I am always interested in women’s experiences during World War II so I was excited when I found the book “Our Mothers’ War” by Emily Yellin. This book turned out to be the best and most comprehensive book I’ve read on all aspects of women’s participation in helping to win the Second World War.
Yellin covered all the roles we normally think about – from wives and mothers waiting at home to defense workers doing their bit to women in the military. She also included other roles we often forget – like politicians, spies, prostitutes and many more.
In my first novel, Kitty’s War, my heroine joined the Women’s Army Corps and served in England and France. My next novel, A War Apart, which will be available later this year, the heroine worked in a ship yard and then a secret defense plant. In my third novel, the heroine is an Army Nurse. As you can see, I have covered several roles women took on during the war. What others will I choose?
“Our Mother’s War” has given me some ideas for future characters. Examples might include women who worked for the Red Cross, which offered many opportunities. Women worked in canteens providing companionship and dancing partners as well as food and drink. Others volunteered in hospitals helping with the wounded. The Red Cross sent packages to American prisoners of war as well as to soldiers and refugees. Women put these packages together, much like the workers in food banks today. Red Cross workers could volunteer to go overseas where they set up clubs on American bases overseas. Others worked in “club mobiles” which were vehicles equipped to make coffee and donuts and to play American records to troops close to the battlefield.
Another possibility might be a young woman working on her family farm while most of the men were off in the military. In her book, Yellin points out that the United States had their own Women’s Land Army. We’ve heard of the English version, but I didn’t know about the American one until I read Yellin’s book. Women made a sizable dent in the labor shortage on the farm.
You’ve probably seen the movie “A League of their Own.” That’s another way women contributed to the war effort. When men’s baseball couldn’t field a team, women stepped up in parts of the country to provide that athletic entertainment. And speaking of entertainment, women did everything from movies to radio broadcasts to all-girl bands to entertaining the troops in USO shows.
Women were also used as spies both in the United States and abroad. Women were dropped behind enemy lines to help resistance forces. Many others served in the government in various capacities from Congresswomen to code breakers to linguists.
The more we look the more roles we find that women took on. In my writing I lean toward the ordinary women who did extraordinary things, yet remained out of the spotlight. Almost every woman in the country did something to help the war effort.