This blog post was researched and written by Lois Dean, a volunteer at Bolton Museum and Archive.
A photograph album in Bolton Archives records the First World One activities of the local branch of the Women’s Relief Corps, which was set up in September 1915 by school teacher and Suffragette, Elizabeth Ann Anderson.
Elizabeth was born in Darcy Lever, Bolton on 18th November 1890, the youngest child of George and Caroline Anderson. Before moving to Bolton, her parents had been schoolmaster and mistress of a small school in Davenham, Cheshire, so it was hardly surprising that Elizabeth decided to teach also.
The 1911 census finds her as a trainee teacher at Whitelands Training College for Teachers in Chelsea. The principal, Clara Luard, had probably attended Croydon High School for Girls where the headmistress Dorinda Neligan was very active in the early Suffragist movement.
Dorinda must have influenced Clara’s thinking and she in turn probably influenced Elizabeth Anderson, who returned home to teach physically handicapped children in Manchester and became a Suffragette, selling the newspaper ‘Votes for Women’ in Bolton town centre.
The First World War gave women the chance to prove their worth and Elizabeth, already a member of the Manchester Women’s Relief Corps, was invited by the Mayor of Bolton to form the town’s own branch.
In an article in the Bolton Journal in 1973, Elizabeth recalled how 200 women joined almost immediately, giving up evenings and weekends to train in drill, morse code, bugling, drumming, first aid and home nursing at Clarence Street Council School.
Elizabeth got the chance to put her own first aid skills into action in September 1916 when Bolton was bombed in a Zeppelin air raid. She leapt out of bed and ran down the lane to the Fire Station where the WRC kept a first aid kit, catching the last fire engine as it left.
She recalled, “I remember seeing men in nightshirts shinning up lamp posts to put out the gas lights which were still burning and when we reached Kirk Street, where the Zeppelin had dropped bombs, there was a huge mound of rubble from which firemen were rescuing bodies.”
Elizabeth could not see any of her fellow Corps members, but she was shown into an empty cottage and a child was brought in with her eyes, nose and mouth filled with plaster.
“To my horror, I found there was no water, the mains had been cut off because of flooding, so I grabbed a teapot and used the drop of tea inside. I then charged round all the cottages, collecting the tea from the pots on the hobs.”
She was relieved from her duties at 6am by a female doctor and by 8am was on the train to Manchester to begin her day’s teaching. She later discovered that her fellow WRC members had been forming a cordon to keep people away from Kirk Street and then spent the day helping the injured.
After the war, Elizabeth turned her full attention to her teaching, opening a number of schools for handicapped children over the next 40 years. She never married, but travelled widely in the UK and Europe. She died in 1983 in Bolton, at the age of 92.
Photographs from Elizabeth Anderson’s WWI album can be seen in the ‘Bolton Remembers the First World War’ section of Bolton Library and Museum Services website.
Interview with Bolton Journal, August 1973 – newspaper cuttings (ref. B8 p202), held at Bolton History Centre
www.ancestry.co.uk – various family records relating to the Anderson family.
Clara Georgina Luard – ‘Daughters of the Anglican Clergy’ by Midori Yamaguchi (https://books.google.co.uk/books?isbn=1137315741)
Dorinda Neligan in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography online – http://odnb2.pubfactory.com/view/article/52262/52262?docPos=22