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  • Writer's pictureStephen Callaghan

The Volunteer Service of Harriet and Mona Reeves

An underappreciated aspect of the Great War, which has only gained more recognition in recent years is the role women played in the war effort. While men went off to fight women stayed home and manufactured much needed shells and hospital supplies. Information on the identities of these women is scant to non-existent. In some rare instances it might be possible to flesh out the service of some volunteer workers using primary sources or artifacts which the family held onto.

Volunteer Worker, Munition Makers Canteen and Central Workrooms badges.

After recently coming into procession of a number of items which belonged to the Reeves family, it has been possible to piece together some of the home front activity of mother and daughter, Harriet and Mona Reeves. The various badges acquired provide an invaluable source of information for which no records exist. This is their story.

Harriet Cary Dickson was born in County Wexford in 1871, she was the daughter of Reverend Richard Carey of Monfin, County Wexford.

Harriet married Lieutenant Paget Edward Stuart Reeves on 4 June 1890 in the Church of Ireland Church at Monkstown, County Dublin. At the time of her marriage she was residing at Trafalgar Terrace, Monkstown.

Paget was a distinguished soldier in the Leinster Regiment and would be Mentioned in Dispatches and awarded a Distinguished Service Order for service in the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). Harriet and Paget had three children, Richard (born in Aldershot in 1891), Mona (born in Bermuda in 1897) and Edith (born in Birr in 1899).

The 1901 census records Richard, Mona and Edith living in Birr Barracks along with a governess and a servant, their parents being in South Africa.

Major Reeves retired from the army on 11 May 1907. The 1911 census records the family (minus Richard) and a governess and servant living in Rinskea House, Rinskea, County Clare. On 16 May 1911 Edith died as a result of tuberculous meningitis. She was buried in Mountshannon graveyard.

The Reeves moved to Clarinda Park West, Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire). With the outbreak of the Great War in August 1914, the Reeves were active in supporting the war effort. Two brass Volunteer War Workers badges indicate that both Harriet and Mona volunteered for the war effort. This combined with an assortment of Red Cross (not pictured) badges and documents (pictured below) show both women joined Voluntary Aid Detachment no. 50, which was based in Dublin.

Harriet's and Mona's Red Cross certificates.

The next clue to Harriet’s service is a rare Munition Makers Canteen badge. This badge was for canteen workers in munition factories around Ireland. These canteens were introduced in 1915 and were meant to be alcohol free places. With the Dublin Dockyard Munitions Factory opened in 1915 and the National Shell Factory at Parkgate Street opened in 1916, it is almost certain Harriet was a volunteer worker in one of these factories, likely the latter as UK Parliamentary records record a canteen opening at the National Shell Factory. Some surviving Red Cross records indicate that Harriet finished up her service with the rank of Head Cook, another indication that she was likely a worker in the munitions factory canteen.

The canteen workers were initially volunteers, but some difficulty was encountered resulted in paid workers being used. The profits from the canteen being used to pay them. These paid staff were estimated to have cost around 15 pounds per week.

While not definitive, we can attribute the Central Workrooms Ireland badge to Mona. This particular badge was worn by volunteers who worked in the Central Workrooms in Ireland where hospital supplies and various garments for soldiers in hospitals at home where produced.

Another badge among the collection was a Prisoner of War Help badge, this likely belonging to Harriet. A newspaper article in the Leinster Leader on 26 February 1916 indicated that Harriet was working with War Relief Committee and stated in a meeting “We feel that the prisoners of war should get weekly instead of fortnightly parcels of food in attrition to their weekly bread”.

Harriet’s husband died 6 November 1916, as a result of heart failure. With this Harriet and Mona moved to England. Harriet was engaged as a volunteer at Beeches Auxiliary Hospital at Reigate Hill from 29 August 1917 to 5 December 1917, and then at The Infirmary Rex Crossing Hospital at Wimborne from 14 January 1918 until 11 November 1918. Upon finishing up she held the rank of Head Cook. Mona similarly worked at Beeches Auxiliary Hospital from 29 August 1917 to 5 December 1917, then The Castle Auxiliary Hospital, Sherborne.

Harriet lived until 1924, when she died in Cheshire and her daughter Mona lived until 1991.

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