When Flora Sandes was a girl, she “used to pray every night that I might wake up in the morning and find myself a boy.” As a woman, she refused to conform to the roles expected of Edwardian women in Britain, and travelled the world in search of adventure. She found it: when war was declared, she ran military hospitals as a nurse before enlisting in the Serbian Army.
She was the only British female soldier to serve in the First World War. She became a celebrity at home, quickly rising to the rank of sergeant-major and eventually winning the Serbian Army’s highest military medal for her bravery under fire.
Sandes was far from the only woman to make an impact on the war. Thousands went to the front line to work as nurses or to give military support. At home, millions filled the jobs that men had left behind. Around 950,000 women worked in munitions factories, where chemicals turned their hair red and their hands yellow, earning them the nickname “canary girls”.
Before the war, women had spent decades campaigning for the right to vote. This was finally granted to some women in 1918, partly as a thanks for women’s war work.
For more on women’s role in the war, visit The Royal British Legion. TRBL has also created free downloadable assemblies and lesson plans with the National Literacy Trust. There are six sets of five lesson plans, two each for Key Stages 2, 3 and 4, accompanied by an assembly plan each for primary and secondary schools.
Read Our Story
Watch a short animated video thanking some of the inspiring women of the First World War by the British Legion.
- Imagine you are a woman during the First World War. Which job do you think you would be most suited to and why? Discuss with a partner.
- Choose a woman who made an important contribution to the First World War, and create a short video or presentation about her life.
- Write a short story set during the First World War, from the perspective of a woman.