Excerpt from 'THE CLOCK OF TIME' by Gertrude Ruston (pp26-29) (pictures provided by me to add to the story)
"Unexpectedly I was offered a job as confidential secretary to the Manager of the newly formed Royal Commission on the Sugar Supply, and, as this was a government service, I decided to sever my connection with the typewriting office and V.A.D. and throw everything into what was undoubtedly of great importance to the community and war effort.
My chief's name was Mr Julius Joseph Runge. The family was of German origin, but they were all British born and had carried on an important business as sugar brokers in Mincing Lane for generations.
The Commission was formed to safeguard the supply of sugar to industry, the community and the armed forces, and was vital to the war effort. Practically all staff members of the Commission were recruited from the sugar trade, many from Mr Runge's office. Some of them had joined Kitchener's army, but, if they were not A1 healthwise, or considered to be more valuable at home than in the fighting forces, they were released from the army and put to work where they could be of vital importance to the war effort. It was from these men that the Commission drew its staff, all of them having spent many years in the trade.
The members of the Commission were outstanding people like Sir Robert Park Lyle, Bart., (Lyle's Golden Syrup); Sir Joseph White Todd; Sir Henry Primrose; Captain Charles Bathurst (who later became Sir Charles Bathurst; then Lord Bledisloe and, finally, after the war, Viscount Bledisloe of Lydney, Gloucester and Government of New Zealand). (Note: Sadly Sir Henry Primrose took his own life in 1923 at the age of 76. He was a chronic insomniac and in later life had suffered from depression. As mum at that time was in Australia she may never have known of this tragedy.)
Direct telephone lines were put through to my office from Sir Robert Park Lyle and the Admirality, necessary to keep us informed hourly of the sinkings of sugar boats or their safe arrival. By this time it had become necessary for our cargo ships to be made up into convoys escorted by naval vessels but, despite this, many were torpedoed by U-boats.
Many small business people who had destroyed their receipts were desperate as it meant the end of their businesses. I was put in charge of these difficult cases and had men and women break down when telling me of their difficulties. Sugar brokers dealt only in sugar so, by recourse to cheque books and consultation with brokers to whom the cheques had been sent, I managed to solve a large number quite legally, and the people concerned were truly grateful. One of these, a Jewish woman cool drink manufacturer, brought me in a beautiful umbrella as a gift of appreciation, but I was unable to accept it as it might have been considered bribery and corruption. However, she was determined to show her appreciation and had it delivered later to my home anonymously as a Xmas gift.
Supplies of sugar were a constant worry and, at one time, there was only sufficient in England to last two weeks, but people were quite unaware of the situation. Just in time the navy managed to bring supplies safely to port to the great relief of us all at the Commission,
Neutral countries were used by both sides to obtain food supplies, and I remember hearing that we purchased supplied of beet sugar from Germany through a neutral country, and supplied butter for our enemy through the same middle source. In this way neutral countries frequently make huge profits out of war.
By this time Amy's husband had been recruited into the services, trained at Cambridge University as an officer and had been sent to France. News from France was terrible and the poor old "Contemptibles" (the Kaiser's name for our little army) were being slaughtered. Day after day the names of people we knew appeared in the casualty lists, and to be an officer seemed almost a sentence of death. (This is a group of the Old Contemptibles)
As the war continued my duties became extremely heavy, and as I was still confidential secretary to the Manager, and often called upon to undertake confidential work for members of the Commission, I as frequently working until midnight and at weekends.
It was then decided to bring a man in to handle part of my work, and he was given that dealing with golden syrup and molasses. I was most annoyed to learn that he was to receive £800 a year (a large salary then) to do only part of my work, while I had been receiving £250 a year for coping with the lot.
Special applications were made to Treasury on my behalf, but I was refused an increase as I was being paid the maximum possible for a woman without a university degree. My assistant, who also did not have a university degree, was eligible for the larger salary as he was a male. There were so many anomalies in government service, but pressure for equal pay has now resulted in better conditions for women.
My service with the Commission was really the crowning point of my career in England as, by having achieved such a position at the age of 19, which covered confidential services to the government, a department of my own, control of a pool of about 40 typists, as well as the opportunity to work directly with the members of the Commission and my close association with my immediate chief, there was little more to which I could aspire.
At about that time the Secretary of the Commission, Mr C. S. Rewcastle, who was a barrister, needed a secretary, and I advised my sister of the vacancy and suggested she apply if she wished. My brother-in-law was overseas in France, my mother was able and willing to care for their young son. so Amy applied for the job and obtained it by her own efforts. I did not attempt to introduce her or put her name forward, and it was a long time before anybody learnt that we were sisters as she was, of course, engaged under her married name. In addition, were were not physically alike as I was very fair and rather like my mother in features, while Amy had dark hair and a bright colour rescembling our father. In temperament also we were very different.
Some time after this the British Empire Medal was introduced to be presented to people giving outstanding service either at home or in the field. A number of men in the Commission were given the M.B.E., possibly because they had been withdrawn from the army and were giving essential service. (This is the MBE as awarded in 1918)
At this time my sister collapsed with a nervous breakdown due, no doubt, to worry over her husband in France, where things were going badly, and pressure of work at the Commission. She was sent away on leave and her boss recommended her for the M.B.E. (Note: I have often wondered why mum was not also recommended for an M.B.E. considering the type of work she did at the Commission. She received one many years later in Australia for the social welfare work she did in the community.)
Here I will leave mum's story and continue next time with another quite important change in her life.