The Wharfedale Family History Group meeting, held Thursday 2nd November, was opened by Chairman Lynda Balmforth who introduced our speaker for the evening, Dr Phil Judkins. His illustrated presentation ‘More Deadly than the Male’ concerned the often underestimated role of women in war.

At the outbreak of war in 1914 many women from all classes volunteered their services as nurses and often worked in deadly positions on both the Eastern and Western fronts. Dr Judkins personalised this with a tale of two such women, Elsie Knocker (later Baroness T’Serclaes) and 18-year old Mari Chisholm who continued to provide a front line dressing station in Belgium despite an order that women were no longer permitted to work near the firing line. In 1939 Elsie went on to become a senior officer in the WAAF. Many women served in the Eastern European armies during WW1. Nurse Edith Cavell was executed in 1915 for her role in helping allied prisoners of war to escape. Meanwhile at home in the UK many women undertook dangerous occupations such as munitions work. An explosion killed 35 Yorkshire women and girls at the Barnbow Munitions factory, Crossgates, Leeds in 1916. Women were also employed in manual occupations including coal heaving, forestry and agriculture.

WW2 saw an expansion of women’s wartime roles as they worked as fire fighters, mortuary workers (often collecting bodies during air raids), ship yard welders and steel workers. One unfortunate young lady Eileen Morden lost her life whilst acting as secretary to her employer the Earl of Suffolk, taking notes as he worked at bomb disposal. Women worked on the land and in industrial roles such as the completion of the building of Waterloo Bridge (sometimes referred to as Ladies Bridge) in 1939. Women also increasingly undertook highly skilled technical roles in wireless, radar and codebreaking. Women in the WAAF and ATS undertook driving and mechanical roles, including Princess Elizabeth, now Queen Elizabeth II. Russia employed women as tank crew and combat pilots during WW2 long before UK women were permitted to fill such roles. Women did fly planes during WW2 for the Air Transport Auxiliary but not in combat.

Dr Judkin personalised his talk with tales of many remarkable women and their feats, rounding up with glamorous film star Hedy Lamarr’s contribution to an invention in wireless communications technology which forms the basis of all modern GPS and WiFi systems.

President Stanley Merridew gave a warm vote of thanks. The Group’s next meeting to be held Thursday 7 December at the Salem Church Hall, Burley in Wharfedale 7.30 pm will be the annual Christmas Quiz, refreshments provided and prizes galore. Members and friends all welcome.