2018 marks 100 years since the end of the First World War. It also celebrates 100 years since the passing of the Representation of the People Act, an Act that drastically changed the political system of this country. This Remembrance Day, we're using Cheshire's Absent Voters' Lists to commemorate the centenary of both events and to pay our respects to all of those involved in the Great War.
Parliament passed the Representation of the People Act in February 1918 giving the vote to all men aged 21 and over, and women aged 30 and over who met certain conditions. Prior to the Act, legions of men - particularly from the working classes - had not been eligible to vote due to strict age and residential criteria. One had to:
be aged 21 and over
own their own home or pay more than £10 annual rent
have resided at an address for at least 12 months.
With the First World War still raging, the vote was also extended to men who had turned 19 during military service. Without such reform millions of men - and women over 30 - who had served King and country would have been refused the right to vote. Men like Robert Harold Foxall, a carriage cleaner from Chester who turned 19 in April 1918, would not have been eligible; nor would Margaret Orrett of the Women's Royal Air Force.
Men and women who were eligible to vote but away from home due to the war were encouraged to register as 'Absent Voters'. Their details, including names, addresses and service information were supplied to registration offices by their next of kin and compiled into registers. The first 'Absent Voters' Lists' were compiled in August 1918 and published on 15 October. The War Office then issued voting cards to those in the UK and ballot papers to those serving in Europe. For individuals stationed further afield like Edwin Woodward, proxy voting was permitted.
Autumn 1918 Absent Voters' List
Due to the way they were compiled, the first registers contained numerous errors and omissions. As a result a second registration was approved and updated registers were published in the spring of 1919. Inevitably later lists also contained errors detailing individuals who were missing, prisoners of war or had died between the compiling of the registers and publication months later. The aforementioned Robert Harold Foxall is listed in the Spring 1919 register despite having died in October 1918; as is poor Isaac Pedley from Congleton who died of pneumonia on 10th November 1918, a day before the Armistice.
Despite the errors, Cheshire Archives and Local Studies recognise the enormous value of the Absent Voters' Lists and are working hard to make the Spring 1919 registers more accessible. A team of volunteers are remotely transcribing the registers onto a free searchable database. There are currently over 32,000 entries to search covering nine Cheshire constituencies.
It is not uncommon to find several members of a family listed within the register, especially siblings. Harold Connolly is listed alongside his brothers, Cecil and James. An article from the Cheshire Observer dated 1915 reveals that there were six Connolly brothers in total who, at some point, had all fought for the British Empire, including in the Boer War at the turn of the century.
Roger Christian Walsh
Brothers Arthur St. George Walsh and Roger Christian Walsh are listed in the parish of Snelson. Within the papers of Frances E. Crompton (reference D5453/11) we are fortunate to hold photographs of the brothers in uniform, and even a certificate of thanks from the parishioners of Chelford to Roger for his service. The collection reveals that there had been a third brother serving in the war, Geoffrey Lansdale Walsh. Sadly Geoffrey went missing and was presumed dead following a midnight operation to destroy a German machine gun in Ypres in June 1917.
Arthur St. George Walsh
Brothers Louis Henry Pakenham-Walsh and Robert Morrison Pakenham-Walsh are listed alongside their sister, Norah, a nurse with the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve. Norah is one of around 50 women included on Cheshire's Absent Voters' Lists who were involved in the war and, thanks to the Representation of the People Act, eligible to vote.
The registers offer a helpful insight into the kind of roles women were undertaking during the war. Bessie Clegg and Lillian Braithwaite served as an Administrator and Cook respectively with the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (later Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps), set up in 1917 to free up men undertaking non-combative work for front-line service.
The majority of women included in Cheshire's registers were involved in some kind of nursing or medial care, either in a voluntary or professional capacity. Siblings Noel and Gertrude Sloane were both hospital nurses, Elizabeth Kirkwood Reid was a Red Cross nurse with the Voluntary Aid Detachment, Margaret and Constance Dickson were both working with St. John's Ambulance Corps, and Muriel Travis was stationed on H.M.S. Garth Castle with Queen Alexandra's Royal Navy Nursing Service. Remarkably, Amy Hodgson of Bebington served as a Doctor with the Royal Army Medical Corps.
This blog is a brief look at a selection of individuals from the thousands included on Cheshire's Absent Voters' Lists, each with their own story and experience of the First World War. We pay our respects to each and every one of them, and all who sacrificed so much.
Want to learn more about Cheshire's war heroes? Our current searchroom exhibition displays some of the incredible artefacts and documents held by Cheshire Archives, including service medals, postcards sent home from the Front and a pocket bible found on a battlefield in France in 1916. Don't worry if you can't make it to our searchroom, you can view a selection of the items on show in our new Flickr set by clicking here.