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Through The Lens: Oxfordshire and the First World War

“Oxford Images of World War One invites volunteers age 16-25 to turn the clock back 100 years and imagine what life was like for young people in the city and county during the Great War.  The outcome will lead to a major outdoor photographic exhibition at the Oxford Castle Quarter in May 2016. Under the guidance of heritage professionals, our volunteers are exploring local archives, museums and online collections and considering traditional and innovative research methods. Our volunteers’ mission is to interpret the story of young people living in the time of the Great War through photography and text. Mentoring sessions with professionals will help guide their work. In 2016 we will run training sessions on stills photography and exhibitions to arm ourselves with tools to publicly present our work to a professional standard. The project seeks to introduce a new generation to this aspect of wartime history, and to keep the legacy, memory and significance of the Great War alive for the younger generation.” Ameneh Enayat – Project Leader.

Miss Freda Mary Day (1888 – 1963)


Miss Freda Mary Day was the daughter of Mary Elizabeth Mawel and Fredrick Day. The Mawel family were well known for their Ironmongery business on the High Street in Banbury. Freda’s father died early in her life and her mother died in 1938 aged 77. Freda was a Quartermaster of a Red Cross Detachment in Oxfordshire with the outbreak of World War One. 


On the 10th of September 1914 a letter was posted in the towns local newspaper, the Banbury Guardian. It reporting that a witness had seen a soldier suffering from dehydration and drinking from one of the stations fire buckets. Freda read this letter and on the same day consulted her Uncle, Mr Sidney Mawel about helping the soldiers. Sidney and Freda addressed the Station Master, Mr Short about offering refreshments for soldiers who were passing through Banbury station. On the same day it has been noted that 500 men were served with lemonade. The Banbury Rest and Canteen Station was formed. 


More nurses were found to help out with the demand of the station. The station would offer soldiers: cigarettes, coffee, tea, cake, newspapers, fruit, chocolate and postcards to write home. The War Office appointed Banbury Station as an official resting point for ambulance trains, where soldiers would be transported from Dover or Southampton to Banbury to receive refreshments and medical care. These medical trains could stay at the station for up to 20 minuets and they could consist of 100 to 350 soldiers on board. All of the Red Cross nurses were volunteers and would sometimes work from 4:00am till past midnight in all weather conditions. To help volunteers through difficult times the nurses invented their own motto which was displayed all through the war at the Great Western Railway Station. 


“Hope Confidently – Wait Patiently – Do Valiantly”


As the War was coming to a close the work at the station started to slow down. Over the War period it is believed that 200,000 men were treated at Banbury Station. The King and Queen passed through the Station on two occasions and made enquiries about the Red Cross Volunteers and the work they had been doing for the soldiers. After the Armistice the nurses welcomed and assisted the men. Two banners were hung over the platform saying “Welcome Home” and “Welcome back to Blighty” The Rest Station and Canteen closed on the 1st August 1919.


On the 30th of April 1919 Freda married Mr W R Cherry of Barford St. Michael. Together they had a son called Patrick and a daughter called Mary. Her husband (Mr Cherry) died in 1960 and Freda died in 1963. Without the dedication of Freda Day and all of the other nurses at the station many soldier’s experiences of going or coming back from War could have been fatal. These volunteers represented a very small part of women’s roles throughout the country during the First World War but their support and determination united women together through such devastating times. 


The reason why I decided to focus this project on Freda Day was mainly around my interest in local history. I wanted to try and understand how small towns and villages were affected by the outbreak of War. Freda’s contribution to the War efforts represents what a small town can achieve and it makes you realise what towns and villages all over the country were doing. Whether it was raising money for the Red Cross, providing accommodation for more hospitals or keeping spirits high every town had a huge part to play with supporting the War effort.

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