By Shona Blainey
Writing a blog for Women in Defence UK in support of VE Day was something I was very keen to do, but also found difficult. Such an anniversary, marking Victory over Europe, is hugely significant in UK history in so many ways, not just in terms of marking the end of violence between the Allies and Germany in Europe. This was my dilemma – I wanted to write something that highlighted one or several amazing achievement(s) by women during World War Two and the subsequent benefits this had towards the war effort. However, I also wanted to bring to light those women and men who did not manage or have the opportunity, to achieve something that was recorded – they should also be remembered and celebrated.
Women were not drafted into the Armed Forces into combat roles, they were not sent to war like men were, most (with the noted exception of volunteers for the Special Operations Executive) did not have to endure the horrors seen on the front, but many experienced horrors at home. As time went on women were recruited to perform more roles specifically in support of the war effort at home – flying aircraft, working as part of the Women’s Land Army, providing medical support and manufacturing work in factories, and to release men to serve overseas.
What is often missed however, is the support that women provided the nation within the social domain, and the unpaid labour that is so often forgotten, even now. Women contributed to advancing the world through providing a social grounding and safety net for family members, spouses and partners.
As I’ve progressed through both a military and now a civilian career, I have come to the realisation that whilst it’s fantastic to have role models who have overcome adversity in order to achieve great things (something which in itself should be celebrated), we should also celebrate those who have provided the emotional, nurturing and stable support that has enabled said progress to happen. Those who have literally ‘stayed at home’. Those who have held the fabric of the community together by being on the end of a phone, sending morale parcels, running errands, looking after dependents and turning the car over so the battery doesn’t run out.
The pandemic war we are fighting today could on one hand be seen as the antithesis of those large kinetic wars of the past – one where in order to ‘wage’ this war and indeed to win, the nation must rely entirely on the sympathy and empathy of the entire population, rather than aggression and dominance. In this war, those on the front lines are those employed in more ‘nurturing’, static professions, where the majority are female as opposed to what we saw in the past, where the frontline consisted of men who were travelled over our skies, waters and overseas.
Both types of war rely on the individual putting the needs of others before their own and relying on the fact that technology prevails. Technology, which does not discriminate between genders. Be it de-coding machines, atomic bombs or (hopefully) vaccines, it is important to note that, in the words of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy ‘everyone is equal before the machine…. there is no tradition in technology, no class-consciousness’.
The 75th anniversary of this monumental day highlights to us that so many people in the past have made sacrifices to ensure that we can enjoy the freedoms and liberties that we are currently (and temporarily) having to forego. Like military personnel have done, the key workers in the UK today are risking their own health and wellbeing to keep us safe (they do this anyway, but it just so happens that during a pandemic this is exacerbated on a much larger scale). I feel lucky to have and to have had such great support.
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