Madelaine Ida Bedford

Writing at the time of the “Great War” 1914-1918, Madelaine Ida Bedford is most often remembered as the writer of one particular poem, “Munition Wages”, (!917). Very little seems to have been written about her. The only reference found so far simply refers to her as “a middle class woman”! She lived in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

By 1917 munitions factories, which primarily employed women workers, produced 80% of the weapons and shells used by the British Army. During WWI (1914-1918), large numbers of women were recruited into jobs vacated by men who had gone to fight in the war. New jobs were also created as part of the war effort, for example in munitions factories. Known as ‘canaries’ because they had to handle TNT, (the chemical compound trinitrotoluene that is used as an explosive agent in munitions) which caused their skin to turn yellow, these women risked their lives working with poisonous substances without adequate protective clothing or the required safety measures. Around 400 women died from overexposure during WWI.

Munition Wages

Earning high wages?
Yus, Five quid a week.
A woman, too, mind you,
I calls it dim sweet.

Ye’are asking some questions —
But bless yer, here goes:
I spends the whole racket
On good times and clothes.

Me saving? Elijah!
Yer do think I’m mad.
I’m acting the lady,
But — I ain’t living bad.

I’m having life’s good times.
See ‘ere, it’s like this:
The ‘oof come o’ danger,
A touch-and-go bizz.

We’re all here today, mate,
Tomorrow — perhaps dead,
If Fate tumbles on us
And blows up our shed.

Afraid! Are yer kidding?
With money to spend!
Years back I wore tatters,
Now — silk stockings, mi friend!

I’ve bracelets and jewellery,
Rings envied by friends;
A sergeant to swank with,
And something to lend.

I drive out in taxis,
Do theatres in style.
And this is mi verdict —
It is jolly worth while.

Worth while, for tomorrow
If I’m blown to the sky,
I’ll have repaid mi wages
In death — and pass by.

 

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