Women in Defence

The Ministry of Defence is tweeting today to commemorate #WomenInDefence:

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The factlet for 1917 runs, ‘The WAAC, WRENS and WRAF were formed. Allowing Women to work for the forces for the UK Armed Forces for the first time.’

This claim is incorrect on a number of levels. Firstly, it claims that Women’s service in the British armed forces commenced in 1917 with the formation of the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps, Women’s Royal Naval Service and Women’s Royal Air Force (which actually was not created until 1918). This statement completely ignores Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (as it was then named) and Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service, both with roots stretching back to the 1880s. The latter on the outbreak of war had seventy nursing sisters stationed across the British Empire. The slogan ‘100 Years of Service’ therefore ignores the services of those nursing sisters who served before 1917, including three years of the First World War.

Even if one were to accept that the nursing services do no count, as no doubt someone may claim, then the slogan is still open to objection, implying as it does an unbroken century of service, despite the fact that the WAAC, WRNS and WRAF were all disbanded shortly after the Great War before being reintroduced for the Second World War.

I have no doubt whatsoever that women served in the British Armed Forces in other ways prior to 1917 apart from nursing. A notable, unofficial, example is James Barry. No doubt others can think of far more. Commemorating the contribution of women to our defence heritage is a laudable aim, but it would be nice if official reactions were accurate.

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