I recently heard a story about an elderly lady living in a rest home who had played a significant role during the First World War. She had lived in the rest home for some five years or so and no one had a clue of her incredible background. This got me thinking about how many untold stories there must be of women who contributed in so many ways to the war effort.
On research I have found that there is little written about the efforts of women, yet they had their own challenges and hardships.
One book I discovered, Women in Wartime: New Zealand Women Tell Their Story edited by Lauris Edmond, reports many personal accounts of women during both the first and second world wars. This quote from the book, from the story “A Memory from Poukawa”, is a fine example of the struggles of a mother during the First World War.
Mother, although barely fifty years old, was a grey-haired, worn out old lady striving to manage on our meagre income… with a large house to care for and numerous farm chores to attend to, because farm labourers were not to be found, she must have, with her indifferent health, worked to the limit of her endurance.
And from “Post Office, Tokomaru Bay”:
…women were doing men’s work on the farms. others were driving the buggies and wagonettes to meet the passengers off the steamers… The women handled great baskets of mail… sewed for the hospital ships and packed parcels for prisoners-of-war.
The Other Anzacs: Nurses at War, 1914-1918 by Peter Rees is a must read also.
Over 600 nurses served in the New Zealand Army Nurses and many others for the Red Cross. Many received medals and awards.
The book has many extraordinary stories and tells of sacrifices, dedication, and sadness. However, I felt it also uplifting in the description of how the nurses comforted injured soldiers, who they describe as “their boys”. This book is a thoughtful read and is available in hard copy as well as well as an eBook.
Have you read any books about women’s role in wartime?
I haven’t read this book but just found it yesterday and it is about nurses in world war 1 who were trained as anesthetists. Looks quite dry, and the usual thing happened that once they came back to NZ they were not able to continue building on their expereince.
I will check it out.; there are some amazing tales to be told by many women I am sure, I am hoping my blog may prompt some more to be told.
My SIL was a Bletchley girl, and we found out only when she was no longer safe with us and had to go to a rest home, where she eventually died in her 93rd year. Every time we visited we had to remind her it was no longer forbidden for her to talk about it. Alas, we never did find out what her working life was like. But anyone who worked at Bletchley Park has to be counted a hero. Imagine going to work every day knowing that your workplace could be bombed any time!
amazing to hear how the indoctrination of secrecy stayed with so many all these years.
I saw a T.V. documentary last year on Bletchley Park,Alan Turing,Tommy Flowers and others who worked at Bletchley Park. What intrigued me was that they released information that has never been available before. I was so intrigued I contacted Bletchley Park and with the help of Margaret one of my colleagues put together a display at our Library. Margaret suggested we call it “Top Secret” which we did. it was hugely popular with the public.
You might find some more interesting titles in these reading lists: New Zealand Nurses in the First World War and First World War – Nurses
Thanks for your suggestions Vanessa.