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Women and War Work By Helen Fraser Characters: 13729

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

"The more they gazed, the more their wonder grew

That one small head could carry all she knew."

There are people who declare that the winning of this war depends on organization alone. That is palpably untrue. Good organization can do much. The greatest thing in all organizations is the living flame that makes grouping real-the selfless spirit of service that the fighting man possesses and that is beyond all words of praise.

Talk to a soldier or a sailor, realize how he thinks and feels about his ship, his battalion, his aircorps. He is subordinated-selfless-disciplined. The secret of the good soldiers' achievements and his greatness is selfless service and in our national organizations behind him that same spirit is the one great thing that counts.

If you have that as a foundation among your workers, organization is easy.

We found, at the beginning of the war, a great tendency among women to rush into direct war work. Masses of women wanted to leave work they knew everything about to go and do work they knew nothing about. One thing we have realized, that the trained and educated woman is invaluable, that the best service you can render your country is to do the work you know best and are trained for, if it is, as it frequently is, important civic work. Another point, no younger woman should stop her education or training-it is the greatest mistake possible. The war is not over and even when it is, the great task of reconstruction lies ahead and we want every trained woman we can get for that. Our women are in Universities and Colleges in greater numbers than ever, and more opportunities for education, in Medicine in particular have been opened to them.

The trained woman makes the best worker in practically every department and is particularly useful in organizing. A scheme that is only indifferently good but, so far as it goes, is on right lines, well organized and directed, will be more valuable and get far better results than a perfect scheme badly organized and run. An organization or a committee that has a woman as Chairman, President or Secretary, who insists on running everything and deciding everything for herself, is bound for disaster.

I should certainly place the will and ability to delegate authority high up in the qualifications a good organizer must possess.

We cannot afford to have little petty jealousies, social, local, and individual, on war committees or any other for that matter, but in this big struggle, they are particularly petty and unworthy.

We have all met frequently the kind of person who tells you, "This village will never work with that village," or "Mrs. This will never work with Mrs. That. They never do"; and I always answer, "Isn't it time they learned to, when their boys die in the trenches together, why shouldn't they work together," and they always do when it is put to them.

There is no difficulty in getting women to work together in our country. We have a link in our Roll of Honor that is more unifying than any words or arguments or appeals can be. Our women of every rank of life are closely drawn together.

The appeal to women is to organize for National Service and to realize that work of national importance is likely not to be at all important work.

The women in important places in all our countries will be few in proportion, but the struggle will be won in the Nation, as in the Army, by the army of the myriads of faithful workers faithfully performing tasks of drudgery and quiet service-and a realization of this is the greatest need.

Sticking to the work is of supreme importance. We do not want people who take up something with great enthusiasm and drop it in a few months. Nothing is achieved by that.

The good organizer sees her workers do not "grow weary in well doing."

Another important work in organization is to prevent waste of material, effort and money, by co-ordination whenever possible, though I should say, as a broad principle, co-ordination should not be carried to the point of merging together kinds of work that make a different appeal for work and money and require different treatment and knowledge and powers. The best results are reached by securing concentration of appeal and organization on one big issue and getting the work done by a group directly and keenly interested in the one big thing and with enthusiasm for it and knowledge of it.

In the personnel of committees and their composition our women have made it a definite policy to secure the appointment of women to all Government and National Committees on which our presence would be useful and on which we ought to be represented and we always prefer committees of men and women together, unless it be for anything that is distinctly better served by women's committees.

There is one pitfall in organization into which women fall more readily than men in my experience. Our instinct as women is to want to make everything perfect. We instinctively run to detail and to a desire for absolute accuracy and perfection.

This is invaluable in many ways, but in organizing on a big scale may be a serious fault. There must, of course, be method, order and accuracy, but the great essential to secure in big things is harmonious working-not to insist on a rigid sameness but to allow for widely divergent views and attitudes and ways of doing things so long as the essential rules are observed. We should not insist too much on identity in the way of work of different places and districts. In essentials-unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity-that might well be the wise organizer's motto.

The supplementing of governmental organization by national voluntary organization is a great piece of work and in the beginning of the war, and still, many of our organizations, voluntary or semi-official in character, were of great service. The work of the Soldiers and Sailors Families' Association is an example. The S. and S.F.A. had been created in the South African War and in peace time and war time looked after the dependants of the soldier and sailor. Its committees were composed of men and women-and it administered voluntary funds and later grants from the National Relief Fund, raised at the outbreak of war.

When war broke out, all the Reservists were called up and our men volunteered in tens of thousands. The pay offices of the army, being small like everything else in our army, could not cope quickly with the numbers of claims for allowances pouring in, but the S. and S.F.A. stepped into the breach and looked after the dependants. It secured vast numbers more of women in every town and village who visited every dependant and looked after them. They advanced the allowances which were paid back to them later-and this started in the first week of the war. They gave additional grants i

n certain hard cases for rent, sickness or in event of deaths in family at home. Every home was visited and no dependant needed to be in distress or want-S. and S.F.A. offices existed in every town and representatives in every village and any difficulty or trouble could be brought to them. The whole of this work is done voluntarily. In some cases workrooms were started from which sewing and knitting for soldiers and sailors were given to the dependents and paid for. It was not only the money and practical help that was of great service-the S. and S.F.A. visitor to the soldier's wife and mother brought sympathy and help and interest.

Another movement for soldiers and sailors dependents was the founding of clubs for them in many towns. One hundred and thirty-five of these clubs are linked up now in the United Services Clubs League. They are bright, cheery rooms in which the women can find newspapers, books, music, amusement, and opportunity to sew or knit comforts, can meet their friends and talk.

The Royal Patriotic Fund was another semi-official organization which was run voluntarily, gave grants at death of soldier or sailor and administered pensions. It is now entirely merged in the Naval and Military War Pensions Statutory Committee and local committees set up in January, 1916, which administer all grants, pensions, wound gratuities, etc., and looks after dependants.

Women sit on the Statutory Committee and there must be women members on every County, Borough and City War Pensions Committee in our country.

The organization of war charities is now in England controlled by the War Charities Committee appointed by the Government in April, 1916. The committee controls not only what could be strictly termed War Charities, but all war agencies of any kind for which appeals for funds are made to the public. These organizations must be registered and approved by the committee, and their accounts must be open to inspection and audit. This was a wise and necessary step, not so much because of actual fraudulent appeals-there has been practically none of that, but there was a certain amount of overlapping and of waste of money, material and energy, and some very few organizations in which an undue proportion of funds raised was absorbed in expenses. Comforts for soldiers and prisoners of war parcels are also now co-ordinated under two national committees.

The first work of registering Belgian refugees and of providing French and Flemish interpreters was done by a voluntary organization-the London Society for Women's Suffrage (a branch of N.U.W.S.S.), which has always been notable for its admirable organization. It provided 150 interpreters for this work in a few days, and work was carried on at all the London Centres from early morning till midnight. When the Government took over the charge of Belgian refugees, the system of registration used by the London Society was adopted without change by them and the organizer in charge was taken over also and put in a very responsible position at the War Refugees Committee's Headquarters.

The work of our Government Employment Exchanges (which were established before the War by the Board of Trade) and are now under the Ministry of Labour-has been supplemented by various Professional Women's Bureaus, by the compiling of a Professional Women's Register, secured through Universities, Colleges, Headmistresses' Association, etc., and by the setting up of the Women's Service Bureau by the London Society for Women Suffrage (N.U.W.S.S.). Various women's organizations have established most valuable clearing houses for voluntary workers in Scotland and England and Wales. The Women's Service Bureau has dealt with 40,000 applications for voluntary and paid work-mostly paid. Its interviewers take the greatest trouble to place these applicants suitably, and to find out just what they can do or would be good at doing.

Our biggest Government arsenal secured their first munition supervisors through it-and the Government Departments, big firms, factories, organizations, banks, workshops, institutions of any kind, send to it for workers.

It not only finds these posts without charge-it is supported entirely by voluntary contribution-but it has a loan and grant fund to enable women and girls without money to pay for training and maintenance.

Its records and the letters in its flies provide reading that is as absorbing as any novel, and it was one of the wise agencies that realized the older woman had a place and could help as well as the younger ones.

To find the person and the post and to put them together is its fascinating and admirably done task.

The organization done by women in Britain has been notable and admirable.

I can only touch on some of it and must leave out much, but it is worth while noting that there has been very little overlapping in the work. The total percentage of overlapping was estimated by the War Charities Committee on their investigation at 10 per cent and of that only a very small amount was due to women.


Belgian Refugees' Committee. 1914.

Clerical and Commercial Occupation Committee, do (Scotland.) 1915.

Disabled Officers and Men.

Education After the War. April, 1916.

Educational Reform. (August, 1916.)

Food, Committee of Inquiry Into High Cost of-June, 1916.

Advisory Committee on Women in Industry. March, 1916.

Labor Commission to Deal with Industrial Unrest. (Ministry of Labor.) June, 1917.

Munitions Central Labor Supply Committee.

Munitions, Arbitration Tribunals.

Munitions, Committee on the Supply and Organization of Women's Service in Canteens, Hostels, Clubs, etc. December, 1916.

Naval and Military War Pensions Statutory Committee. January, 1916.

Nurses, Supply of-October, 1916.

Polish Victims' Relief Fund.

Prevention and Relief of Distress. 1914.

Professional Classes Sub-Committee.

Prisoners of War Help Committee.

Reconstruction Committee. (To advise the Government on the many national problems which will arise at the end of the war.) 1916.

Shops: Committee of Inquiry, to Consider Conditions of Retail Trade to Secure the Enlistment of Men. (November, 1915.)

Teachers' Salaries. Departmental Committee of Enquiry. June, 1917.

War Charities. April, 1916.

National War Savings Committee. April, 1916.


Committee, Report on Joint Standing Industrial Councils. 1917.

Women's Wages Committee. 1917.

Central Committee on Women's Employment. 1914.

Drinking Among Women, Committee of Enquiry. November, 1915.

There are also two women on the-

Executive Committee of National Relief Fund.

Ministry of Food has two women Co-Directors-

Mrs. C.S. Peel

Mrs. Pember Reeves

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