Tracing your ancestors: Women in the Military Services during First World War



okay good afternoon everyone and welcome to the National Archives webinar today we're joined by Emily and who's going to talk about women during the First World War and just a few starters about the layout before we start and if you're using a computer or laptop you will see that the chat dialog box and a series of buttons are on the right-hand side if you're using a mobile device this will be on the left hand side and you should be able to see a video at the presenter once I pass over to Emily and the presentation should be in the middle of the screen and you can change the size of any of these features by clicking that amory button which is next to or underneath these features so before we start can I just confirm that you can see and hear me and if you just type in yes or no into the chat box and we'll try and resolve any issues before we start so if you can see if you can hear me even not see me yet and you're just typing yes or no into the chat box okay good stuff and as the audio okay for everybody now please bear with us new venture for us we do want to make sure it's working for everyone okay and if you do have any questions or comments throughout if you can you can interact by the chat box with me and other participants and so if you do have any questions throughout the presentation and type them in the chat box and I will post them to Emily at the end and the talk will last about 30 to 35 minutes and when I hand over you should be able to see Emily on the screen so without further ado I'll pass you over so enjoy the event everyone and if you are having any problem you let me know through chats afternoon everyone my name is Emily and I will be presenting today's webinar before we begin I'll be referring to a few ways in which we search our online catalog throughout this presentation we're going to provide you with a downloadable document that shows you how to perform these searches if you look in the bottom right hand corner of your screen where it says documents this is where you'll find the instructions I'm going to highlight it for you all now so there's an orange arrow flashing at it at the moment the document in you need is in there you can download this at any point during the webinar and if you have any questions regarding it or any of the searches are referred to in this presentation then please post your queries in the chat box and no one will be able to answer them for you so tracing our ancestors women in the military services during the First World War so between 1914 and 1918 almost nine million people across the Empire signed up to serve Great Britain in some capacity roughly 80,000 of these people were women now due to the all-encompassing nature of this modern conflict it was the first time that such numbers of women were able to contribute in an official capacity this is both at home and in theatres of war to give you some kind of context at this time women's suffrage was still a massively contested issue and women had to fight incredibly hard for the opportunity to contribute to the war effort but gradually over this period the roles women cos servants wrote across the military services and the homefront so there are four key areas in which women served during the first world war we have military nursing services Army Royal Navy and Royal Air Force services so auxilary auxilary military services we have the Merchant Navy and home services and we have voluntary organizations this webinar will cover those four key areas and we'll give you a brief overview of those services during the First World War and the records at the National Archives holds in relation to them this will give you a good starting point when you begin your research to begin with we're going to look at military nursing nursing was one the largest services undertaken by women during the first during the First World War the two key militaries nursing services were the Queen Alexandra's Imperial military nursing service this included territorial force nursing services and they served the army and included a reserve corps so it's worth mentioning that they went under the acronym acronym you can see highlighted on screen in bold so that's Q a.i.m ns and that's pronounced claims we also have Queen Alexandra's will naval nursing service they served with the Royal Navy and there I commonly use acronym is Q a are n NS and this is pronounced Kwan's both Queen Alexandra services predate the First World War and it didn't have a large contingent continued of regular members the Queen's in particular have strict appointment regulations women had to be over 25 there had to be single and they had to have independent means this is particularly significant as most women were married by the age of 25 however these rules were relaxed during the war due to the need for nurses there were over 10,000 women Nash at nursing the British military by the end of 1918 their service chords can be found in the record theories wo 3 9 9 you can see an example on screen now these unnamed searchable in discovery and can be viewed online for a small fee remember if you need help doing any of these searches please refer to the document we've provided for you or ask Lauren any questions so we have auxilary military services the viceroy dwarfs or the creation of Women's Auxiliary military service in the Army Navy and the RAF we've got the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps – known as the wax or the key max we have women's Royal Naval Service we're known of the wrens we have women's Royal Air Force and they're known as the wax the are is silent there when you pronounce the acronym tellingly women were enrolled and not enlisted in the military services this highlights the fact that women were perceived to hold supporting roles only and were just there in order to free up men to fight at the front first we're going to look at the wax and the key max the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps was established in 1917 by the War Office the wax were really related may later renamed sorry the queen mary's army auxilary corps in april of 1918 and as i said and they're commonly then referred to as a key max approximately 57,000 women served in the wax and the key marks during the war and the service ran until 1921 wax thank you max were never entirely integrated into the British Army nor were they ever given full military status their structure did not resemble the male army at all instead officers were officials noncommissioned officers were known as for women and other ranks were known as workers there were however a whole range of jobs that women held including cooks store keepers clerical workers telephonist sand dry Birds the based a look of the records of a whack or a cue Mac or in their personnel or service records these are held in the series wo three nine eight they're approximately 7,000 of these records this only represents a 10% sample which means there's a roughly one in ten chance to be finding the woman you're looking for this is because most of the records were destroyed during the Blitz in the Second World War in fact if you look at the image on the right hand side of the screen there should be a red dot highlighted over at the moment you can see the damaged edges where it came into contact with fire these documents are sometimes called the burnt records if it survives though there's a huge range of information you can find in these documents the documents themselves are in the form of bundles or forms and correspondence and they can include all the information you can see listed on the screen now so you've got personal information application forms medical details to their period of service articles of uniform received and so on and so forth and when we say correspondence that's correspondence within the army you can search these by name in Discovery although it's often best to do this with just a name a surname in a for name they have been digitized and they're available to view online for a small fee if you can't find a personnel record and then unfortunately it doesn't survive there are however quite a few places you can still look instead the first stop would be campaign metal index cards most of these survived and they're in this series wo 370 these are also name searchable via discovery and available to view online for a small fee the cards don't contain as much information as a service record but they will confirm name rank core and service number I'll just highlight a few of those on screen now so we have the core in this box the rank in this box the service number in this box and obviously the woman's name and this box up here some cards also tell you the theater of war the women served in the date of entry into that theater of war and the medals they were entitled to so theater of war if it was included on this card would be down here and the date of entry would be just below it any medals the woman received will be in the box I'm highlighting at the moment and you can see that this particular woman she received the Victory Medal and the British war medal their remarks box just next to it includes some military coding or some correspondence but it can also include other bits and pieces of information and recommendations for gallantry awards you could follow up any req the gallantry awards are military medals CBE's OBEs and MBEs they're held in the record series wo one six two forward slash 65 this contains the award documents for the women from the wax and the q-max who are recommended for these wards they aren't named search for tin discovery and they are in an original in a regional record so in this instance you would either have to come to queue and view the records yourself or pay for a copy of them to be made for you to find this record all you need to do is type wo 162 forward slash 65 into discovery the document you need is the entire file you'll have to go through it to find the name of the woman that you're looking for as the file covers all of the wax and the q-max recommended for gallantry awards if you do find the right documents that they can provide a good source of information that can include when the recommendation was given the date the recommendation was cited in the London Gazette the role of the woman in the whack or the key max sometimes if you're lucky you also get a reason for their award and sometimes you also get an address where they live or their next of kin so I've just put an example on screen here we pulled out and magnify the section of the document that we had on underneath it and you can see the particular woman in question here she received an MBE and you can see that she was in controller in the key max it's quite faint but it does say that they're the next records here are war Diaries and they're in this series wo 95 / 84 and wo 95 / 85 these cover at the wax and the qu max who served abroad in France close to the front line they tend to mention individuals more than the standard army war Diaries and in particular the names of those who are admitted and discharged from hospitals and arrivals from other units they can also give some really great insights to the day-to-day activities of the wax and the q-max we've just pulled out a particular detail of this document to show you you can see here that some soldiers have proposed marriage to some of the workers and I'm also highlighting where they're noting that is going to be a dance held at the Crystal Palace YMCA these war Diaries will be available to view online very soon they're currently being digitized to search for them when they're available all you need to do is set for w95 boards – 84 and wo 95 forward slash 85 in the discovery search bar they're the only two diaries for the wax and the q-max so the next service were going to look at is women's Royal Naval Service or also known as the wrens they were formed in 1917 and very wood quickly received thousands of applications complete mobic routes by the end of the war there are approximately 5,500 members 500 of whom were officers all police positions below an officer are known as ratings and their clink to other ranks in the army some women had the opportunity to serve in theater war as well as sort of showboat spaces on the homefront there are positions for banks and other ratings the ratings roles included jobs such as typist cleaners machinist riggers and messengers they were easily been samaya craft women although these were often transferred to the WAC when it was created in 1918 you'll find service records for other ratings in the series ADM 336 these in name searchable on discovery and they're available to view online for a small fee now although this document here which is an example of an ADM 3 3 6 service record it looks pretty sparse but it actually contains all of the following information they can tell you the date when someone Ellis enlisted I'm highlighting that for you now they can tell you discharge details so the date they were discharged and the reason I'm highlighting that for you now so this is the date this particular woman Josephine Carl was discharged and the reason up here dd means discharged dead so she was actually the first and only cavity for the wrens her ship the Leinster was too torpedoed in 1918 and you can hear it says Z it says the ship SS monster the date of birth or the age of the women is also shown on the card the next of kin and in this case an address the ship again or the establishment is listed the establishment being the name of the shore base it's listed whether the woman was mobile or a mobile mobile means that she was able to leave British soil ongoing travel on the ships in Mobile means she needed to stay on work on her shore base if she was transferred to the wax this will also be noted on her service record for the Ren's sometimes there's also character references and if there's a gratuity paid when there demobilized over sister on the other hand can be found in the series a dm3 1/8 and a DM 3 2 1 a DM 3 2 1 is a register of running offices and they're very brief lists however personnel files are in a DM 3 1 8 these are named searchable on discovery and available to view online for a small fee the records will tell you more about offices roles which are more senior matings but they still didn't equate to male responsibilities in the same position in the Navy wren officers responsibilities included roles such as overseeing other women and senior positions here you can see just one page of a run service record a report on her character and suitability is what it's referring to you can also find information that includes present occupation previous experience sometimes they included references from other jobs includes them include their way to pay wages grants uniforms any correspondence inside the Navy some telephone Miranda memorandums the list of their duties leave requests ranked and any transfers the next service are going to examine is the women's Royal Air Force or the wax the Vall Air Force was the last service to establish a woman's call they founded the runt women's Royal Air Force in 1918 and it's commonly known under the acronym WR AF with a silent silent R when you pronounce it wife in order to free men up for the front the WAC woman took over roles such as driver's barks mess orderlies cooks and telephonist s– women will not allow to fly but they still have the opportunity to serve abroad in places such as foreign trip to France and Belgium you can find service records for these women in the series air eighty again these are named searchable and available to view online for a small fee these records can vary in the amount of information that is given and like other personnel records were in the form of bundles of forms and correspondents before they were all digitized on screen now you can see a list of all the information that can possibly be included in a watch service record so you have age and physical description address things like next-of-kin conduct at work you even have them religion and any transfers in and out possibly some casualty and medical information as well now we come to the Merchant Navy and the home services first of all we'll look at the Merchant Navy women are present in the Merchant Navy both prior to and during the first world war but this is in a very diminished capacity compared to other services there are no service records for men or women during the first world war the tiny portion of records we do hold for this period are extremely difficult to find a lot of them were destroyed by the government after the war because of this if you do want to know more then please do ask us at the end of this presentation and we'll be happy to go through it with you but because the chance of actually finding anything is so slim we don't want to run out of time so we're going to continue straight on to the home services so we have the women's land army although you'd normally associated with the Second World War the women's Land Army or the WLA was actually first created in January 1917 and it had three sections agricultural timber cutting and foraging it was set up to help increase the amount of food grain in Britain whilst the men were away fighting unfortunately there are no personnel records for the women's land army in the first world war that survived at all you can find very few examples of campaign metal index cards in this series wo 370 I'm highlighting the example that we have for you on screen now there should be a blue box surrounding it as you can see it's empty of any medals this is because people are only entitled to campaign medals if they've served abroad in a theater of war the WLA only served on the homefront and never left English soil so the ones we have for the wala those who mistakenly applied to campaign medals and the cards themselves will be unable to do anything on the confirm their name and the fact that they served and their women's Land Army we do hold some really interesting records relating to policy and administration of the WLA in the First World War these were for government used only and contains an example documents like the certificate and the armband you can see on screen here they can be really useful for general contacts but they won't provide any personal details for particular women now we come to volunteer services there were two main volunteer services the voluntary aide detachments who were trained by the British Red Cross Society and some Johns Ambulance and we also have the first aid nurse in human rate because these services and voluntary the majority of these women were upload of Accra middle class backgrounds this was due to their ability to pay for their own training and equipment and the fact that as it's a voluntary service they received no pay for their for their work the first one we're going to look at are the VA DS or the voluntary a detachments these are probably the most well known voluntary service and their roles included things like canteen workers as you can see in the picture here cooks and perhaps most popularly the image of the VAD nurse via DS were not actually allowed to become nurses until October 1914 but from this point onwards nursing number that expanded rapidly they weren't over 9,000 to 23,000 by the end of 1918 unfortunately TN the National Archives holds little personal information but as with other services we do hold some policy and administration information for the VA DS and again this is really good an interesting contextual information in addition we also hold campaign men index cards again these are named searchable in Discovery and available to the online for a small fee the one we have on screen for you just here is the medal card for Vera Brittain now this is the famous author who wrote testament of youth she was also a VAD nurse which inspired some of that book and they're very famous paths that passivist as well so another woman she service to look at is the first aid nursing urinary now these ladies have the fabulous acronym FA NY and I'll wander wonderfully referred to as the funnies the funnies were founded in 1989 and they're called urinary as most original pre-first World War volunteers in this call were mounted and they were required to provide their own horse rather than simply nurses finally saw themselves with combat medics their roles included ambulance drivers canteen workers online nursing under first-aid and the family's desire to be in the thick of it men they were not fully supported by the British Army this meant that they mainly worked with foreign and allied forces such as the Belgian and French armies the findings are the world's longest established uniformed voluntary military organization for women and today the only all women military unit left in the UK you can see on their insignias on screen here that they are still running indeed so as with the VA Dee's unfortunately the National Archives does not hold any personal information other than a few campaign metal index cards you may find if elsewhere searching elsewhere for someone specific they have foreign awards and honors from Allied armies they worked with there are a number of finally received the quadriga for example those records are not kept with the National Archives oh so we're going to go through a few other records series that you can check out they can cover the range of services that we've discussed today they aren't all encompassing and there are mainly useless contextual resources you're unlikely to be able to just trace of a specific person but they're always worth looking in while you're conducting your research the best one we're going to look at is the record series mhm 106 these are a small selection of sample medical records and a fabulous source of general information you have a slim chance of finding someone specific because they are so few and there are just samples but they're still worth checking and they cover film well nurses and when it women in the military services there are original documents and we have an example on screen with a drawing that a doctor very kindly made um and you can they can be seen on site at Q or you can pay for a copy to be made for you to find them all you need to do is type women and refine your search series to MH 106 in an advanced discovery search again the document that we provided for you will tell you exactly how to do this or post any questions you might have to learn these documents list names when they entered and discharged from hospital how long their treatment was it includes information like their religion and how long the woman's Earth for they're really useful and show a showcase for kind of illnesses and diseases that were affecting the women of the army quite often you can see things like measles and gastritis and Bacchus veins and even some STDs and in some cases shell-shocked although I don't think it was referred to that and during this period now we're going to look at Red Cross registers the war Red Cross as a military decoration and was introduced to map to nursing while royal warrants by Queen Victoria Austin Georgia State in 1883 it's awarded to military nurses for exceptional services devotion to duty and professional competence and it's still being ordered today the records that we have here contain information about nurses across the different services sometimes including notes as to the reason for their ward you can often find Queen Alexandra nurses receiving this declaration and these these documents can be a useful extra resource to check for information if you have a specific woman that you're looking for to find an entry you must consult the registers of the recipients of the world I'd cross these are found in the record series wo one four five they're arranged into sub pieces by gear range so we have 1883 to 1918 1918 to 1943 and 1943 to 1994 now if the First World War nurse in question received one of war Red Cross in 1918 you may need to consult both registers to rule out which one she was placed in record is organized by an index at the front I'm just going to highlight what that page looks for you now the recipients of the award are broadly alphabetically listed by surname to find a registration first find the name in this index next to it will be an entry page number and an entry number you have to follow this to the entry page in the register and I'll just highlight what an entry page actually looks like so this one he concedes I think is page 206 when you get to your entry page you'll be able to see some more details we can see from this entry we have miss Ethel Smitty's she was found on page 208 and her number as you can see is one one nine one two this is the entry award number not to her service number you can see that she served with the Queen Alexandra's Imperial military nursing service so she was a claim recipients would either be awarded a first or second class royal red cross this will be noted on the record and you can see here that Ethel was awarded the first-class some of these entries are teamed with notations on particular deeds or cutouts of citations from the London Gazette so this source can be a really interesting and revealing one so we're just going to briefly through some sources and records from elsewhere that might be of use to you British Red Cross museum and archive is a fantastic place to go for more information on the ADEs and beauty records you have the London Gazette Alice's online and you can look Medal citations up and mentioned in despatches as well the Ministry of Defence has area nursing service records and we have the Imperial War Museum now the Imperial War museums were set up in 1917 and so specifically to collect and record their efforts and sacrifice of Russia and its allies during the First World War it's remit was expanded to cover all conflict involving British or Commonwealth forces since 1914 and they do have a very interesting section on women's services in the First World War so that's another fantastic place to look so this brings us to the end of the presentation I'd like to thank you all very much for listening today I'm going to pass you back to Lauren and just a moment for any questions that you have on a final note as she's already said this is the first time we've used this particular software and webinars are a new format for the National Archives in general so we would really appreciate any feedback you have at all and also we'll be sending you by email and a survey if you wouldn't mind send filling that out and returning it that would be absolutely fantastic so we can review how this has gone today this podcast is copyright to the National Archives rights reserved it is available for reuse under the terms of the open government license

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