War has always been a man’s world. But war that shakes the entire world cannot help but involve women. Twice in the early 20th century did England have to involve its fairer sex in the brutalities of warfare, but the second time-World War II- women became involved very early. A Mass-Observation Report early in 1940 said of women that “Now it is not only their men who ‘go’ or who are liable to ‘go’. Too often their children have already gone or other people’s children have been admitted under difficult circumstances into their homes” (Schofield 73). So many men were lost in the First World War that made the involvement of women necessary; no one ever thought for a second that women would not be needed if war broke out again (Crang 356). However, it is unlikely that they knew how badly women would be needed, or to what extent a women’s strength would be tested over the next six years. From military volunteerism to social volunteerism, all the way to conscription, refugees, rations, and having to prove themselves to males across the country, when war beckoned England’s women, their loud and proud answer echoed through the decades.
Women’s military involvement in World War II originated in World War I. The Women’s Auxiliary Corps and the Women’s Royal Naval Service were both formed in 1917, with the Women’s Royal Air Force following soon after in April 1918. 95,000 women served in these services and after the war the government considered maintaining a reserve of those women in case of another war. However, military funding had been cut, and there was an “antifeminist reaction in some quarters towards women in uniform”, so ultimately no reserve was formed (Crang 344).
However, as conditions in Europe worsened, the marchioness of Londonberry wanted to expand her organization, the Women’s Legion which had a motor transport section from the First World War that was still active, to act as an “umbrella organization” to other women’s organizations and supply trained women who could be mobilized in case of war. The government did explore this option, but there was a great amount of confusion among the different services that would operate under the Women’s Legion, and ultimately it was decided that an independent organization’s involvement with affairs that really fell under the government’s jurisdiction was not desirable (Crang 345).
However, they did retain one aspect of the proposed larger women’s league—Chairwoman Dame Helen Gwynne-Vaughan’s officer training section remained and was re-named the Emergency Service as a separate entity from the Women’s legion. Allowing this one “independent” service to be a part of government affairs opened the door to many other requests, leading the government to refuse dealing with any independent women’s organization and to obtain women through labour exchanges as needed. After some thought, it was decided that this too was not the best idea (Crang 346-49). When the war began, many women lost their jobs because they...