05. 'Thomasina Atkins' goes to war
Recruiting was initially done at Labour Exchanges, the women being enrolled, rather than enlisting, as with male soldiers. This gave them a different status to men, more like that of civilians in uniform. The chance of Army service was attractive to many young women, like Lia Parfitt, 'an excitable spitfire',
'In 1917 I began to see girls in khaki uniforms, these were the original WAACs, members of the women's Army Auxiliary Corps. Then my evil spirit and restlessness began to catch up with me. I wanted to be a WAAC and do my bit - this was my usual theme of conversation whenever my poor father was home, and his usual answer was No, No, No! Unbeknown to my father I wrote to the Recruiting Office of the WAACs and offered my services. Soon a long envelope bearing the magic letters OHMS (on His Majesties Service) came for me.
It advised me that my application had been received and told me to report to the Board of Examiners for an oral examination and also a medical examination at Southampton. My father would happen to be home at the time and he hit the roof!'
Sent for training, the women were issued with their service clothing as Florence Hill later recalled:
'Next was the uniform. So down I went to the Issue Room. Honestly, my 5ft 2.5 inches was quite a problem. Everything was much too big and WAAC greatcoats out of stock. By the time I got my uniform it was a Tommies greatcoat for me. What a sketch I looked and it caused a lot of laughter when I put it on. The next step was the tailors...
Skirts in those far off days had to measure 8.5 inches from the ground so that tailor had a lot of work to do on my uniform.'
Based in hostels and camps behind the lines, the accommodation sometimes left much to be desired. Unit Administrator Isobel Turner described a hostel in Rouen in 1917:
'This Hostel was a dreadful little place...the only bathroom was in a built-on shed through the coal cellar, and there was a wooden partition, shielding it from the street, which unfortunately had cracks in it. One used to see bright eyes glued to these cracks, whilst one had one's bath, unless you remembered to hang something over it!.'
The Women's Auxiliary Army Corps learn to drill, c1917.