As part of an extensive programme to commemorate the end of WW1, Dean Close  Prep School recently invited Sergeant George Riley (Tony Davies) and Nurse Henrietta Hall (CJ) to talk about the War from a soldier’s and a nurse’s perspective. The children learnt all about the uniform a newly recruited WW1 soldier would have worn, how WW1 started, the contribution women made to the war effort and how the aftermath of the war is still felt in areas of France where 1000s of unexploded shells still remain.


Dressed in an authentic Sergeant’s uniform Tony explained how the War originally started on 28 June 1914 by the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his pregnant wife Sophie. The assassination was carried out by a Bosnian revolutionary named Gavrilo Princip, who was part of a Serbian terrorist group.

Sergeant George Riley, with the help of a volunteer, then demonstrated the uniform a newly recruited WW1 soldier would have worn. He shared interesting facts, such as, until 1916 soldiers wore cloth hats rather than the metal ones, which went on to save many lives. The kit bags weighed the equivalent of 20 bags of sugar.  That soldiers had spoons in their puttees (wraps that went around the bottom of a soldier’s legs), so whenever food was available they immediately had an implement to eat with. How a sergeant only carried a pistol whereas as a soldier carried a gun with a bayonet that could fire up to a mile away and release 20 bullets a minute. And that in 1915 gas was first used in the war, the only defense soldiers had was to put a handkerchief over their mouths with urine on it! And that sadly for all their sacrifice they earnt just 5p a day.

Nurse Henrietta Hall went on to explain about the contribution women made to the war effort. Initially, women were only allowed to help as trained nurses known as QAIMNS (Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service). At the beginning of the War there were just 300 of these which by the end of the war had grown to 10,000 – these nurses worked 12 hour shifts from 7.50am to 7.50pm or the same hours for the night shift. VADs (Voluntary Aid Detachment),  or voluntary nurses were introduced later, followed by the Flying Ambulance Corps and the The First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY (PRVC)) a British independent all-female registered charity formed in 1907 as the First Aid link between the field hospitals and the front lines, all its members were originally mounted on horseback.


Approximately 1500 nurses died throughout the war either from infection or explosions. Later, women also helped loading shells in the ammunition factories.  Filling bombs with toxic, yellow TNT – they became known as canaries, as some women became stained by the explosives. 400 women died in factory explosions the worst taking place in Nottingham.

Finally, Sergeant Riley explained how the aftermath of the war is still felt in areas of France where 1000s of unexploded shells still remain. From the 1.3 million fired at the Germans 30% did not go off and are still being gathered up today.


At the end of the talk pupils asked some interesting questions such as:

What was the deadliest gas?
What were the medals for he was wearing?
Is the uniform comfy?

A huge thank you to Mr Tony Davies for a very interesting and informative talk.