Doncaster’s theatres, cinemas and other entertainment venues continued on despite the war. However, the popular pastime of attending Doncaster races ceased during the war, with races being run at other courses. The racecourse was used for military training with troops camped on the course and housed in the race stands. Lots of male footballers left to join the military, and as a result women’s football became increasingly popular during the war.
Miss Hooper and Stanley Milan
Freda Winifred Hooper was born in December 1902. Her father, Albert, was a master butcher at 137 St Sepulchre Gate, Doncaster. Freda lived with her family above the butcher’s shop. She was a talented singer, dancer, comedienne and impressionist. Although she was only 11 years old when war broke out, Freda put her talents to good use during the First World War. She visited wounded soldiers at Hooton Pagnell Hall, entertained troops stationed in the town and put on shows to fundraise for soldiers’ Christmas gifts.
One of Freda’s duet partners was Stanley William Milan. He was an ex-soldier who had been invalided out of the army due to his wounds, and lived on Thorne Road, Doncaster. Freda’s son Albert remembers her talking fondly of Stanley and her time performing with him in ‘The Nobodies’ troupe, who described themselves as the ‘Original Hospital Entertainers.’
Freda continued to entertain for the rest of her life, setting up her own dance studio called ‘Kingsway Studios’ on Balby Road. She entertained soldiers again during the Second World War and continued performing until her death in 1971, aged 68.
Thank you to Albert Cooper, Freda’s son, for sharing his family story.
The War on Screen
The Battle of the Somme was filmed and released in 1916 and was the first full-length war documentary. Around 20 million people in Britain and Ireland saw the film: around half of the population. The film covered the build up to the beginning of the battle on 1 July 1916 and the aftermath. Although some elements of the film were staged for dramatic effect, the vast majority of the film shows real soldiers in action, images of wounded or dead soldiers, and scenes of large mass graves.
Among the large audiences in Doncaster were wounded soldiers from local hospitals and munition workers. Local newspapers reported extensively on screenings of the film, describing how members of the audience were moved, shocked, and disgusted by it, but also recognising its potential to motivate local munition workers The scenes of dead British soldiers caused controversy around the country.
“War is no longer a panorama of marching infantry, of charging cavalry and galloping artillery. This is a war waged in the trenches, it is won with big guns which fire shells weighing a ton apiece, and leaves behind it a wretched and battered countryside which looks as if hell had broken through the crust of the earth and had gashed and torn and seared it in a thousand horrible and ghastly ways. There is little glory in warfare nowadays. It is merely scientific slaughter and it is well that we should know it.”
– Doncaster Chronicle, 20 October 1916
“What could be more encouraging, for instance, to the munition workers, than to be repeatedly shown the work of the guns at the front, and to have it impressed upon them, by this means, that the responsibility for maintaining those engines of war at their highest point of efficiency is largely theirs? And all of us are better for having illustrated to us a higher patriotism than our own.”
– Mexborough and Swinton Times, 21 October 1916