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The Vital Role Of Women In The First World War

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.

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.

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.

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.