The ‘Old Girls’ and the War Effort

Girls High School c. 1910 9.ESC.46A

Title: Girls High School c. 1910 9.ESC.46A
Description: Doncaster Heritage Services by-nc

Nearly two and half million men volunteered to fight between August 1914 and December 1915. This inevitably had an impact on the functioning of a country that was built on industry and enterprise. The ‘Old Girls’ of the Doncaster Municipal High School helped fill this vacuum by not only taking the men’s’ place but also serving in the armed forces.

Many of the girls took up temporary roles as cooks, gardeners or clerks during the war. In fact the positions of bank clerks were one of the most popular roles for the Old Girls with nine girls listed in such roles in July 1919. There were also cases in which family businesses had to be managed by the women of the family due to the men having to serve abroad. Ms Cuttriss managed her brother’s garage for over four and a half years in his absence.

Ms. Selby served in the most popular division dedicated to women volunteers, the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps (Q.M.A.A.C.). The corps was organised into four sections (Cookery, Mechanical, Clerical and Miscellaneous). Ms Selby served as a Quartermistress in France for 8 months before joining the Moto Driver’s Unit in October 1918. By November 1918, the strength of the corps was at more than 40, 000 and many others like Ms Selby worked in war zones in France, Belgium, Italy and Greece.

There were many women volunteers, including a number of Old Girls, who served in the armed forces for the first time. Ms. Mahoney and Ms. Harrison both served in the Women’s Royal Air Force and Women’s Royal Naval Service respectively. Like the Q.M.A.A.C., many of the volunteers served abroad and took on a number of roles, including more technical roles like mechanics and communications. For some like Ms. Mahoney it was possible to progress through the ranks to become an Officer, although this was limited to those from educated, upper class families.

Another popular role for the Old Girls was to work in the hospitals as Voluntary Aid Detachments (V.A.D.’s). A total of eight Old Girls were listed as V.A.D.’s in July 1919 and some like Ms. Mahoney-Jones took on other roles in the munitions factory. Although all of these Old Girls were stationed in British hospitals other volunteers could be deployed in field hospitals abroad.

The war opened up many possibilities for women and as noted by Frances Nodes in the July 1917 edition, it helped some women find a vocation. Women, like the Old Girls, increased their ‘spheres of influence’ by proving they could handle the responsibilities and pressures thrust upon them by war. These efforts were ultimately rewarded for some as women over the age of 30 won the right to vote in 1918.

Information taken from Doncaster High School for Girls School Magazines, Doncaster Local Studies Library.

Research completed by Alex Pilch, Research Volunteer.

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