnished homes were provided, and at the present time Barnstaple is keeping 100 Belgians. The excellent treatment which the Belgians are receiving in Barnstaple drew from the Archbishop of Malines a few weeks since his personal thanks, together with an expression that nowhere in the country had his compatriots been better looked after than had been the case locally. A club under the patronage of the Mayor and Mayoress has since been opened for the exclusive use of the refugees. Thanks again to the efforts of Mrs. Jewell money enough has been raised to furnish a Barnstaple bed in a Serbian hospital for twelve months. On French flag day the Mayoress and her willing band of helpers raised over £60. In the street collections the local Italian organ-grinders have voluntarily offered their co-operation and have rendered excellent service in this connection. Among the numerous letters of thanks for services rendered which Mrs. Jewell has received is one from Lady Fortescue, the wife of the Lord Lieutenant of the County, for her efforts in obtaining one thousand signatures to a women’s petition as to the desirability of interning all alien enemies residing on or near the coast line. A Belgian pound day which the Mayoress instituted was extremely successful, one thousand pounds of goods and £5 in money being obtained. Then she has organised periodical collections of eggs for the British soldiers, and up to the present has despatched no fewer than 10,500 eggs. In this connection she has received loyal co-operation from the surrounding countryside children from the respective schools forwarding her regular weekly contributions. As soon as the need for sandbags was made know, Mrs. Jewell set
to work, and with the aid of the various committees, etc., coupled with the splendid work of the children of Holsworthy Grammar School, she has been enabled to dispatch no fewer than 3,500. It is estimated that ten sandbags are equivalent to the saving of one life, so that on that basis 350 British soldiers owe their lives at the present time to the iniative and labours of the Mayoress of Barnstaple. In a hundred and one other ways has Mrs. Jewell assisted in helping to tide over the present crisis—thousands of garments of one kind and another, hundreds of knitted belts and socks, respecting which local schoolchildren gave valuable help, have been forwarded by her to the proper quarters—but her crowning effort was the splendid assistance which she rendered Mrs. Trefusis, the wife of the Bishop of Crediton, in promoting the great county bazaar at Exeter, and subsequently the highly successful county bazaar in Barnstaple. Mrs. Jewell has a record standing to her credit, of which she may well feel proud, a pride which will find an echo in the sentiments of all Barumites far and near.
The Mayoress, in one of those delightful little impromptu speeches of which she is capable, once quoted the words of anonymous writer as the goal which her hearers should aim at, which seem applicable to the conclusion of a few words of appreciation of her labours in North Devon–”I expect to pass through this world but once, any good therefore that I can do or any kindness that I can show to my fellow creatures, let me do it now : let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”
transcript taken from the North Devon Herald 5th August 1915 page 5 column f. This just one of many articles about North Devon’s experiences during World War One published in the local newspapers. For more visit our North Devon War Items Album on our Facebook Page…Barum Athena