Feminine and Military Identities in First World War Britain
Lucy Noakes (University of Brighton)
In 1917, the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) was formed; famously, the first time that a modern nation state had authorised and recognised women’s military service. Dressed in khaki uniforms, the members of the WAAC performed a range of duties behind the lines of the Western Front and in the military camps at home perceived as necessary to the successful prosecution of this first modern, ‘total’ war. However, this paper argues, feminine identities had to be preserved alongside military duties, and the very presence of women in military uniform was often controversial and unpopular. This paper traces some of the debates around women’s military service in the First World War, in both unofficial and official capacities, arguing that claims to the right to wear khaki by many women, and the concurrent desire by many to preserve khaki as the signifier of the combatant man formed a lesser known but still significant battle in the midst of the First World War.