Today in History: August 29, 1914 – British Women Join the War Effort
On August 29, 1914, the Women’s Defense Relief Corps was formed.
Initially, the women’s rights organizations had been against the war in Europe. That is, until they realized that the war effort was the perfect opportunity for women’s advancement. So, they joined the war effort.
It actually didn’t take them long at all to realize it. In fact, the first article appeared in Common Cause, a women’s suffrage newspaper, the day after the British joined the war. It read:
“In the midst of this time of terrible anxiety and grief, it is some little comfort to think that our large organization, which has been completely built up during past years to promote women’s suffrage, can be used to help our country through the period of strain and sorrow” (Source).
[Below: WWI propaganda posters for women’s service]
The Women’s Defense Relief Corps was made up of two divisions: A civil and semi-military. The goal of the first was to “substitute women for men in factories and other places of employment in order to free those men for military service,” while in the latter, women “were actively recruited for the armed forces,” (Source). Women serving in the semi-military division were trained in marching, drilling, and handling of arms. They had to learn to protect themselves and others on the homefront in case of an invasion.
Following this, several women’s organizations were founded, including the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY), the Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs), and the Women’s Army Auxiliary Crops (WAAC), the last of which being created in July of 1917.
For the first time in war history, women were “sent into the battlefields of the Western Front to serve their country, thus freeing more male soldiers to do battle in the trenches against the German enemy” (Source).
In total, some 80,000 women had served during WWI, not just at home, but on the front lines in both France and Belgium.
[Below: Women of the Women’s Defense Relief Corps]
Note: More posts will come later about women in WWI & WWII.