New book reveals how life had to change during the Great War

Rachel Field with her book, 'Ipswich in the Great War'.

Rachel Field with her book, 'Ipswich in the Great War'. - Credit: Archant

Written by local historian Rachel Field, the book looks at how life changed for those who left their homes to fight for King and Country – and for those they left behind and who had to step into their shoes.

Mrs Field, who lives near the town centre, wrote the book after carrying out some research at the Suffolk Records Office and unearthed some fascinating stories about how the Great War affected lives in the area.

Ipswich in 1914 had a population of about 74,000 – about half of what it is today in the borough – and many thousands of men went to war. More than 1,400 did not return.

When the men left, women were left to do many of their jobs – it was the first time in history that many jobs that had been seen as a male preserve were left for women to do.

The book looks at how women went to work at Ransomes Sims and Jeffries that switched production to war materials – and also became tram conductors and took on other work.

In the factories they even started wearing trousers – a very radical step for the first half of the twentieth century!

Some women did go to the battlefields, as nurses or in sporting roles.

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But the book also records the story of Flora Sandes who was determined to fight – and joined the Serbian army, rising to become an officer.

She won that country’s highest honour and returned to life in Suffolk, living for many years in Wickham Market before she died in Ipswich at the age of 80.

Mrs Field said: “She was an extraordinary woman who was not prepared to just let the men do the fighting in the war – she had an extraordinary life.”

But life for thousands of women in Ipswich changed dramatically during the war – after working in factories and in public services, they were determined to see their place in society change. Women first got the vote in 1918 and the age at which they could voted came down to 21 – the same as for men – in 1928.

Ipswich did suffer air raids – a Zeppelin raid damaged buildings in Key Street in 1916 – but it was in supporting the war effort with its munitions factories and as a training base that the town really played a key role during the war.

With pictures from a number of sources, the book captures the role of the town during the conflict.

Written with help from many experts, Ipswich in The Great War is published by Pen&Sword and is available from bookshops, the Ipswich Tourist Information Centre, and online.