The Women's Army Auxiliary Corps in France 1917-1921, Samantha Philo-Gill

The Women's Army Auxiliary Corps in France 1917-1921, Samantha Philo-Gill

The Women's Army Auxiliary Corps was the first unit in the British army to be formed to allow women to serve. At the time it was a fairly controversial unit, but it was also a clear success, and when war loomed again in 1938 a new unit, the Auxiliary Territorial Service, was formed almost exactly one year before the outbreak of war.

Having just read a book on the Women's Land Army of the First World War, it is interesting to see many of the same issues appearing here - a fear of women taking men's jobs, women becoming masculine and in contrast women not being able to cope. To a certain extent the Land Army must have helped answer some of those questions by the time the WAAC was formed in 1917, but the issues clearly didn't go away. In addition the main purpose of the Corps was to release Category A men from rear area jobs so they could go to the front, so hardly surprisingly the women weren't always popular when they first appeared! The formation of the WAAC was thus a clear indication of the costs of total war, and the increasing shortage of men for the front.

This book launches straight into the debates about forming the corps in 1916 and its formation in 1917. The author also covers the prolonged debate over the nature of the Corps - was it a military unit, did its officers have ranks or grades, what badges should be worn, should they salute, pay and so forth. The book is organised by topic, so we get a look at recruiting, daily life (travel, food, entertainment), the actual work, the controversies, the risks and the disbanding and aftermath of the Corps. Although the Corps wasn't a front line unit, its members were operating fairly close to the front, and were caught up in the German spring offensive of 1918, and were at risk during air raids, so there is also a section on the nine members killed in a raid on Abbeville.

This is an interesting and well structured book on one of the more socially significant elements of the British Army of the First World War.

1 - Establishment
2 - Preparation
3 - Daily Life
4 - Work
5 - Controversy
6 - Danger
7 - Disbandment
8 - Memory

Author: Samantha Phili-Gill
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 256
Publisher: Pen & Sword History
Year: 2017

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