Over thirty years ago, I submitted my undergraduate history thesis on the topic of Women in Uniform in World War II. Forty years before that, my mother and aunt were among those women in uniform.
I grew up listening to stories about the war. My Nana guided a group of evacuees from London to Bedfordshire. Among the children were her own daughters Eileen and Joan. They settled into a village that was surrounded by air fields. My grandfather was an RAF sergeant serving in the Middle East. Nana took a job as a telephone operator in a factory. Her mother and sister stayed behind in London until the house was bombed. Then they moved into the small cottage with Nana and the girls.
When Eileen (my aunt) was old enough, she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). She trained as a driver/mechanic and drove ambulances. She was one of the drivers transporting the wounded to inland hospitals after D-Day. She inspired my choice of topic for my history thesis. She was able to put me in touch with some of her old army buddies, who in turn helped me contact other British and Canadian women who had served.
When my mother was old enough, she volunteered for the Royal Observer Corps (ROC). Her stories inspired the book I am currently writing: Tasha's War. Not just my mother's often self-deprecating tales of her service, but the picture she built in my mind of life in an English village during the war.
Unfortunately, by the time I came up with the idea for the story, my mother wasn't around to help me with the research. Stories told around the dining room table weren't enough. Fortunately, I love research.
No surprise, I discovered that there's much more material available on women's service in wartime than there was when I started my history thesis thirty five years ago. Not that I'm going to write an academic paper. As my professor pointed out back then, I make a better storyteller than historian.
Do you have family stories to share from WWII? I'd love to hear them!
RESEARCH MATERIAL OF THE DAY
NO JOB FOR A WOMAN: The Women Who Fought to Report World War II
I watched this excellent documentary via the Guelph Public Library. It's also available on DVD via the link above and seems to be shown annually on PBS for International Women's Day.
Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue
By Kathryn J. Atwood
Like I said above, there's much more material available today than I had available to me in thirty years ago.