Researching the impact of World War I on Braintree District

by Jennifer Brown

Braintree District Museum is one of the partner museums working with the Essex Record Office on their project ‘Now the Last Poppy has Fallen’. This project aims to research the impact of the First World War on the lives of individuals, families and communities in Essex. It will result in a touring exhibition reflecting on stories from the Essex Home Front, develop museum education sessions for schools and reflective school performances and commission artists to produce performances relating to these stories. The museum is very excited to be a part of this project.

WWI group blog


The project group look at Braintree District Museum’s World War I archive.
Left to Right – Carl, Tony Morrison (Essex-on-Tour Co-Ordinator), Mike, Jacque, Hannah and Chris

Yesterday, Tony Morrison, Co-Ordinator of the Essex-on-Tour programme, and five local volunteers visited the museum to view our World War I archive. The group enjoyed looking through the highlights of our collection, including a nationally significant collection of documents and photographs relating to the East Anglian Munitions Committee. Led by Francis Crittall and Mr Stokes of Ransomes and Rapier Ltd., this committee steered a group of 42 local industries who between 1915 and 1918 produced a total of 5 million shells as well as many other important products for the war effort, and dramatically drove down the costs of production. This high turnover at low prices made a massive contribution to the government’s shell supply and helped to save the lives of many troops on the front line. Prior to the establishment of the Committee each gun crew was limited to 5 shells per gun, which led to the death of many of our troops. Below is a photograph of volunteer Chris holding one of the 18lb shells produced at the Crittall factory at Braintree. Other highlights include postcards sent from many different World War I battle zones, and ID papers of men enrolled on vital war industries locally and who were therefore exempted from military service.

            Seeking Home Front Stories

shell blog


Chris with a Crittall 18lb shell

The volunteers have chosen some exciting initial research topics, including first-hand accounts of the Zeppelin raid on Braintree in 1916 and the voluntary war work of Margaret Mercer, Ariel Crittall’s mother, behind the lines in France. However, we are still looking for more stories about life on the Home Front and the impact of the war on the people of Braintree District. If you have any information, artefacts, or stories to share please do get in contact with us. You can contact the museum by phone, 01376 325266 or by email, info@braintree.gov.uk. To find out more about the ‘Now the Last Poppy has Fallen’ project and to get in touch with the team directly you can visit their blog at http://lastpoppyproject.wordpress.com/about/