At the beginning of the First World War there were very few positions that women could be employed in apart from nursing, but as time went on and more and more men were called up to serve in the Army various invaluable women’s corps were formed. These corps were still in existence in 1939 and when the call went out for volunteers thousands returned, or joined up to serve their country in any way they could. The following women are the most recognised leaders who gained their experience and won distinctions during the first world war and continued during the second.
HM The Queen Mother – At the time she was The Queen, and Commandant in Chief of the Women’s Navy, Army and Air Force Services. She is seen here visiting ARP Units.
Dame Beryl Oliver – In 1910 she joined the St John Ambulance Brigade and in WW1 she was put in charge of the Naval and Military Volunteer Aid Department where she administered staff for St John Ambulance and the British Red Cross. During WW2 she was a member of the Society’s War Organisation Executive Committee. She was Chief of the Voluntary Aid Detachment and wife of the Admiral of the Fleet, Sir Henry Oliver.
Dame Helen Gwynne Vaughan – Began her career with the women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in France as Controller. She worked closely with Mona Chalmers-Watson Chief Controller of WAAC in London. She was chief controller of the ATS from 1939 to 1941.
Stella Isaacs, Marchioness of Reading – She was founder and Chair of the Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS), which later became the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service (WRVS).
Miss J Trefousis Forbes – Senior Controller of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force from 1939 to 1943.
Mrs Laughton Mathews – Director of the Women’s Royal Naval Air Service and ex-suffragette she set up the associate of WRENS after WW1 and was Editor of the WREN magazine.
Mrs GM Cook – Commandant of the Women’s Mechanised Transport Corps founded this uniformed civilian corp in 1939 to provide drivers for Government and agencies. Women were often asked to drive foreign dignitaries whose own drivers were confused by our road system, and they also drive ambulances during the blitz. Many travelled abroad and were drivers in Egypt, Syria and Palestine.
The Countess of Limerick – President of the British Red Cross for more than 60 years. She served as a volunteer Nurse during WW1, but lied about her age as she was too young to serve abroad. During the Blitz she was in charge of the local Red Cross Branch. She dominated the growth of the Red Cross for the next 20 years.