History of War


Although for centuries the battlefield has been regarded as an exclusively masculine arena, for centuries women have taken up arms and fought for their tribe, city, or country. Though society at the time did not grant women the same rights as men, the First World War presented another opportunity for women to prove they were equally capable and worthy of occupying a man’s role – both on the homefront and the front line. Here Dr Julie Wheelwright, author and lecturer at City, University of London, recounts some of the forgotten and lesser known heroines who played their part in the great ‘war to end all wars’. Her new book, Sisters In Arms: Female Warriors From Antiquity To The New Millennium, is available from Osprey publishing. Visit ospreypublishing.com.


Although British women had passed as men to enter the armed forces for centuries, by the First World War the female warrior was more likely found in music hall reviews or saucy postcards than on the battlefield. Among the rare exceptions was Flora Sandes, an English woman who, at the age of 40, joined the Second Infantry Regiment of the Serbian Army as a private and rose to become a captain. When Pvt. Sandes enlisted on 28 November 1915 it completed a process where, as she would later describe it, she “naturally drifted, by successive stages from nurse to soldier”.

Rejected by the War Office for a coveted place on the Volunteer Aid Detachment in August 1914,

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