History: Heroic women of World War 1
In the Great War, thousands of women stepped forward to help. Clare Walters looks at their legacy
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