Fundraising was of paramount importance during the First World War; and without the work of volunteers, civilians and charities many historians feel, not only the troops on the front-line, but the nation as a whole would have suffered considerably more than it did. The money and resources the charities and fundraising organisations received went towards services for soldiers both at home and abroad. The Red Cross state that by the end of the war, £21,885,035 had been raised and £20,058,355 spent on hospitals, medicine, clothing, grants and care for the sick and wounded. However, the overall effect on British society was even more creditable. Peter Grant, author of Philanthropy and Voluntary Action in the First World War, suggests the efforts of the Home Front ‘were crucial to the success of the war’ creating a social cohesion that transcended class and boosted morale.
Between 1914 and 1918 nearly 18,000 charities were established – the most popular causes being “comforts” which typically consisted of clothing, books and food for British and European troops, medical services, refugees, prisoners of war etc. Out of the 37 Doncaster charities listed in the 1916 War Charities Register, 6 of these were ‘comforts’ funds. The Doncaster Military Hospital Comforts Fund was one of these and it provided funds for purchasing tobacco, cigarettes and other comforts, travelling expenses to soldiers and their relatives, and even pocket money for men in the hospital.
Description: Doncaster Military Hospital Comforts Fund
The War Charities Act of 1916 was passed on the back of a Departmental Committee report which highlighted the lack of control in certain charities. The Third Sector writes: the report showed ‘large sums of money which had been collected were found to be under the control of an individual who had placed them in his own banking account’ for personal use. In other cases no accounts had been published and no proper records had been kept. Seeming as most of the population were in one way or another involved in fundraising, this became a real problem and as a result the Act was generally accepted as a very necessary measure. The Act of 1916 prohibited the raising of money for war charities unless the charity had been registered and gave local authorities the power to decide which organisations would be registered or exempt. The War Charities Register for Doncaster was created as a result of the Act, detailing the personnel and objectives of the 37 registered charities in Doncaster. Some of the larger charities in Doncaster, such as the Doncaster Sailors and Soldiers Christmas Comforts Fund, were chaired by Councillor G. Raithby – the Mayor of Doncaster at the time. The involvement of high-up individuals, such as the Mayor, accentuates the importance given to charity work in wartime Britain.
One of the first funds during the First World War was the Belgian Refugees Fund. The Third Sector states that ‘in the first 10 months of the war, 265,000 Belgian refugees arrived and the government looked to volunteers to offer all the necessary services.’ In Doncaster, a Belgian Refugee Committee was set up on the 10th November 1916. The town clerk for Doncaster, R.A.H. Tovey, was the secretary of the committee and its objective was to relieve and provide for Belgian refugees in England. Donations of money and goods for the Belgian refugees poured in all around the country, as did thousands of offers of accommodation.
Description: Belgian Refugees Fund
Another very significant charity in Doncaster was the Doncaster and District Prisoners of War Fund, which provided ‘money or goods for the comfort of members of his majesty’s forces who are prisoners of war’, as stated in the Doncaster War Charities Register. Initially, the Central Powers (Austria-Hungary, Germany, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire) refused to allow food or any sort of comforts to be sent to prisoners of war by the British government. However, through the work of the Red Cross packages were sent fortnightly to those in prison abroad. The Red Cross article, titled Fundraising during the First World War, states ‘donations from the public for these parcels reached £674,908 19s 1d.’
Y.M.C.A. Doncaster Hut was one of the more influential and recognised charities in Doncaster, providing proceeds for relief stations at home and in France, as well as notepaper for letters, cups of tea and other refreshments. Y.M.C.A. was one of the largest providers of civilian support to soldiers, munitions workers and families during the First World War; spending in excess of £200 million pounds throughout the course of the war. The Third Sector notes ‘over 40,000 Y.M.C.A. volunteers gave their time and left their homes and families to follow the troops and go wherever they were needed, and many lost their own lives in the process, either from injury or illness.’ Those that fell have been recognised by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and many received military and civilian honours.
The help provided by ordinary citizens, volunteers and charities during the First World War was unprecedented, and thanks to legislation such as the War Charities Act of 1916 charities became better coordinated and as The Third Sector claim: were in ‘better shape by the time the Second World War loomed in the 1930s.’
For more information on fundraising during the First World War and The War Charities Act of 1916 visit:
http://www.redcross.org.uk – Fundraising During the First World War