The women who broke convention and played vital roles in
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.