|Women in War: From Home to Front Line|
by Professor Garry Sheffield
Jacket: right Hazel Furney, Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), joined ‘L’, the Aircraft Section RAF Medmenham that kept a continuous watch on enemy aircraft production during the Second World War. Hazel celebrated her 90th birthday in 2011. Left, Constance Babington Smith, Head of ‘L’ Section and whose interpretation of aerial photographs led to the discovery of the German V2 rocket launch sites.
Seventeen contributors to WOMEN in WAR wrote one chapter each.
Dr Tony Heathcote introduces a key factor in the traditional view of the role of women in ‘Sir Colin Campbell’s Incumbrances: Women as a Factor in British Command Decisions during the Indian Mutiny 1857.
The Indian Mutiny began as a rising by discontented soldiery, but within days, it had turned into a bloody civil war, challenging British mastery of northern India. The campaign was fought with all the horrors of a servile war or slave insurrection, as the insurgents targeted all Westerners, Anglo-Indians, and Indian Christians. They wanted not merely a regime change but sought to violently expel the British from India.
The protection of dependants, women and children, often inhibited British military decisions from the beginning of hostilities. Only when Lucknow was relieved, and what their Commander-in-Chief called his ‘incumbrances’ sent to safety, could he correct this distortion in his strategy. Women in this context were seen as something that should not be associated with warfare and reducing the risk of their involvement was a key objective.
Tony’s local bookshop:
Few warrior women left detailed records of their experiences, and Leicester Chilton, the retired Principal of Christchurch East School, living in Christchurch, New Zealand, provides us with a stalwart Maori example from the nineteenth century: ‘Heni Te Kiri Karamu: The Heroine of The Gate Pa’.
New Zealand in the early, nineteenth century was characterized by unrest and conflict as two diverse cultures struggled to share occupation of the same territories.
Heni Te Kiri Karamu was a woman involved in the fighting. Then proving herself a compassionate, Christian woman, she later helped some of the injured participants from both sides, even to the extent of providing water for the injured enemy.
Bookshops near Leicester, New Zealand:
South Pacific Books distributors
Right: Elspeth Johnstone
Elspeth Johnstone considers how, by creating a ‘Home from Home on the Western Front, 1914-1918’, women during the First World War, made a large contribution to the morale of the men of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).
Besides their traditional role as nurses, a huge array of women worked through voluntary and charitable organisations, and church-based groups, to provide an air of normality behind the lines for the millions of soldiers serving in France and Belgium.
Lady Angela Forbes was the first woman to set up a voluntary canteen, at Boulogne Station in November 1914, and she later set up a rest hut at Etaples. Lady Mabelle Egerton set up a coffee shop at Rouen Station in December. It was not long before women in uniform were taking over rear area duties and freeing men for the front.
Elspeth’s Local bookshop:
Professor Mark Connelly, in 'Working, Queuing and Worrying: British Women and the Home Front, 1939-1945', examines the Home Front. The Second World War is a key area of debate for historians of women in Britain. The war used to be presented as the moment when British women emerged “from the dolls' house” into a wider world of opportunities, social, cultural and economic. However, in more recent years this perspective has been re-examined and it has been argued that whatever advances British women made were in fact temporary, and a return to 1930s normality was demanded by British society in 1945.
This chapter explores the role of British women on the home front, and how they contributed to victory in a plethora of ways. The chapter emphasizes that heroism was often seen 'in the minor key', as the sheer ability to continue as normal was a vital part of Britain's progression to victory. British women not only worked in the war factories, on the land, and in the forests, but also continued to be wives, mothers and primary carers at home. British women were multi-tasking as never before and it took some time for the British state to understand the complexity of this situation and to intervene in a helpful, constructive manner. The role of film in this chapter shows the importance of female labour to the war effort.
Mark's local bookshop
Right: Dr George Bailey OBE, with his wife Janet
Dr George Bailey OBE. In 'Flight through the Retreating Allied Armies: Non-Combatants and the Blitzkrieg of 1940’, Dr George Bailey introduces us to the plight of the refugee, linking us to the experience of those who were caught up in a conflict that could be both bewildering and terrifying as the Blitzkrieg rolled through the Low Countries and France. George’s mother, Tatiana’s escape from Antwerp via Bordeaux and the last ship out of France, well after the capitulation, involved her getting her barely sighted and injured mother, Marya, by foot and by train via Dunkirk to the UK which took several days. Surviving on reduced rations and sleeping at nights out of doors, they travelled through both retreating British units and German raids. Arriving off the coaling ship in Falmouth, Tatiana and Marya would find that their ordeal was not yet over.
Bookshop local to George:
Right: Major Imogen Corrigan with her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, 1992, at the Army Women's Training Centre, Guildford, the OC Warrant Officers and NCOs Training Wing. The Queen Mother’s visit marked the disbanding of the Women’s Royal Army Corps, (WRAC), before they went their separate ways into other Corps. The servicewomen attending the course put on an assault course race for the Queen Mother, and that is what Imogen and the Queen Mother were discussing when the photograph was taken.
Major Imogen Corrigan, in ‘The 93rd Searchlight Regiment Royal Artillery’ introduces the role of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), in both the First and Second World Wars. The recruitment of women was unpopular in both wars, and Imogen examines both the opposition to the ATS units and their eventual success, with particular reference to this, the first all-female military unit on active service in British military history. Three generations of Imogen’s family served in the forces. Imogen’s grandmother, Gladys Brotherton, née Spencer, was a member the Women’s Emergency Corps, Women’s Legion. Imogen served for twenty years in the British Army in the Women’s Royal Army Corps, (WRAC), and the Adjutant General’s Corps.
Imogen’s local bookshop:
Right: Georgina Natzio, Defence Writer
Georgina Natzio, Defence Writer, in ‘Homeland Defence: British Gunners, Women and Ethics during the Second World War’, looks at the ethical aspect of the involvement of women in the conflict. The British and Germans were unsure of how closely involved women should be in the process of killing enemy combatants, and their role in homeland defence stimulated bitter debate. By the close of 1944, more women than men were serving in Anti Aircraft Command. Much of the progress of women in this respect was due to the efforts of General Sir Frederick Pile who had taken over as Commander-in-Chief in July 1939.
Georgina’s local bookshops:
Waterstone’s Bookshops Ipswich
Right: Celia Lee
Celia Lee: ‘Princess Marina the Duchess of Kent as Commandant of the WRNS during the Second World War’, concerns the role of Princess Marina as she travelled all over the country, carrying out inspections of the women in the Women’s Royal Naval Service, (WRNS). Keeping up morale was all-important in what was often mundane and tiresome work. Marina was dedicated to this work, and was one of the first members of the royal family to make a live radio broadcast during wartime, appealing for women and girls to join the WRNS. The chapter also explains who the WRNS were and the contribution they made to winning the war.
Bookshops local to Celia:
Right: Mike Ryan photographed in Canada
Mike Ryan’s ‘Hurricanes and Handbags: Women RAF Ferry Pilots during the Second World War’, tells of the role of the Air Transport Auxiliary, (ATA), and their tireless work as maintenance crews and somewhat exciting role as ferry pilots. The statistics on the numbers of aircraft flown and the flight hours logged by the ATA are impressive. Mike notes in his essay: ‘ATA pilots flew more different types of aircraft than most operational pilots’. The ATA played a vital role in supporting the war in the air, and the women who served in the organisation made a vital contribution. It was Mrs Mary (Minnie) S. Churchill’s father, Commodore, Sir Gerard d’Erlanger CBE, a director of the original British Airways, and later Chairman of BEA, and also BOAC, who suggested the formation of an aircraft ferrying organisation, long before the outbreak of the Second World War.
Mike’s latest books:
Right: Dr Juliette Pattinson
Dr Juliette Pattinson, 'British Secret Agents during the Second World War’, examines the extraordinary wartime experiences of the remarkable group of ordinary young women who were recruited by Special Operations Executive, (SOE). Using published autobiographies, official documents and interviews with surviving female agents to chronicle their wartime experiences, it examines why they were considered suitable recruits, the training they undertook, their operational missions and, for some, their experiences during captivity.
One interviewee, Jos, commented: ‘A woman in that time was very important because they didn’t look so much for women as for men of course . . . . As a girl you could do a lot more.’
Juliette’s latest book:
Juliette’s local bookshop:
Right: Jonathan Walker
Jonathan Walker, in ‘Sue Ryder and the FANYs of SOE’, reviews the experiences of Sue Ryder, from her recruitment into the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, (FANY), to her work with the Polish Section of the Special Operations Executive, (SOE). Sue Ryder was one of the agent handlers who chaperoned and counselled secret agents, whilst they were being prepared to be dropped by parachute into enemy-occupied Europe. Sue Ryder typified the breed of strong, compassionate FANYs who fulfilled this role, and whose service extended overseas as the fortunes of the Allies improved in 1943.
In 1953, she established the Sue Ryder Foundation. The name was changed in 2011 to Sue Ryder, and the charity continues her work today.
Jonathan’s latest book
Right: Christine Halsall
Christine Halsall, ‘Women with a Secret: Photographic Interpretation’, looks at the remarkable work of the intelligence analysts at the Allied Central Interpretation Unit, who reviewed the hundreds of thousands of aerial photographs taken by the RAF over Germany and German-occupied territories, during the Second World War.
The unit, including the team that identified the V-weapon threat, made a vital contribution to the war effort. Winston Churchill’s daughter Sarah who in civilian life was an artist worked there. The secret RAF Intelligence base, Danesfield House was hidden in a wood. Danesfield is today a luxury hotel.
Danesfield House (left) was RAF Medmenham during WW2
Right: John Lee
John Lee: While the brilliant exploits of a handful of academics and intellectuals are justly celebrated for their work in cracking the fiendishly complex German Enigma code, their work would have come to naught without the thousands of women who processed the data at Station X. John Lee’s ‘ “Station X”: The Women at Bletchley Park’, tells the amazing story of the Government Communications Headquarters at Bletchley Park, with a special emphasis on the essential role played by women of all three armed services and civilian workers from the Foreign Office. Churchill described the women who worked there as ‘the geese that laid the golden egg but never cackled.’
Bookshops local to John
Right: Tatiana Roshupkina
Tatiana Roshupkina’s ‘Women in the Siege of Leningrad’ takes us into the darkest days of the War in the East and the suffering of an entire population in one of the most brutal sieges of history. The government mobilised the whole population and thousands of women struggled to assist in the defence of the city in the hope of keeping their families alive. Tatiana's mother, also named Tatiana, witnessed the entire siege and its aftermath. Whilst the bombs pounded the city this brave little 9-year-old girl slept in the window of her mother’s apartment. Her experiences as told by her daughter show us the terrible price paid by the people of Leningrad for their freedom.
Tatiana’s local bookshops
Paul Edward Strong, in ‘Lotta Svärd, Nachthexen and Blitzmädel’: Women in Military Service on the Eastern Front’, looks at the varied experiences of women in the East. Paul examines the experience of women in both combat and combat support units on the Eastern Front during the Second World War, including sections on German intelligence officers, brutal SS guards, Russian snipers, Soviet tank commanders, and the Russian female unit that the Germans nick-named the ‘Night Witches’.
Paul Strong’s latest book
Bookshops local to Paul
Right: Dr. Halik Kochanski
Dr. Halik Kochanski’s ‘Women at War: Poland’ tells the harrowing story of those families living in eastern Poland where the German attack that opened the Second World War was almost the least of their troubles. Their homeland was invaded from the east by the Soviet Union, and they were uprooted, hounded by secret police, and exiled deep within Stalin’s empire. While some escaped to the west with General Anders’s army, others were conscripted into the Polish units of the Red Army.
Dr Halik Kochanski’s latest book
Halik’s local bookshop:
Right: Grace Filby
Grace Filby, in 'Women Who Thawed the Cold War’, looks at the role of women working as analysts and researchers at the Eliava Institute in Tbilisi, Georgia, during the Second World War and during the Cold War. This chapter seeks to explore diseases and infections that have plagued society for many years, and have killed thousands of soldiers during wartime. Sir Winston Churchill and his family were no exceptions. The emphasis is on scientific research to produce antibiotics and other methods to prevent, curb, and cure infection. The Georgian women scientists whose research into medicine while, having immediate military significance, offers us an example of international co-operation.
Grace Filby will launch ‘Women in War - From Home Front
to Front Line’
Grace’s local bookshops
‘War Veterans’ - three short accounts of service in the Second World War edited by Celia Lee.
Mrs Georgina Ivison (right), and her daughters, Mrs Stella Collingwood and Mrs Josie Letton, related Georgina’s life as an army schoolmistress, overseas in Egypt and in South Africa. Mrs Ivison lived to age 101 years.
Beryl, a 92-year-old lady, living today in Lewisham, southeast London, was in the Women’s Royal Naval Service, (WRNS). Beryl was for a time, one of four valets to the Duchess of Kent, Commandant of the WRNS, at her London base. Beryl WAS later transferred to work as a nursing assistant in a hospital that was set up in Billy Butlin’s holiday camp in Wales.
Irish nurse, Sister Theresa Jordan, (below centre),
Left: Irish nurse, Sister Theresa Jordan, photographed at her home in New Ross, Co. Wexford, Ireland. Theresa, who started out as a nurse during the Second World War, was soon promoted to Sister.
Right: Barrister Dermott Hynes, at his home, New Ross, Co. Wexford, Ireland. Dermott, who married Theresa Jordan, told his late wife’s wartime story.
Left: Mrs Mary (Minnie) S. Churchill and Mr Simon Bird, photographed at the Baroness Erlanger Hospital, Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Minnie’s grandfather, Baron Emile d'Erlanger, paid for the original hospital. When Minnie and Simon visited in 2011, they went in one of one of the rescue helicopters featured in the background.
Right: Mrs Thelma Stollar nee Fry, Women’s Royal Naval Service, (WRNS), radar mechanic and Second World War veteran, based at HMS “Collingwood”. Thelma is in the fourth row from the front, and is the second woman in, from the right.
Mrs Thelma Stollar, nee Fry, opened the first Women in War workshop ever presented by the British Commission For Military History at the University of Birmingham in July 2009. The workshop was organised and chaired by Celia Lee and Paul Edward Strong of the Women in War group.
The editors and contributors wish to thank:
Mr Michael Orr, former Secretary General of the British
Commission For Military History, who invited the Women in War group into
the BCMH Annual Summer Conference and provided a slot for the first ever
Women in War workshop at the University of Birmingham in July 2009.
Gary Sheffield, Chair of War Studies and Director of Military History,
University of Birmingham. Professor Sheffield wrote the foreword to
Professor William Philpott, the present Secretary General of the British Commission For Military History, holds a personal chair in the History of Warfare in the Department of War Studies at King’s College, University of London. Professor Philpott very kindly endorsed WOMEN in WAR From Home Front to Front Line, on behalf of the British Commission For Military History.
debt of gratitude is owed to Mr Phil Mills, who obligingly and sometimes
at very short notice travelled to London and took photographs of events,
including a talk given by Celia Lee on the Churchills in the presence
of HRH The Duke of Kent KG GCMG GCVO, at the Polish Club, London.
Phil is a member of the Western Front Association, OXnBUCKS, Branch. In 2007, he took part in the Annual sa80, 25-metre range shoot at Commando Training Centre, Lympstone, Devon. Having the highest score, Phil won their biggest and most sought after cup, (pictured above), along with a medal and framed certificate. The second cup was presented to Phil as best newcomer in the branch. The small cup is the reminder cup that he once won the shooting cup, which is passed on each year to the next successful candidate. The flags are mementos from the Royal Marine's shore party boats.
Celia Lee and Paul Edward Strong run a
WOMEN in WAR
is the next stage in the development of the group