Remembering civilians from the Kingsdown and Creekside Cluster
who gave their lives in the First World War
On the centenary of their death, we remember
chr. 4th March 1894;
d. 16th January 1916. Aged 22
Alice POST, civilian
Remembered on the Teynham War Memorial
No known grave
Died of TNT poisoning at Faversham Powder Mills
Alice’s story is important because it makes a clear link between those on the Home Front and those serving the Colours overseas. Her fateful story also gives us an opportunity to reflect in passing on the background to the changes to employment of women in war industries from 1915 – leading to the so-called “dilution of labour” (the relaxation of entry qualifications to industries and occupations essential to the conduct of war). We have sketched that wider story ("Women's War Work") in a separate collection of newspaper and statistical documents.
Alice Post (christened 4th March 1894) came from a family that had several generations in Lynsted, Greenstreet, and Teynham. Her direct ancestors included 'sawyers' (her grandfather and great-grandfather) and her father had been a brickfield labourer before he set up as a hairdresser/barber (and later added chimney sweep) in Greenstreet (North side, Teynham Parish) near the Rose Inn (beer sellers). Her mother, Henrietta Emily (nee Humphrys) was living in Faversham on her marriage (December 1889) but was born in Kings Cross/Holborn.
In Greenstreet, parents James Richard and Henrietta Emily Post had nine children by 1911. Their first-born, Albert James, died the year he was born (1891). Then came Alice’s elder sister, Florence Elizabeth (b.1892). After Alice was born (b.1894), there followed Henrietta Mary (b. 1896), Edward George (b.1898), Ernest Arthur (b.1899), Maude Annie (b.1902), Daisy (b.1904) and finally John James (b.1906). See our draft Family Tree below.
At the age of 17, in 1911, Alice served as a General Domestic Servant in the household of James William and Annie Francis Clark living in No.10 Anhall Road, Albert Bridge Road, Battersea, SW3. James Clark is recorded as an Engineers Draughtsman (Disengaged). So, with the head of household facing reduced circumstances, it is likely that Alice would have been released to reduce the burden on the household. We do know from Birth registrations that Alice conceived a child in 1914 that was born on 19th July 1915. We have no information on whether she returned in order to have the child (Margaret Alice, registered in Faversham) at home or if she was at home when she conceived. Whatever the case, Alice went on to respond to the call for women in munitions in 1915.
Her uncle, George Edwin Post (living in Sheldwich) served in the Royal Army Medical Corps from 1919 when he was 44 years old.
The burial plot for Alice has been lost from the records. Her poverty may explain the lack of an enduring grave marker, although a large part of the graveyard has also fallen to the ravages of rabbits over many years.
By the outbreak of war, Alice had returned to her childhood home set in the commercial centre of Greenstreet that lay between the rural parishes of Lynsted and Teynham. At first, the contribution of women to the war effort excluded many important industries that were male dominated.
With the prospect of a lengthy war and a shortage of skilled men and munitions, it soon became clear that Britain had to recall many early male volunteers. For women, it was important for the government to win the argument for a relaxation of employment restrictions so women could be employed in less skilled functions and release less skilled men to The Front – so-called “dilution of labour”.
Alice Post’s story is tied to the redirection of important local gunpowder ("black powder") production to include the relatively newly adopted T.N.T. in its various formulations to replace the more volatile picric acid. Her lack of experience and excessive bravado, the relaxation of employment restrictions, and the novelty of the processes involved, all played a part in her untimely death.
During 1915, the enlistment of men was matched by a reported desire of many women to contribute to the war effort in areas of need. Reported by the Secretary to the Board of Trade on 13th April 1915:
|Women registered up to 1st April 1915||Over 33,000|
|Want to work in armament factories||6,000|
|In clothing factories||4,000|
|Other agricultural work||2,000|
By way of comparison, the table below gives the percentages (%) of men from various occupations who had enlisted, leaving skills and general manpower gaps in some important parts of the economy (released on 23rd March 1915):-
|Men enlisted from particular sectors||
|Rough total of men employed by the sector in England & Wales - 1911|
|Stock Exchange clerks||35.0||Commercial or Business Clerks = 478,000 men|
|Clerks from banks and insurance offices||20 to 25.0|
|Other clerks||20.0||Law Clerks = 36,000 men|
|Shop assistants||16.0||More than 55,000 men|
|Farm workers||15.6||622,000 men|
|School teachers||13.5||69,000 men|
Note: The size of each group (right-hand column) that we have added are only a rough estimate because the definitions in newspaper reports don’t always match those used in the 1911 Census. They are included because percentages on their own serve no purpose unless they are put into context of the whole size of the sector.
In broad terms, this gives you a sense of both the numbers who chose to join the Colours and the opportunities that opened up for women in a supporting role. A supporting role that released fit men in the munitions and other industries to enlist in the service of their country.
This account draws on reports found in the Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald on 29th January 1916 (with additions from other similar newspaper reports, including The East Kent Gazette 29/1/1916).
On Thursday 28th January, 1916, Mr. C.B. Harris, Coroner for the district presided over the Inquest held at the Teynham Arms, Greenstreet, convened to look into the circumstances of Alice Post’s death (then aged 22 years). Public houses were often used in this way, drawing on local populations for the Coroner's Jury and having easier access to local witnesses. The Teynham Arms occupied the site on the western corner of Station Road and London Road; very close to the parental family home of James Richard and Henrietta Emily Post. James was a hairdresser living and working on Greenstreet.
Those attending the Inquest included: Dr. Edgar Leigh Collis (Medical Inspector of Factories), Mr. Philip Heath (Inspector of Factories), Miss Squires (Lady Inspector of Factories), Mr. C.L. Watson-Smith (Director of Messrs. Curtis and Harvey’s factory for about five weeks prior to Christmas).
Witnesses called included: local doctors Henderson, Selby, and Alexander who saw Alice only during the final two days of her illness; fellow munitions workers, Annie Leggett, of 9, Noah's Ark, Faversham, and Emily Jane Ede, of 1, Century Road, Faversham.
On Sunday night, 16th January 1915, Alice Post died from T.N.T. poisoning while employed at the works of Messrs. Curtis and Harvey, Faversham. She had been working there for “several weeks” – probably starting within the period five weeks prior to Christmas (see below for the note regarding those attending the Inquest). She did not see her local doctors until she was on her death-bed. The post mortem was conducted by Drs Selby, Alexander and Legge (of the Home Office).
Alice had given birth in early Autumn of 1915 to Margaret Alice Post (later to marry William E.G. Tyler in 1932). Throughout the late Autumn and early winter, a young mother, she walked ten miles each day to and from the factory. Her work colleagues reported that when Alice was on night shifts, she would get home at 7.30am. She then had breakfast and went to bed until 3.30pm.
It soon became apparent that Alice was struggling to eat enough to sustain her through these conditions. It was believed by the doctors that this lack of nourishment made Alice particularly likely to suffer from TNT poisoning.
Alice had to cope with alternating night and day shifts, which would have increased the physical burden on her as a young mother.
Two weeks before 31st December 1915, during a night shift, Alice complained of headaches and feeling tired (“taken bad”), so she was sent home by cab and told to see her doctor. Alice did not take this advice, instead using chemist's ointments for her blemished skin. Feeling ‘tired and faint’ was a frequent complaint that Mr. Harris generally put down to a lack of daytime rest when girls worked on the night shift. So he was not alarmed by Alice's symptoms.
Alice was given until 31st December 1915 to return to work but failed to do so. Consequently, after 31st December, Alice was asked to attend the Works Doctor, which she did but she reported that all the doctor did was examine her chest. But it seems that Alice was reluctant fully to report all her symptoms; believing instead that she would ‘soon be better’ after obtaining a bottle of medicine from the chemist. She resisted the idea of seeing another doctor when she returned home. So, Alice’s condition worsened as the skin on her hands and arms turned blotchy and she began to suffer severe vomiting.
The warning signs had been there, but those signs were not interpreted correctly by those around her. Alice did not help her own case by avoiding medical practitioners until it was far too late – preferring to believe that she ‘would get better’ with the ointments she purchased (some were available from the factory too). Was this an emotional aversion or a wish to save the cost – after all there was no NHS? Perhaps a bit of both? Whatever her thoughts were, it was not until she had passed any chance of recovery that she was presented to the Site Doctor. When she was advised to contact her own doctor (Dr Selby), Alice failed to do so and the Site Doctor did not follow up to see that Alice followed his advice. “A clerk of the works said that the deceased came for her money to his house on 1st January 1916 and she said she was getting better and hoping to come back to work.”
Dr Prideaux George Selby, of Greenstreet Hill, reported that he saw Alice for the first time on Saturday 15th January followed by another visit on Sunday 16th January with Dr Henderson. At that time, Alice was ”lying on her back, unconscious, deeply yellow and coloured dark fluid was extruding from her lips, the breathing was stertorous and she had the “death rattles” in the throat.” At 9.30 that evening, Alice died.
The post-mortem was conducted by Dr Legge of the Home Office alongside Dr Alexander. This confirmed the yellowing of the skin that led to the diagnosis of T.N.T. poisoning. He concluded that Alice’s absolute tiredness from walking to and from work had contributed to her rapid decline.
The supposed medical supervision of the girls was flawed through inertia and confusion in the management of the chaotic circumstances of war production. Production that required radical changes in existing local factory procedures and equipment, to move away from gun-cotton powder (“black powder”) and into T.N.T. under the direction of the Ministry of Munitions.
“Owing to the enormous shortage of labour the alternation of work which had been recommended could not be carried out”. Each girl brought their own milk and sugar, which was left in the open.
Machinery used by the girls had been adapted from other uses with the result that experience of processes and their supervision was sub-standard.
Mr Heath (Factory Inspector) had requested fortnightly health inspections of the girls by Dr. Henderson who had challenged Mr Harris three weeks earlier about the inadequacy of arrangements. Mr Heath, on the other hand, felt that his responsibilities ended with the request for health inspections – it was not his role to follow-up or arrange the visits.
Mr Harris asserted he frequently reminded the girls to wear their respirators, but many chose not to because the masks made them feel hot.
On 17th July 1915, Dr. Edgar Leigh Collis (Inspector of Factories) visited the factory and wrote to the factory owners to remind them of the importance of precautions against poisoning. Those precautions included the “provision of respirators, cloak room accommodation, ointment, cocoa or milk in the mornings (to enable the workers’ systems to resist the onslaught of poison), the alternation of employment (to other areas of munitions production) and washing accommodation.”
Mr Minter (Works Manager) explained he had ordered respirators on 21st July 1915 but only received them on 21st September 1915. He added that the size of the site meant he had deputed to foremen the responsibility for implementing safety procedures and ensuring the use of respirator equipment. Something he had also personally followed up.
Accepting that the other recommendations were not adequately implemented, the Works Manager argued that the slow implementation was mostly due to the “time of great stress” on the company as it tried to meet the radical changes to its manufacturing processes and equipment to meet the demands for T.N.T. As the Works Manager reported, “there were double the number of hands employed on AMANOL, compared with black powder and the accommodation was sufficient for the black powder work. In short, T.N.T. was produced in an unsuitable environment that had to be adapted at the same time as carrying on production - it would take time to make that environment fully compliant with best practice.
Alice was poisoned through regular contact with T.N.T. (tri-nitro-toluol) poisoning. The Coroner and jury asked that more attention be given to washing of overalls; milk and sugar should be provided with the cocoa when the girls arrived. Milk and sugar made the cocoa more palatable and was important because it was believed to help the body to resist T.N.T. poisoning. The failure to adhere to recommended safety procedures and proper rotation of jobs away from handling T.N.T. contributed to concentrated periods of acute exposure that led to the rapid onset of Alice’s illness and death.
DEATHS IN FAVERSHAM FROM T.N.T. POISON. [Between July-September - 21 deaths reported]
House of Commons Debate 24 October 1916 vol 86 c988W 988W
§ Mr. ROWLANDS asked the Home Secretary whether his attention has been called to the inquest at Faversham on Winifred Oldfield and, recently, the inquest on Lydia Elizabeth Gibson, who died of T.N.T. poison; can he say how many deaths from the same cause have occurred during the past three months; and what action is being taken to prevent these disasters?
§ Mr. BRACE The Home Secretary's attention has been called to both these cases. During the quarter ending 30th September the number of reported deaths from the same cause was twenty-one. The Home Office and the Ministry of Munitions are taking every possible step to investigate and deal with this new source of danger, as my hon. Friend will see if he refers to the answer the Home Secretary gave to a question by the Noble Lord the Member for South Nottingham on Thursday last.
DEATH OF MUNITION WORKERS.
House of Commons Debate 19 October 1916 vol 86 cc760-1W 760W
§ Lord HENRY CAVENDISH-BENTINCK asked the Home Secretary whether his attention has been called to the fact that two deaths of female munition workers from T.N.T. poisoning have recently occurred; whether he has considered if they are due to the probability that the Regulations are either defective or badly administered; and what steps he proposes to take in order to make the Regulations in this process really effective to safeguard the health of the workers? § Mr. BRACE The Home Office has received reports with, regard to these two cases. In the case of one of the women, who was not an employee of the firm, but an examiner sent to the works on behalf of the Government, the usual precautions had, through a misunderstanding as to her position, not been carried out. In the other case, also, the doctor appointed for the factory, although a full-time officer, had not been able, owing to the amount of work to be done, to carry out the full periodical examination of the workers. Both defects have now been remedied. The question of T.N.T. poisoning is receiving the close attention of the Home Office and Ministry of Munitions, and special measures have been taken for dealing with it. Further modifications of the regulations are under consideration. The problem is a new one, and is made more difficult by the fact that the manufacturing processes are constantly being modified. The precautions which are now required, or under consideration, include all the measures which the experience so far obtained suggests, and further investigations, and experiments with new methods and appliances are being made.
INDUSTRIAL POISONING. [Nine months to September 1916 - 62 deaths ... or 28 deaths.... statistics!]
HC Deb 25 October 1916 vol 86 cc1125-6 1125
§ 61. Mr. ANDERSON asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is aware that, of the 472 cases of industrial poisoning reported during the nine months ending September, 1916, 120 occurred from toxic jaundice and that, of 62 deaths, 33 were attributable to this cause; whether he can state how many of these cases and deaths were due to poisoning from tri-nitro-toluene; and what action he proposes to take?
§ Mr. BRACE The figures are correctly stated in the first part of the question. The number of these cases due to T.N.T. poisoning was ninety-five and the number of deaths twenty-eight. Every possible step is, as I stated in my answers on this subject yesterday and last week, being taken by my Department, in concert with the Ministry of Munitions, to investigate and deal with this disease.
T.N.T. POISONING. [Continuous periods of employment still leading to deaths]
HC Deb 08 May 1918 vol 105 c2178W 2178W
§ Mr. ANDERSON asked the Minister of Munitions whether any case has recently been brought to his notice in which a woman has been kept continuously employed on T.N.T. for a fortnight, and has developed toxic jaundice with fatal results; whether the practice of continuous employment on dope is contrary to the official regulations; and whether steps will be taken to secure compliance in all factories with official regulations
§ Mr. KELLAWAY I am aware of the case to which my hon. Friend refers. It was not a case of dope poisoning, as appears to be implied in the question, but a case of T.N.T. poisoning, which is quite distinct from dope poisoning. So far as the former process is concerned, dope is only used in aircraft factories, and since a certain element has boon removed from its manufacture it has ceased to be a cause for toxic jaundice. So far as the particular case of T.N.T. poisoning is concerned, under the T.N.T. rules it is only permitted in cases of necessity for a woman to be employed for more than a fortnight continuously on T.N.T. In the case in question alternation was not possible, as the factory was incomplete. Since then complete alternation has been effected. The House will be glad to know that the preventive measures taken by the Ministry of Munitions against T.N.T. poisoning have been increasingly effective. The number of cases reported during the last quarter of 1916 was 86, with 23 deaths. The comparison figures for 1917 were 29 cases, with 4 deaths.
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