Journalist Kate Adie has praised the fortitude of wartime net makers in Bridport.
Speaking at an event at the Town Hall the broadcaster revealed that net makers – including women – in the First World War were helping with a top secret mission ordered by Winston Churchill to catch enemy submarines.
Ms Adie spent time at the Bridport Local History Centre to research her latest book, Fighting on the Home Front, which explores the ‘much overlooked’ role of women in the war effort.
She told a rapt audience that women took on traditionally male jobs after huge numbers of men were conscripted, including net and rope making.
A German attack on the north east coast in 1914, which killed more than 70 women and children, left towns in the south ‘shivering with fear’, she said.
“The special things have been forgotten. The really special thing about Bridport is that there are no pictures of women net-making during the war and not very good records of what the Government was ordering.
“That’s because in 1916 Winston Churchill asked Bridport to find a way of making the best nets possible. It was labelled top secret work.”
The nets – made from wire rather than rope – would be used to catch submarines. Workers were still perfecting the design when the war ended in 1918.
Ms Adie added: “The fear of attack along all of the British coast – that came down to Bridport to solve.”
Bridport women were among the only ones in the country to be excused from joining the Land Army in the First World War, as their work making nets – including hay nets for a million horses that were sent to the front – was so valuable.
Speaking to the Bridport News before the event Ms Adie said the history of the First World War has always been focused on the role of men.
She added: “The First World War was the first one in England since medieval times where the entire nation was involved, including women.”
The war changed everything for women, Ms Adie said, from fashion – it became acceptable for women to wear trousers for work reasons – to working on the battlefields and as surgeons.
“There were some truly extraordinary women in the First Air Nurses’ Yeomanry, which actually began in the Boer War, but they got this reputation for never turning back. They were phenomenal, courageous and tough.”
Emily Hicks, curator of Bridport Museum, which organised the event, said she was ‘thrilled’ Ms Adie had given the talk. The event raised funds for the redevelopment of the museum, which will feature the Sanctuary collection.
TAKING questions from the audience following her talk, Ms Adie spoke about her distinguished career reporting from war zones, which includes being part of the only camera crew to get images of the massacre in Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989.
She said: “We knew we were taking a risk but we also knew that the Chinese Government would deny it ever happened – something they are still doing to this day.”