Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Book Review: "Female Tommies The Frontline Women of the First World War" by Elisabeth Shipton

I have been researching the involvement of women in the First World War for some time now for a series of commemorative exhibitions, so much of the material in "Female Tommies" was already familiar to me.  As Shipton explains in the Foreword to her book, these days we are used to women war correspondents and women in the armed forces.  Television reporters like Kate Adie have brought front line news to our television screens for years but the women who wanted to help in the danger zones of WW1 had first to overcome centuries of prejudice, so their determination and sacrifices are all the more to be admired. 

Shipton draws on an immense volume of written and audio information relating to the role of women in The First World War and has produced an outstanding, very readable book.   With a detailed Bibliography and Index, extensive notes to each chapter and some wonderful photographs, the book has ten chapters covering women nurses, doctors, orderlies, spies, pilots and soldiers, ambulance drivers, telephonists, clerks, coders, de-coders, telegraphists, waitresses and cooks, plus civilian volunteers and entertainers.   She goes into detail about the founding of the various organisations set up by women and directly involved in the conflict and gives us the history of the formation of the women's branches of the British and American Armed Forces.   

"Female Tommies" also explains in detail the historical background to events, making the book comprehensive and an invaluable source for anyone genuinely interested in the role of women in WW1.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, found it extremely well written and full of interesting and entertaining information.  It was definitely one of those "couldn't put it down" books, that you finish with a feeling of regret at leaving old friends.

"Female Tommies  The Frontline Women of the First World War" by Elisabeth Shipton, dedicated bo her grandmother who served in the WAAF during The Second World War and published by The History Press, Stroud, Gloucestershire, 2014

Friday, 20 February 2015

Women who died serving in WW1 - Wimereux, France

We often hear about the graves of British Tommies buried in cemeteries on the Western Front in WW1 but we don't often hear about the British and Commonwealth  women who died serving in some capacity who are also buried there:  This is just one of the cemeteries in France where you will find the graves of women who died or were killed during the First World War.


CLAYTON-SWAN, Mildred - Army Service Corps (Canteen) – Civilian

COLE, Emily Helena – Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service – Sister

DUNCAN, Isabella Lucy May – Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Nursing Service – Sister

EVANS, Margaret Ellen – Voluntary Aid Detachment

HOCKEY, Jessie Olive – Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Nursing Service – Reserve Sister – from South Africa (Cape Province)

KING, Nita Madeline – Voluntary Aid Detachment

LANCASTER, Alice Hilda – Nurse – Special Military Probationary attached to the Territorial Force Nursing Service*

PICKARD, Mrs Rubie (aged 67) – Voluntary Aid Detachment – voluntary worker in the Newspaper Department for supplying daily newspapers to British Hospitals

ST. JOHN, Barbara Esmee – Voluntary Aid Detachment

TREVELYAN, Armorel Kitty – Civilian in the Army Service Corps Canteen

WHITELY, Anna E. – Canadian Army Nursing Service – Nursing Sister from Peterborough, Ontario

WILSON, Christina Murdoch – Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Nursing Service – Sister

WILSON, Myrtle Elizabeth – Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Nursing Service – Sister – Australian from Melbourne

* The Territorial Force Nursing Service was set up in 1909 as a sister organisation to the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Nursing Service in order to supplement the service during emergencies.  All members worked as nurses in civilian life.  In 1920 the service was re-named The Territorial Army Nursing Service (TANS) when the Territorial Force was re-named The Territorial Army.  The Territorial Force Nursing Service became the Territorial Army Branch of Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps.   Source: and

Thursday, 19 February 2015

"No Woman's Land" - Volume 1 of Inspirational Women of the First World War now available as download

I am happy to report that "No Woman's Land" is now available as an electronic download.

For just £2 you can get a pdf copy of the book that can be read on tablets, laptops, PCs, etc.

Here is the link if you are interested:

Mary Riter Hamilton and the Chinese Labour Corps in WW1

As today (19th February 2015) is Chinese New Year, I would like to remember the members of The Chinese Labour Corps who worked on the Western Front during and after the First World War. Many of the workers died and are buried in France. 

In May 1919, Mary Riter Hamilton, a Canadian artist, was commissioned by the Canadian War Amputees Association to go and paint what she saw of the desolation left by the conflict. Mary lived for three years in a tin hut among the Chinese workers who cleared away the mess. Can you imagine what it must have been like to live there back then? The water table had become contaminated early on in the war and food was scarce. As local people began to return to the area, they shared their food with Mary but it obviously was not like the food you can get if you visit the area now! 

Nothing daunted, Mary painted on, in spite of being attacked by some of the members of the gangs of bounty hunters, etc that roamed the area in the immediate aftermath of the war. Her health suffered and she lost the sight of one eye.   Some of Mary's amazing paintings went on display in London and Paris.
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When she returned to Canada, Mary donated her 300+ paintings to the National Archives and never painted again. Photo: one of Mary Riter Hamilton's paintings on the Western Front. 

You can see more of Mary's WW1 work on and find out more about the Canadian War Amps
Photos:  One of Mary's paintings and her exhibition panel on display at Fleetwood Library, Lancashire, UK in November 2014.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Sarah Macnaughtan's Soup Kitchens on the Western Front in WW1

Following on from my post about Sarah on 25th January 2015, I have been reading Sarah's account of her wartime experiences in Flanders and en route to Russia.  British writer Sarah Macnaughtan was described by one of the British nurses who had volunteered to help in Flanders as being " a delicate little woman, highly strung and nervous". 

Nevertheless, Sarah who had volunteered as an orderly with the Red Cross at the outbreak of war, horrified at the plight of the Belgian and French wounded soldiers that she witnessed, set up and ran soup kitchens for them in Flanders during WW1.   I really do admire those Inspirational Women of WW1 and cannot praise them highly enough.   Many of them, like Sarah, were able to help both financially and physically.  

Today I am reading of how Sarah got a representative from Harrods to visit her to discuss the supply of horse-boxex converted into travelling kitchens:

8th November 1914 in a letter to Clementine Wearing in Edinburgh requesting her help : "I want some travelling-kitchens and have opened  the subject with Mr Burbidge of Harrods' Stores."  

Harrods apparently supplied just such a converted horse box to Millicent Sutherland (one of the Female Poets of the First World War) for her hospital in St. Malo.   These kitchens cost £15 each (which would be about £3,000 today). Sarah wanted to be able to prepare vegetables for making soup and needed "a copper for boiling the soup, a chimney, a place for fuel and a strong box to hold the vegetables whose top would serve as a table". 

The cross-Channel ferry S.S.  "Invicta" made regular Channel crossings from Admiralty Pier, Dover and carried Red Cross supplies free of charge.  It seems that "Invicta" survived the war, in spite of near misses during those hazardous journeys.  Sarah described one such escape on 2nd November 1914 : "The "Invicta" got in late because the "Hermes" had been torpedoed and they had gone to her assistance.  No doubt the torpedo was intended for the "Invicta".

After her death in 1916, Sarah's niece published her diaries under the title "My War Experiences in Two Continents" by S. Macnaughtan, edited by Betty Keays-Young and published in 1919 by John Murray, London.   This is available as a download and I urge you to read it.

Sarah McNaughton's "My War Experiences in Two Continents" is available as a download free on

Matilda Emily Clark's "A War Nurse's Diary Sketches from a Belgian Field Hospital" is available as a download free on