Guest post by Jennifer Robson + Giveaway of Somewhere in France

Welcome author Jennifer Robson to the blog today! Jennifer's novel Somewhere in France was released on New Year's Eve and I for one can't wait to devour it! Jennifer is here today to talk about women's effect on the war effort during World War I. She also has graciously offered a signed copy of her novel as a give away!

Take it away, Jennifer...

A century ago, at the outbreak of the Great War, women were almost entirely excluded from all wings of the military in most combatant nations. That’s not to say that soldiers of the past hadn’t marched and fought without women among them, for women had been present as wives, servants and camp followers for as long as human beings had fought in organized wars. Few observers could have guessed, in August 1914, how vitally important the contributions of women would soon become to the success of the war effort, in Britain in particular.

The earliest women’s services with military connections were of relatively recent vintage, and were almost exclusively focused on nursing. Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Nursing Service was formed in the wake of the Boer War in 1902, and was followed by the Territorial Force Nursing Service in 1908. The First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, established in 1907, concentrated its efforts through the war on assistance to the Belgian and French armies, and had little direct contact with the British Army as such.

Other women’s auxiliary services of note were the Women’s Royal Naval Service, popularly known as the Wrens, which was founded in 1917 and had 5,500 members at its height; and the Women’s Royal Air Force, established in 1918, which eventually had approximately 30,000 members. The Voluntary Aid Detachments, though they were never formally aligned with the military, also played a significant role in the war effort. First appearing in England in1909, largely as a way of training the civilian population in basic first aid and emergency preparedness, the VADs had nearly 40,000 members serving as nurses, cooks and ambulance drivers by the end of the war.

The Women’s Legion, founded by Lady Londonderry in 1915, provided cooks, waitresses, gardeners and motor transport drivers to the British Army, but never in very great numbers. In any event, it was largely superseded by the establishment of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, which was founded in the early months of 1917.

Of all the women’s services, it was the WAAC that arguably had the greatest effect on the war effort and, in the long run, helped most to change perceptions of women’s roles and their place in society. It was created with the express intent of freeing able-bodied men from non-combat duties; casualties and lower-than-expected conscription rates had left the army badly undermanned. In the words of a WAAC recruiting poster, “Every fit woman can release a fit man.”

Women responded enthusiastically to this call to not-quite-arms, with thousands vying to join the WAAC in its early months. By the end of 1918 there were 57,000 WAACs, most of them based in Britain, working in a wide variety of occupations: as clerks, cooks, waitresses, mechanics, drivers and more.

The admission of women into the military, even in an auxiliary role was highly controversial at the time, not least because of fears for the safety and virtue of the young women taking on such roles. Helen Gwynne Vaughan, the Corps’ first Controller, later described her disappointment at the initial reaction to the WAAC among other branches of the armed services:

I discovered that the objection to the employment of women was almost universal. The Services, of all professions, had, naturally the least experience of working with women, they knew little of the extent to which, even then, men and women were working easily together, they mistrusted the complications which the influx of a large body of women might entail, they disliked the intrusion into their offices and workshops of an alien element.

Almost immediately, rumors began to circulate that WAACs were engaging in inappropriate and even licentious behavior, although an official investigation later revealed that only 21 WAACs were discharged between 1917-1918 as a result of pregnancy.

Anxiety about the WAAC didn’t arise simply because women were being asked to take part in dirty, disagreeable and dangerous work, for being a WAAC was no more dangerous than making munitions, nor was it any more physically taxing than being a scullery maid or a charlady, for instance. It was highly visible, however—its members wore uniforms, they could be seen going about their work, and when they were injured or killed there was no hiding it.

And yet, in spite of all this, by the end of the war most observers were readily able to acknowledge the invaluable contributions of the women’s services. Queen Mary herself—never at the vanguard of change—was so impressed by the WAAC that she allowed the corps to be renamed Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps in April 1918.

After the Armistice in November 1918, most members of the women’s services were demobilized within a year, with the WAAC finally disbanding in 1921. Life returned to normal, or as normal as could be expected after a war that had taken as many as sixteen million lives worldwide. The status quo that had prevailed before 1914, one in which men worked and most women remained at home, was for the most part restored; often it meant that women were sacked from the positions they had held throughout the war so a returning serviceman might take up the job. This was accepted equably by most of the women affected, for the positions they’d held had been offered to them as “meantime” employment, to quote historian Trevor Wilson, that would only continue as long as the war endured.

The vote was extended to a minority of women in time for the general election of 1918, with a full extension of the franchise not following until 1928. At the time, Prime Minister David Lloyd George publicly acknowledged that women’s contribution to the war effort had played a factor in offering them the vote, although privately he and other leading politicians considered women’s suffrage less important to postwar stability than extending the franchise to all returning servicemen.

Women being part of the military’s auxiliary services hadn’t turned Britain on its ear, for there were greater rifts to mend in the fabric of society. It had, however, opened the door on a world of wider horizons and greater possibilities for women of all social classes, and it had also set a precedent that would not easily be set aside or forgotten. When war came again, a generation later, women were ready, and flocked to “do their bit” for their country as their mothers had once done.

About Somewhere in France

Lady Elizabeth Neville-Ashford wants to travel the world, pursue a career, and marry for love. But in 1914, the stifling restrictions of aristocratic British society and her mother's rigid expectations forbid Lily from following her heart. When war breaks out, the spirited young woman seizes her chance for independence. Defying her parents, she moves to London and eventually becomes an ambulance driver in the newly formed Women's Army Auxiliary Corps -- an exciting and treacherous job that takes her close to the Western Front.

Assigned to a field hospital in France, Lilly is reunited with Robert Fraser, her dear brother Edward's best friend. The handsome Scottish surgeon has always encouraged Lily's dreams. She doesn't care that Robbie grew up in poverty -- she yearns for their friendly affection to become something more. Lilly is the most beautiful -- and forbidden -- woman Robbie has ever known. Fearful for her life, he's determined to keep her safe, even if it means breaking her heart.

In a world divided by class, filled with uncertainty and death, can their hope for love survive. . . or will it become another casualty of this tragic war?

About the Author

Jennifer Robson first learned about the Great War from her father, acclaimed historian Stuart Robson, and later served as an official guide at the Canadian National War Memorial at Vimy Ridge, France. A former copy editor, she holds a doctorate in British economic and social history from the University of Oxford. She lives in Toronto, Canada, with her husband and young children. This is her first novel. 


PTTP has one autographed copy up for grabs. Giveaway is open to US residents only and ends on January 17. To enter, please complete form below. Good luck! a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. I love reading about early women involved in the military - their stories are so awesome!

  2. I am just starting to read more about WWI and I am particularly interested in women's roles during that time. This sounds like a great HF read and I'm excited for the giveaway!

  3. I don’t know how the soldiers would have survived without the help of women who volunteered to aid their country. I’ve read books and watched many movies and British TV series featuring women who served. They were true angels.

  4. Hello, this contest is now over, but the winner has not yet been posted. I am just writing to withdraw my entry (Kara / KAS at gfc / email begins shamy@...) because I just learned I won this book in another giveaway. :) By no means do I mean to withdraw from any of the other great giveaways I have entered that you feature here. Thanks for managing these opportunities for your readers! Best -- K


Related Posts with Thumbnails

Passages to the Past
All rights reserved © 2013

Custom Blog Design by Blogger Boutique

Blogger Boutique