Friday, 4 October 2013

Inspirational Women of World War One - Their Legacy

I am indebted to Dr. Margaret Stetz of the University of Delaware in America who sent me information regarding the writings of some of the women in the nineteenth century to whom women in the west surely owe their current relative independence.

Women like Mona Caird, who produced pamphlets, wrote to newspapers and worked tirelessly to inform people of the plight of many women and of animals during the 1880s and 1890s.

I am also dipping into another book which I discovered recently while researching the First World War - "Women's Writing on the First World War" edited by Agnes Cardinal, Dorothy Goldman and Judith Hattaway and published by Oxford University Press in 1999.

That book features brief extracts from the writing of many women of the era such as E. Sylvia Pankhurst, daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst the Suffragette, who visited Scarborough shortly after the bombardment of the east coast of England by German warships in December 1914 and described in detail the aftermath of the bombardment.    "No street here had escaped;  in some streets house after house was conspicuously battered..." (p. 52).  

As she returned to London by train, Sylvia felt "unnerved" and the thought came to her "How should one give one's mind to anything save the War?", whereupon she and her companion Norah Smyth decided to 'go over to France' and 'passports and visas were obtained without difficulty' (p. 53), which is how they came to visit Sylvia's mother who was in Paris aiding the war effort at that time. The pair saw for themselves the many prestigious Parisian hotels that had been turned into hospitals and were by then full of wounded men.

One of the wounded they visited was "a Yorkshire footballer who had lost for ever the use of a foot and a hand".   Sylvia asked him what he would do when he returned home.  He answered: " 'I don't know, unless the Government have some idea of setting me up in a little business'.  He turned to me as though he thought I had some power to intercede for hi, his eyes dumbly pleading for assurance that his case would not be overlooked.  I could not meet his gaze'. (p. 58).

Sylvia and Norah returned to England and worked in the East End of London helping the poor and those affected by the War.   Sylvia Pankhurst's memoirs were published in 1987 by Hutchinson with the title "The Home Front" and the extract in the book I read is from pp. 114 - 126.

More soon!

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