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Women on all fronts

Suffragist women were present and active on the Western and Eastern Fronts in a huge variety of roles, including as doctors, nurses, drivers, mechanics and administrators.

In 1914 when Scottish suffragist Dr Elsie Inglis approached the War Office to offer her services to the British Army she was told to ‘Go home and sit still', and that commanding officers ‘did not want to be troubled by hysterical women'. Disregarding their advice, Inglis instead founded the Scottish Women's Hospitals (SWH), which was funded by the Scottish Federation of Women's Suffrage Societies. Starting with a 200 bed auxiliary hospital at Royaumont Abbey in France in 1914, by 1917 the SWH had branches on the Western and Eastern Fronts. In 1915 the staff of one of the Serbian units of the SWH were taken as prisoners of war by the invading Austrian army. Inglis and others refused to leave their patients, and after their release in 1916 moved to the Russian Front to continue their work. Vera ‘Jack' Holme, who had been Emmeline Pankhurst's chauffeur, joined the SWH in 1914 as an ambulance driver, and was later awarded the Samaritan Cross by the King of Serbia in recognition of her service.

As well as volunteering at home and abroad, women also served abroad as part of the armed forces. The Women's Army Auxiliary Corps was established in 1916, followed by the Women's Royal Naval Service in 1917, and the Women's Royal Air Force a year later. When the services were disbanded after the war, over 100,000 women had served.