Women in the MilitarySusannah Walbank
Women serving in the military has always been a controversial topic. As increasing numbers of countries begin to expand the role of women in their militaries, the debate continues. In order to be on the front line, women have been known to cross dress.
The Royal Navy were the first to employ women in 1969 allowing a few to be nurses and laundresses on hospital ships. This was a controversial move and by the 19th century both roles had been eliminated. The Queen Alexandra’s Royal Nursing Service began in 1902 and is still in operation today.
During World War II Britain established a uniformed service for women. This combined with the small units of nurses which had been in operation for a while meant that about 600,000 women served in the military. Most were working in units close to London where there was no risk of being captured by the enemy. The first woman was killed in the military in April 1942.
It wasn’t until 1949 that women were officially recognised as a permanent part of the British armed forces. During that year the Women’s Royal Army Corps was created and the ranks were normalised in line with the ranks of men serving in the British Army.
In 1989 women became eligible to pilot Royal Air Force combat aircrafts and the following year were allowed to serve on Royal Navy warships.
It is only in recent years that women have been given a more prominent role in the armed forces. Female personnel currently make up 9% of the British armed forces. A ban on women serving in close combat units in the British military has been lifted by Prime Minister David Cameron, allowing them to enter the cavalry, infantry and armoured corps. In order for them to enter into the infantry they would still need to pass the fitness test, as do all males. The Army’s research shows that less than 5% of the 7,000 women serving in the British Army would pass the current tests to join the infantry. The lift of this ban, puts the UK in line with many of its allies, including the US.
Are you a woman who has served in the British Military? What do you think about the ban being lifted?