Behind every soldier, there was a woman

As we pay our respects to the fallen today, those who faced danger, hardship and brutality, made sacrifices and paid the price of conflict, I want to remember and honour the women who have served and are currently serving in war, conflict and peace-keeping missions.  They are all brave, courageous women, who deserve our respect and a place in our memories and memorials.

During war our country kept running, largely thanks to thousands of women.

Each time war is declared, their hearts grow heavy.  They fear what will come next.  They know what will come next.  They may protest at being forced to part, but it is in vain.  They wave their husbands, sons or brothers off to war, not knowing if they will ever return.  They are with them in spirit, willing them to write letters, to change their socks, get enough sleep, and to come home alive.  They scan the list of deaths or missing in the newspaper, breathing a sigh of relief when their loved one’s name is not there, but mourning quietly for the families they know are now one less.  They are gripped with apprehension at the arrival of telegrams or envelopes with unfamiliar handwriting.  Is this The News they’ve been praying would not come?  Is it a brief condolence letter from his officer, or a telegram with the words ‘missing in action’.  What action?  Where?  Are they under the sea?  On a lonely hillside?  A prisoner of war?  Will they ever know?  So many questions.  Some never answered.

However, these mothers, sisters and wives did not sit around moping, waiting for news.  When the majority of Australia’s workforce left their jobs to enlist, it was left to the women, Indigenous, English and migrant, to keep the country going.  They were not lacking in skills or enthusiasm, and they worked tirelessly on farms, in factories and in hospitals.  They sent parcels and letters to soldiers and supported one another when faced with grief and loss.  If they were able to welcome home a soldier, sailor or airmen, they may not have recognised them, so changed were they in visage or personality, after the battles and horrors of war.  The on-going care of those with physical injuries and/or mental illness would take a toll, especially with little to no information or support available.  Life would never be the same again.

The women who joined the armed forces over the last 100 years were less in number than men, but no less instrumental.  Although forbidden to combat until recently, they have played many active and important roles in administration and communication, espionage, medical services and ammunition production, many injured or losing their lives in attacks or accidents in the line of duty.

For those interested in learning more, head to Women in action, Women in industry, All in – leaving home.

These are my favourite movie and TV series depicting life for nuns and Australian army nurses.  Although the stories are dramatised, they’re based on real events of resilience, sacrifice, friendship and courage: ANZAC Girls and Sisters of War.

Lest we forget.

Originally posted 25/4/2016 on Bee Hopefull.
Disclaimer: the accounts described here are my interpretation of Australian literature, history archives and film depicting the lives and experiences of women during wartime.  I cannot vouch for the accuracy of any external links on this blog.

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