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Women and War Work By Helen Fraser Characters: 13135

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Your hearts are lifted up, your hearts

That have foreknown the utter price,

Your hearts burn upward like a flame

Of splendour and of sacrifice.

For you too, to battle go,

Not with the marching drums and cheers,

But in the watch of solitude

And through the boundless night of fears.

And not a shot comes blind with death,

And not a stab of steel is pressed

Home, but invisibly it tore,

And entered first a woman's breast.

From LAWRENCE BINYON's "For the Fallen."

The spirit of women in this greatest of world struggles cannot, in its essence, be differentiated from the spirit of men. They are one. The women of our countries in the mass feel about the issues of this struggle just as the men do; know, as they do, why we fight, and like them, are going on to the end. The declarations of our Government as to conditions for peace are ours, too, and when we vote, we shall show the spirit of women is clearly and definitely on the side of freedom, justice and democracy.

Our actions speak louder than any words can ever do, and the record of our women's sacrifices and work stand as great silent witnesses to our spirit. There is nothing we have been asked to do that we have not done and we have initiated great pieces of work ourselves. The hardest time was in the beginning when we waited for our tasks, feeling as if we beat stone walls, reading our casualty lists, receiving our wounded, caring for the refugees, doing everything we could for the sailor and soldier and his dependants, helping the women out of work, but feeling there was so much more to do behind the men-so very much more-for which we had to wait. We did all the other things faithfully and, so far as we could, prepared ourselves and when the tasks came, we volunteered in tens of thousands, every kind of woman, young, old, middle-aged, rich and poor, trained and untrained, and today we have 1,250,000 women in industry directly replacing men, 1,000,000 in munitions, 83,000 additional women in Government Departments, 258,300 whole and part-time women workers on the land. We are recruiting women for the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps at the rate of 10,000 a month and we have initiated a Women's Royal Naval Service. We have had the help of about 60,000 V.A.D.'s (Voluntary Aid Detachment of Red Cross) in Hospitals in England and France, and on our other fronts, in addition to our thousands of trained nurses.

The women in our homes carry on-no easy task in these days of shortages in food and coal and all the other difficulties, saving, conserving, working, caring for the children, with so many babies whose fathers have never seen them, though they are one to two years old, and so many babies who will never see their fathers.

Some of our women have died on active service, doctors, nurses and orderlies. Our most recent and greatest loss is in the death of Dr. Elsie Inglis, the initiator of the Scottish Women's Hospitals, who died on November 26th, three days after she had safely brought back her Unit from South Russia, which had been nursing the Serbians attached to the Russian army.

One who was with her at the end writes, "It was a great triumphant going forth." There was no hesitation, no fear. As soon as she knew she was going, that the call had come, with her wonted decision of character, she just readjusted her whole outlook. "For a long time I meant to live," she said, "but now I know I am going. It is so nice to think of beginning a new job over there! But I would have liked to have finished one or two jobs here first!"

She told us the story of the breaking of their moorings as they lay in the river in a great storm of wind and of how that breaking had saved them from colliding with another ship. "I asked," she said, "what had happened." Someone said "Our moorings broke." I said, "No, a hand cut them!" Then, after a moment's silence, with an expression in face and voice which it is utterly impossible to convey, she added, "That same Hand is cutting my moorings now, and I am going forth!" The picture rose before you of an unfettered ship going out to the wide sea and of the great untrammelled, unhindered soul moving majestically onwards.



There was no fear, no death! How could there be. She never thought of her own work-she knew unity. "You did magnificently," was said to her within an hour of her going. With all her wonted assurance and with a touch of pride she answered, "My Unit did magnificently."

Her loss is irreparable to us, but there is no room for sorrow. She leaves us triumph, victory, and peace.

Edith Cavell's name is another that shines upon our roll of honour-the same serene great spirit-no thought of self, but only a great love and desire to serve-and a great fearlessness. Her message, before she went out alone at dawn to her death, which added another stain to the enemy's pages dark with blood, was the message of one who saw the eternal verities, the things worth living and dying for.

Our men's Roll of Honor is a heavy Roll. We have lost in killed and permanently out of the army, a million men and over 75 per cent of our casualties are our own Island losses. Our women in every village and in every city street have lost husbands, fathers, brothers, lovers and friends. From every rank of life our men have died, the agricultural labourer, the city clerk, the railway man, the miner, the engineer, the business man, the poet, the journalist, the author, the artist, the scientist, the heirs of great names, many of the most brilliant of our young men. We comb out our mines and shipyards, and factories, ceaselessly for more men. Our boys at eighteen go into the army. From eighteen to forty-one every man is liable for service. Our Universities have only a handful of men in them and these are the disabled, the unfit, and men from other countries. Oxford and Cambridge Colleges are full of Officers' Training Corps men. The Examination Schools and the Town Hall at Oxford are Hospitals, and Oxford and Cambridge streets are full of the blue-clad wounded, as are so many of our cities. We are a nation at war, and at war for over three years and everywhere and in everything we are changed.

In these years we women have lived always with the shadow of the war over us-it never leaves us, night or day. We do not live completely where we are in these days. A bit of us is always with our men on our many fields of war. We live partly in France and Flanders, in Italy, in the Balkans, in Egypt and

Palestine and Mesopotamia, in Africa, with the lonely white crosses in Gallipoli, with our men who guard us sleeping and waking, going down to the sea in ships and under the sea, fighting death in submarines and mines, and with those who in the air are the eyes and the winged cavalry of our forces.

We mourn our dead, not sadly and hopelessly, though life for many of us is emptier forever, and for many so much harder, and we wear very little mourning. We mourn silently, and with a sure faith that our men's supreme sacrifice is not in vain. "Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend." The little white crosses of our graves symbolize the faith for which they die.

The message of our soldier poets who have been created by this war and have written immortal verse, and many of whom have died, is the message of men who have seen through the veils of time into eternity, who are free of life and death, whom nothing can hurt, "if it be not the Destined Will."

The veils of time grow thin in these days to those of us who take Death into our reckoning all the time. We think of our men gone on ahead as eternally young.

"Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal

Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.

There is music in the midst of desolation

And a glory that shines before our tears.

* * *

"They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the Sun and in the morning

We will remember them."

We know, too, though we do not often define it, that the forces we women fight in the enemy are the forces that have left women out in world affairs.

Germany is the Fatherland, never, it is significant, the Motherland as our little Islands are, and its mad dream of militarism and Weltmacht is the dream of men who deny any constructive part to women in the great affairs of life. The hopes of all the democracies are bound up in this struggle and its issue, and there is no real place in the world for the true service and genius and work of women, any more than for that of the mass of men, save in democracy. We mean so much in these days by democracy. It seems to be indefinable in its larger meanings. It is not a system of government, but, on the other hand, no country can be called democratic that has not established political freedom, and no country is truly democratic in which such freedom is only in name, and its women are not included or a group rule or the demagogue and the worst kind of politician hold sway.

Democracy is not here till all serve and all are given opportunities so that they have something of value to give to their country and to the world. Democracy is the ever changing, ever developing, ever creative spirit of man expressing itself in his institutions and systems of government and relationships.

Its quarrel with our enemies, who would impose on the mass of men cast-iron systems, and would set up state idols to be worshipped as higher than the Conscience and spirit of man, is so profound and goes so deeply into knowledge and feelings that are too big for words, that the soldier who never tries to express it but goes out and drills and works and disciplines himself that he may present his body as a living shield for the faith that is within him, and the woman who works with him and behind him, healing and giving, silently, are perhaps wisest of all.

It is no time for words only, though right words are mighty powers, but for living faith in deeds and the spirit of the women of all our allied countries is swift to answer the challenge-by their works shall ye know them.

The spirit of our women shows, like that of the French women who tend their farms, keep their shops, work ceaselessly everywhere, most clearly and wonderfully in their work. In our hundreds of hospitals night and day, they care for the wounded and the sick and the dying, bringing consolation, love, skill, heroism, patience and all fine things as their gift. From myriads of homes they pour forth to their daily toil, carrying on the work of the country, educating the children, taking the place of their men on the railways, the factory, the workshop, the banks and offices. In the munition works, in the shipyards, in the engineering shops, in the aeroplane sheds, they work in tens of thousands-risking life and health in some cases, but thinking little of it, compared with what their men are doing, knee-deep in snow and mud and water in the trenches. "Is the work heavy?" you ask. "Not so heavy as the soldiers'." "Are the hours long?" "Six days and nights in the trenches are longer." "We are going to win and you are going to help us"-and the munition girl and the land girl and the workers answer not only with cheers and words but answer with shells and ships and aeroplanes and submarines and food produced and conserved, and in industrial tasks done by men and women together.

The enemy airships and aeroplanes bomb our cities but our girls "carry on"-no telephone girl has left her post-there have been no panics in our workshops.

And the spirit of the Waac-the khaki girl-is the spirit of her brother.

On one occasion in France in an air raid, enemy bombs came very near some girl signallers. They behaved splendidly and someone suggested it should be mentioned in the Orders of the Day. "No," said the Commanding Officer, "we don't mention soldiers in orders for doing their duty,"-and that tribute to their attitude is deserved and the right one.

And, like our men, we carry on cheerfully, knowing there is only one possible end, victory. We fight for the sanctity of the given word, for honour, for the rights of individuals and nations, for the ideals that have preserved humanity from barbarism, for the right of service, for the salvation of common humanity.

More, we women work with a feeling in our hearts that we, who bear and cherish life, and to whom its destruction is most terrible, have a great work to do and a great part to play in the settlement of the problem of war in the future.

The transmutation of the struggles of mankind from the physical to the spiritual, the solution of national and international problems, the solution of all the riddles of life that demand an answer or man's conquest, cannot be done by man alone. It is our task also and to the great work of building up a new world after we emerge from this crucible of fire in which the souls of the nations are being tested, the spirit of women has much to bring.

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