Tuesday, 21 June 2011

This is dedicated to all those women ............

Who were

murdered while pregnant.

Holding little hands of children or carrying infants in their arms on the way to be gassed.

To the mothers who gave their children to be hidden, many never to find them again.

To the righteous women - mothers and the nuns in convents, who were hiding and protecting the children in their care.

Or as fighters in the resistance: in ghettos, forests, partisan units.

Nurses, and service women - airwomen, ATS, WRENS

Women going about their business who lost their lives in air raids.

Women who, because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time were prisoners in concentration camps in Asia and in Europe.

Women from all walks of life, ages and from all parts of the World.

May they rest in peace.

And to lives of the few who survived and bravely carried on
This started out as a piece of research on how war had impacted upon the traditional roles of women throughout Europe, which I had chosen as a research topic for my MA. Women do suffer from war – and prior to World War II, when the roles of women were completely reversed – their part in war was mainly passive, or as victims.
A couple of years ago as I was stood at the cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday all I heard was we remember the men who gave their lives, and I thought, what about the women? There were surely women who had lost their lives, why were they not remembered?
So what started out as a general enquiry has taken quite a few years of my life researching and this tribute is the end result.

It certainly is not an exhaustive list of those who lost their lives, as it is virtually impossible to obtain them all, but for those whose names/stories are not mentioned it certainly does not mean that they are forgotten.
It is a tribute to the many women, ordinary women, who became embroiled within a man’s domain – war. I did not realize the depth of this enquiry and just how many women perished, not just servicewomen but civilian women, women in their own homes, women in foreign lands captured as prisoners and held in prison camps.

I started by searching the Commonwealth War Graves Commission by typing in a random surname and just searching, and from then on searching through the cemeteries and memorials. As more names became apparent it became an enquiry I could not leave.
What saddened me is that there isn’t a lot of research on the way these women died, or where or how. There stories would have been a lasting memorial to their bravery, however there is more to tell about the nurses who gave their lives and the atrocities suffered.

The Australian, Canadian and New Zealanders had very easy access to their rolls of honour and some life stories for their servicewoman, and with all due respect to our own British, life would have been much easier it the main means of research for our women (and men) was in the same format.

There are other wonderful books available telling stories of women’s experiences in War, and how their lives changed because of it. I refer to Kate Adie’s from Corsets to Camouflage and other works. None, as I am aware concentrate on those losing their lives as this is. It is many years since the end of the wars and the contribution made by women of Britain and its commonwealth (and of women worldwide) is long overdue in its recognition.

Though this tribute is for women, it in no way intends to reflect the sacrifice of so many brave men and boys, who too, gave their lives. This tribute should complement that of the men, and shows that when needed, both sexes are brave and contribute to their countries fight for freedom and justice.

Women have proved that they can be relied upon – it was not just a man’s war, women fought too – they fought to keep their families fed, and clothed and maintain what normality they could. They fought too, by working in munitions factories, as land army girls and doing jobs to keep the country going.

They took to uniforms and supplemented the mens’ services in the air force, navy and army; they served as nurses both in civilian and military capacities and they maintained their roles as daughters, sisters, wives and mothers and without their contribution the war effort would have been blighted.

As a woman, I owe these women a great deal. We all do, their sacrifice is important, their stories are our stories and their memories are engraved in our hearts and should never ever be forgotten.

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old, age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.”

How war changed the lives of women

The twentieth century witnessed two world wars, these wars not only took the lives of many of our young men and women, but it completely changed the world, not only politically, but morally. They say history teaches us not to make the same mistakes again, but what a heavy price to pay.
Five main themes span the 20th and 21st century.
A woman's place is in the home
Women's work: war work
That's no job for a woman: the services
War babes: stereotypes, pin-ups and prejudice
You have no right: protest and equality
War tends to be the domain of men, men in power, but women tend to be the victims. There were very few women in politics, in any position of power.


During the First World War women’s work and status began to change. Women were actively recruited to do war work and many others volunteered. Women’s branches of the British armed services were not created until 1917.

Images of women were used in propaganda campaigns to recruit men to fight. Some women tried to shame men into enlisting by giving them white feathers.
A minority of women opposed the war for moral, ideeological and religious reasons.
At the end of the war it was clear that women and their work had been vital to the war effort.

It was only after World War I that women (those over the age of 30yrs) were even given the vote.

A Woman's Place is in the Home

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions!
With many men away, women became solely responsible for major decisions in the running of the household, often for the first time in their lives.
These decisions were complicated by shortages in food, fabric and materials. Keeping a household running smoothly in wartime involved even more work than during peacetime.

You Have No Right: Protest and Equality

• the women who gave white feathers to men who did not appear to be serving in the forces during the First World War
• women who refused to contribute to the war effort - conscientious objectors - in both the First and Second World War
• women pacifists
• women who campaigned against nuclear weapons through the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Greenham Common
• women who campaign for peace - for example, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan in Northern Ireland.

How war affected women

• Women sacrificed their husbands, sons, brothers, fathers and sweethearts to fight for their country
• Women were left behind to keep the home and family going, managing on rations and shortages
• Women were left to mourn for their lost husbands and sons
• Women and children were often homeless from bombings
• Women are seen as “spoils” of war
• Women were allowed for the first time to work outside of the home
• Women, often in the wrong place at the wrong time and suffered the atrocities of the prison camps in the Far East
• Captured women used as “comforts” as prostitutes etc., for Japanese/German soldiers.

No Job for a Woman?

Building rubber tyres
Chimney sweep
Cleaning railway carriages
Glass workers
Brewery workers
Women carrying coal
Timber worker (Women's Land Army)
Shell filling
Caustic soda workers
Howitzer factory

Women trade unionists

Women's trade union membership increased by about 160% during the war, but apart from the National Federation of Women Workers, the Workers' Union (WU) was the only union to make a serious commitment to organising women. By 1918 the WU employed twenty women full time officials and had a female membership of over 80,000.
This was more than any other general union and represented a quarter of the WU's own membership. In 1918 the Equal Pay strike was led and ultimately won by women tramway workers - starting in London and spreading to other towns.

In 1914, the Women's Social and Political Union abandoned the suffrage campaign itself and ardently supported the war effort and urged all women to do the same. Sylvia Pankhurst's organisation was one of the very few to maintain the fight for the vote until its first instalment (to women over 30) was granted in 1918. The National Council for Adult Suffrage also kept up the pressure for the vote in the war years.
This organisation was established in 1916 and held its first meeting at the Daily Herald offices. It was a broad based activist adult suffrage campaigning group linking the left wing of the women's movement with the left wing of the labour movement.

Exclusion of Women

The exclusion of women from combat has revolved around several key assumptions.
First, society argued that women were physically weaker than men. They were said, for example, to lack the upper body strength so important to enable one to haul ropes, wield a sword, shoulder a musket, or load a shell for a sustained period in combat.
To this has been added the psychological argument that women are different from men. They are said to possess characteristics of caring and nurturing, and to be less aggressive than men.
'It is thought that media coverage will focus on female casualties ...'
Armchair generals have also argued that women lack one of the unique qualities of young men in uniform, prized by the armies of all nations - their willingness to take risks, to kill and, in extremis, to sacrifice themselves. Another view, still prevalent, is that the killing or wounding of women is somehow worse than the concept of male battle casualties. It is thought that media coverage will focus on female casualties (the ‘body-bag’ factor) to the discomfort of politicians, who will therefore be wary of sending women in to combat.
Some armies (the Israeli Defense Force for example) also exclude women from front-line service for fear that their male colleagues will accord them special protection or attention on the battlefield, thus undermining combat efficiency.
Before the 20th century, such debate tended to push women who wanted to be part of the armed forces either to conceal their gender, or to gravitate towards the caring roles of nurse or camp follower.
The two world wars, however, proved that, given the chance, the physical and mental fighting qualities needed in the services could be developed equally well, through training, in women as in men.
The use of women in combat by the Red Army, and the 418 female agents trained by Britain's Special Operations Executive to work for European resistance networks (of whom 119 died and three were awarded the George Cross, two posthumously), are two examples of how women have served successfully in offensive land operations.
In the air, the fact that between 1942 and 1945, 12 per cent of the Red Air Force’s fighter pilots, including several aces, were women, speaks for itself.