10 fascinating facts about women during the First World War
Archant Norfolk 2017
The free First World War Women of Norfolk on Active Service exhibition at The Forum, in Norwich, charts the role of women during the conflict. Here, military historian and author NEIL STOREY reveals 10 fascinating facts about females in the war.
■ 1 - Women wanted to join up and ‘do their bit’ in the uniformed services from the outbreak of war in 1914, but the first uniformed service to recruit women was the Army who created the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in 1917.
■ 2 - The only women’s civilian uniformed organisation to have the offer of its services accepted by the War Office in 1914 was The Almeric Paget Massage Corps.
■ 3 - The most short-lived of all the Women’s services of the First World War was the Women’s Royal Air Force. Created in April 1918, it was disbanded in April 1920. But in that short time it had 32,000 WRAFs and proved to be a great asset to the RAF.
■ 4 - Women working on railways rose from 9,000 in 1914 to over 50,000 by the end of the war. They did almost every job from carriage cleaners to porters and from guards to signal workers.
■ 5 - The first women police officers served during the First World War. They came about predominantly to deal with prostitutes who were drawn to military camps and concentration areas. Women police also maintained order female munitions workers near large factories and searched them for contraband, not just stolen good but to make sure the new girls didn’t try to sneak in cigarettes to places where they might cause explosions.
■ 6 - Women did not wear trousers before the First World War – back then it was just not the done thing. During the war munitions workers wore overall trousers to enable them to carry out their work. They found them liberating and wore them with pride as they walked home and even went for a drink after work – unaccompanied by a man. No-one dare complain, these girls were ‘doing their bit’ and women’s fashion changed forever.
■ 7 - The second largest export after munitions for war was fodder to feed the thousands of horses that pulled military guns and supplies out on the front line in France and Flanders. The meet this important need the Women’s Forage Corps was formed by the Government in 1915.
■ 8 - Female munitions workers often known as ‘Munitionettes’ produced 80pc of the weapons and shells used by the British Army during the First World War.
■ 9 - The greatest goal scorer of the First World War (indeed, one of the greatest goal scorers of all time) played for Blyth Spartans - she scored 133 goals in one season, her name was Bella Raey.
■ 10 - More than 100,000 women joined the women’s branches of the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force during the First World War.