Can you help this author’s research into the First World War’s heroic bakers?

Baker boy Thomas Martin

Were your ancestors baking during WW1? Our guest blogger, Janet Welch, is writing a book about bakers in the Great War and would like to hear from you. Since Cybake users include many of Britain’s pan-generational family firms, Janet thought we would be a good place to start and we were only too happy to help her out.

While researching my family tree, I discovered my great grandfather, Thomas Martin (pictured above), had won the Distinguished Conduct Medal (pictured below) in 1916 as an army baker.

Intrigued, I wanted to discover more. After all, this honour was second only to the Victoria Cross in prestige for non-commissioned officers.

At a Who Do You Think You Are Live TV show event, I was told by William Spencer, a military historian at the National Archives, that there wasn’t anywhere to go to satisfy my thirst for knowledge. No one had done research into WW1 army bakeries. He urged that I should do so and write a book about it.

Challenged, I have been on a two-year voyage of discovery. I learned more about my great grandfather and how he went from being a farm labourer in the fields of Berkshire to a master baker on the Western Front. I have also learned about these unsung heroes of the Great War, the bakers, as well as the wheat and the flour they used and the bread they made.

I started my research at the Royal Logistics Corps in Deepcut, Surrey, home to the archives of the Royal Army Service Corps, which was responsible for supplying everything, including bread, to the troops.

This was followed by a year’s research at the National Archives in Kew where I read as many documents as I could find. These included war diaries from the Western Front, the Egyptian Expeditionary Force and the Australian field bakeries. I read military appeal tribunal proceedings, prisoner of war records, Ministry of War correspondence, Home Office reports and much more besides.

During this time, I realised there was a fascinating story to be told about bread both on the front line and on the Home Front. With this in mind, I continued my work at the British Library in London reading the Baker’s Record over the ten years from 1912.

My research is nearing its completion at the Craft Bakers Association in Ware, Hertfordshire, where I have been made most welcome as I read many historical volumes of its journal, Review.

Bakers were the workhorses of the Great War providing a vital source of food for troops and the people at home. Although their efforts touched everyone from king to pauper and stretched around the world from Argentina to Australia, their story has largely gone untold.

Were your ancestors bakers during the First World War? I would love to hear from you. Even if you don’t have much information about them, it’s no problem; I will add their names to my growing list for further investigation.

Please contact me at bakerboytom@gmail.com. And you can follow me on Twitter at twitter@bakerboytom11.

Janet Welch

Baker boy Tom medals