Friday 7 March 2014

Imperial War Museum - The roles women played in war

MARCH 2014
This month as we mark International Women's Day on Saturday 8 March - uncover the unique stories and experiences of women in times of conflict. Join us at one of our branches and online to discover more about the role women played in war.
Dolly Shepherd
Elizabeth 'Dolly' Shepherd: British pioneer balloonist and parchutist
In 1904, waitress Elizabeth Shepherd joined Captain Auguste Guadron's display troupe and began making demonstration parachute jumps from hot air and gas balloons. She used her family nickname, Dolly, wore a navy blue knickerbocker suit and carried a silk Union Flag on every jump. Her daredevil nerve and flair made her the star of the show. She became known as the Parachute Queen.

Early balloons and parachutes were difficult to control and often dangerous. In 1908, Dolly damaged her back while saving the life of a fellow performer. She stopped parachuting in 1913 after experiencing what she called a 'premonition of death'.

During the First World War, Dolly served in France as a driver mechanic with the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps. Despite her permanent back damage, she never lost her sense of adventure; she took a flight with the Red Devils display team aged 96.

Find out more about Dolly Shepherd and many other inspirational women in aviation at the AirSpace exhibition at IWM Duxford.
Hear Dolly Shepherd's experiences in her own words
12 things you didn't know about women in the First World War

The first women police officers served during the First World War. One of the main responsibilities of the Women's Patrols - as they were initially known - was to maintain discipline and monitor women's behaviour around factories or hostels.

They also carried out inspections of women to ensure that they did not take anything into the factories which might cause explosions.
Support our new First World War Galleries

'My mother's fiance had been serving on the Front for several months and all of a sudden he got leave to come home for Christmas.

'My mother was thrilled to bits. She rushed to the telephone thinking she would hear the voice of her beloved fiance and she did hear a voice...'

Hear the story of Vera Brittain's heartbreak as told by her daughter, Baroness Williams. For the centenary, we are creating ground-breaking First World War Galleries. Ensure stories like these continue to be told for future generations.
Read the other 11 things you didn't know
Support our First World War Galleries campaign
Film still from Conserving our Observation Tree video
Behind the scenes at IWM: Conservation in Action
Conserving our First World War Observation Tree

Come behind the scenes with Rachel, one of our conservators, to find out more about the work she's been doing on the First World War observation post that is disguised as a tree.

The Observation Tree will be on display in IWM London's new First World War Galleries when we re-open in July 2014.

Our historian Louise MacFarlane also provides more insight into the history of the Observation Tree.
Find out more
Mairi Chisholm: The Women of Pervyse

During the First World War, Mairi Chisholm, an 18-year-old motorcycle enthusiast from Scotland, was recruited to serve as an ambulance driver and nurse in Flanders.

Mairi and her friend Elsie Knocker, also a nurse, received medals for setting up a first aid post immediately behind the front line at Pervyse in Belgium. The two women often worked under fire in evacuating and treating the wounded, saving the lives of many soldiers.

See Mairi's uniform and crucifix in the Main Exhibition Space at IWM North.
Reader giveaway - Enter our draw

Mairi Chisholm's military medals are featured in the new book A History of the First World War in 100 Objects by John Hughes-Wilson.

Discover more about Mairi's story as well as the events, developments and people's stories behind the objects featured in this book, available from 3 March for £30.

To mark the release of this new book, we're giving away 10 copies of the book to our readers. Enter our draw to be in with a chance of receiving a free copy.*
Find out more
Email us to enter our draw
© IWM (A 30855 ), detail
HMS Belfast's rescue mission brings women and children on board
After the surrender of Imperial Japan in September 1945, HMS Belfast arrived in Shanghai, China to help evacuate the survivors of Japanese prisoner of war and civilian internment camps. Entire families were captured when the Japanese armed forces drove through the Far East in 1941 with women and children kept in separate camps from the men.

Day and night, warships - HMS Belfast among them - transported the sick and dying to hospitals in Hong Kong. The crew of HMS Belfast also organised a party on board for the children held in the camps. The ship's company set up swings and roundabouts, and chocolate proved to be a big hit, which some children had never seen or tasted. In short supply, the men searched their lockers and gave out as much chocolate as they could find.
Discover more stories on board HMS Belfast
Mrs Bilbrough's Diary

Through her diary, Ethel Bilbrough gives a rare taste of what it was really like to live on the home front during the First World War with her acute social observations.

Part scrapbook, part memoir, her diary brims with vivid observations from this amateur artist, animal lover and keen writer of letters to the papers.

My War Diary 1914-1918 by Ethel Bilbrough is available to purchase for £15 from IWM Shop.
Living undercover during the Blitz

'You felt safe - didn't even know the raid was on but one blow would have knocked us to smithereens...'

Find out more about the staff who worked in the Cabinet War Rooms including Wendy Wallace, one of the private secretaries, who worked long hours on-site, often sleeping in the sub-basement dormitories instead of returning home in our exhibitionUndercover: Life in Churchill's Bunker.
Buy the book
Find out more
Betty Stevenson: 'The Happy Warrior'

Bertha, or Betty as she was known, served in France during the First World War. Determined to contribute to the war effort, she initially joined her aunt working at a YMCA canteen, later becoming a driver 'for the relatives of the dangerously wounded'.

She was well known around Etaples and was nicknamed 'The Happy Warrior'.

Help us to uncover more about Betty's story when Lives of the First World War launches this spring.
The Great War in Portraits

National Portrait Gallery
Until 15 June 2014

A free exhibition looking at the First World War through the different roles, experiences and destinies of many of those involved. Through painting, photography and film, the exhibition also features a range of visual responses to 'the war to end all wars'.
Find out more
Find out more
Treat Mum on Mother's Day, Sunday 30 March, by buying her classic jewellery and accessories inspired by vintage 1940s fashion. All your purchases support IWM.
Classic pearl necklace, £28 from IWM ShopVintage-style swan brooch, £7 from IWM ShopLilly pill box and lip balm, £15 from IWM Shop
Classic pearl necklace

Vintage-style swan brooch

Lilly pill box and lip balm

Buy now
Buy now
Buy now
Image credits:
Image 1 © IWM (Q98454); Image 2 © IWM (Q31088); Images 3 and 4 Film stills © IWM; Image 5: © IWM (Q2659); Image 6 © Octopus Publishing Group; Image 7 © (A38055); Image 8 © IWM; Image 9 © (COM1076); Image 10 © Crown copyright; Images 11-13 © IWM; Image 14: Scene from Battle of the Somme by Geoffrey Malins and John McDowell, 1916 © IWM (Q79501)

Terms and conditions for '100 Objects' giveaway:
UK entrants only. One entry per household. No cash alternative. Winners to be drawn Friday 14 March.
See our full competition terms and conditions online at