Research by one of our volunteers, Hollie King, has revealed the industrious work done by Somerset school children.
Whilst working through the log books for Somerset schools, Hollie found many references to contributions towards a Red Cross ambulance made by the children. Schools across the county contributed to this scheme, which suggests a county-wide initiative, probably led by the Somerset County Council Education Department.
In an article in the Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser newspaper on Wednesday 15 March 1916, Mr H C Robinson, the organising secretary of the British Red Cross Society, Joint War Committee, Ambulance Department, writes:
“The Committee of Motor Ambulances wish, through their Hon Secretary, to thank the children and teachers of the elementary schools in Somerset for their hard work and generous help in raising the sum of £500 for a motor ambulance, and their appreciation of the gift, and their grateful acceptance of the same. The Committee regret that they cannot spare the ambulance for the children to see, as it must go to the Front when ready”.
In 1916 the sum of £350 would buy a “ready for the road”, 12/15 h.p. FIAT AMBULANCE, £475 would send a powerful 15/20 h.p. motor “to help the boys at the front” whilst £500 would buy a 35/40 h.p. “top of the range” model. Presumably this is the model that the Somerset Children’s Ambulance Fund purchased. £500 in 1916 is equal to approximately £30,500 in 2014.
In the parish return for Godney it is detailed that the“School Children vied with each other in their efforts to help on with the good work, more especially in contributing to a fund for the gift of a complete Ambulance from the Somerset Schools, this school having so distinguished itself as to earn the special Thanks of the promoters and recognition in the form of a framed photograph of the Ambulance now occupying a place of honour in the school.”
Whilst the Hardington Mandeville parish return tells us that a soldier from the parish saw the ambulance in Mesopotamia, which gave him “a delightful whiff of home”.
This would indicate that the ambulance had been labelled as having been purchased by the Somerset children.
The log books also reveal details of a Government Scheme which was launched in late summer/early autumn 1918 for blackberry picking. It appears that teachers were given permission to take children out of school for supervised blackberry-picking expeditions. Not all the records show how many punds of fruit were picked, but several do and the total comes to a massive 5,412lbs of blackberries over a period of perhaps two months!
There is also reference to the fruit being delivered to a Government Jam Agent for Somerset and a school that picked 600lbs of fruit receiving £7 10s in payment.