‘Demobilising the military woman: constructions of class and gender after the First World War’, Gender and History, Vol. 19, April 2007, pp143-162
This Journal article grew out of my research project on women and the British Army, published as the 2006 monograph, Women in the British Army: War and the Gentle Sex, 1907-1948. This research was based on archival research, and there was simply so much material relating to women and the British army in this period that it could not all fit within the confines of the book.
The themes of the article were developed in conference and seminar papers I delivered which examined the process of demobilisation of the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps in 1918, and subsequent debates regarding a potential future role for women in the military. I became particularly interested in the contradictions which appeared to exist between the potential for the existence of the Corps to undermine existing notions of gender roles, and the more conservative model it appeared to offer for the reconstruction of social relations along pre-war lines of social class following the war, and found the conventions of the Journal article the best place to develop these theoretical arguments.
The article focuses on the period following the demobilisation of the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps in 1918 and examines discourses of gender and class in two different arenas. The first is the the early plans for a Women’s Military Reserve, dropped by the War Office in the early 1920s, and the women’s voluntary paramilitary organisations of the inter-war years, such as the FANY, and Old Comrades Associations. The article argues that these organisations provided a potentially radical model for gender relations, providing a potential space in which women could develop militarised identities, thus encroaching upon an area which was strongly linked with masculinity. The second focus of the article however is on the post-war plans for women’s domestic service organisations to be set up along the lines of women’s military service. In contrast to the radical model of gender relations offered by the women’s military organisations, their very traditional class based structures appeared to offer a means of both returning working class women to domestic service and providing a professional outlet for the middle class women who had undertaken the work of officers during the war.
This article builds upon earlier work within feminist history examining the reconstruction of gender roles in post-war Britain (e.g. Braybon, Grayzel, Kingsley Kent) but shifts the focus onto the reconstruction of the militarised woman. Drawing on a range of archival material held at the Imperial War Museum, the National Army Museum, the National Archives and the Women’s Library, it is the first published work to provide an in-depth examination of the plans for a militarised model of women’s domestic service following the war. Whilst researching for this article I uncovered a wealth of archival material on the emigration of ex-Servicewomen following the war which led to my current research project on ex-Servicewomen’s migration to Australia between 1918 and 1922.