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Clockwise from opposite A Women’s Army Auxilliary Corps recruitment poster; female shipyard workers polishing a propellor in 1916; a WAAC ambulance on the Western Front; female workers in a British munitions factory

“By the end of the war, 80,000 women had become part of the British Army – 9,000 of those served in France”

number of female workers in the transport industry increased by over 550 percent, to a total of 100,000 drivers and mechanics. One of Britain’s largest industries, agriculture, opened its gates to women workers and, at the other end of the scale, ‘white collar’ jobs in the Civil Service and banking were also available for the first time. Despite the vital role that women played during the war – keeping essential industries and supply chains going – they did not earn the same salary as men. In 1918, the British Government introduced The Representation of the People Act, which was seen as a reward for women, in return for their contribution to the war effort, and gave the vote to those over the age of 30. Unfortunately, the march towards sexual equality which began on the back of the war did lead to a backlash against women and their employment rights after 1918.

After the war, the number of women working in factories and transport quickly fell, as returning soldiers reclaimed their old jobs. Some of the social advances made between 1914-1918 also proved to be temporary – it became clear that men expected women to go back to their pre-war ‘place’. It would take World War 2 and the 1960s to permanently change women’s role in society – indeed, there’s still a long way to go… Today, women make up ten percent of the British armed forces – there are a total of 17,620 female soldiers, 25 percent officers. As part of its current recruitment drive, the Ministry of Defence website says: “Men and women have an equal part to play in society – and an equal part to play in the Army, too. As a female soldier, you’ll have a wide range of jobs to choose from. You get exactly the same pay, opportunities for training, travel and promotion as your male colleagues”. ■

‘Call me Denis’: Dorothy’s story

The only woman to enlist in the full British Army during World War 1, by passing herself off as a man, was named Dorothy Lawrence. The 20-year-old from Warwickshire,

a would-be journalist, joined the British Army’s Tunnelling Company in 1915, using the alias of Denis Smith. However, Dorothy turned herself in after just ten days of digging tunnels on the Western Front, to raise her concerns about the safety of the men who she was serving alongside. Dorothy was then put through a

bizarre interrogation by six Generals and 20 officers, who assumed that she was not actually a ‘fake’ soldier, but a spy or a ‘camp follower’ – the military term for a prostitute.

WW1 Centenary Special ❯ 127

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