Bravo, Bristol! The City at War, 1914-1918




When Britain declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary in August 1914, Bristol was a growing and prosperous city. For some, this was the time of the endless Edwardian summer, an age of lost innocence. For others, it was a time of anger, poverty and increasingly bitter political struggle over everything from fair wages to votes for women. The Great War changed everything. As a major British city, and one of the country’s two main Atlantic ports, Bristol played a large part in the war effort. Her men marched off to fight at the front, while her seamen braved U-Boats to bring in vital food supplies. From the early eager volunteers who marched off to the strains of Fred Wetherley’s song, ‘Bravo Bristol’ to the later and more reluctant conscripts, Bristol sent 55,000 men to war between 1914 and 1918. Of these, some 6,000 would never return. Bristol produced munitions, mustard gas, motorcycles and aircraft. Women began to work in factories and offices, finding economic and personal freedoms their mothers never dreamed of. A handful were even among the first women police officers in the world. Others found a sense of purpose in the unprecedented outburst of voluntary work that war demanded. In Bravo, Bristol! Eugene Byrne and Clive Burlton have uncovered a wealth of stories of Bristolians on the battlefield, on the Home Front, and in the war at sea. There is heroism in combat, and a different kind of courage among those who refused to fight. There is tragedy and loss, but also humour, dogged perseverance, and occasionally stories which are just bizarre. Painstakingly researched, and with many pictures and records which have not been seen for almost 100 years, Bravo, Bristol! is a portrait of the city at war, a place that will often seem completely alien to modern eyes, and at other times surprisingly familiar.