War Diaries Talk

Women in WW1

  • Stork by Stork

    I'm curious to know if there were any women's organizations that helped with the war effort, equivalent to the WAC in WW2. They obviously weren't allowed in combat, but surely some male must have figured out that they could help out in non-combat occupations. Did any women volunteer on their own to go to France or Belgium and work as nurses or secretaries? In all the diaries I've tagged so far, the only mention I've seen of women have been a singer who entertained the troops after the armistice, and four French girls living in a British officers' house.


  • cyngast by cyngast moderator

    Yes, there were women who volunteered in France and Belgium. I found this article http://www.redcross.org.uk/About-us/Who-we-are/History-and-origin/First-World-War/Volunteers-during-WW1 for a general overview and this one http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-26838077 that focuses more on nurses. The second one also mentions Vera Brittain, who wrote a memoir about her experiences in France as a nurse. These should get you started!

    I have also read "The Roses of No Man's Land" by Lyn Macdonald that covers the roles of British women volunteers in both France and the UK. Her books about WW1 are very interesting and are full of excerpts from diaries and memoirs by actual nurses, volunteers, and soldiers.

    The singer you mentioned, Lena Ashwell, (I came across her, too, in a diary recently) also wrote a memoir called "Modern Troubadours, a record of the concerts at the front" about her efforts to entertainment the soldiers. I think it's long out-of-print, but I bought it recently from Amazon for my Kindle for $1 US, although there doesn't seem to be a Kindle version for the UK. It's also on archive.org.

    I hope this helps!


  • ral104 by ral104 moderator, scientist

    Excuse the laziness - the following is a straight copy and paste from the IWM website, but adds to what Cynthia has already said above:

    Pressure from women for their own uniformed service to assist the war effort began in August 1914. After a War Office investigation which showed that many jobs being done by soldiers in France could instead be done by women, the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) was established in December 1916. In April 1918, the WAAC was renamed Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps. The Women’s Royal Naval Service was formed in November 1917 and the Women’s Royal Air Force was set up on 1 April 1918. In total, over 100,000 women joined Britain’s armed forces during the war.

    Even before the formation of the women’s services, some pioneering women made their own way to the front to help the war effort. In 1914, when the War Office turned down an offer of help from Scottish doctor Elsie Inglis with the words, ‘My good lady, go home and sit still’, she set up the Scottish Women’s Hospitals on the fighting fronts. Inglis herself went to Serbia to treat the sick and wounded.

    There were various other organisations active in Flanders, including the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry.


  • Stork by Stork

    Wonderful, thanks for the info. I'll read those 2 articles now.