British Women's Auxiliary Army Corps is officially established

British Women's Auxiliary Army Corps is officially established

On July 7, 1917, British Army Council Instruction Number 1069 formally establishes the British Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC), authorizing female volunteers to serve alongside their male counterparts in France during World War I.

By 1917, large numbers of women were already working in munitions factories throughout Britain, serving the crucial function of supplying sufficient shells and other munitions for the Allied war effort. The harsh conditions in the factories were undeniable, with long hours spent working with noxious chemicals such as the explosive TNT; a total of 61 female munitions workers died of poisoning, while 81 others died in accidents at work. An explosion at a munitions factory in Silvertown, East London, when an accidental fire ignited 50 tons of TNT, killed 69 more women and severely injured 72 more.

In early 1917, a campaign began to allow women to more directly support the war effort by enlisting in the army to perform labors such as cookery, mechanical and clerical work and other miscellaneous tasks that would otherwise be done by men who could better serve their country in the trenches. By March 11, 1917, even Sir Douglas Haig, the British commander in chief, had come around to the idea, writing to the British War Office that “the principle of employing women in this country [France] is accepted and they will be made use of wherever conditions admit.”

The establishment of the WAAC in the summer of 1917 meant that, for the first time, women were to be put in uniform and sent to France to serve as clerks, telephone operators, waitresses and in other positions on the war front. Women were paid less than their male counterparts: 24 shillings per week for unskilled labor and up to twice that for more skilled labor, such as shorthand typing.

As the stated purpose behind the WAAC was to release British soldiers doing menial work in Britain and France for active service at the front, the War Office set the restriction that for every woman given a job through the WAAC, a man had to be released for frontline duties. None of the female volunteers could become officers–according to traditions in the British army–but those who rose in the ranks were given the status of “controllers” or “administrators.”

By the end of World War I, approximately 80,000 women had served in the three British women’s forces—the WAAC, the Women’s Relief Defense Corps and the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry—as non-combatants, but full-fledged contributors to the Allied war effort.


Fact File : Auxiliary Territorial Service


A member of the Auxiliary Territorial Service operates a telescope©

In April 1941, the members of the ATS were given full military status, although they continued to be paid two-thirds of the wage of a man of the same rank. As well as Britain, recruits were sought from the Dominions, India and the West Indies. Six hundred West Indian women volunteered of whom half stayed in the Caribbean while 200 served in the USA and 100 in the UK.

In December 1941 the government passed the National Service Act which allowed the conscription of women into war work or the armed forces. Women could choose to join the ATS or its naval or air force equivalents, the WRNS and the WAAF.

The first women who joined the ATS had no uniform and received little training, working in traditional female roles as cooks, clerks and storekeepers. After the initial influx of volunteers a system of basic training was established lasting six weeks. New recruits were issued with their uniform and asked to carry out trade tests to establish which area they should go into. Experience in civilian life was usually crucial – for example, if a woman had been a shorthand typist she would almost certainly be assigned clerical duties. During the course of the war the range of duties undertaken by the ATS expanded and women worked as telephonists, drivers, mess orderlies, butchers, bakers, postal workers, ammunition inspectors and military police.

The women of the ATS also made a significant contribution to Anti-Aircraft Command of the Royal Artillery, known as 'ack-ack'. They made up mixed batteries, taking over some of the tasks formerly performed by the male crew, including finding enemy aircraft and controlling the direction of the gun, although officially they never fired the guns. Others operated searchlights. Some ATS members were at permanent Anti-Aircraft camps and others were mobile. These mobile units were particularly busy during the V1 and V2 rocket campaigns against southern England in the summer of 1944.

As well as home defence, women from the ATS served in most theatres of war, as well as other important locations such as Washington. Following the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944, some mixed Anti-Aircraft batteries were sent to France but the speed of the advance meant that the batteries were soon dissolved and the ATS women moved into general clerical work.

At its peak, 210,308 women were serving with the ATS. 335 were killed.

Queen Elizabeth II served in the wartime ATS as 2nd Lieutenant Elizabeth Windsor, as did Mary Churchill, the youngest daughter of the Prime Minister. In 1949 the ATS was absorbed in the Women's Royal Army Corps, which was itself disbanded in 1992.

The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.


Contents

The WAAC's organization was designed by numerous Army bureaus coordinated by Lt. Col. Gillman C. Mudgett, the first WAAC Pre-Planner however, nearly all of his plans were discarded or greatly modified before going into operation because he expected a corps of only 11,000 women. [4] Without the support of the War Department, Representative Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts introduced a bill on 28 May 1941, providing for a Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. The bill was held up for months by the Bureau of the Budget but was resurrected after the United States entered the war. The senate approved the bill on 14 May 1942 and became law on 15 May 1942. [5] The day after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the bill he set a recruitment goal of 25,000 women for the first year. That goal was unexpectedly exceeded, so the Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson decided to increase the limit by authorizing the enlistment of 150,000 volunteers. [5]

The WAAC was modeled after comparable British units, especially the ATS, which caught the attention of Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall. [6] [7] In 1942, the first contingent of 800 members of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps began basic training at Fort Des Moines Provisional Army Officer Training School, Iowa. The women were fitted for uniforms, interviewed, assigned to companies and barracks and inoculated against disease during the first day. [8]

The WAAC were first trained in three major specialties. The brightest and nimblest were trained as switchboard operators. Next came the mechanics, who had to have a high degree of mechanical aptitude and problem solving ability. The bakers were usually the lowest scoring recruits. This was later expanded to dozens of specialties like Postal Clerk, Driver, Stenographer, and Clerk-Typist. WAC armorers maintained and repaired small arms and heavy weapons that they were not allowed to use.

A physical training manual titled "You Must Be Fit" was published by the War Department in July 1943, aimed at bringing the women recruits to top physical standards. The manual begins by naming the responsibility of the women: "Your Job: To Replace Men. Be Ready To Take Over." [9] It cited the commitment of women to the war effort in England, Russia, Germany and Japan, and emphasized that the WAC recruits must be physically able to take on any job assigned to them. The fitness manual was state-of-the-art for its day, with sections on warming up and progressive body-weight strength-building exercises for the arms, legs, stomach, neck and back. It included a section on designing a personal fitness routine after basic training and concluded with "The Army Way to Health and Added Attractiveness" with advice on skin care, make-up and hair styles. [9]

Inept publicity and the poor appearance of the WAAC/WAC uniform, especially in comparison to that of the other services, handicapped recruiting efforts. [ citation needed ] A resistance by senior Army commanders was overcome by the efficient service of WAACs in the field, but the attitude of men in the rank and file remained generally negative and hopes that up to a million men could be replaced by women never materialized. The United States Army Air Forces became an early and staunch supporter of regular military status for women in the army. [5]

About 150,000 [10] American women eventually served in the WAAC and WAC during World War II. [11] While the conservative opinion in the leadership of the Army was initially opposed to women serving in uniform, [ citation needed ] as was public opinion, the shortage of men necessitated a new policy.

While most women served stateside, some went to various places around the world, including Europe, North Africa, and New Guinea. For example, WACs landed on Normandy Beach just a few weeks after the initial invasion. [12]

Slander campaign Edit

In 1943 the recruiting momentum stopped and went into reverse as a massive slander campaign on the home front challenged the WACs as sexually immoral. [13] Many soldiers ferociously opposed allowing women in uniform, warning their sisters and friends they would be seen as lesbians or prostitutes. [14] Other sources were from other women - servicemen and officer's wives' idle gossip, local women who disliked the newcomers taking over "their town", female civilian employees resenting the competition (for both jobs and men), charity and volunteer organizations who resented the extra attention the WAACs received, and complaints and slander spread by disgruntled or discharged WAACs. [15] All investigations showed the rumors were false. [16] [17]

Although many sources spawned and fed bad jokes and ugly rumors about military women, [18] contemporaneous [19] [20] and historical [21] [22] accounts have focused on the work of syndicated columnist John O'Donnell. According to an Army history, even with its hasty retraction, [23] O'Donnell's 8 June 1943 "Capitol Stuff" column did "incalculable damage." [24] That column began, "Contraceptives and prophylactic equipment will be furnished to members of the WAACS, according to a super secret agreement reached by the high ranking officers of the War Department and the WAAC chieftain, Mrs. William Pettus Hobby…." [25] This followed O'Donnell's 7 June column discussing efforts of women journalists and congresswomen to dispel "the gaudy stories of the gay and careless way in which the young ladies in uniform … disport themselves…." [26]

The allegations were refuted, [20] [27] [28] but the "fat was in the fire. The morals of the WAACs became a topic of general discussion…." [29] Denials of O'Donnell's fabrications [22] and others like them were ineffectual. [30] According to Mattie Treadwell's Army history, as long as three years after O'Donnell's column, "religious publications were still to be found reprinting the story, and actually attributing the columnist's lines to Director Hobby. Director Hobby's picture was labeled 'Astounding Degeneracy' …." [31]

Women of color Edit

Black women served in the Army's WAAC and WAC, but very few served in the Navy. [32] African American women serving in the WAC experienced segregation in much the same fashion as in U.S. civilian life. Some billets accepted WACs of any race, while others did not. [33] Black women were taught the same specialties as white women, and the races were not segregated at specialty training schools. The US Army goal was to have 10 percent of the force be African-American, to reflect the larger U.S. population, but a shortage of recruits brought only 5.1 percent black women to the WAC. [34]

Evaluations Edit

General Douglas MacArthur called the WACs "my best soldiers", adding that they worked harder, complained less and were better disciplined than men. [35] Many generals wanted more of them and proposed to draft women but it was realized that this "would provoke considerable public outcry and Congressional opposition", and so the War Department declined to take such a drastic step. [36] Those 150,000 women who did serve released the equivalent of 7 divisions of men for combat. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower said that "their contributions in efficiency, skill, spirit and determination are immeasurable". [37] Nevertheless, the slander campaigns hurt the reputation of not only the WAC but other all female Corps like the Navy's WAVES many women didn't even want it known they were veterans. [38]

During the same time period, other branches of the U.S. military had similar women's units including: the Navy's WAVES, the SPARS of the Coast Guard, United States Marine Corps Women's Reserve, and the (civil) Women Airforce Service Pilots. The British Armed Forces also had similar units including: the Women's Royal Naval Service ("WRENS"), the Auxiliary Territorial Service. and the Women's Auxiliary Air Force.

According to historian D'Ann Campbell, American society was not ready for women in military roles:

The WAC and WAVES had been given an impossible mission: they not only had to raise a force immediately and voluntarily from a group that had no military traditions, but also had to overcome intense hostility from their male comrades. The situation was highly unfavorable: the women had no clear purpose except to send men to the battlefront duties overlapped with civilian employees and enlisted male coworkers, causing confusion and tension and the leadership cadre was unprestigious, inexperienced and had little control over women and none over men. Although the military high command strongly endorsed their work, there were no centers of influence in the civilian world, either male nor female, that were committed to the success of the women's services, and no civilian institutions that provided preliminary training for recruits or suitable positions for veterans. WACs, WAVES, SPARS and women Marines were war orphans whom no one loved. [39]

Since early 1943, 422 WACs were assigned to the Corps of Engineers to work on the project. Major General Leslie R. Groves, commander of the project, wrote: "Little is known of the significance of the contribution to the Manhattan Project by hundreds of members of the Women's Army Corps . Since you received no headline acclaim, no one outside the project will ever know how much depended upon you."

Any women interested in positions on the project were told the following: they would be doing a hard job, would never be allowed to go overseas, attend Officer Candidate School, would never receive publicity, and would live at isolated stations with few recreational facilities. A surprising number of highly qualified women responded.

WAC Units involved in the effort were awarded the Meritorious Unit Service Award, 20 women received the Army Commendation Ribbon and 1 received the Legion of Merit. [40] In addition, all members of the WAAC and the WAC who served in World War II received the Women's Army Corps Service Medal.

The WAC as a branch was disbanded in 1978 and all female units were integrated with male units. Women serving as WACs at that time converted in branch to whichever Military Occupational Specialty they worked in. Since then, women in the US Army have served in the same units as men, though they have only been allowed in or near combat situations since 1994 when Defense Secretary Les Aspin ordered the removal of "substantial risk of capture" from the list of grounds for excluding women from certain military units. In 2015 Jeanne Pace, at the time the longest-tenured female warrant officer and the last former member of the WAC on active duty, retired. [41] [42] [43] She had joined the WAC in 1972. [42]

Originally there were only four enlisted (or "enrolled") WAAC ranks (auxiliary, junior leader, leader, and senior leader) and three WAC officer ranks (first, second and third officer). The Director was initially considered as equivalent to a major, then later made the equivalent of a colonel. The enlisted ranks expanded as the organization grew in size. Promotion was initially rapid and based on ability and skill. As members of a volunteer auxiliary group, the WAACs got paid less than their equivalent male counterparts in the US Army and did not receive any benefits or privileges.

WAAC organizational insignia was a Rising Eagle (nicknamed the "Waddling Duck" or "Walking Buzzard" by WAACs). It was worn in gold metal as cap badges and uniform buttons. Enlisted and NCO personnel wore it as an embossed circular cap badge on their Hobby Hats, while officers wore a "free" version (open work without a backing) on their hats to distinguish them. Their auxiliary insignia was the dark blue letters "WAAC" on an Olive Drab rectangle worn on the upper sleeve (below the stripes for enlisted ranks). WAAC personnel were not allowed to wear the same rank insignia as Army personnel. They were usually authorized to do so by post or unit commanders to help in indicating their seniority within the WAAC, although they had no authority over Army personnel.

WAAC ranks (May, 1942 – April, 1943)
Enrolled WAAC US Army
equivalent
WAAC officer US Army
equivalent
Senior leader Master sergeant Director of the WAAC Major
Senior leader First sergeant First officer Captain
Leader Technical sergeant Second officer 1st lieutenant
Leader Staff sergeant Third officer 2nd lieutenant
Leader Sergeant
Junior leader Corporal
Auxiliary first class Private first class
Auxiliary second class Private
Auxiliary third class Recruit
WAAC ranks (April, 1943 – July, 1943)
Enlisted WAAC US Army
equivalent
WAAC officer US Army
equivalent
Chief leader Master sergeant Director of the WAAC Colonel
First leader First sergeant Assistant Director of the WAAC Lieutenant-colonel
Technical leader Technical sergeant Field director Major
Staff leader Staff sergeant First officer Captain
Leader Sergeant Second officer 1st lieutenant
Junior leader Corporal Third officer 2nd lieutenant
Auxiliary first class Private first class
Auxiliary second class Private
Auxiliary third class Recruit

The organization was renamed the Women's Army Corps in July 1943 [44] when it was authorized as a branch of the US Army rather than an auxiliary group. The US Army's "GI Eagle" now replaced the WAAC's Rising Eagle as the WAC's cap badge. The WAC received the same rank insignia and pay as men later that September and received the same pay allowances and deductions as men in late October. [45] They were also the first women officers in the army allowed to wear officer's insignia the Army Nursing Corps did not receive permission to do so until 1944.

The WAC had its own branch insignia (the Bust of Pallas Athena), worn by "Branch Immaterial" personnel (those unassigned to a Branch of Service). US Army policy decreed that technical and professional WAC personnel should wear their assigned Branch of Service insignia to reduce confusion. During the existence of the WAC (1943 to 1978) women were prohibited from being assigned to the combat arms branches of the Army – such as the Infantry, Cavalry, Armor, Tank Destroyers, or Artillery and could not serve in a combat area. However, they did serve as valuable staff in their headquarters and staff units stateside or in England.

The army's technician grades were technical and professional specialists similar to the later specialist grade. Technicians had the same insignia as NCOs of the same grade but had a "T" insignia (for "technician") beneath the chevrons. They were considered the same grade for pay but were considered a half-step between the equivalent pay grade and the next lower regular pay grade in seniority, rather than sandwiched between the junior enlisted (i.e., private – private first class) and the lowest NCO grade of rank (viz., corporal), as the modern-day specialist (E-4) is today. Technician grades were usually mistaken for their superior NCO counterparts due to the similarity of their insignia, creating confusion.

There were originally no warrant officers in the WAC in July, 1943. Warrant officer appointments for army servicewomen were authorized in January 1944. In March 1944 six WACs were made the first WAC Warrant Officers – as administrative specialists or band leaders. The number grew to 10 by June, 1944 and to 44 by June, 1945. By the time the war officially ended in September 1945, there were 42 WAC warrant officers still in Army service. There was only a trickle of appointments in the late 1940s after the war.

Most WAC officers were company-grade officers (lieutenants and captains), as the WAC were deployed as separate or attached detachments and companies. The field grade officers (majors and lieutenant-colonels) were on the staff under the director of the WAC, its solitary colonel. [46] Officers were paid by pay band rather than by grade or rank and did not receive a pay grade until 1955.

  • There were no chief warrant officer appointments in the WAC during the war because they did not meet the skill or seniority requirements for the rank. However, few servicemen did either. It required ten or more years of time in grade as either a warrant officer (junior grade) – a rank first created in 1941, staff warrant officer – a rank waitlisted since 1936, or an Army Mine Planter Service warrant officer – an Army sea auxiliary unit that was not allowed to recruit women.
Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby (1942–1945)
Colonel Westray Battle Boyce (1945–1947)
Colonel Mary A. Hallaren (1947–1953)
Colonel Irene O. Galloway (1953–1957)
Colonel Mary Louise Rasmuson (1957–1962)
Colonel Emily C. Gorman (1962–1966)
Brigadier General Elizabeth P. Hoisington (1966–1971)
Brigadier General Mildred Inez Caroon Bailey (1971–1975)
Brigadier General Mary E. Clarke (1975–1978)

The Women's Army Corps Veterans' Association—Army Women's United (WACVA) was organized in August 1947. Women who have served honorably in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) or the Women's Army Corps (WAC) and those who have served or are serving honorably in the United States Army, the United States Army Reserve, or the Army National Guard of the United States, are eligible to be members. The association is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization representing women who "served their country in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Persian Gulf Bosnia and in Iraq and Afghanistan." WACVA sponsors an annual national convention and projects honoring women veterans. Local chapters of WACVA focus on volunteer work in Veterans Administration Hospitals and Community Service in the local and national community. The organization's newsletter THE CHANNEL "keeps the members aware of our national business, projects and pertinent veterans information." [47]

Colonel Geraldine Pratt May (b.1895 – d.1997 [served 1942-19??). [48] In March, 1943 May became one of the first female officers assigned to the Army Air Forces, serving as WAC Staff Director to the Air Transport Command. In 1948 she was promoted to Colonel (the first woman to hold that rank in the Air Force) and became Director of the WAF in the US Air Force, the first to hold the position.

Lt. Col. Charity Adams was the first commissioned African-American WAC and the second to be promoted to the rank of major. Promoted to major in 1945, she commanded the segregated all-female 6888th Central Postal Battalion in Birmingham, England. The 6888th landed with the follow-on troops during D-Day and were stationed in Rouen and then Paris during the invasion of France. It was the only African-American WAC unit to serve overseas during World War II. [49]

Lt. Col. Harriet West Waddy (b.1904-d.1999 [served 1942–1952]) [50] was one of only two African-American women in the WAC to be promoted to the rank of major. Due to her earlier experience serving with director Mary McLeod Bethune of the Bureau of Negro Affairs, she became Colonel Culp's aide on race relations in the WAC. After the war, she was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel in 1948.

Lt. Col. Eleanore C. Sullivan [served 1952–1955] was WAC Center and WAC School commander located at Fort McClellan. [51]

Lieutenant Colonel Florence K. Murray served at WAC headquarters during World War II. She became the first female judge in Rhode Island in 1956. In 1977 she was the first woman to be elected as a justice of the Supreme Court of Rhode Island.

Major Elna Jane Hilliard [served 1942–1946] commanded the 2525th WAC unit at Fort Myer, Virginia. She was the first woman to serve on a United States Army general court martial. [52]

In January, 1943, Captain Frances Keegan Marquis became the first to command a women's expeditionary force, [53] the 149th WAAC Post Headquarters Company. [54] Serving in General Eisenhower's North African headquarters in Algiers, this group of about 200 women performed secretarial, driving, postal, and other non-combat duties. [55] An Army history called this company "one of the most highly qualified WAAC groups ever to reach the field. Hand-picked and all-volunteer, almost all members were linguists as well as qualified specialists, and almost all eligible for officer candidate school." [56]

Louisiana Register of State Lands Ellen Bryan Moore attained the rank of captain in the WACs and once recruited three hundred women at a single appeal to join the force. [57]

Captain Dovey Johnson Roundtree was among 39 African-American women recruited by Dr. Mary Bethune for the first WAACs officer training class. Roundtree was responsible for recruiting African-American women. [58] After leaving the Army, she went to Howard University law school and became a prominent civil rights lawyer in Washington, D.C. She was also one of the first women ordained in the A.M.E. Church. [59]

In February, 1943 Lieutenant Anna Mac Clarke became, when a Third Officer, the first African-American to lead an all-white WAAC unit. [60]

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Elizabeth C. Smith USAF (WAC / USAAF 1944–1947, WAF / USAF 1948–1964) was one of the first WAF warrant officers in 1948.

Chief Warrant Officer 5 Jeanne Y. Pace, was the longest-serving female in the army and the last active duty soldier who was a part of the WAC as of 2011. Her final assignment was Bandmaster of the 1st Cavalry Division where she retired after 41 years of service. [61] She is also a recipient of the Daughters of the American Revolution Margaret Cochran Corbin Award which was established to pay tribute to women in all branches of the military for their extraordinary service [62] with previous recipients including Major Tammy Duckworth, Major General Gale Pollock, and Lt General Patricia Horoho.

Elizabeth "Tex" Williams was a military photographer. [63] She was one of the few women photographers that photographed all aspects of the military. [64]

Mattie Pinnette served as personal secretary to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. [65]

CW4 Amy Sheridan was the first American woman officer to command a United States military aviation company stationed outside of the United States and the first Jewish woman to become a career aviator in the United States Armed Services. [66]


When war was declared women formed long queues at local labour exchanges to volunteer for whatever roles were available. New organisations such as the Women ’ s Emergency Corps sprung into action to co-ordinate employment and the Voluntary A id D etachment staff organised basic training for eager new volunteers. Female medics such as Dr. Elsie Inglis offered their services to the Royal Army Medical Corps but were flatly refused. As far as the British military was concerned, nursing was the only suitable military role for women - over the course of the war, 19,000 women served as nurses and between 70,000-100,000 as VADs.

A small but determined number of women established their own, privately funded medical organisations such as the Scottish Women ’ s Hospital and the Women ’ s Hospital Corps and made their own way overseas. In 1915 the VAD introduced general members who would undertake non-medical work, such as cooking, cleaning and administrative roles. Alongside groups like the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, these women proved they could operate in a war zone under duress despite the opposition of the War Office.

The turning point came in 1916 when Britain faced a major manpower shortage. With recruitment in decline Britain introduced conscription, but with the devastating casualties of the Somme it was not enough. Looking at the women taking on men ’ s jobs on the home front and the independent organisations, the idea of women performing basic military jobs no longer seemed ridiculous. A review was launched and on 16th January 1917 Lt Gen HM Lawson published his report, supporting women ’ s services in order to release men for front-line duty. After two and half years of conflict there was no more time to waste, within a month Mona Chalmers Watson was appointed Chief Controller of the new women ’ s corps with Helen Gwynne-Vaughan as the Overseas Chief Controller. Gwynne-Vaughan would later recall that she was emphatic that they should be called the Women ’ s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) opposed to ‘Women’s Corps’ as she did not want to be known as ‘ Chief W.C. ’.

The corps was established in such a rush that the chief controllers were still negotiating details of pay and accommodation for months after the first draft arrived in France, and the corps was not officially instituted until 7th July 1917. It was clarified that the women had enrolled as civilians and would not be enlisted in the army, this was only a temporary force created out of necessity. Yet Gwynne-Vaughan was determined that the WAAC would be viewed as a military organisation on a par with the men and insisted that both Chief Controllers wore lieutenant-colonel badges and that WAACs would stand to attention, salute and use rank titles. It was important for the WAACs to be irreproachable if the corps was to be a success and expand. One WAAC member recalls how the women were laughed at by the men as they practised drills on the parade ground but once they arrived in France and began working alongside the men, the soldiers ’ opinion s of them began to change to that of mutual respect.

The first draft of fifteen WAACs were employed as cooks and waitresses in the officers ’ club at Abbeville and more drafts followed in a matter of weeks, posted to different bases. In due course roles were expanded to include clerks, drivers, mechanics, telephonists, telegraphers and typists. On 9th April 1918 the WAAC was honoured when Queen Mary became the corps ’ Commandant-in-Chief and it was renamed Queen Mary ’ s Army Auxiliary Corps. The success of the corps led to the establishment of the Women ’ s Royal Naval Service in November 1917, followed by the Women ’ s Royal Air Force in April 1918. By 1918 over 57,000 women had served in the QMAAC (9,000 of which were overseas), 5,450 in WRNS and 9,000 in the WRAF. Each service continued after the end of the war, until October 1919 when the WRNS was disbanded followed by the QMAAC and the WRAF in 1920. During the war five members of QMAAC were awarded the Military Medal, eight Officials (equivalent to officers) and seventy-five members died in service. Although disbanded the precedent had been set and on the eve of the Second World War each of the three services were re-established as the Auxiliary Territorial Service, the Women ’ s Royal Naval Service and the Women ’ s Auxiliary Air Force.

This week, let us remember all the women who served in the First World War both at home and overseas and established the acceptance of women in the British military.


LibertyVoter.Org

On this day in 1917, British Army Council Instruction Number 1069 formally establishes the British Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC), authorizing female volunteers to serve alongside their male counterparts in France during World War I.

By 1917, large numbers of women were already working in munitions factories throughout Britain, serving the crucial function of supplying sufficient shells and other munitions for the Allied war effort. The harsh conditions in the factories were undeniable, with long hours spent working with noxious chemicals such as the explosive TNT a total of 61 female munitions workers died of poisoning, while 81 others died in accidents at work. An explosion at a munitions factory in Silvertown, East London, when an accidental fire ignited 50 tons of TNT, killed 69 more women and severely injured 72 more.

In early 1917, a campaign began to allow women to more directly support the war effort by enlisting in the army to perform labors such as cookery, mechanical and clerical work and other miscellaneous tasks that would otherwise be done by men who could better serve their country in the trenches. By March 11, 1917, even Sir Douglas Haig, the British commander in chief, had come around to the idea, writing to the British War Office that “the principle of employing women in this country [France] is accepted and they will be made use of wherever conditions admit.”

The establishment of the WAAC in the summer of 1917 meant that, for the first time, women were to be put in uniform and sent to France to serve as clerks, telephone operators, waitresses and in other positions on the war front. Women were paid less than their male counterparts: 24 shillings per week for unskilled labor and up to twice that for more skilled labor, such as shorthand typing.

As the stated purpose behind the WAAC was to release British soldiers doing menial work in Britain and France for active service at the front, the War Office set the restriction that for every woman given a job through the WAAC, a man had to be released for frontline duties. None of the female volunteers could become officers–according to traditions in the British army–but those who rose in the ranks were given the status of “controllers” or “administrators.”

By the end of World War I, approximately 80,000 women had served in the three British women’s forces–the WAAC, the Women’s …read more


Second World War

QMAAC had been disbanded in 1921, but it inspired the formation of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), which was established in September 1938. Women were still not allowed to fight in battle, but once again returned to supporting roles during the Second World War (1939-45).

They were cooks, clerks, drivers, radar operators, telephonists, anti-aircraft gunners, range finders, sound detectors, military police and ammunition inspectors. The Women's Royal Naval Service and the Women's Auxiliary Air Force were also established at that time. Women again went to work on the Home Front too, either in industrial roles, as before, or as part of the Women's Land Army.

July 1941

Auxiliary Territorial Service

The ATS was given full military status, meaning its members were no longer volunteers.

December 1941

Conscription of women

The National Service Act made the conscription of women legal. At first, only single women aged 20-30 were called up. But by mid-1943, almost 90 per cent of single women and 80 per cent of married women were employed in war work.

February 1945

Royal service

Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) joined the ATS, training at Aldershot as a driver and mechanic.

8 May 1945

VE Day

By the end of the war, over 190,000 women were members of the ATS.


British Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps is officially established - Jul 07, 1917 - HISTORY.com

TSgt Joe C.

On this day in 1917, British Army Council Instruction Number 1069 formally establishes the British Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC), authorizing female volunteers to serve alongside their male counterparts in France during World War I.

By 1917, large numbers of women were already working in munitions factories throughout Britain, serving the crucial function of supplying sufficient shells and other munitions for the Allied war effort. The harsh conditions in the factories were undeniable, with long hours spent working with noxious chemicals such as the explosive TNT a total of 61 female munitions workers died of poisoning, while 81 others died in accidents at work. An explosion at a munitions factory in Silvertown, East London, when an accidental fire ignited 50 tons of TNT, killed 69 more women and severely injured 72 more.

In early 1917, a campaign began to allow women to more directly support the war effort by enlisting in the army to perform labors such as cookery, mechanical and clerical work and other miscellaneous tasks that would otherwise be done by men who could better serve their country in the trenches. By March 11, 1917, even Sir Douglas Haig, the British commander in chief, had come around to the idea, writing to the British War Office that “the principle of employing women in this country [France] is accepted and they will be made use of wherever conditions admit.”

The establishment of the WAAC in the summer of 1917 meant that, for the first time, women were to be put in uniform and sent to France to serve as clerks, telephone operators, waitresses and in other positions on the war front. Women were paid less than their male counterparts: 24 shillings per week for unskilled labor and up to twice that for more skilled labor, such as shorthand typing. As the stated purpose behind the WAAC was to release British soldiers doing menial work in Britain and France for active service at the front, the War Office set the restriction that for every woman given a job through the WAAC, a man had to be released for frontline duties. None of the female volunteers could become officers–according to traditions in the British army–but those who rose in the ranks were given the status of “controllers” or “administrators.” By the end of World War I, approximately 80,000 women had served in the three British women’s forces–the WAAC, the Women’s Relief Defense Corps and the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry–as non-combatants, but full-fledged contributors to the Allied war effort.


The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps

The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps was formed during World War One. In the build up to its creation, the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps encountered the prejudices that existed at that time to women in general, but to their part in the military in particular. As with the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY), the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps played an important part in the war – despite the initial obstacles put in its way.

WAAC’s recruiting in London

On January 16th, 1917, Lieutenant-General H Lawson recommended using women in the army in France. To the critics of his idea, Lawson played on the importance of women working in vital ammunition factories in Britain and the work they were doing for the war effort. The Adjutant-General, Sir Neville Macready, believed that if women were to join the army, they should be treated exactly the same of male soldiers. The War Secretary, Lord Derby, was in broad agreement with Macready but was anxious that the whole issue did not stir up agitation as was witnessed before the war. Dame Katherine Furse, in charge of the VAD’s, believed that the issue was so big, that women should be consulted as a right – a belief supported by Millicent Fawcett.

“The dilution of the army by women can only successfully be carried out if the whole Mother wit of women can be brought to bear.”

Towards the end of January 1917, Mrs Chalmers Watson, a well-known medical practitioner in Edinburgh, was invited to meet Lord Derby in London to discuss the issue of women in the army. Mrs Watson also happened to be the sister of Sir Auckland Geddes, who was the Director General of National Service. Though the minutes from this meeting are patchy, in 1918, Watson gave two interviews in which she described, from her point of view, what had been said in that discussion. Watson claimed that Lord Derby had made it clear that he did not want the full enlistment of women. This others issues discussed were what would be the status of uniformed women captured by the Germans in France (though this did not become an issue) discipline in the Army and the pay women should receive.

Chalmers Watson then met Sir Neville Macready to discuss the way ahead. Watson claimed the Macready asked her if she would head any female organisation approved by Lord Derby. Watson had Macready’s support as he wanted a “working woman” in charge of it whereas Derby wanted a titled woman to lead it. Chalmers Watson asked for time to consider the offer and left for a tour of the front in France. In fact, by this time many in the military had come to two conclusions:

Women should have some role in the British Army

Mrs Chalmers Watson would be the person to lead it.

By the Spring of 1917, even the commander-in-chief of the British Army, Sir Douglas Haig, had come round to the belief that women could play a vital role in the British Army. On March 11th, 1917, Haig wrote to the war Office:

“the principle of employing women in this country (France) is accepted and they will be made use of wherever conditions admit.”

However, Haig did attach a long list of concerns to this statement. His overriding concern was that women simply would not be able to do the physical labour of the men in France. He stated that they would be able to work as cooks but clearly did not have the strength to handle carcasses. He also stated that they could not work in clothing storerooms as men had to change in these and a woman’s presence here would be unacceptable.

To be accepted into the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, you had to provide two references and go before a selection board. They also had to have a medical. Far more women applied to join the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps than had been anticipated. The Army Council Instruction Number 1069 of July 7th, 1917, is the date considered to be the official start of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. Mrs Chalmers Watson was appointed Chief Controller but general control of the WAAC was vested in the Adjutant-General.

The WAAC had no officer ranks to it – a result of British Army tradition that had assumed that only men would veer get a commission. Instead, the WAAC had controllers and administrators. NCO’s were replaced by forewomen. Inevitably, given the structure of society at the time, the controllers were from middle/higher class backgrounds and the NCO’s from what would be deemed a working class background.

Pay in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps was dependent on work done. In the lower ranks, unskilled work was paid at the rate of 24 shillings a week. Shorthand typists could get 45 shillings a week. 12 shillings six pence was deducted per week for food though uniforms and accommodation were free.

WAAC’s cooking in Abbeville

The WAAC was organised into four units: cookery, mechanical, clerical and miscellaneous. The War Office had stated that any job given to a member of WAAC, had to result in a man being released for frontline duties. Chalmers Watson spent much of her time up against politicians and bureaucrats who saw what the WAAC did in one-dimensional terms. Watson’s main complaint was the disparity in pay between women in the WAAC doing a specific job and a man in the Army doing the same work for more pay. By February 1918, the constant battle had taken its toll and Chalmers Watson resigned as Chief Controller and was succeeded by Mrs. Burleigh Leach.


Primary Sources

(1) Statement issued by Buckingham Palace in April, 1917.

As a mark of Her Majesty's appreciation of the good services rendered by the WAAC both at home and abroad since its inauguration, and especially of the distinction which it earned in France during the recent fighting on the Western Front, Her Majesty has been graciously pleased to assume the position and title of Commandant-in-Chief of the Corps, which in future will bear the name of Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps.

(2) Major Ronald Schweder, letter (July, 1918)

Latham, one of my Subalterns, came back today after a fortnight's rest cure by the seaside. He was full of WAACs, VADs, etc. It seems to me to be on a friendly footing, the male and female army in the back areas. One might almost call it "matey".

(3) In 1930 a book, The Women's Story of the War was published. The book's anonymous author claimed to have been a WAAC during the First World War.

One became so used to hearing coarse language and filthy stories that one no longer felt even disconcerted. I came several times upon spectacles which before the war would have upset me very much. They made me realise how little removed from animals men and women are.


Contents

The corps was formed following a January 1917 War Office recommendation that women should be employed in non-combatant roles in the British Army in France. While recruiting began in March 1917, [2] the corps was only formally instituted on 7 July 1917 by Lieutenant-General Sir Nevil Macready, the adjutant-general, who appointed Dr Mona Chalmers Watson the first chief controller. [3] More than 57,000 women served between January 1917 and November 1918.

The corps was established to free up men from administrative tasks for service at the front. It was divided into four sections including cookery, mechanical and clerical. [4] Nursing services were administered separately, although an auxiliary corps of the Royal Army Medical Corps was set up to provide medical services for the QMAAC. [2]

On 31 March 1917, women in the WAAC were first sent to the theatre of war in France, at that stage just fourteen cooks and waitresses. [5] Helen Gwynne-Vaughan was the chief controller overseas, and Florence Leach was the controller of the cooks. In 1918, women doctors (attached to the QMAAC) were first posted to France. One such was Dr Phoebe Chapple, who was awarded the Military Medal for tending the wounded regardless of her own safety during an air raid on an WAAC camp near Abbeville in May 1918. [6] [7] In all, five military medals were awarded to members of the QMAAC, all for brave conduct during air raids or shelling in rear areas. [8] [9]

A total of 17,000 members of the corps served overseas, although never more than 9,000 at one time. [3] In April 1918, nearly 10,000 members employed on Royal Flying Corps air stations, both at home and in France, transferred to the Women's Royal Air Force on the formation of the Royal Air Force. [2]

Demobilisation commenced after the Armistice in November 1918, and the corps was disbanded on 27 September 1921. The last surviving QMAAC veteran was Ivy Campany, who died in 2008. [10]

Instead of standard military ranks, a specific grading system was authorised by Army Council Instruction No. 1069, 1917. All insignia was worn on epaulettes except that for forewoman and assistant forewoman, which was worn on the right upper arm. [11]

Controllers Administrators Forewomen Members
Rank Chief Controller Chief Controller (Overseas) Deputy Chief Controller (Overseas) Assistant Section Controller Area Controller Unit Administrator (i/c large hostel) Deputy Administrator (i/c small hostel) Deputy Administrator (2i/c large hostel) Forewoman Assistant Forewoman Member
Deputy Chief Controller Section Controller
Technical Assistant Controller
Assistant Administrator
Clothing Controller Quartermistress Class I Quartermistress Class II
Rank insignia Double rose No insignia

    (February 1917 to 1918) (Chief Controller in France in 1917, and in England from July 1918 succeeding Mrs Long. [12] (1918 to 1920) (from 1917 Controller-in-Chief) [13]
    Controller, later Commandant of the Women's Royal Air Force

Most of the service records were destroyed in a German air raid in September 1940. Those which did have suffered fire had water and mould damage. The National Archives digitised these to prevent further damage and they can be searched and viewed online. [14]


The Long, Long Trail

It is a well-documented fact the the Great War brought many new opportunities for women. They moved into areas of public, commercial and industrial life that had previously been out of bounds. Women’s efforts in the war also embraced many different voluntary activities, in raising funds and providing materials for the forces. As the economies of Great Britain and the Empire geared up towards a total war footing, such voluntary activities proved to be insufficient. Towards the end of 1916 the British Government began organising women’s auxiliary military services to replace men in non-combatant roles and so release more men for fighting. Unprepared by pre-war life for the conditions that many now faced, they bore it with great fortitude and laid a foundation for undreamed-of levels of emancipation that came in the post-war generations. This page is little more than a passing tribute to the important women’s organisations and the vital work that they did in supporting the war effort.

The women’s organisations

Military nursing services

Details of the nursing services have now been moved to this page

A procession of women, led by a band, demanding the right to enter the war services in 1915. The banner reads: “The situation is serious. Women must help to save it.” Imperial War Museum image Q105767.

Women’s Hospital Corps

A very early war time voluntary group formed in September 1914. Dr’s Flora Murray and Louisa Garrett Anderson established military hospitals for the French Army in Paris and Wimereux, their proposals having been at first rejected by the British authorities. The latter eventually saw sense and the WHC established a military hospital in Endell Street, London staffed entirely by women, from chief surgeon to orderlies.

Scottish Women’s Hospitals

Founded by the extraordinary Dr Elsie Maud Inglis, who was not only a suffragette but one of the earliest qualified female medical doctors. Her idea was for the Scottish Suffrage Societies to fund and staff a medical hospital the military authorities told her to “Go home and sit still”. Not to be held down, Inglis pressed forward. The first unit moved to northern Serbia in January 1915 and by 1918 there were 14 such units, working with each of the Allied armies except the British. Dr Inglis was taken prisoner of war in Serbia in 1915, but was repatriated. She immediately moved with another unit to Russia. Evacuated home after the revolution there, she died in Newcastle the day after her return home in November 1917.

The Women’s Volunteer Reserve

This organisation developed from a very early one, the Women’s Emergency Corps, which came into existence in August 1914. It was the initiative of Decima Moore and the Hon. Evelina Haverfield – a militant and influential suffragette – who seized the opportunity provided by the crisis to organise a role for women. It was soon joined by many women from the higher classes and was in the early days an unlikely mix of feminists and women who would not normally have mixed with such dangerous types. They became involved in several ventures, not least of which was in providing until 1918 a uniformed group called the Lady Instructors Signals Company, who trained Aldershot army recruits in signalling. However the work was largely of a domestic, fund-raising nature. The WVR was however rather expensive to join – one had to pay for ones own uniform which at more than £2 could not be afforded by lower classes. This was an influence in the establishment of the Women’s Legion, which had a more widespread appeal.

Women’s Auxiliary Force

Launched in 1915 by Misses Walthall and Sparshott, the WAF was an entirely voluntary organisation for part-time workers. Uniformed, they worked in canteens and provided social clubs they also worked on the land and in hospitals.

Members of the Women’s Auxiliary Force working on an allotment in Highbury in 1915. Imperial War Museum image Q108033.

An organisation named the Women’s Agricultural Auxiliary Corps also existed, but it is not clear whether this was the same or part of the WAF or was entirely separate: “Lady Mabel Smith’s Visit to France. Ref her appointment as inspector for the whole county of Yorkshire under the newly created organisation of the Women’s Agricultural Auxiliary Corps”. 19th January 1918, Yorkshire Weekly Post, page 13

The Women’s Legion

Launched in July 1915 by the Marchioness of Londonderry, the Women’s Legion became the largest entirely voluntary body. Although it was not formally under Government control or part of the army, in the spirit of the times its members adopted a military-style organisation and uniform. The WL volunteers became involved in many forms of work, including cooking and catering for the army in England. The success of the WL was a definite factor in influencing the Government to organise female labour in the latter half of the war.

Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC)

Announced by the War Office in February 1917 and established a month later as a part of the British Army, the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps was to be made up of volunteers of whom eventually 57,000 were employed. The response was swift and the planned establishment soon achieved. The first WAACs moved to France on 31 March 1917. By early 1918, some 6,000 WAACs were there. It was officially renamed the QMAAC in April 1918. The organisation of the WAAC mirrored the military model: their officers (calledControllers and Administrators rather than Commissioned Officers, titles jealously protected) messed separately from the other ranks. The WAAC equivalent of an NCO was a Forewoman, the private a Worker. The women were largely employed on unglamorous tasks on the lines of communication: cooking and catering, storekeeping, clerical work, telephony and administration, printing, motor vehicle maintenance. A large detachment of WAACs worked for the American Expeditionary Force and was an independent body under their own Chief Controller. Some 57,000 women were enrolled to serve in the WAAC.

Women’s Land Army

Much less well-known that its WW2 successor, the Women’s Land Army was formed in February 1917 in spite of male resistance in farming communities, in an attempt to provide a full-time, properly regulated workforce for agricultural industries. It was not part of the army or even under the control of the War Office – it was funded and controlled by the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries – but as an organised body supporting the war effort, it deserves its place in any consideration of the fighting forces. It eventually employed 113,000 women female labour made up some one-third of all labour on the land, the remainder being a mix of enemy prisoners, Army Service Corps, infantry labour units and agricultural workers outside military age.

Almeric Paget Military Massage Corps

An initially civilian organisation founded in England by Mr & Mrs Almeric Paget. 50 trained masseuses were supplied for work with wounded soldiers. Their early form of physiotherapy was found especially useful in the treatment of muscular wounds. Eventually the organisation was accepted by the War Office and gained official recognition. The APMMC began to work at medical facilities in France in 1917 and by the end of the war had grown to 2,000 staff.

Women’s Forage Corps

The British army largely ran on horse power, and demand for forage was huge and incessant. The civilian Women’s Forage Corps, formed by the Government in 1915, came under the control of the Army Service Corps

Women’s Forestry Corps

Controlled by the Timber Supply Department of the Board of Trade, this organisation maintained a supply of wood for industrial and paper production at home, but also for construction purposes in the theatres of war.

Members of the Women’s Forestry Corps grinding an axe. Imperial War Museum image Q30720.

Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF)

Women had been employed by both the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service before the WRAF was established as part of the newly-established Royal Air Force on 1 April 1918. Those working for the RFC had been members of the WAAC and those with the RNAS had been with the Women’s Royal Naval Service. Transfer to the WRAF was voluntary and over 9,000 women accepted service with the new force. The WRAF was organised into Clerks and Storewomen, Household, Technical (which were mainly aircraft mechanics) and Non-Technical.

And we should not forget …

Other organisations and persons worthy of mention include Mrs St Clair Stobart’s Women’s Sick and Wounded Convoy Corps that worked with the Belgian Army, in addition to her Serbian Relief Fund that did the same in the Balkans Flora Sandes, the only British woman known to have served officially as a soldier and to have fought against the enemy, became a Sergeant-Major in the Serbian Army. Flora was not only seriously wounded, but was awarded the high honour of the Order of Karageorge Mairi Chisholm and Elsie Knocker (later Baroness t’Serclaes) – often known as the “Women of Pervyse” – who organised a first aid post in the support lines of the Belgian army on the Yser the many British and other women in France, Belgium and other places that provided their services for the care of the wounded, the feeding of soldiers and civilians, the hiding of soldiers caught behind lines and of escaping prisoners.

Researching women’s service

The service records of the WAACs were held at the Army Record Centre that burned in an air raid fre in 1940. The records of some 7000 WAACS of the 57000 who served survived the fire. They are held in the National Archives WO398 collection they have been digitised and can be searched and downloaded (for a small fee) from the Discovery part of the National Archives website.

The service records of the WRAFs are held in the National Archives AIR80 collection they have been digitised and can be searched and downloaded (for a small fee) from the Discovery part of the National Archives website.

There is no central archive and in many cases original records no longer exist. It is always worth trying a general trawl of the national and local archives (that is, local to where the woman lived) and local newspapers.

Those women who served overseas qualified for campaign medals with the same regulations as men and their medal records can be traced in the same way.

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