During the First World War, the Blackwell Colliery Company played a large role in helping the war effort, both at home and on the front. A quarter of men employed by the company, 1128 men, went off to fight in tunnelling corps, while others who didn’t fight contributed funds for the war effort. Around 116 of those who fought were killed, meaning the village of Blackwell and its connected collieries would have known loss. Despite this, the company were determined to boost community spirit by providing Christmas entertainment during and after the war. These shows were held at the Brigade Hall for widows and orphans of the war.
Perhaps one of the most important parts of the colliery company’s role was providing a Red Cross Hospital, which operated in the Boys’ Brigade Hall in Blackwell. The idea was first proposed to the military in September 1914. The colliery company and its employees raised funds for the equipment needed and throughout the war, to make sure the space was offered as a free hospital. It opened in June 1915 with 10 beds. They were also allowed to be part of the Christmas audience.
With the hospital and a soldiers’ camp on the cricket ground set up in Blackwell, it meant that soldiers, especially injured ones, would have been a common sight. A volunteer corps was also created from locals who were unable to fight, so they would have also taken part in the defence of the village if required.
The hospital itself was seen as a successful venture. It would have been run by nurses from the Voluntary Aid Detachment, a joint effort run by the Red Cross and St John’s Ambulance to provide field nursing, first aid, cooking and hygiene practices at hospitals either in the UK or in the Commonwealth. Before its closure in 1917, it had treated 133 patients with wounds and disabilities of differing severities. Someone who often visited to show her support for the hospital was the Duchess of Devonshire. Her visit is pictured below.
‘Lest We Forget’: The Blackwell Colliery Company Ltd War Souvenir booklet, N42/6/8
Forces War Records, British Red Cross in WW1, https://www.forces-war-records.co.uk/collections/89/british-red-cross-in-ww1#:~:text=At%20the%20outbreak%20of%20the,hardship%20and%20traditional%20hospital%20discipline.
Mining the Seams is a Wellcome Trust funded project aiming to catalogue coal mining documents, originally held by the National Coal Board, so they can eventually be viewed by the public. Alongside the Warwickshire County Record Office, the project aims to focus on the welfare and health services provided to miners.