Article written for the Lincolnshire Echo March 2013
It’s always great when people take the time and effort to get in touch and help me out with further information regarding something I’ve written. I often get letters from readers asking me if I can go into more detail on a certain subject or sending me a photograph relating to one of my articles.
I was very excited to receive just such a letter recently form a Lincoln lady by the name of Irene Crosby. She had read my article on the proposed Tank Memorial planned to be erected in Lincoln in 2014. The monument will commemorate the work done by the men and women of Lincoln who were employed by William Foster and Co Ltd and created a new weapon which would break the deadlock of the trenches and eventually end the Great War.
Mrs. Crosby found this particularly interesting as she has a very strong family link to Fosters and the story of the early tanks. She sent me a copy of a photograph of her Mother, Florence Annie Bonnett.
Florence was born in 1900 and lived in Monson Street in Lincoln where her parents had their own business trading as fishmongers. When she was around 13 years of age, Florence left school and went into the family business, but her life would soon take a very different turn when she signed up for ‘War Work’ at William Fosters. She had no need to sign up and could have stayed in the family business, but she wanted to do her bit for the war and soon she was involved in the very different world of heavy engineering
The photograph shows Florence with two friends, all of whom worked at Fosters during the Great War. All three ladies are wearing their working outfits of smocks and mop-caps and they would commonly be known as ‘Munitionettes’. Florence is seen standing in the middle of the three and unfortunately, the identity of her two friends is currently unknown.
Florence worked at William Fosters making tracks for the first tanks and would have been expected to undertake 12 hour shifts creating these vital parts for the war effort. I have now also found her, right in the middle of the iconic photograph showing Fosters lady workers in mid 1917 (Photo at the top of this page). She had a sweetheart in the Lincolnshire Regiment while she was working at Fosters, but she never spoke about him and apart from the fact that he was called Dick, little more is known about this man.
The pair were engaged to be married, but Dick went off to France and never returned, killed in action, probably sometime in late 1917.
Florence carried on with her work building tanks in Lincoln, but when the men returned from the trenches, the ladies had to move aside and she soon found work in Nottingham. After a hard and undoubtably very sad couple of years Florence met a young man named Joseph Harrison and in 1920, they were married, eventually having three children.
Florence’s story is typical of many of the young ladies who built tanks in Lincoln during WW1 and I am greatly indebted to Mrs Crosby for sharing her mothers story with me.
If you have a tale of tank production in Lincoln or can put a name to a face on the Fosters lady workers photograph, please do get in touch with me via Enquiries@lincolntankmemorial.co.uk
Lady workers, or Munitionettes at William Fosters in Lincoln in mid 1917
Florence and Dick engaged to be married, pointing at her engagement ring.
Dick a Bandsman and Marksman