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.”