Throughout WW1 women took the jobs of men to cover for those who had gone to the front. They worked on farms, in shops and in factories. They were knitters, fruit pickers and welders. Those who worked in ammunition factories were called ‘Munitionettes’ and produced 80% of the weapons and shells used by the British on the Western Front. They were nicknamed ‘Canaries’ because the exposure to sulphur gave their skin a yellow tinge. For their toil they earned half the wages of a man even though they did double the work. They also had to look after the home and the children while their men were away. The ‘Women’s Land Army’ were really just cheap female labour on the farms harvesting crops and canning fruit and veg for the troops. Then there was the hard slog of nursing and in this area many Australian women excelled. They were deployed to Britain,France, Belgium, Greece, Italy and anywhere else they were needed. Twenty one nurses died during service and many others shortly after returning home. For many women after having served their country the reward was the opportunity to look after a damaged husband ,wounded and shell shocked, for the rest of their lives if he came home at all.
These women had worked six to seven days a week and often throughout the night to return home exhausted and unable to perform their ‘home duties’. Often the chemicals at work would prove harmful to their health and toxic fumes were responsible for many deaths. Many of these women suffered from cyonisis ( cyonide poisoning ), mercury poisoning, anaemia, eczema, jaundice and many other illnesses along with fatigue and the stresses of the job.
There were many exceptional women some of whom even disguised themselves as soldiers and fought on the front themselves. There was Dorothy Lawrence, an English freelance journalist who donned a uniform and went to work in the mines close to the Western Front in order to get the full story which she planned to publish. Apparently she also fought alonside the young men in the trenches and slept in an abandoned cottage alone in the forest which had been commandeered for her by two accomplices. She lasted only ten days and suffering terrible rheumatism from the damp turned herself in to the authorities. She was promptly arrested and forbidden to write her story due to the acute embarrassment of the men having a woman pretend to be one of them. In 1919 she did manage to write a book but it was heavily censored, sold very few copies and she ended up in a mental asylum. Finally she was buried in a paupers grave and never bothered anyone again.
Then there was Edith Cavell. A nurse who worked on saving young wounded soldiers on both sides. Working also in munitions she was employed by British Intelligence. She had sheltered British,French and Belgian troops in her own home and then conveyed them to the frontiers. Arrested by the Germans and charged as a spy she was executed by firing squad just as Mata Hari would be in 1917. The Brits had said they could do nothing to save her and although the Americans tried everything they could to disprove the charges fate took it’s course. She was 49 years old. Many years after death she at least had a memorial service at Westminster Abbey.
The most decorated heroine of WW1 was in actual fact Serbian. Milunka Savic went to war in her brothers place , received a medal for bravery, and was promoted to coporal. Wounded in battle her gender was revealed and she was immediately discharged. She then married ,had a daughter , got divorced, and worked menial jobs including the position of office cleaner. During WW11 she spent time in a concentration camp and at the end of the war was given an army pension. She adopted three refugee children and remained in a crumbling run down house in Belgrade until her death. She had won the French legion of honour, the Cross Of Saint George, the French croix de Guerre, the British Order of Saint Michael and the Serbian Milos Obilic Medals of war.
More glamorous though was Madame Arno who organised a group of French artists into resistance fighters. Wish there was more information on this woman but sadly she is just a thumbnail insertion. A mere footnote in history. That about sums it up don’t you think?
Renee Dallow ( Hybiscus Bloom ) 11/11/2014.
So what’s really changed for us girls eh?
Wanda Way Awrf