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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Women joining the AIF


Guest Bill Woerlee

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Guest Bill Woerlee

Mates

Like the woman sniper of Gallipoli, there is an enduring legend that some women served with the AIF and more specifically with the Light Horse. I am not sure of the legends veracity but like the female sniper, I think it is more embedded in fantasy rather than reality.

However, like the Gallipoli sniper, these tales have some basis in fact. Stories like the one posted below indicate that women did try to pass themselves off as men in the AIF. While the story of Maud Butler appears unique, I suspect that many other women tried to pass themselves off as men. Every occasion when they were discovered led to the suspicion that one or two got through and actually did take an active role in combat. Herein lies the genesis of the legend.

Below is an extract from the Sydney Mail of 15 March 1916 taken from page 23 dealing with the arrest of Maud Butler who tried to pass herself off as a soldier and stowed away on a troop ship. It is an interesting story which sows the seeds of doubt.

post-7100-1173082330.jpg

Just looking at the photograph, if the young lass wasn't lacking in the knowledge of military identification, she would have had no troubles. She certainly seems to have fooled most men on board the ship.

Cheers

Bill

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New one on me Bill , but nothing surprises me (well almost nothing :lol: ) You dont think that could be a recent "legend" ? "MO"

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Mates

Like the woman sniper of Gallipoli, there is an enduring legend that some women served with the AIF and more specifically with the Light Horse. I am not sure of the legends veracity but like the female sniper, I think it is more embedded in fantasy rather than reality.

However, like the Gallipoli sniper, these tales have some basis in fact. Stories like the one posted below indicate that women did try to pass themselves off as men in the AIF. While the story of Maud Butler appears unique, I suspect that many other women tried to pass themselves off as men. Every occasion when they were discovered led to the suspicion that one or two got through and actually did take an active role in combat. Herein lies the genesis of the legend.

Below is an extract from the Sydney Mail of 15 March 1916 taken from page 23 dealing with the arrest of Maud Butler who tried to pass herself off as a soldier and stowed away on a troop ship. It is an interesting story which sows the seeds of doubt.

post-7100-1173082330.jpg

Just looking at the photograph, if the young lass wasn't lacking in the knowledge of military identification, she would have had no troubles. She certainly seems to have fooled most men on board the ship.

Cheers

Bill

As we have discussed on this forum in the past, it did happen. Marie Marvingt is well-documented to have served for a short period of time in the French 42nd BCP, under the name of Chasseur Beaulieu. She was later associated with the Italian 3rd Alpini, but I haven't yet been able to document exactly in what capacity. Doc2

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Bill: "there is an enduring legend that some women served with the AIF and more specifically with the Light Horse."

Doc2: "As we have discussed on this forum in the past, it did happen."

Are we on the same wavelength here?

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Mates

Like the woman sniper of Gallipoli, there is an enduring legend that some women served with the AIF...

I know nothing about this particular story, but cases/claims of women passing themselves off as men and serving with the armed forces recur through the centuries. A long time ago I thought there might be scope for a book describing some of them, and I wouldn't be surprised if one has now been written.

Hollywood has, of course embraced the theme, but I suspect that most real-life cases were not like Doris Day ("Calamity Jane", who attached herself to the US Army as a muleskinner) or Maureen O'Hara (one of the "Sons of the Musketeers" in the film of that name.)

Moonraker

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I do not know anything about the life in the Australian forces, but based on my father's anecdotes about life in the German Army it is hard to see how a female could "pass". Things like medical physicals, like the entire company in formation undergoing a "short arm inspection", mass bathing, de-lousing? Public nudity was common in certain contextes (sp?).

It is hard to see how something like that could take place, except with general company-level complicity. Wasn't there medical activity? Was there excessive modesty afoot?

Bob Lembke

PS: Interestingly, having looked at thousands of military PCs for sale, the Germans seem to have been able to send PCs showing full male frontal nudity thru the mails, pictures like 20 men bathing in water 18" deep. 50 years later the US Postal Inspection Service could send a person to prison for mentioning names of body parts in letters.

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It is hard to see how something like that could take place, except with general company-level complicity. Wasn't there medical activity? Was there excessive modesty afoot?

Bob Lembke

I am very sceptical of the Woman Sniper but I took the time to have a poke around and discovered that there are reasonably well authenticated instances of women serviing. I have just come across one instance which shows how you're objections were overcome for a short while. A lady went from London to Paris and bought a British uniform from a private soldier. ( probably a deserter) She set off for Amiens to see for herself what conditions were like in the front line. She got lost somehow while changing trains and ended up in a RE tunneling unit. She was reported by one of the soldires to his officer and she was eventually sent back to London. Hard to see how any woman could hope to serve for any length of time without being discovered. Bathing, delousing were compulsory, communal activities which involved undressing. Someone who never bathed or exchanged dirty underwear for clean would be spotted very quickly.

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Exactly my thoughts. Certainly would "come up short" at a "short arm inspection".

Bob

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Just reading a book by a German who was an infantryman in 1914, then a Medical Officer in 1915, and emigrated to the UK and was, I think, an officer in the British Army in WW II.

He described leaving the train on a trip east from the French front; the train stopped at a de-lousing station, the entire battalion left the train, put every scrap of clothing into large net bags with a number on it, each man getting a loop of string with that number, everyone, EM and officers, having every bit of hair, wherever, shaved off, the whole battalion dipped in really strong sheep-dip of some sort, and then, while their clothes cooked in autoclaves, the naked battalion filed into an enormous mess hall and ate a meal of noodle soup.

They then got their clothes, dressed, and filed onto a different, disinfected train and went into Germany.

Not a lot of wiggle room for a woman trying to pass as a trooper.

Bob Lembke

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Guest Bill Woerlee

Bob

G'day mate

Coming short on the shrt arm parade is one thing but remember, short arm and delousing was not a daily ritual. A person could ride in with fake orders asking the Regiment to provide rations for a week or so and then the person would be off. With 15 LHRs and a transport corps, a person could recycle like this for a year without a medical examination or anything else. Mate, you gotta think outside the square when dealing with subtefuge.

Cheers

Bill

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Bill;

Totally agree. Just pointing out that the prospects of a long-term career were dim.

I am just reading the book by the German doctor who served in the German Army and later in the British Army (I think), Surgeon in the Kaiser's Army, and they were conducting "short arm" inspections frequently. The German Army in France inspected French prostitutes twice a week. (In the 1960's Berlin police awarded Berlin prostitutes one of three ranks; the higher the rank, the less frequent the inspection. Us Germans love ranks.)

My father told me of a short arm inspection of the entire company drawn up in formation; in the kitchen windows the women working there tittered at the windows, and refused to go away. Thereupon the guy running the inspection, probably the Feldwebel (company sergeant major) ordered: "About Face!", and the women were gazing down the muzzles of 180 "armed" men; they fled.

One day in the barracks at Stenay-sur-Meuse a sergeant ran thru the barracks at 3 AM blowing a whistle and shouting that French were attacking and that they were going to counter-attack; the men jumped out of bed and hurredly dressed in combat gear. Their flame-throwers were packed in their trucks 24/7 under tarps just by the barracks. One Flamm=Pionier lay comfortably in bed. The sergeant came up, fit to explode, and asked what the guy was doing. The trooper said: "Sergeant, you would not send a cripple into combat, would you?", and he threw off his blanket, and he only had one leg. He explained that he lost his leg; one day in hospital he and other recuperatees were told to strip to the waist, a doctor listened to their hearts to be sure that they were ticking, and they were asked: "How do you feel?" The guy said: "Fine."

Then he had a nice ride thru the forests on the French/German border, in the zone of combat the food was better, and higher combat pay was drawn, and he was with his buddies. But he did not expect to actually take part in a flame attack. The sergeant agreed. Sort of hard to hop thru the barbed wire on one leg with a FW on your back.

Bob Lembke

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Bill, I agree that there are/were some very cunning people around but I do feel that a couple of weeeks at most would be the limit. Even with fake orders, what would she do? where would she go? The uniform's purpose was to allow her access to the front line where women were not allowed. In the trenches, latrines were not private. If she spent her time in the support areas, what would be the advantage of being in uniform? She would do better to disguise herself as a nurse or a female of that sort.

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Mates,

All that you'l've said is valid and the expirence off all and my own does find it hard to believe that women could serve as men at any time.

But the thing is it did happen.

One only has to check the webb site for women who served as british soldiers during the 17 and 18 hundreds, not to mention those who served during the US Civil war.

So women, like drug addicts can get around these things, like mass showers we all have expirenced.

If I remember the most famous cases these women were only found out either because of wounds sent to hosp or when they were dead.

S.B

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Guest Bill Woerlee

Tom

G'day mate

What you say is correct - the action itself would be meaningless and open to detection. In the trenches you could be correct but in the Sinai desert, things were a tad bit different and thus allowed for more subtefuge. Regardless of any ability to participate, the game is to get there, have a walk around, d something and then go or maybe hang around if they want you.

During the Great War, most women fulfilled this by nursing as you mention. But it was the Maud Butler story that set me off thinking. I can see that she was not very clever in getting things going but if she was doing it, then she was not alone in this. You can bet that many others gave it a go too. Not an avalanch but perhaps in the tens during the war. If the person was successful, unless they left notes, we would never know.

Cheers

Bill

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On a slight tangent Bill - what are your thoughts about this fellow using such an obviously (well today anyway) female name -

http://www.awm.gov.au/cms_images/awm8/23_111_5/pdf/0351.pdf

4th name down - Private Georgina Josephine Elliott (a 24 year old jockey b in Rockhampton)

Looking at his service record online -

http://naa12.naa.gov.au/scripts/imagine.as...mp;I=1&SE=1

he spent about 3 months from April - July with Camel Corps Reinforcements (as George Joseph Elliott) before being discharged as medically unfit

He signed up again - end of Dec 1917 and was a Driver 12th Army Field artillery - with several "official documents" using the female names

He seems to have been quite a lad - claiming an allowance for a "wife" in Sydney - then marrying in England along with some other interesting perceived misdemeanors post war

Cheers

Sue

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Guest Bill Woerlee

Sue

G'day matess

What a gem of a reference! This fellow is so interesting - heck you could write an aticle about him for a magazine. But since the fellow used feminine sounding names, the prudery in Oz means that this story would never make it in any publication. No sex issues please - we're Australians. :)

That won't stop me from pursuing this fascinating story. I am still not sure if he ever served with the 6th LHR - gotta work that one through.

Cheers

Bill

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Guest Bill Woerlee

Mates

Talking about stow aways, here is one for Andrew. This little fellow was able to stow away with the 14th Reinforcements of the 11th Infantry Battalion which departed from Fremantle 16 February 1916 on the HMAT A28 "Miltiades".

post-7100-1173846785.jpg

The young tacker's name is Reggie Woods. [He's the short fellow between the two adults.] Can't quite work out what gave him away.

I can't find out what ever happened to Reggie although I guess he was returned to Oz shortly after this pic was taken.

Cheers

Bill

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I am still not sure if he ever served with the 6th LHR - gotta work that one through.

Bill I don't think so - I only found

George Elliott

Number 108

Rank Private

Unit 6 LHR [Light Horse Regiment] (December 1914)

Ship Name HMAT Suevic

Ship number A29

Date of embarkation 21 December 1914

Place of embarkation Sydney

who was a 21 year old farmer from North Gundagai - maybe he knew of him from country race meetings?? Who knows. This George survived 7 months at Gallipoli - and went right through the war in the Middle East - ending up as a warrant officer (from memory)

I'd certainly love to know more of the story of old "Georgina Josephine" !!

Cheers

Sue

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On a slight tangent Bill - what are your thoughts about this fellow using such an obviously (well today anyway) female name -

http://www.awm.gov.au/cms_images/awm8/23_111_5/pdf/0351.pdf

4th name down - Private Georgina Josephine Elliott (a 24 year old jockey b in Rockhampton)

Cheers

Sue

Jeez I bet he got some stick if his mates found out :D Well Done all for a very interesting thread "MO"

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Guest Bill Woerlee

Sue

Thanks for that.

Looks like the story has really taken your fancy.

I might try to follow up a tad bit of the information next week.

Cheers

Bill

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Tom

G'day mate

. You can bet that many others gave it a go too. Not an avalanch but perhaps in the tens during the war. If the person was successful, unless they left notes, we would never know.

Cheers

Bill

The one thing I have found out about what happened in WW1 is never say never. I've lost count of the times I would think, " impossible", only to see rockhard evidence. The incident in France was mentioned in a book about tunnelers and the author's only comment was 'he wondered how the soldier who reported her,found out'. :)

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Well we can be fairly sure Sqn Sgt. Major George Elliott, 108, 6th LHR was a fella:

On his medical examination it was noted he had a 'slanting scar above left buttock'.

He was admitted to hospital at least 4 times during his service.

A letter from a family member to Base Records enquiring about his whereabouts refers to him as 'him'.

He was 'medically examined' in Sydney on 30 January 1919.

He applied for repatriation benefits so would have been medically examined as a result.

His widow applied for his Anzac Commemorative medallion in 1967.

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Guest Bill Woerlee

Bryn

G'day mate

I thnk you will find that George [108, 6th LHR] and Georgina Elliott [76430 & 53453] are two different fellows.

Cheers

Bill

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I knew that. Just pointing out that it wasn't that easy to get through the army system undetected, and using a name mentioned in this thread as an example.

Quite apart from fooling the men you lived in very close quarters with every day, when no concept as privacy existed in regards to use of latrines, showers, troopships, trenches or dugouts, the fact that his record shows a scar above the left buttock, and that potential soldiers were checked for signs of venereal disease, (among other things), suggests medical checks were pretty thorough.

When they went to hospital thorough checks would have been performed as well. All this adds up to making it *highly* unlikely that a woman would have got through the system undetected.

Unless we assume all the doctors who examined her and all the soldiers she lived and fought with were fools.

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Guest Bill Woerlee

Bryn

Thanks for the clarification - I was a tad bit surprised about your comment but in the context of your answer, no surprise at all.

Cheers

Bill

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