Women and War – Remembrance Day Thoughts

Women and war - two words that I never really think about.

But yesterday, when I visited the war graves in my nearby town, women and war suddenly became related in my mind for the first time in all the years I have been going to my uncle's grave.

Whenever I visit the cemetery, I always think in terms of all the men who died in the World Wars, which of course was incredibly naive of me and made me think about how I have always perceived male and female roles in wartime.

A name on a grave, in the midst of all the graves dominated by men's names suddenly connected women and war for me way beyond the nursing role .

My husband was wandering around and noticed the name Evelyn Plume. She was 23 and a leading ACW in the Women's Auxilliary Air Force.

We stood there, under a beautiful blue sky, in the quiet calm of the cemetery, wondering what she did, how she died and what impact it had on her loved ones.

Not far away, in the local park where the big war memorial stands, the local 'great and good' where gathered for the solemn service that takes place each year on Remembrance Day.

The wind carried to us, the sound of the bugles and the mournful drone of the vicar's voice as he spoke the words always spoken on this day.

We stood there in silence, listening to the cry of the cemetery birds and the loud shivering of autumn leaves being shaken from trees by the force of nature.

During the two minute silence, I usually think of my Uncle Charlie who died aged 19 and I place flowers on his grave.

But this year I thought of Evelyn and her family and wondered if her death unleashed the same hell in her house as it unleashed in my grandmother's house when Charlie died.

Women and war - mothers, sisters, grandmothers, wives, daughters, friends, women in active service - they were all affected and many lost their lives alongside the men.

In my own family, the death of a beloved son and brother was like a silent bomb going off and the debris has been quietly falling, for years, on those who vividly remember that day and all that followed.

My grandmother never got over losing her 19 year old son and my mother still grieves to this day for the big brother she loved so much.

After paying tribute to those who lay, forever asleep under the rows of white headstones, we went, as we always do, to  the World War 1 graves.

And here, I was reminded again of women and war.

So many times I have stood by a monument where a figure of Jesus holds a poppy and yet, I have never really read what it is carved into the stone.

'To the Glory of God and in Proud and Loving Memory of the men of Ipswich Missing in the Great War 1914 - 1918.

Given by the Women of Ipswich June 1921."

women and war

There is also a short bible passage which, although I am not religious at all beyond believing in human values, does touch my heart.

women and war

Seeing those words really made me think in depth about the women who waited for the men to come home and what life was like for the ones whose men went missing and were never found.

The fact that two years after the war, the women of Ipswich created this memorial so that their loved ones would never be forgotten.

I wondered how many women used to go to that memorial as the only point of contact with the memory of their men.

What on earth was that like? I just can't imagine. Life just had to go on. No Post Traumatic Stress Counseling for any of them in those days.

Every year, I do pause on Remembrance Day to think of all the people of the world, of every race color and creed who have ever been and are still being affected by the rich mans wars, always fought by the poor man.

But this year, I paid special attention to women and war because of seeing Evelyn Plume's grave and the memorial to the men who went missing in World War 1 leaving countless grieving women behind.

3 comments

  1. Absolutely amazing Gilly! Just saw your post too. I just copied the reply –
    I think we as writers have tuned into the collective consciousness of the ‘feminine.’ It is about time the contributions and suffering of women are recognized as equal during wars. Many women died on the inside when their male relatives died in the war, as you witnessed with your grandmother. Many women also gave their lives in service. Their stories are rarely told, so now it begins with a generation ready to speak and a generation ready to listen. I hope others will share a story about women’s contributions during the war. It is great: two minds, one thought, an ocean apart.

    1. Hi Judith, so very well put – and for many of those women waiting for news of their men, the death inside must have been so slow and painful. They must have held on to shreds of hope that missing men would miraculously turn up. I wonder how long it took for hope to die. I never really knew what happened in my grandma’s life until I was well into my adult life and even then I had to ask my mum lots of questions that she didn’t really want to answer. No one wanted to talk about the misery of that time but it was still affecting us all in so many ways. The anxiety about people not making it home is still very real for my mother and I don’t think she really understands where it began. Thanks for your contribution Judith.

  2. Have pasted your comment in for you Molly – not sure what happened but thanks so much for taking the time to put it on FB when you weren’t able to do it here.
    “Loved your blog post about this Gilly Maddison. Tried to leave a comment but got an error message. This is what I wrote: What a beautiful tribute to the women affected by war, Gilly. And I cannot imagine the horror and grief of losing someone fighting the rich man’s war as you so poignantly describe. I am not in favor of women in combat due to our unfair disadavantage in the physical size/strength department. I am all for equality but it feels like sending well conditioned women into the football field – no matter how much we train we are still going to be trounced. I pray my young grandsons will never be in a position to lose their lives to the insanity of war.”

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