Showpeople and the two world wars


A hundred years ago Britain was in the third year of the First World War (1914-1918). This conflict altered the lives of everyone who lived through that time – including Glasgow’s community of showpeople.

The war touched the lives of nearly every citizen of Glasgow and left an enduring mark on the people of our city. Glasgow’s showpeople were no different. Men volunteered for the front lines while those remaining behind used their experience with horses and heavy vehicles to transport supplies and equipment.

They continued to buoy the spirits of depleted communities with inexpensive distractions at fairgrounds, with travelling film reels that spread up-to-date news of the war, with work in factories and in extensive fundraising.

Over 200,000 Glasgow men volunteered, leaving behind their jobs and loved ones. Many of them, including showmen, never made it home and for those who did many came back injured or permanently impaired.

Along with show people all across the UK they raised enough money to purchase a whole fleet of ambulances to aid the wounded of the battle fields.

These good works were taken up again during the Second World War. Men once again, went off to war, while women served in the home services and essential industries. Show families also put on blacked-out fairs under cover or, as with the fair at Glasgow’s Central Station, underground. Show families put on shows and held benefits to raise money – gathering enough to purchase a spitfire. It was christened All the Fun of the Fair and donated to the RAF.

Illustration from Punch magazine, May 19th 1915. In reality, many Showmen of this era would be very experienced with horses, as they were still essential for pulling wagons and as performing animals.

Punch magazine cartoon about fairground conscript. May 1915.



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