Gotherington, Oxenton and Woolstone. Aspects of Community Life in the Great War.

By David Griffiths, Caroline Meller and Jacqueline Waine. 

This small book has 64 A5 pages with many black and white photographs to illustrate the text. It begins with a sketch map showing the area covered in the book and the background to the genesis of the book.  Unlike many recent publications, the book does not concentrate on the soldiers who fought in the war, although there is some mention of them in the main text and an appendix giving brief details of those who died, together with pictures where they exist; rather the book reflects everyday life in small villages a hundred years ago.  There are chapters describing the busy scene in a normal Gloucestershire village and the state of farming in an increasingly industrial age, describing one life in particular, that of one agricultural worker, Sidney Pitman. 

War-time was a period when women were called upon to play a greater part in their local communities and the women of Gotherington, Oxenton and Woolstone were no different.  Many of them stepped up to the mark, Mabel Malleson being one such person.  She was chairwoman of the National Union of Women Workers, on the Board of Winchcombe Guardians and on the District Council.  During the war, she joined several war-related organisations and also trained young women so that they could help out on local farms.  As if that was not sufficient, Mabel was also a Suffragist, a topic which is also covered in the book in some detail from the local point of view.

The two small elementary schools, at Gotherington and Oxenton, are described, down to the wooden floors – the latter being ‘very shaky’! Each of them was governed by a headmistress.  Since they were based in agricultural regions, the attendance officers were well in evidence, making sure the children did not take too much time off to help with the harvest. The problems of children suffering various ailments indicate the medical difficulties experienced by those who lived in the countryside.

A chapter devoted to law and order in the three villages demonstrates that much of the local crime involved animals but crimes against humans are also included; one particular case refers to the ill-treatment of one child, beaten by his step-father, an army pensioner who blamed his irritability on his old injuries.  Community policing, in the form of special constables, was in its infancy at a time when communities were expected regulate themselves with many police having signed up in the armed services.

 When war broke out, young men rushed to enlist at the Cheltenham recruiting office, most into the Gloucestershire Regiment. As the war continued, Gloucestershire saw an increase in Voluntary Aid Detachments to tend the injured and Refugee Centres to house those who had fled the hostilities in their own countries, particularly Belgians.  Among the 38 refugees housed by Winchcombe Rural District Council was one family housed in Dixton.  The difficulties of understanding the Flemish language was noted.

At this point, the book does concentrate on those who went off to fight the ‘war to end all wars’, recording some of the experiences of the soldiers and the effects that their absence caused to the families left behind.  Descriptions of religious life in the two parish churches and the Gotherington chapel during the war time demonstrate the need of people to come together, to work and pray together during times of conflict.

The book concludes that the greatest impression made during the research is that of the extent and strength of the relationships formed between people, sometimes complete strangers, to support, help and comfort each other during a time of great conflict.  It makes an interesting and enjoyable read, particularly for those with an interest in the area.  To purchase your copy, go to either the Gotherington Village Shop, Courtyard Books in Bishops Cleeve or the Amazon bookshop online.   ISBN: 978-0-9929603-3-9   Published 2016   Price £8.99