More information: @wbhshistory RemembranceDay ‘Lest we forget’
This is the traditional image we have of remembrance day, these are the people we think of when we remember the wars that Britain has been involved in over the last hundred years or so. Today we still hear news of death and injury to many young British soldiers, most recently in Iraq and now Afghanistan. The work of the Royal British Legion has done amazing work in helping and supporting victims of today’s warfare, as well as helping us to remember the victims of conflicts of the past.
However, the Royal British Legion, this year, has been keen to highlight the role played by another group of people, people who are not commonly thought of on Remembrance Day, yet who have played a vital and increasing role in warfare, from the past to the present day. Who are we talking about? Women
How many women served during WWI? A: 10,000 B: 50,000 C: 80,000 When were British women first able to serve in front line combat roles? A: 1941 B: 1989 C: 1996 Are women able to carry out the same jobs as men in the armed services? A: Yes B: No When did women's service in the Armed Forces begin? A: 1910 B: 1902 C: 1938 Facts and Figures How many women served during WWII? A: 120,000 B: 250,000 C: 600,000 Facts and Figures B: Women may now join the British Armed forces in all roles except those whose "primary duty is to close with and kill the enemy": Infantry, Household Cavalry, Royal Armoured Corps, Royal Marines Commandos, Special Air Service and Special Boat Service. They are also excluded from service in the Royal Navy Submarine Service and as Royal Navy Clearance divers. B: Women have had active roles in the British Army since 1902, when the Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps was founded. C: 80,000 women served during WWI C: During the Second World War, about 600,000 women served in the three British women's auxiliary services: the Auxiliary Territorial Service, the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, and the Women's Royal Naval Service, as well as the nursing corps. B: Women first became eligible to pilot Royal Air Force combat aircraft in 1989. The following year, they were permitted to serve on Royal Navy warships.
Contribution of women: WWI & WW2 After WW1 women were awarded the vote for which they had been campaigning for more than 30 years. Many said it was a reward for their work during the war, keeping the country going whilst the men were fighting. World War II saw a huge expansion in women’s roles in the armed services. Women were conscripted along with men in 1941. However, it was now clear, given the dangerous, physically demanding and emotionally draining work that women of all classes had carried out during the war, both at home and on the front, that women could no longer be seen as too weak or stupid, or delicate to play a key role in society. 600,000 women served in non combatant roles. This included observation corps, air raid wardens, fire fighting, ambulance driving, medics and many other roles. They were enlisted in the army, navy and the RAF.
Contribution of women: WWII The National Monument to the Women of World War II is a British war memorial sculpture situated in Whitehall, London to the north of the Cenotaph. It was sculpted by John W. Mills, unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II and dedicated by Baroness Boothroyd on 9 July 2005. It recognises the work of the 600,000 women who worked in the armed forces in various roles during WW2. As well as these women, it also recognises the achievements of the many thousands of women who kept things going at home in Britain, working for the war effort, often supporting friends and neighbours who lost their homes, or their loved ones during bombing raids, and who held families together through evacuation and rationing.
Maria Bochkareva was a soldier in the Russian Army from 1914. Bochkareva recruited 2,000 women out of which about 250 saw actual combat, fighting together with units of male soldiers. Roza Shanina, a Soviet sniper during World War II, was credited with 54 confirmed target hits. The only woman soldier enlisted in the British Army managed the feat by passing herself off as a man. Dorothy Lawrence, a 20-year-old ambitious journalist, joined in 1915 the B.E.F. Tunnelling Company using the alias Denis Smith, aided by some sympathetic men. She gave herself in and had to endure interrogation, as the authorities assumed she was a 'camp follower‘, a polite term for a prostitute.
Flora Sandes Flora Sandes, an English woman who signed up as an ambulance driver on the Eastern Front was able to enlist with the Serbian Army. By 1916 she had been promoted to a sergeant major. By the end of the war she was a Major. Sandes believed that her gender should not come before her ability to do an effective job. She was accepted by the Serbian military and survived the war.
Edith Cavell Edith Cavell was a British nurse, the daughter of a vicar. From 1914 she worked in an army hospital in occupied Belgium and on 12th October 1915, after being kept prisoner for 9 weeks, she was executed by firing squad by the Germans for helping 200 allied soldiers to escape to neutral Holland. The night before she died she told a priest. "I have no fear or shrinking. I have seen death so often that it is not strange or fearful to me." He told her she would be remembered as a heroine and a martyr. "Don't think of me like that," she said. "Think of me as a nurse who tried to do her duty."
While nurses and ambulance drivers were fully accepted, female doctors were quite another matter during WW1. Elizabeth Blackwell and Sophia Jex-Blake believed women's jobs in the field of medicine needn't be limited to nursing. Dr. Elsie Inglis set up the Scottish Women's Hospital Unit. The War Office didn't sympathise with Inglis's offer to work near the front lines. They told her that the least wanted persons there were 'hysterical women'. Women Medics Mabel Stobart founded a hospital in Belgium staffed exclusively by women. Dr Elsie Inglis took her hospital units first to France in 1915 and subsequently to Serbia - where she was briefly held captive – then to the war zones of Corsica, Salonika, Romania, Russia and Malta. The efforts of the Women's Hospital Corps was met with similar coldness, although the French Red Cross allowed them to open military hospitals in Paris and near Bolougne before one in London was finally authorised.
Vera Brittain During World War I Vera Brittain worked as a nurse in front line field hospitals in France and Belgium, in the shell torn towns such as Arras and Etaples. She is well known as a result of her brilliant memoir, Testament of Youth, in which she tells the story of her war time experiences. Brittain lost her fiance, her brother Edward and her best friend Victor in the war. Despite these devastating losses, which haunted her for the rest of her life, she served throughout the war on frontline positions. After the war she became a pacifist, a supporter of the new League of Nations and a tireless campaigner for peace. She initially joined up because her fiancé, Roland Leighton was at the front. In her diary she wrote: "He has to face far worse things than any sight or act I could come across; he can bear it - and so can I“.
Eileen Nearne During WWII fluent French speaker, Eileen “Didi” Nearne, was an agent for the Special Operations Executive and was dropped into enemy occupied France in March 1944. Her job was to transmit wireless messages as part of a network to raise money for the Resistance. She was arrested by the Gestapo in July 1944 and underwent brutal interrogation. She stuck to her cover story and was sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp, where she was given hard labour. Nearne escaped with two other women. They were arrested but talked their way out of it and fled. They were hidden in a bell tower by a French priest. Exhausted and malnourished the three women were found by American soldiers Eileen Nearne died this September. She lived alone in a flat in Torquay. She never married and after the death of her sister several years ago she withdrew from the world. She suffered emotional and mental scarring from the experiences she had gone through during the war and she died alone. There was a public outcry when her heroism during the war was revealed and a public subscription was set up to pay for her funeral.
Violette Szabo Violette Szabo volunteered for operations in France after her young husband was killed in North Africa at the battle of El Alamein. She said “My husband has been killed by the Germans and I am going to get my own back.” She was said to be the best shot in the SOE but there was concern about her French which she spoke, allegedly, with an English accent. She survived two drops into occupied France, successfully completing missions. She was eventually captured and was move around from one concentration camp to another, including Ravensbruck, where she met Eileen Nearne. After months of hard labour and forced marches, as the Allied troops closed in on Nazi Germany, Szabo was shot along with other women agents. Violette Szabo was 23 years old when she was executed. Her daughter, Tania, was four.
Josephine Butler was flown into enemy territory more than 50 times during WW2 under constant threat of discovery or death. She was arrested by the Gestapo for insulting two of their officers and organised and led a group of Resistance fighters. The recruiting officer for the Special Operations Executive said, when asked if women had the temperament for working in the field, “Women have a far greater capacity for cool and lonely courage” Along with Violette Szabo SOE agents Denise Bloch, Cecily Lefert and Lillian Rolfe were all executed just before the end of the war. Of the 39 female agents sent into occupied Europe, 13 did not return. Nancy Wake, born in New Zealand and nicknamed “The White Mouse”, waged an amazing war against the Nazis. In a raid on Gestapo headquarters she killed a guard with her bare hands and shot her way out of another raid on a gun factory. In October Channing Day, a medic and the 3rd British female soldier to be killed in Afghanistan was shot along with a male colleague, a Royal Marine. She was 25
More information: @wbhshistory So, this Remembrance Sunday, think of all those people, men and women, who have served this country in wars in the past and who continue to do so today. Silence, yesLet them have silence.Call the roll of their namesand let it go at that.To long sleep and deep silencethey have gone.Deep among the never forgotten. Wear your poppy with pride!