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Kitchen to frontline, and back again…

The war dramatically changed women’s role in British society. However, after the Armistice, most of that equality was soon lost


he role of women in British society was totally transformed by World War 1, at home and, eventually, close to the French frontline. After Lord Kitchener called on the nation to sign up to the British Army in 1914, women – who were so often barred from taking on what were then seen as ‘male’ roles – stepped forward in ever-increasing numbers.

At first, women volunteered as nurses, working at the British military hospitals in northern France. From 1917 onwards, they joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), serving as cooks, mechanics, ambulance drivers and clerical workers. By the end of the war, some 80,000 women had become a part of the British Army. Most stayed on home soil but 9,000 served out in France – changing the face of the British armed forces forever. However, the greatest change took place in offices and factories across Britain. In 1918, suffrage campaigner Millicent Fawcett declared, “The war revolutionised the industrial position of women.” Before the outbreak of war, men totally ruled the world of work. A woman’s place was considered to be at home – cooking, cleaning and looking after the children. But between 1914 and 1918, more than one million British women began to work. In dockyards and factories, the number of women workers rose from 2,000 in 1914 to 250,000 in 1918. During the war, the

126 ❮ WW1 Centenary Special

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