In the Nineteenth century a number of reform acts were passed which greatly changed the face of British politics. These reforms forced the elite and ruling class to pay particular attention to the many concerns put forward by the ordinary people. However, these acts still left a great many without the opportunity to vote. In total 40% of men aged over 21 that did not meet property requirements and could not vote and ALL women remained disenfranchised.
Prior to the Great War there had been much campaigning with respect to the right to vote particularly for women. A great deal of attention was cast on the suffragette movement with their radical and often violent campaigning. However, when the war started their militant campaigning stopped in favour of vocal support for the British war effort. In return the government released all suffragette prisoners held in custody.
A change of political opinion was also brought about due to the sacrifices being made by the men of Great Britain. It now seemed completely unreasonable that men who could suffer and die for their country were unable to vote in its constitutional elections. Also, with so much work previously being carried out by men now being done by women a review of their role in society had to be looked at.
The result of this was a Bill which widened the voting franchise and is known as the Representation of the People Act. This Act allowed all British and Irish men over the age of 21 the vote and also women over the age of 30 who met certain property qualifications. This wasn’t perfect as it did not allow women the vote on an equal basis to men but it was a start and millions could now vote and although the election that would see this Act come into being would not take place until 1919, women could look forward to exercising their democratic rights.
Hard to believe when going abroad today on our battlefield tours that many of the young men who fell on the Western Front would not have met the criteria to vote prior to this conflict.
And Women of all nationalities played a role in this awful war; nurses, workers in factories or auxiliaries in the military, they all brought support, aid and comfort and so earn their right to vote in our democratic society.
Pictured below is Nurse Nellie Spindler. In 1917 Nellie was sent to France eventually being stationed at No. 44 Casualty Clearing Station (CCS), Brandhoek in July of that year.
It was here that Nellie was mortally wounded when the CCS was bombed by German aircraft.
On 21 August 1917, the hospital was shelled all day and at 11.00am Nellie was hit along with four other nurses by an exploding shell. Nellie died 20 minutes later in the arms of a fellow nurse, Kate Luard. She was buried with full military honours the next day at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery. The ‘Last Post’ was sounded and it is thought that more than 100 officers, four generals and the Surgeon-General attended the funeral.
Her gravestone pictured right includes the inscription A noble type of good heroic womanhood.
Lest we Forget
Our guided battlefield tours that visit Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, pictured below, are as follows: