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Ruth Hall’s story

Earlier in the year, this week’s guest author, Debbie Cameron, got in touch with us, about one of the cases featured in our new trade union dataset. Her research led to a blog post on Celia Clarkson’s First World War accident, which you can read here. We’re delighted to say that following this, Debbie asked if there were any more of the women who worked on the railways during the First World War and who had an accident that brought them into our trade union data we’d like to know more about. The answer? ‘Yes please: all of them!’

That’s a bit much, though, so we left it with Debbie to see which case most interested her. Very shortly after that she got back in touch with this post, on Ruth Hall, a carriage cleaner in London. As ever, we’re very grateful to Debbie for her interest, enthusiasm, research and writing: our thanks to her. We remain really pleased when people are intrigued and inspired and what to find out more about the women and men in the project database – especially when they share the research like this. If you end up in that category, do please get in touch – we’re always keen to hear from you.


As an historian of women’s lives in World War One, I am very interested in the data of the Railway Work, Life and Death project. As the war progressed, more and more women were employed in the jobs previously undertaken by men who were serving in the various services fighting the war. Figures estimate that before the war, 13,000 women worked on the railway; these were mainly “domestic” positions such as cleaners. However, by the end of the war it had increased to around 70,000, with many women carrying out heavy work.

Three women clean a Great Central Railway carriage during World War One. Two outside, one on a ladder, and one inside.
Great Central Railway women carriage cleaners.
Courtesy Imperial War Museum.

I found several women who were included in the records of inquests at which the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants union/ National Union of Railwaymen represented members between 1908-1920. One was Mrs Ruth Hall. Mrs Hall was killed in an accident while working at Victoria Station in London. She was a carriage cleaner for the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway. I have found several accounts of the inquests into her tragic death in the British Newspaper Archives. Mrs Hall was a widow with nine children. There are very graphic accounts of her accident on 22 April 1918. She died the next day, aged just 39. She seems to have fallen beneath the carriages of a train she was cleaning. Her supervisor Mrs Jane Le Gray said that Mrs Hall had arrived for work and said she was not feeling well. She was therefore given a cup of tea and put on light duties. Mrs Hall had worked for 3 ½ years and was very reliable and experienced. There were witnesses to the accident and quite a lengthy description was given to the Coroner. A verdict of accidental death was given by the jury with a rider that some new safety measures be adopted in the future. The Coroner and Railway expressed deepest sympathy.

Three women clean the exterior of a railway carriage during World War One.
First World War women carriage cleaners.
Courtesy Imperial War Museum.

I haven’t been able to find when Mrs Hall’s husband died but there seems to be some confusion within the family about his surname – in the 1939 register a son is described as Frederick Hall “known as Alcock”. It has proved difficult to trace her children, who according to the newspaper reports, would live with Ruth’s stepfather William Parker, the Secretary of the National Millers’ Union.  Such a tragic story. A woman who had been widowed and was no doubt working to keep her family together, only to die before she was 40. Another example of sacrifices women made while serving on the Home Front in the Great War.


Debbie Cameron

Debbie Cameron is an amateur historian of WW1 with a particular interest in the many roles of women in WW1 in the UK, including those who worked and lived on the Home Front. Who worked in factories, on the land, as nurses and in countless other roles, including keeping the transport system open. Her own grandmother was widowed in 1914 and brought up four boys alone. It is her story that inspired Debbie to research and remember the millions of women who aided the war effort and looked after their families in this terrible time.

Debbie is a retired medical secretary who now lives in Formby, Merseyside. She has published many articles about her research and helped many projects. She sees it as a labour of love!

She runs a Facebook page remembering, sharing information and researching women in the War. Anyone interested in women’s lives during the Great War would be welcome to join.

British Newspaper Archives

Find my Past 1939 register

Photos of Carriage cleaners IWM


  1. Nick Jacobsen

    Ruth Hall was my great great grandmother. Such a tragic terrible end. My great grandmother Winifred Hall had to take over much of looking after her siblings. I would love to find out more about the event and am desperate to find any photos that exist of Ruth. If you can help please let me know

    • Mike Esbester

      Hi Nick,

      Very much in the spirit of better late than never – thanks for this, and really glad you found the blog post. It’s always amazing to hear from descendants of those featured, and to get a bit more of an impression of their lives & the impacts of the accidents on them and their families. As you know, we’ve been in touch – looking forward to more.


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