HEROINES OF WAR
A so often side-lined or misrepresented war effort is that which women, both on home shores, land, air and sea, played in securing victory and reporting World War Two. 

Having marked the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings on June 6th this year, 2014, it is important to note the inextricably linked to the future successful outcome of the Second World War played by women.  In 1942, for the first time in American military history, women were allowed in the Navy, Army, Coast Guards and Marines. An estimated 350,000 American women played active roles in the American military both at home and overseas. As an often under-represented fact, this illuminates the breadth of contribution women played. This figure, whilst a high number, does not account for each ‘number’ being someone’s mother, daughter or sister. Each ‘number’ is of course a personal adventure all of its own, a living breathing person. With this in mind it feels to this writer something of a disservice to single out just two or three stories. Lest we forget, it was a union of societies across our globe, brought together fighting for the peace and freedoms of ‘the many not the few’ against the oppression of Nazi’ism. Ism, a newly applicable ism may have just been created? ‘Nazi’ism’ a ‘scoop’ copyrighted by ©RJWardle. 

Seeking to report the war in its entirety was an arguably independent-minded group of American female reporters.  “I do not feel there is any need to beg as a favour for the right to serve as the eyes for millions of people in America who are desperately in need of seeing but cannot see for themselves” wrote Martha Gellhorn, a rival American journalist focused on the factual retelling of events ‘for the many not the few.’ As we live in our current society of greater equalities and freedoms it is worth a note that whilst this sturdy group of literary femme elite’s risked their lives, just like the men were, society as a whole still viewed women’s roles as being the nurturers, the nest builders, the mother hens. Nuclear families were still the British Government’s desired family structure largely for economic and financial reasons. Why should this bear any relevance to these roving reporters? Well, as a plainly independent-of-mind sextuplet (pardon the pun) of correspondent talents, Mary, Dixie, Kathleen, Helen, Lee and Tania appear very much to be six trail blazers in what could reasonably be looked upon as a women’s liberation movement. Not to be confused with feminism, per se. In one instance resolving to cover the D-Day landings these six roving reporters are known affectionately as the D-Day Dames.

"They were all watching each other and there was a huge sense of competitiveness."

Martha Gelhorn, the competition, whose future husband would be the literary magnet Ernest Hemingway, writing for the American Colliers Magazine, was the first female reporter to land on Omaha Red beach on D-Day. Although some debate is placed upon whether she landed on the first or second day. Having stowed away in a toilet onboard a hospital ship on the 6th-7th June, Martha was the first eye for millions, ‘I was a Gypsy in that war in order to report it.’

As If we need any more of a reminder, being after the event, just how crucial these landings were to securing victory, at the time however, ‘we cannot see the woods for the trees.’ So we should perhaps offer a posthumous thanks to Martha for her independence of spirit in seeing the potential for a scoop, scoops she reportedly so often dismissed, as in the finest traditions of news reporting, she got ‘in the thick of it.’ 

English woman Susan Travers, a socialite living in France until the Nazi’s took control in 1941, became one of many English military heroines of the Second World War. Working as a field nurse for the Free French Army she then worked as a driver for the French Foreign Legion in North Africa, Syria and Libya. When her company came under fire from Rommel’s ‘Afrikakorps’ Susan refused to be evacuated. Showing a classic mainstay of strength and resolve as displayed by many at this time, Susan led 2,500 allied troops to the safety of an allied camp several hours through the middle of a war-torn enemy line. 

Another military heroine, 93 year old Molly Rose, was a British fighter pilot during the Second World War. Molly began her flying adventures flying Tiger Moths before eventually graduating to fly Hurricanes and Spitfires, declaring the Spitfires to be “an absolute delight to fly.” Originally as part of an aviation mechanics team based in Cambridge, when the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) which was a civilian unit transporting fighter planes around the United Kingdom realised, in 1942, that more pilots were needed in order to win the war, Molly was called upon.  “We were lucky enough to have had an extremely interesting and exciting job but I am just satisfied to have done something useful” recounted Molly in a recent interview. 

When we look at the three groups of people in this article we do only just scratch the surface of what the many gave for the few.  Whilst this all but brief article superficially engages with some of the major military and news reporting influences individuals played in the war, it is of course women at home, building the weapons, barrage balloons, caring for the injured and the millions of children refugees that merit an equal depth of respect and thanks.  Our gratitude will only ever be removed from the event. Writing this, we must never surrender our humility to the evils of complacency.  As for the D-Day Dames, Mary, Dixie, Kathleen, Helen, Lee and Tania, Martha, Susan and Molly, along with so many others, well, surely they all blazed a trail towards asserting the equal intrinsic importance and independence of spirit held by women. 

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"As If we need any more of a reminder, being after the event, just how crucial these landings were to securing victory."

…The trail had been blazed. Women didn’t need to prove their worth again.’ 

 

 
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