Wednesday, 23 February 2011

The Last Veteran?

There has been a fair bit of publicity this week for Florence Green, who on reaching her 110th birthday has been named as both a 'super-centenarian' and also the last surviving female 'veteran' of the Great War. As time goes by, the definition of 'last veteran' seems to have changed. Once it was used solely for those men who had met the Germans or other adversaries on the battlefield, but as they disappeared, it was broadened to include anyone who was in military service at any time during the Great War. Florence Green joined the Women's Royal Air Force in 1918, and served for a short time before the Armistice as a waitress at an R.A.F. station. Her position entitled her and her colleagues to both military status, and also, if unfortunate enough to die during service, commemoration by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

However, there were great numbers of other women working for their country at that time, many of whom were involved in direct contact with victims of war, but whose work did not offer them the same entitlements as Florence Green and her colleagues. More than 70,000 women worked during the Great War as nursing 'VADs' - members of Voluntary Aid Detachments. The vast majority of these women came under the auspices of the British Red Cross Society, and served in the United Kingdom only, and their status as civilians excluded them from being classed as military workers. They worked long hours to ensure that wounded and sick soldiers received the best possible care; they scrubbed and polished, made beds, lit fires and cooked meals; they helped with dressings and treatments, and faced, on a daily basis, sights and smells unimaginable today. For this, the vast majority were unpaid - they were indeed 'voluntary.' For the many who died during the course of their service, there is no official commemoration - as far as the Ministry of Defence and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission are concerned they are the civilian nameless, unworthy of national recognition.

There are a number of women in the UK at present who are older than Florence Green. I wonder if any of them worked as young VADs during the Great War? If so, they will not be recognised. They were civilians. They are of little interest to the veteran-hunters. Oh that they might have spent their working lives during the Great War as waitresses in an officers' mess.

Florence Green - the last female veteran

1 comment:

  1. Well said, Sue. SIt's somewhat surprising that the role of the VAD in WW1 is still under-played.