Friday 15 August 2014

Some statistics

In the 1911 census the population of the borough of Chelmsford was given as 18,008. Excluding the soldiers billeted or camped around the town, the population during the war was estimated at around 20,000, the increase due largely to the arrival of munitions workers.

But in 1918 an electoral register was drawn up. This provided not just a list of those entitled to vote at the local and general elections, but also a list of absent voters, with the designation "NM" for "Naval or military voter" for those who had been called up.

Across the three wards of the borough there were 1,791 men marked as absent, or nearly 10% of the pre-war population. Figures from the Office of National Statistics suggest that men of military age (between 18 and 41) comprised about 20% of the national population, which suggests that half the eligible men of Chelmsford were away in the services.

South Primrose Hill is probably one of the least changed areas in our city. In 1918 it was less than ten years old; one road in a fine new estate of "working mens' houses" built by a benevolent and paternalistic town council. From two terraces of 83 houses, 41 men were in the Army or Navy. Ernest and Emma Coppen had three sons serving, one of whom, Henry, was killed in the spring offensive of 1918. As Andy Begent notes on his Chelmsford War Memorial website, Henry was one of the "South Primrose Hill Boys", the twenty two men from this quiet, unassuming road who gave their lives in the Great War.

Rainsford End: Rainsford Road on the left, leading into Chelmsford, and Primrose Hill on the right
(Fred Spalding; author's collection)
The village of Broomfield had 421 properties listed in the the 1918 electoral register, with 108 men absent on military service.

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