The Vital role of Women in the first world war

Vital 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.

Vital

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.

Vital Role of Women

Women played a vital role in the First World War. They served as nurses, cooks, office staff and munitions workers. But their most important work was at home—keeping families together when so many fathers, husbands and brothers were away fighting. Women’s letters are among our best sources for understanding how this war felt to those who lived through it.

Did you know that women played a vital role in the First World War?

Women served as nurses, cooks, office staff and munitions workers. But their most important work was at home—keeping families together when so many fathers, husbands and brothers were away fighting. Letters from women are among our best sources for understanding how this war felt to those who lived through it.

 

You can read some of these letters on our website right now! This is your chance to learn about an incredible part of history that has been largely forgotten until now. We’re sharing stories from real people who experienced the First World War first-hand—and we want you to be a part of it too!

The First World War was a global war that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918. More than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, were mobilised in one of the largest wars in history. Over nine million combatants and seven million civilians died as a result of the war (including the victims of a number of genocides), making it one of the deadliest conflicts in human history. You can read some letters from women who experienced this time first hand right now!

This is your chance to learn about an incredible part of history that has been largely forgotten until now. We’re sharing stories from real people who experienced WW1 first-hand—and we want you to be a part.

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WOMEN’S ARMY AUXILIARY CORPS (WAAC), MAY 1918

Clothing is being issued by the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) from a Nissen hut damaged by an air raid at Abbeville, 22 May 1918.

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) was formed in November 1917, with 3,000 women.  This doubled in size with ‘Wrens’ working in over 100 different roles.

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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.