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Twentieth Century


The First World War was a new and harrowing experience for the people of Dartford. For the first time, the civilian population was faced with the threat of bombing from enemy aeroplanes and airships. Hundreds of local men joined the armed forces. Many were killed or injured in action causing misery and heartbreak to Dartford families. Dartford was invaded by Belgian refugees, thousands of munitions workers, sick and wounded soldiers, and prisoners of war, bringing disruption to daily life. The town was crammed beyond capacity with the influx of war workers leading to an acute shortage of rented housing. Concentration on the war effort meant that normal private and local authority house building stopped.

Many local families faced intense hardship due to high wartime prices, rationing, and the loss or departure of the family's main wage earner. By 1915, it became clear that the war effort could only be successful if the government took control of major industries and direct control of the economy and daily life.

Women were actively encouraged by Dartford's leading companies to take over heavy and dirty jobs traditionally undertaken by men. The Ministry of Munitions, created in 1915, deliberately set out to recruit women to work as munitionettes. Women working at Vickers and Halls in Dartford were paid a reasonable wage, but their pay was still less than that paid to a man doing the equivalent job. In the struggle to secure increased production in Dartford's factories, trade union rights were set aside. Relations between employers and employees came to a head in 1917 with Dartford's munitions workers taking strike action.

By the end of the First World War, Dartford had lost many of its young men. There was a strong backlash against women's employment in Dartford as men returning from active service reclaimed their pre-war jobs. Changes brought about by circumstances during the First World War gave the people of Dartford new aspirations for the future. People wanted a better life and they were willing to challenge many of the traditions and institutions that held the working classes back during Edwardian times. The war accelerated social change and created a new working-class awareness and solidarity that would be reflected in the disputes, strikes and economic uncertainties of the 1920s and 1930s.


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