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The Vital Role Of Women In The First World War

Pressure from women for their own uniformed service to assist the war effort began in August 1914. Many organisations sprang up, such as the Women’s Volunteer Reserve and Lady Londonderry’s Women’s Legion, which provided cooks for Army camps.

The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) was established in December 1916. Its formation was largely due to a War Office investigation which showed that a large number of non-combatant tasks were being performed by soldiers in France.  It was clear that women could do many of these jobs, potentially freeing up 12,000 men for service in the front line. The first party of 14 women arrived on the Western Front on 31 March 1917. Eventually, 9,000 women served with the unit in France.

In April 1918, the WAAC was renamed Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps (QMAAC). Over 57,000 women served with it, at home and abroad, before it was disbanded on 27 September 1921.

The Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS)

The Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) was formed in November 1917, with 3,000 women.  This doubled in size with ‘Wrens’ working in over 100 different roles.

The Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF) was born on 1 April 1918 with the Royal Air Force. Members of both the WAAC and WRNS transferred to the new service, which grew to 32,000, serving at home and in Germany and France. They undertook mechanical and technical roles as well as cooking, driving and administration.  The WRAF and WRNS were both dissolved in 1920, but all three women’s services were reformed just before the outbreak of the Second World War.

Flying Wrens -Women at War

Women played an active part in the fight against the Axis forces, not more so than the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRENS) and the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) women aircraft ferry pilots. This page is dedicated to their dedication and bravery.

Women played an active part in the fight against the Axis forces (see Women At War), not more so than the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRENS). In 1939, there were less than five million women working in Britain. Two million of these were in domestic service yet only a few years later the WRNS reached its peak of 74,620 in 1944. During the war 102 were killed and 22 wounded. WRNS and the FAA, including ground crew, RNAS personnel and Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) women aircraft ferry pilots.

In 1993 women were allowed to ferry almost any kind of aircraft in the British arsenal. The aircraft list consisted of 120 different planes. More than 100 women were now flying with the ATA at the height of the war. Not all women came from Great Britain, other came from America, Australia, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, the three Poles, and Chili.

During World War Two the WRNS reached its peak of 74,620 in 1944. Between 1939-1945,102 were killed and 22 wounded. The FAA duties of the WRNS varied significantly, and the women radio mechanics were some of the first WRNS to fly with the FAA in their normal duties.. In the 1942 edition of the Illustrated magazine the role of the Flying Wrens was described as :

The first of the flying WRENs was Leading Wren Pat Lees, a 21 year old radio mechanic who was formally “the first WRNS to fly as part of her regular duties”. In September 1942 she was flying in 755 squadron Lysanders (eg V9574).

The aircraft used by the ATA and WRNS varied considerably and perhaps every FAA aircraft type was flown by the ATA women, or worked on by the WRNS for Air Mechanic Training .Just one example is the Supermarine Spitfire K9883 which was transferred from the RAF in 1943 to RN Milmeece as GI 4727M for WRNS Air Mechanic Training.

(Sources: Sarah Paterson)

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