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
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’.
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.
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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
Article by David Lawrence - British Library