Doncaster at War: 1917

Dont Waste Bread Poster, IWM (Art.IWM PST 13354)


By 1917, the war had been raging for over two years. On the Home Front, new fundraising campaigns were introduced to support the war effort and rally a war-weary public.

The 1916 introduction of compulsory military service caused a labour crisis in Doncaster. The town’s women and religious leaders stepped in to help fill the roles left by men sent to war. However, dissatisfaction grew among the men still at home, and various strikes and disputes took place across the town.

Doncaster residents in 1917 faced food shortages caused by the German Navy torpedoing supply ships travelling to Britain. In response, the town’s residents began growing their own food, an initiative which the Doncaster Gazette referred to as ‘the cult of the potato patch.’


Female malsters at Barnby Dun Kilns, Doncaster Gazette 2 March 1917

In response to the pressures on food supplies in 1917, Doncaster women cut down on their consumption of bread and began making food with substitutes for sugar, wheat and potatoes. An exhibition showcasing these foods and recipes travelled around the borough, showing at venues including the Guild Hall, Frenchgate and the Girls High School, Waterdale.

The Women’s Land Army was formed in February 1917. Doncaster women, like woman elsewhere in the country, took on roles as dairy workers, ploughed fields and felled trees.

The male workforce of the malt kilns in Barnby Dun was severely reduced by the introduction of conscription. These women stepped in to work with grain kilns producing malt to be used in alcohol and food production.


Stranded trawlers in Doncaster, YMCA.K.1.22.19

The YMCA provided soldiers with places to rest, eat and relax both at home and on the front line. A new YMCA hut was opened close to Doncaster railway station in April 1917.

The site of the hut was lent to the YMCA by the Directors of the Great Northern Railway Company (G.N.R.). The hut was officially opened by Mrs Gresley, wife of the company’s locomotive engineer Nigel Gresley. This group photograph was taken of the staff present at the opening.

Before the hut was formally opened, it had already taken in a group of sailors whose ships had been sunk by German torpedoes in the North Sea. The men, as seen in this photograph, were stranded at Doncaster and taken in by the YMCA hut.


Reverend E. E. Johnson, Doncaster Gazette 23 February 1917

Reverend M. H. Earl, Doncaster Gazette 9 March 1917

The Reverend Ernest Edward Johnson was the curate in charge of St Luke’s Church in
Rossington. Ernest wanted to go to the Front and provide spiritual support for the soldiers, but was considered too valuable to be taken from the town.

To support the war effort, Ernest began to work three days a week at Rossington Main Colliery, filling tubs with coal. He wanted to work alongside members of his mining community, rather than in munitions or in office work. He eventually got permission to serve at the Front, but he was wounded and died of pneumonia in France on 1 December 1918.

Reverend Mark Earl of Bentley also volunteered for National Service and worked on the land. Askern Colliery had one canon and two vicars among its workforce!