During the 18th and 19th centuries, soldiers’ wives often accompanied their husbands to the battlefield. Some women even disguised themselves as men to join up. But in the 20th century the British Army realised that by setting up a women’s corps to carry out support roles, it could free up men for the front line.
In 1917 the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps was created to help meet the personnel demands of the First World War (1914-18). The following year it was renamed the Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps (QMAAC) in honour of its service. The unit was formally disbanded in 1921 as part of the post-war downsizing of the Army.
The rise of Hitler and the threat of another global war led to the formation of new women's units. Many former QMAACs rejoined the newly formed Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), which served with distinction during the Second World War.
The Women's Royal Army Corps was formed in 1949. It absorbed the remaining troops of the ATS. It eventually included all women serving in the Army except medical and veterinary orderlies, chaplains and nurses.
The available roles for women continued to expand. Eventually, they worked in over 40 trades, including as staff officers, clerks, chefs, dog handlers, communications operators, drivers, intelligence analysts, military police women, and postal and courier operators.
The WRAC's motto is 'Suaviter in modo, fortiter in re', which means 'Gentle in manner, resolute in deed'.
Queen Elizabeth II served with the ATS, the predecessor of the WRAC, during the Second World War.
Dame Florence Simpson helped to form the WAAC, the original women's branch of the Army during the First World War.
By 1991, many WRAC officers and servicewomen were serving with other regiments. By the end of that year they had been formally transferred to those units.
What was left of the WRAC was mainly made up of pay clerks. When the corps disbanded in 1992, these became part of the Staff and Personnel Branch within the new Adjutant General's Corps.