“When the history of our Country’s share in the war is written, no chapter will be more remarkable than that relating to the range and extent of women’s participation … Some even have fallen under the fire of the enemy. Of all these we think today with reverent pride. “
Agnes Conway, “Women’s War Work” in the Encyclopedia Britannica, Volume 23, pp 1054 – 1064, 1922 in “A Lab of One’s Own: Science and Suffrage in the First World War” (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2018) p. 271.
The Congress of Allied Women on War Service was held in the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris on 18th August 1918. The following message from the British Prime Minister (by then David Lloyd George) was read out:-
"I extremely regret that it is impossible for me to fulfil my undertaking to address the great gathering of women war workers in Paris. I regret it all the more because I was very anxious to bear testimony to the tremendous part which women have played in this vital epoch in human history. They have not only borne their burden of sorrow and separation with unflinching fortitude and patience; they have assumed an enormous share of the burdens necessary to the practical conduct of the war.
If it had not been for the splendid manner in which the women came forward to work in hospitals, in munition factories, on the land, in administrative offices of all kinds, and in war work behind the lines, often in daily danger of their lives, Great Britain and, as I believe, all the Allies would have been unable to withstand the enemy attacks during the past few months. For this service to our common cause humanity owes them unbounded gratitude.
In the past I have heard it said that women were not fit for the vote because they would be weak when it came to understanding the issues and bearing the strains of a great war. My recent experience in South Wales confirmed me in the conviction that the women there understand perfectly what is at stake in this war.
I believe that they recognise as clearly as any that there can be no peace, no progress, no happiness in the world so long as the monster of militarism is able to stalk unbridled and unashamed among the weaker peoples. To them this war is a crusade for righteousness and gentleness, and they do not mean to make peace until the Allies have made it impossible for another carnival of violence to befall mankind. I am certain that this resolution of the women of South Wales is but typical of the spirit of the women in the rest of Great Britain.
This war was begun in order that force and brutality might crush out freedom among men. Its authors cannot have foreseen that one of its main effects would be to give to women a commanding position and influence in the public affairs of the world. To their ennobling influence we look not only for strength to win the war but for inspiration during the great work of reconstruction which we shall have to undertake after victory is won.
The women who have flocked to France to work for the Allies are among the foremost leaders of this great movement of regeneration. My message to their representatives gathered together in Paris is this: "Well done; carry on. You are helping to create a new earth for yourselves and for your children."
D. LLOYD GEORGE.