Wartime Women Drivers

Female ambulance drivers were a shocking sight on the front lines of the First World War.

Text by Nelle Oosterom

May 11, 2015

Woman cranks up engine while another woman climbs into the ambulance.

At the outbreak of the First World War, motorized vehicles were still a relatively new development. And the idea that women could drive these vehicles — let alone drive them around the shell holes at the front lines — was even more revolutionary.

But in this case necessity drove out nicety. With men needed in fighting roles, it became more acceptable to train women in jobs normally relegated to men.

Many Canadian women signed up to join organizations such as the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry in Britain.

The FANYs did the dangerous work of removing the wounded from the battlefield and transporting them to field hospitals.

Their brave efforts in the line of fire eventually earned them the respect of the British War Office, which officially approved the organization in early 1916.

Furthermore, the war office established the British Women’s Army Auxilliary Corps (WAAC) a year later.

The WAAC included women drivers and mechanics. But it was still an uphill battle for the women to gain proper recognition, especially when it came to pay.

Women were still paid less than men for the same work.

Archival film of WAAC drivers and mechanics from the Great War Archive of the University of Oxford.

Read the full story “Angels Behind the Wheel” by Christa Thomas in the June-July 2015 issue of Canada’s History magazine.

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