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Women's Role in WWI Underplayed at Armistice Weekend
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=49523"><span class="small">Thomas Adamson, Associated Press</span></a>   
Sunday, 11 November 2018 14:45

Adamson writes: "Buried in French President Emmanuel Macron's speech on the sacrifice of 'young men' in World War I Sunday was a reference to the 'three million widows' the fallen soldiers left behind."

The graves of U.S. nurses near Paris. (photo: Michel Euler/AP)
The graves of U.S. nurses near Paris. (photo: Michel Euler/AP)

Women's Role in WWI Underplayed at Armistice Weekend

By Thomas Adamson, Associated Press

11 November 18


uried in French President Emmanuel Macron’s speech on the sacrifice of “young men” in World War I Sunday was a reference to the “three million widows” the fallen soldiers left behind.

The role women played in the war was only mentioned in passing as dozens of world leaders, including Angela Merkel of Germany, gathered in Paris to mark a century since WWI ended.

Yet, war impacted women far beyond the obvious hardships of widowhood and the prospect of raising children alone.

As the nations at war mobilized their entire populations, women in every country contributed during the four and a half years of conflict.

Women not only served as factory workers, farmers, drivers, teachers and child carers — they were also sent to the front lines as volunteers and nurses.

Some in Russia fought in battalions. In every warring country, they gave their lives.

Many of their jobs involved danger and caused death. In Britain, women worked in factories, including in the production of weapons — a key role, given that the side that could produce the most weapons in the war of attrition would ultimately win.

By 1917, munitions sites, which mostly employed women workers, produced 80 percent of the weapons and shells used by the British Army, according to historian A. V. M. Airth-Kindree.

She said some female workers in Britain were known as “canaries” because they had to handle TNT, which caused their skin to turn yellow.

Around 400 women in Britain died from overexposure to TNT during WWI, according to estimates.

Among the Allies, organizations such as the Red Cross depended on thousands of female volunteers.

By June 1918, there were over 3,000 American nurses in over 750 in hospitals in France, as many more served in the Nurse Corps in the US army and naval.

As nurses, it was common for them to be sent to the front line and witness its horror first hand. One solemn reminder of that lies in the headstones of the Cromwell twins at the Suresnes American Cemetery that US President Donald Trump visited Sunday.

The two were beloved American nurses who worked tirelessly for the Red Cross in France. They survived the war only to commit suicide in 1919, it’s believed, due to the trauma.

While most countries banned women from fighting, Russia was the sole country to allow them in combat, from 1917.

One female combatant, Maria Bochkareva, founded Russia’s “Women’s Battalion of Death,” recovered from injuries and became a decorated commander.

Despite the inequities, the war period was a key moment in the women’s movement as it marked the first time on a wide scale that women realized their roles could be beyond domestic.

During Sunday’s ceremony, a letter written by Denise Bruller to her soldier fiancé Pierre Fort was read out, speaking of her emotion and anguish at the end of the war that caused “upheaval to the very depths of my being.”

Love and emotion were very much part of the war — and its propaganda — and such stories help color the narrative of loss. Less mentioned, but perhaps equally commonplace, was the sleeves-rolled-up grit displayed by female civilians during WWI’s bruising slaughter.

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+6 # Wise woman 2018-11-11 17:05
This is nothing unusual. Throughout the centuries, women's roles have been so undervalued as to demote them into obscurity. This has created not only unbearable misery but created a world so out of balance as to be on the verge of extinction. One can not ignore half the wisdom and intelligence in the world and expect a different outcome. The condition of the planet is what men have made it and continue to do. Witness this country's never ending wars.
+3 # Benign Observer 2018-11-11 17:20
Blaming the rain, Trump stayed away from the ceremony -- even though every other world leader in town was present, most not even wearing a hat.

We do not need to go after Trump as a demon. His disrespect of veterans, and other outrages, would sink in to his supporters more thoroughly if we didn't.
+4 # LionMousePudding 2018-11-11 23:38
This is very true, and the omission of women's roles in the war is wrong. The author also did not mention the many women disguised as men who fought exactly as the men did.

What actually heartens me is that, even though in 2018 most people would discount women's contributions and feel they were correctly omitted, surprisingly, this article was written by a man. It just means 1. A man cares and is not embarrassed to have his name on such a topic, and 2. Since male authors are taken more seriously than female, maybe a few of those who would pooh-pooh it otherwise, will actually think it is a good point.

Amazing that these two issues have only morphed about three inches in the past 30 years since I was in school, but that is about it.