His­tory: Heroic women of World War 1

In the Great War, thou­sands of women stepped for­ward to help. Clare Wal­ters looks at their legacy

Woman's Weekly (UK) - - Hello! -

Any men­tion of the First World War in­evitably con­jures up grainy, black-and-white im­ages of men in muddy trenches. Yet this war was won al­most as much by the ef­forts of women as it was by the men who fought.

From Au­gust 1914, women rushed to vol­un­teer and, over the next four years, be­came em­ployed in a wide range of ac­tiv­i­ties both at home and abroad.

Of­ten work­ing long hours at tough jobs for very lit­tle pay, they cer­tainly made less than their male coun­ter­parts.

As well as nurses, typ­i­cally drawn from the up­per and mid­dle classes, women were am­bu­lance driv­ers, tram con­duc­tors, po­lice of­fi­cers, clerks, post­women, fac­tory work­ers and brick­lay­ers, among other things, while the land girls kept the farms go­ing and the coun­try in food.

There were es­sen­tial mu­ni­tion work­ers, too, who built small arms am­mu­ni­tion, man­u­fac­tured fuses and filled shells. This dan­ger­ous work saw hun­dreds killed or in­jured. ‘Mu­ni­tionettes’, as they were known, also suf­fered ex­po­sure to haz­ardous sub­stances, such as TNT, which turned the women’s skin yel­low and gave them the nick­name ‘ca­nary girls’.

In 1916-18, women joined the new fe­male mil­i­tary units – the Women’s Army Aux­il­iary Corps (WAAC), the Women’s Royal Naval Ser­vice (WRNS) and later the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF). They un­der­took vi­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tions work, driv­ing, book-keep­ing and store­keep­ing.

By the end of the War, in Novem­ber 1918, the taste of in­de­pen­dence had made women more con­fi­dent. They en­joyed earn­ing their own money. Some took to wear­ing trousers and cos­met­ics, or smok­ing. And in Fe­bru­ary 1918, women over 30 who were house­hold­ers were fi­nally granted the right to vote. Here we look at some of our finest hero­ines…

The land girls kept the coun­try in food

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