MEMORIES has followed closely both the 100th anniversary of the First World War and of the campaign for women to get the vote, so it would be remiss of us not to cast an eye back to Christmas 1918 when, following the end of the war, the first women got to exercise their first votes.

Polling day was December 14, 1918, but despite the historic nature of the occasion, the Echo reported that it was a very subdued affair. Its sister paper, the Darlington & Stockton Times, said the day was “devoid of excitement” – even though it was a day that the Quaker women of the town had been agitating for since the 1840s.

About six million women aged over 30 had qualified for the vote.

The drabness of the day had nothing to do with the women – it was more about the exhaustion of the nation, and the campaign itself had been curtailed by the virulent flu epidemic which had caused many indeed meetings to be banned. Turnout was just 57.2 per cent (by contrast, in 2017, the turnout was 68.8 per cent).

“The brightest feature of the contest was the large number of women who recorded their votes,” said the Echo, noting that they tended to sport their candidates’ colours far more than the menfolk. “In the great majority of cases, husband and wife went to the polling booth together, and it was not unusual for the wife to look over the husband’s shoulder ‘just to see how it was done’ – the secrecy of the ballot notwithstanding!”

In Darlington, said the Echo, the first female voter was so keen that she turned up before the polling station had opened.

The D&S Times said: “One wag averred that he never saw so many married couples walking the streets of Thirsk before. One lady went into the same box as her husband, and when the presiding officer pointed out that the ballot was secret, she said she would never think of voting other than as her husband did.

“Rosalind, Countess of Carlisle, who used her motor car for the purpose of conveying to the poll women voters on the Castle Howard estate, was one of the pioneers of woman suffrage, and she recorded her first Parliamentary vote.

“At Northallerton, the distinction of being the first woman to vote was gained by Mrs Mason, High Street, who presented herself at the polling station shortly after 8am. Mrs Emmerson, Marton Bridge, was the first woman voter at Ainderby Steeple, Mrs Jesse Kitching at Snape, and Mrs Ralph Stead at Bedale.”

In Richmond, the D&S said, “the women caused a surprise by the way they rolled up to cast their votes for the first time, many being accompanied by their husbands. To one who was entering the Town hall to exercise the newly-given suffrage a party of wounded soldiers called out: ‘Remember us; we have done our it for you at home.’ ‘You can depend upon me,’ replied the woman. ‘I have lost two of my sons, and Mr Wilson’s going to get my vote.’”

She was referring to Lt-Col Murrough Wilson, of Cliffe Hall near Piercebridge, who was the official Conservative Unionist candidate whose only opponent was Mr William Parlour, of Croft-on-Tees, who was representing the agricultural interest although, said the D&S, “it was well known that he held the same views as his opponent”.

The Sunderland Echo told this story of the historic day: “A women in black with an expression which told of suffering and anxiety came out of a polling booth. She walked as one who had done a duty, but her eyes were wet, and because, perhaps, we looked sympathetic, she spoke to us. “I’ve voted,” she said, “but last election my man did it. He’ll never vote any more now, and I’ve got to do it, as I think he would like. But I’d sooner have my man than the vote.” The she brightened and the lines of resolve came into her face. “But I’ve voted,” she added, “for the man who’ll punish them who killed my man” – and she went her way.”

The pall of the carnage deadened the excitement of that historic day 100 years ago.