Women and War

The three case studies in this theme illustrate the variety of ways in which women assisted in the war effort during the First and Second World Wars. While their best-known and recognised contribution was as nurses in both wars, their role of "support and substitution" in both Canada and Britain in the First World War is illustrated here, as is the more dramatic contribution which cost four young women their lives.

In addition to these case studies, women are also featured in the counterpoint theme to this one, Women for Peace. Women also appear elsewhere under various themes: Marion S. Simpson under The Hamilton Connection, Constance Malleson and Jane Abbott under Civilians Caught up In War, and Vera Brittain under Life at the Front.

There are five photographs of nurses in Alexandria and Palestine in 1918 belonging to W. Bailey included in the theme The First World War in the Middle East. As our case studies demonstrate, while men were away at war, women took up the jobs at home formerly done by men. A poster from the United War Work Campaign illustrates this shift in responsibilities, as does a photograph of female employees of Cockshutt Plow Co., included below, showing the women confidently wearing their work overalls.

“Support and Substitution”: Women’s Roles during World War I

A small collection of five rare leaflets, two of which are officially ascribed to “Women’s Section, Department of Public Information,” indicate both the closeness of Canada and Britain during the First World War and the extent to which the massive loss of men at the front had made women’s involvement essential.

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“Angels of Mercy”: Canada’s Nursing Sisters in World War I and II

Canada’s nursing sisters played a vital role in the care of wounded soldiers during World War I and II. Called “nursing sisters” because some of the earliest nurses belonged to religious orders, they were accorded the rank of lieutenant during World War I. The nurses were an integral part of the Canadian Army Medical Corps; the majority worked overseas in military hospitals and in casualty clearing stations.

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Shot at Dachau: Four Young Women Who Died for Their Country

Yolande Beekman, Madeleine Damerment, Noor Inayat Khan, and Eliane Plewman were all multi-lingual officers in the Special Operations Executive of the British Secret Service. They came from a variety of places and backgrounds to volunteer in the British WTS/FANY (Women’s Transport Service/First Aid Nursing Yeomanry).

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