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Lawsyd

Did Any Women Fight On The Western Front?

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Lawsyd

I'm currently reading a book about the boy soldiers who via a recruiting officer looking the other way, or simple lying, made it to the Western Front.

This has got me wondering if any British females - of any age - tried to join up for fighting (rather than nursing) &, if so, did any actually make it to the trenches & fire a shot in anger?

I know that this question sounds like an episode from Blackadder Goes Forth, but I'm asking the question in good faith, albeit that it is more for my hobby interest in the war, rather than part of any official research.

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Anneca

I know that a woman by the name of Dorothy Lawrence passed herself off as a man. She was a 20 year old journalist and joined the BEF Tunnelling Company using the alias Denis Smith. She gave herself in after 10 days.

Anne

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Andy Baylis

Flora Sandes went to Serbia as a Nurse, and later joined the Serbia Army as a soldier and rose to the rank of Sergeant Major during the war, and was promoted to Captain after the war. There are a couple of books about her available

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centurion

I know that a woman by the name of Dorothy Lawrence passed herself off as a man. She was a 20 year old journalist and joined the BEF Tunnelling Company using the alias Denis Smith. She gave herself in after 10 days.

Anneon the web

There were a number of tunnelling companies in the BEF but AFAIK there was not one called The BEF Tunneling Company Lots of entries of this story but they are all the same story and based on what she wrote for the press - never spoil a good story

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ss002d6252

Supposedly 179 tunnelling company - http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2537793/She-fought-Somme-disguised-Tommy-did-Dorothy-die-unloved-unlauded-lunatic-asylum-Incredible-story-British-woman-fight-trenches.html#ixzz2qCpw4eT9

Except, according to the LLT, 179 Tunnelling Coy was formed until 2 months after she was supposedly with them...

Craig

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Khaki

I really have no idea, and I understand that you question was combat related, but there is always the strong possibility that French speaking British women may have been involved in espionage, I have nothing to support that, maybe others know more.

khaki

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neverforget

There were plenty of female spies, that`s for sure. A great many of them were prostitutes.

It would be very interesting indeed to find a confirmed female combatant. Surely this subject has cropped up before?

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johnboy

There are references of women fighting during WW! but not in British army.

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Dolphin

There are references of women fighting during WW! but not in British army.

We're going off on a tangent from the initial question, but the Russian Army included at least three battalions of women: the 1st Women's Death Battalion, which took part in the 1917 Kerensky Offensive, another centred around Moscow and The Black Hussars of Death. In addition, five Russian women pilots are known to have flown in combat.

Gareth

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Lawsyd

Thanks for the replies so far. Summing up at this point (I hope others with any knowledge of the subject may yet comment) it would appear that there were no confirmed women combatants on the Western Front? Purely from the sake of interest & curiosity, I hope that at least one turns up.

As one or two replies have mentioned I acknowledge that there were many brave women in France (spies; VADs; etc) but it is surprising that (so far) nobody has yet come up with an example of a woman brought up in a tough way of life (on a farm for example) who thought she could do as well as the men.

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Doc2

Not responsive to the original question, which was restricted to British women, But:

Mlle Marie Marvingt of France reportedly served on the front lines with the 42nd Battalion of Chasseurs de Pied (BCP) disguised as a man and under an assumed name. She also apparently was later associated with the Italian 3rd Alpini, and photos exist of her in both French and Italian uniforms.

Her story perhaps explains why it is so hard to document such activities-- Most nations prohibited women from serving as soldiers in WWI. Thus, as in Marvingt's case, they were only able to do so in disguise, usually under another name, and frequently with the connivance of male personnel. I suspect that most such service was very short-term (a couple of months at most).

Since they were not legally/officially in their respective militaries in most cases, they cannot be tracked by military records, etc.

As an aside, I have read in several places (can't lay hands on the references right now) that it was a common belief at the time that a woman serving in the military was some kind of a war crime, and therefore those who had done so tended to keep quiet about it afterwards.

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depaor01

Wouldn't the enlistment medical show up the er... anomaly?

Dave

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johnboy

Quote

but it is surprising that (so far) nobody has yet come up with an example of a woman brought up in a tough way of life (on a farm for example) who thought she could do as well as the men.

It is not at all surprising.

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Lawsyd

Quote

but it is surprising that (so far) nobody has yet come up with an example of a woman brought up in a tough way of life (on a farm for example) who thought she could do as well as the men.

It is not at all surprising.

OK, I'll bite. Why not? Many young male teenagers apparently looked older than they were due to working in mines or mills, so why shouldn't a young woman who has had a hard early working life be able to pass herself off as a male in front of a harassed recruiting sergeant looking to boost his target?

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johnmelling1979

I am wondering if letting the girls fight... in 1914-18 could it have shortened the war.

And knocked down the sexist barrier which we all know still exists today...

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johnboy

Nothing to bite.

There is no evidence of women serving in the army. Forget the ' harassed recruiting sergeant' . Next hurdle the Medical Officer. Next hurdle the Magistrate. Next hurdle about 6mnths training.

But if you have already made your mind up that women served in the British Army on the Western Front be prepared to be disappointed.

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johnboy

I am wondering if letting the girls fight... in 1914-18 could it have shortened the war.

And knocked down the sexist barrier which we all know still exists today...

Women were important at HOME. Munition factories in particular employed many thousands. No munitions ...the war would have been lost in the early stages.

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Sue Light

Nothing to bite.

There is no evidence of women serving in the army. Forget the ' harassed recruiting sergeant' . Next hurdle the Medical Officer. Next hurdle the Magistrate. Next hurdle about 6mnths training.

But if you have already made your mind up that women served in the British Army on the Western Front be prepared to be disappointed.

Exactly. And there were plenty of opportunities for women who wanted to be part of the war. Nursing was only a small part of it, and there was, of course, a women's army, the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, later Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps. Women joined to take over the jobs of men who were released for more pressing service and served as drivers, clerks, storekeepers, orderlies, telephonists, cooks etc. at home and abroad. It also needs to be remembered that the Infantry and Artillery only formed a minority of the men who served, with a much greater proportion in supporting regiments, corps and services.

Sensationalist stories and reporting in relation to all groups of women during wartime simply pander to the foibles of the media and fail to take account of the myriad of ways in which they contributed. It was the high standards of the British Army in general which ensured that women were never found fighting in the frontline.

Sue

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Lawsyd

Nothing to bite.

There is no evidence of women serving in the army. Forget the ' harassed recruiting sergeant' . Next hurdle the Medical Officer. Next hurdle the Magistrate. Next hurdle about 6mnths training.

But if you have already made your mind up that women served in the British Army on the Western Front be prepared to be disappointed.

I haven't made up my mind - far from it - I was just adding to the debate that I started. I study a lot of sporting statistics (particularly cricket) & no matter how unlikely a situation one can imagine, it has probably happened, somewhere sometime, at least once. All I was wondering in my initial post was if somewhere, somehow, a British woman had slipped through all the recruitment hoops & made it to the trenches. The answer would appear to be 'no', but as it is impossible to prove a negative, I will keep an open mind to the possibility that just once, maybe...

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johnboy

Dream on!!

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Sue Light

The 'Woman Sniper of Gallipoli' springs to mind :whistle:

Sue

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FROGSMILE

I haven't made up my mind - far from it - I was just adding to the debate that I started. I study a lot of sporting statistics (particularly cricket) & no matter how unlikely a situation one can imagine, it has probably happened, somewhere sometime, at least once. All I was wondering in my initial post was if somewhere, somehow, a British woman had slipped through all the recruitment hoops & made it to the trenches. The answer would appear to be 'no', but as it is impossible to prove a negative, I will keep an open mind to the possibility that just once, maybe...

Lawsyd, whilst I admire your open mind, if you knew a little more about the British Army during that period, 1914-19, you would understand better how, unlike in the 17th and 18th Centuries, it would have been impossible to maintain the subterfuge necessary for a woman to masquerade as a man. It really is a fantasy.

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Doc2

Wouldn't the enlistment medical show up the er... anomaly?

Dave

Unless the individual did not actually go through the "enlistment, exam, training, deployment" system. In the case of Marvingt, she was given a uniform and identification by a friendly Lieutenant and was sneaked into his unit after that unit was deployed. During her "deployment", she served on the front line and actually fired at the enemy. After a short period (weeks to months-- the duration is unclear) she was reportedly identified during a parade behind the lines by a senior officer she knew socially, and was sent home.

In other similar cases (e.g. a Bulgarian flyer I have heard of), the entrance physical was taken on her behalf by a friendly male colleague.....

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johnboy

The OP specifically refers to BRITISH women on the Western Front.

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Doc2

True, and noted, but since others have extended the topic, I don't see a problem with doing so. Sometimes, hijacked threads are the most interesting.

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