Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Women of World War I

2014 is the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War so there has been lots of information in the news and many novelists are setting stories in that time period. (Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs novels are some of my favourites)

What is so fascinating is how women's roles, especially in Britain, changed during the progression of the War. In the early years women were portrayed as helpless victims of German aggression, an effort to guilt-trip young men into signing up. Later on, as young men left Britain in droves and able bodies were needed to fill the work gap, women were urged to help the war effort by doing what had, up until, then been traditional men's work.

Women found themselves shoveling coal, becoming policewomen and firefighters and driving ambulances. Large numbers of young women headed to farms across Britain to do agricultural work which was becoming increasingly important as the UK became more and more cut off from imports of food. Other women decoded encrypted messages and were instrumental in breaking into German transmissions.

When the war ended, the men that returned to Britain after years of being away found their wives and girlfriends changed very significantly into able working women - managing on both the home front and in the workplace. Then the men displaced the women in their jobs. Many men expected life to go on as it had been before 1914, but there was no going back and the women's movement toward gender equality was born. 

Lady navvies pushing loaded wheel barrows in Coventry, 1917

The photo above and the poster beneath it are taken from two Telegraph.co.uk collections which are so interesting to scroll through. The captions are also full of information.  Find them here (photos) and here (posters) .