The women who broke con­ven­tion and played vi­tal roles in

The Herald - - ARMISTICE: 100 YEARS -

THEY had names like Elsie, Flora and Evelina, and wore but­toned up blouses, an­kle skim­ming skirts and a bold air of de­ter­mi­na­tion.

Like mil­lions of men, they rolled up their sleeves and marched to war. And like many men, some would never re­turn home.

On the home front, a na­tion of women did their bit, from knit­ting end­less pairs of warm socks for the troops to dic­ing with dan­ger in mu­ni­tions fac­to­ries dot­ted around the coun­try, and main­tain­ing coal, gas and power sup­plies.

And close to the front­line women served their coun­try too, paving the way for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions who, 100 years later, are still push­ing to play their part in the na­tion’s de­fences. It wasn’t un­heard of for women to be on the fringes of the field of bat­tle – as early as 1696 the Royal Navy em­ployed women as nurses and laun­dresses, and, per­haps sur­pris­ingly, paid them the same wages as any able sea­man.

And es­tab­lished nurs­ing ser­vices, the Queen Alexan­dra’s Royal Naval Nurs­ing Ser­vice and Royal Army Nurs­ing Corps, saw women play their part be­fore Eu­rope was plunged into war.

At first, the mil­i­tary was slow to take up women’s calls to be in­volved. But as ca­su­al­ties mounted, their voices could not be ig­nored.

March 1917 saw the first women en­rolled into the British Army in the newly formed Women’s Army Aux­il­iary Corps (WAAC).

At its helm as Chief Con­troller was an Ed­in­burgh suf­fragette, Dr Mona Chalmers Wat­son, who had cam­paigned vig­or­ously for women to take on a range of an­cil­lary du­ties, such as cler­i­cal, driv­ing and cater­ing roles, to al­low men to head to the front­line.

“Ev­ery fit woman can re­lease a fit man,” urged WAAC posters, and by the time it dis­banded in 1921, tens of thou­sands of women had served both at home and abroad and the foun­da­tions had been laid for women to play a greater role in mil­i­tary ser­vice.

Among them was Mary Mccal­lum, of East Ben­har, West Loth­ian. The youngest of five chil­dren and a mere five feet and half an inch tall, she was em­ployed in do­mes­tic ser­vice in Mo­ray Place, Ed­in­burgh, when she ap­plied to the WAAC in June 1918.

Ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion shared by her grand­son, Daniel Mclaugh­lin to Ed­in­burgh Uni­ver­sity’s Scot­land’s War on­line project, her war wasn’t a bloody one. While the WAAC sent about 500 women to France and Ger­many dur­ing the war, she was posted as an as­sis­tant wait­ress to a Queen Mary Aux­il­iary Army Corps at the train­ing camp at Gailes at Irvine where 1,200 of­fi­cer cadets at a time trained for ser­vice.

Her ser­vice was brief and with­out the mud, blood and guts that is as­so­ci­ated with the First World War. Some women, how­ever, dealt with just those

„ The Women’s Aux­il­iary Army Corps (WAAC) dur­ing the First World War.

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