Total war tends to create a situation that falls back on established social and cultural discourses and institutional arrangements at the same time that it provides the opportunity for a shifting and renegotiation of these arrangements. This book explores how the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) drew upon, and/or subverted cultural mythologies to make sense of their wartime service. It focuses on this renegotiation of gender and examines seven key themes implicit in this process. The first theme concerns the ways women's military organizations utilized traditional notions of genteel femininity and its accompanying nurturance, cheerfulness and devotion in their promise of service, yet went beyond the parameters of such cultural mythologies. The second focuses on the gendering of military heroism. The third theme addresses the context of female military service in terms of the preparation women received, the opportunities they were given and the risks they took, and focuses on their coping behaviours. Theme four focuses specifically on women's transgression into the masculine terrain of driving and mechanics and shares the ways they developed skills and competencies previously off-limits for women. Such transgressions almost invariably led to women having to negotiate masculine authority and develop skills in autonomy, independence and assertiveness - the focus of theme five. The last two themes discussed in the book address the integration and consolidation of women's organizations as the war progressed and their service became indispensable.
A Woman of War has presented the FirstAidNursingYeomanry as a case study of gender modernity. The Edwardian recruit (in her desire to evade gendered constraints, embrace venturesome possibilities and don martial uniform), the wartime first aider (who audaciously navigated her own way to northern France to undertake service for the Belgian, French and British armies in a modern conflict that utilised new weapons of war and required new skills) and the ambulance driver (in her espousal of technology, mechanics and danger, and in charge of a vehicle that quite
Women of War is an examination of gender modernity using the world’s longest established women’s military organisation, the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, as a case study. Formed in 1907 and still active today, the Corps was the first to adopt khaki uniform, prepare for war service, staff a regimental first aid post near the front line and drive officially for the British army in France. It was the only British unit whose members were sworn in as soldiers of the Belgian army, and it was the most decorated women’s corps of the First World War. Bringing both public and personal representations into dialogue through an analysis of newspaper articles, ephemera, memoirs, diaries, letters, interviews, photographs and poetry, this book sits at the crossroads of British, social, gender and women’s history, drawing upon the diverse fields of military history, animal studies, trans studies, dress history, sociology of the professions, nursing history and transport history. It reconstructs the organisation’s formation, its adoption of martial clothing, increased professionalisation, and wartime activities of first aid and driving, focusing specifically upon the significance of gender modernity. While the FANY embodied the New Woman, challenging the limits of convention and pushing back the boundaries of the behavour, dress and role considered appropriate for women, the book argues that the Corps was simultaneously deeply conservative, upholding imperial, unionist and antifeminist values. That it was a complex mix of progressive and conservative elements, both conformist and reformist, gets to the heart of the fascinating complexity surrounding the organisation.
Aristocratic amazons in arms
The founding of the FANY
In 1908 the London Daily Graphic featured a new ladies’ volunteer organization in training to provide ﬁrst aid to the fallen heroes of the battleﬁeld. It was
the FirstAidNursingYeomanry (FANY) and they were starting to attract
public attention. Alongside the newsworthiness of women breaking new
ground, many FANY had aristocratic connections and a good number were
young and attractive and looked quite dashing in their uniforms. As a result,
the press loved to cover their activities and often
title, ‘War Girls’, I have
borrowed for the title of this book) encourages us to think about the ways this
war subverted existing gender arrangements and encouraged personal and
social autonomy for women at the very same time that it relied on traditional
tropes of gender to stabilize the war effort and contain women’s independence.
In this book I focus on these wartime renegotiations of gender and explore
the everyday lives of a group of British women volunteers named the FANY
(FirstAidNursingYeomanry)2 who found themselves, as did many young
middle- and upper
The French units and the convoy at St Omer 1917–18
–May 1918), pp. 3–4.
26 Ibid., p. 4.
28 Ward, FANY Invicta, p. 66.
29 Gazette (August–September Supplement 1918), no page numbers; (September–
October 1918), p. 2.
30 Report, ‘French Units: FirstAidNursingYeomanry Corps’, p. 4. [LC]
31 Gazette (June–July–August 1918), p. 9.
33 Ibid., p. 8.
34 Doris Russell Allen, ‘Extracts from the Ofﬁcial Diary of Unit 7, 1917’, pp. 5–6. [LC]
35 Russell Allen, ‘Extracts’, p. 6.
36 Gazette (June–July–August 1918), p. 5.
37 Ibid., pp. 5–6.
38 Ibid., p. 7.
39 Report, ‘French Units’, p. 3.
40 Ibid., p. 4.
Gazette (January–April 1919), p. 4.
Gazette (October–November–December Supplement 1918), no page numbers.
Gazette (January 1920), p. 8.
Sharon Ouditt, Fighting Forces, Writing Women: Identity and Ideology in the First World
War (London: Routledge, 1994), p. 30.
F. Tennyson Jesse, ‘The FirstAidNursingYeomanry: A Personal Impression of the
FANY Camps in France – Girls Who are Doing Yeoman Service’, Vogue (May 1916),
Muriel Thompson, diary (10, 11 June 1918; 7, 8 July 1918; 1 August 1918). [LC]
Ibid. (17 August 1918).
Catherine Hall, ‘The Early Formation
This chapter traces the lives of some of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) after the war and summarizes the organizational development of the FANY through the Second World War. By the 1970s many of the First World War FANY had died. When Baxter-Ellis resigned after the Second World War she lived with her partner 'Tony' Kingston Walker. Grace McDougall inquired directly with the FANY-Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) about renewing her service commitment and was told she was over age. Perhaps motivated by Enid Bagnold's The Happy Foreigner, the novel begins with the demobilization of a beautiful 'khaki-clad English girl' who is identified as a FANY and named Marion O'Hea. The FANY were to be involved in all motor driving companies for the Army and the Women's Legion was to work with the Royal Air Force.
This chapter explores the gender renegotiations by the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) as they threw themselves into the manly tasks of driving and mechanics. Evadne Price's brilliant modernist representation of the war from women's experiences underscores the silences in the FANY texts. The Royal Army Medical Corps was to be employed or commissioned by the British Red Cross Society (BRCS) to provide transport for the British sick and wounded at Calais. The chapter focuses on 1916 and features the story of FANY Unit 3 driving for the British Army. It records their activities and experiences and in particular examines their work in transport and mechanics that subverted traditional mythologies about femininity. Of all the FANY writings, the few accounts penned by Unit 3's Second-in-Command Muriel Thompson provide the bluntest descriptions of the geography of hell.
FANY with the Belgians at Lamarck Hospital 1914–15
Grace Ashley-Smith had managed to make practical arrangements through her contacts in Belgium to provide nursing and ambulance support for the Belgian Army in Calais. This chapter focuses on the developments and highlights the ways the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) were able to take opportunities and risks that stretched them and helped them cope with the labours of the First World War. It shares the story of the first FANY working for the Belgians at Lamarck Hospital from 1914-1915. The FANY at Lamarck came close to the firing line through their work at a Regimental Aid Post associated with the battalion doctors of the Belgian Army. Ashley-Smith nonetheless set out with her colleagues to find an appropriate site and settled upon a church hall at St Ingilvert. The big opportunity for the FANY was the running of a canteen for Belgian convalescents at Camp du Ruchard.