Focus On... Women in Uniform
 
* Women in World War II - Profile  
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Introduction
Nurses in the Crimea
Nurses in the British Army
Almeric Paget Military Massage Corps
Scottish Women's Hospitals
Women's Royal Naval Service
Women in WWII

1. Introduction

2. Profile

3. Sources

4. Further Reading

Links
Credits
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Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck inspecting members of the Women's Auxiliary Corps (India), 1947. Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck inspecting members of the Women's Auxiliary Corps (India), 1947.
Courtesy of:
National Army Museum.

A Case Study - Women’s Auxiliary Corps (India) (W A C (I) )

Many of the young women who joined the Women’s Auxiliary Corps (India) (W A C (I) ) to do their ‘share towards helping the war effort’ came from secure jobs and comfortable homes. Once in the service they found conditions difficult and quite a number suffered from psychological and general health problems. A typical complaint is that of a young woman who joined in 1943.

She requests a discharge because ‘everything here is most unsatisfactory’. For eight months she has ‘stuck it out’ as a Lance-Corporal, since she hoped she would achieve promotion and conditions would improve. She finds conditions of her low rank extremely hard: ‘If we were on the front line I could understand undergoing hardships and I am sure we would all do so cheerfully, but when is it necessary to make things harder for us?’ The ‘culminating blow’ for her was being ordered back to eat in the Auxiliaries Mess from the NCO’s - where she had been able to eat her meals ‘in comparative comfort and cleanliness’. Evidently, the Auxiliaries Mess is ‘a place that makes you lose your appetite as soon as you enter it’.

Detail from a telegram from the Goverment of India Defence Department to Secretary of State for India issuing an ordinance for the formation of the Womens Auxiliary Corps (India).

Detail from a telegram from the Goverment of India Defence Department to Secretary of State for India issuing an ordinance for the formation of the Womens Auxiliary Corps (India).View the telegram from the Goverment of India Defence Department to Secretary of State for India issuing an ordinance for the formation of the Womens Auxiliary Corps (India). Opens in a new window - 54k
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 Opens in a new window (74k)
 The National Archives' Catalogue ref: WO 32/10664. National Archives' Catalogue

 



She further complains that privates have been issued with knives, spoons and forks, while she has not. Without implements she has been unable to eat and has had to exist on buns bought from the canteen. To eat in the NCO’s mess was ‘the one privilege’ accorded to Lance-Corporals. Otherwise, they received no benefits, no extra pay – only extra duties.

She objects to being treated like a child. She claims that in civil life she was a certified teacher and could earn more money than she does in the WACs. Her qualifications as a teacher prove that she has ‘an average intelligence’. One positive point is that since joining the WACs she has learned to type, but there seems to be very little opportunity for an ‘averagely intelligent woman’ to help in the war effort - ‘are there jobs for them? I’m beginning to think not’.

The final straw is the ‘matter of the dhobie’. In addition to the other travails of a low ranking officer’s life, there is the problem of retrieving clothes sent to be washed by the dhobie - ‘we give our clothes to the dhobie hoping to see them again, but are very doubtful’. It is a common occurrence to spend an entire day off visiting the dhobie, trying to get one’s clothes back ‘from his clutches’. They are lucky when they get their clothes - ‘and what washing’. Some of the girls take their clothes to town and pay for them to be washed ‘rather than run the risk of having to pay for an entire new outfit’.

Detail from the minutes of the 155th meeting of the Executive Commmittee of the Army Council held on Friday March 31st 1944 . Minutes show discussion of the proposal that Indian women in the WAC(I) be given power of command over white troops.
Detail from the minutes of the 155th meeting of the Executive Commmittee of the Army Council held on Friday March 31st 1944 . Minutes show discussion of the proposal that Indian women in the WAC(I) be given power of command over white troops.
View the minutes of the 155th meeting of the Executive Commmittee of the Army Council held on Friday March 31st 1944. Minutes show discussion of the proposal that Indian women in the  WAC(I) be given power of command over white troops. Opens in a new window - 105k  See more
  Opens in a new window (74k)
  Catalogue ref: WO 32/10664. National Archives'  Catalogue

Another document on the Lance-Corporal’s file is a letter from the Sergeant with whom she had been sharing a room. This further highlights the difficulties and unfairness of life in the WACs. The sergeant complains that she and the Lance-Corporal have been ordered to give up their room as it is required for an officer. She claims that she has been on the base for little over 6 months and she has been shifted four times – she has had to change her quarters every two months. The sergeant is aware that ‘a number of other girls in the camp’ have been able to continue staying in the rooms where they were first put. Now she has been promoted to Sergeant ‘surely I am entitled to a little consideration’. With shifting rooms so often she claims to have lost ‘a considerable amount of clothes and private property’. Because of the long hours of her duties she has never had time to supervise the removals, or if she has, they have had to be done in a hurry. She has been put to extra expense because she had to pay ‘buxsheesh’ for every removal. She complains that the constant moves hamper her work considerably. ‘For thirteen hours we have to work hard’ – and to have to put with the constant harassment of moving quarters is, she feels, unnecessary and can be avoided.

A letter from the Lance-Corporal’s mother expresses ‘shock’ and ‘grief’ at her daughter’s condition when she has come home on sick leave. She requests that the Lance-Corporal be given another month’s sick leave. Her daughter is in such a weak state that she should be discharged for reasons of health – ‘certainly she will not be able to stand another summer in Delhi under these conditions’.

Article by David Lawrence - British Library

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