In this guest blog post, Jo-Ann Curtis from the Birmingham Museums Trust looks at the role of women in the famous Cadbury Bros company during the war as part of the Voices of War and Peace project.
As soon as war broke out and troops were deployed overseas, Cadbury Bros began producing ‘chocolate for the troops’. These gifts continued to be distributed throughout the duration of the war and in total 20,000 parcels were sent out to troops on the front, as well as to those who were wounded and recovering at home or in hospital.
The photograph ‘Packing Comforts for the Troops’ depicts Cadbury employees preparing to ship boxes of Cadbury’s Mexican Chocolate and books to British troops. Each box was packaged up with the message, ‘a present to our friends at the front, from the workpeople at Cadbury’s Bournville’.
Women employees at Cadbury during the First World War are predominantly represented as carers and nurturers. Recurring articles pertaining to the activities of the 3,500 female workforce included ‘Bournville Girls as Nurses’, and the knitting and sewing activities of individual departments. However, very little information is given regarding the experiences of women in the workplace during the war.
Both the Bournville Works Magazine and Bournville Works and the War 1914-1919, provide the reader with a vision of a workforce in harmony. But, for many women who were employed purely to supplement the depleted male workforce, the end of the war signified the termination of their employment. In the 1918 minutes of the Bournville Works Women’s Council, the company was considering the demobilisation of its supplementary female workforce.
During this time, Cadbury had disbanded their bar on the employment of married women. In 1919 a rare protest is recorded in the Bournville Works Women’s Council minutes by women who had been
temporarily employed in one of the men’s departments, on the announcement of their demobilisation the following was recorded:
‘Communication from Printing Shop Committee […] They think it fair that they should be given a chance to secure a position which will satisfy them, as they have stood by the firm during a time of difficulty. They would like to know exactly how they stand in the matter’.
This minute represented the experiences of many women at the end of the First World War. Although women were celebrated for stepping up to take on the roles of men during the war, once the male workforce returned women were expected to give up their newly found independence and status.
Bournville Works and the War 1914-1919 was a commemorative publication produced at the request of Cadbury’s employees in 1920. Throughout the war Bournville Works Magazine featured a column entitled ‘The Factory and The War’, recording the activities of Cadbury’s employees. The commemorative publication was a summary of this c column.
In November 1914, the first ‘Factory and the War’ column was published. Contained within is an address given by Cadbury Bros to its employees:
‘We feel that it is the duty of every one of us to be willing to sacrifice our own immediate interests on behalf of out country. Some have felt it their duty to go to the front, but it is not less incumbent upon those who, for conscientious or other reasons, cannot let their patriotism take this form, to bear their share’.
The Works Magazine’s record of the war carried the sentiment of this address, in that it recorded the individual and collective efforts of the company’s employees at home and on the Western Front. The magazine’s readership during the period included employees serving in the forces. This was reflected in the publishing of letters recounting experiences on the Western Front, as well as comments on articles within the magazine.
Throughout the duration of World War One, Cadbury continued with chocolate production, albeit at a reduced rate, affecting many factory floor employees working on piece-rates. As a result Cadbury established emergency financial provision for those whose earnings fell below a certain rate. The firm also provided financial assistance to dependants of employees who had enlisted and for widows or dependants of men killed in action.In total, 2,148 of Cadbury’s employees served during the war, many enlisting with local Birmingham Pals regiments.
This is an extract from www.suburbanbirmingham.org.uk.
‘Packing Comforts for the Troops’ courtesy of Library of Birmingham: MS466/41/3a/89
‘Girls’ Works Committee’, 1911 courtesy of Library of Birmingham: MS466/41/3/99
‘Bournville Works and the War 1914-1919’ courtesy of Library of Birmingham: LP66.53CAD