‘How To Be Useful in War Time’ Queen Mary’s Leadership in the War Effort 1914–1918

  • Judith Rowbotham
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Modern Monarchy book series (PSMM)


This chapter identifies the importance of the wider royal family for the success of individual monarchical institutions, with a focus on Britain’s Queen consort. It argues that active contributions made by a whole family, displayed as being united behind the monarch, were of significant value in reinforcing positive perceptions of the monarchy and demonstrating its relevance to contemporary concerns. From the start, Queen Mary played an active leadership role in the Great War. She not only ensured a public understanding that her husband was supported by his immediate family in the war effort, but also took a lead in demonstrating to the British public that the Royal Family as a whole, not just the King, were both appreciative of and actively and practically engaged with the war effort. Emphasis is often put on the contributions of women suffrage activists to inspiring their sisters to come forward and work for victory. This chapter demonstrates that for a majority of women both in Britain and the Empire, it was the Queen who acted as a crucial leadership symbol for their war efforts. Queen Mary from the start, sought to depict herself as emblematic of British womanhood generally, and in backing up her husband’s efforts to engage directly with his army and navy, she thereby broadened the public profile and usefulness of the Royal Family both in Britain itself and throughout the Empire. This helped to provide a very positive image for the female ‘stay-at-homes’, showing that they too had a total involvement in the war effort even if they were not engaged in high profile activity such as becoming a nurse on the Front Line, or volunteering to work in munitions factories. The Queen’s apparently indefatigable efforts to involve British women in being ‘useful’ in war included more traditional work like caring for the wounded and raising funds for war-related good causes. But it also led her into taking active steps (aided by ‘Red’ Mary Macarthur) to assist working women in Britain, and to her involvement with the formalisation of women’s roles in the Army Auxiliary Corps, with the formation of Queen Mary’s Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps—giving it her name to mark her approval of its members and its efforts. This chapter thus provides an assessment of the contribution made by women who did not challenge the traditional stereotypes of femininity, and who felt supported and confirmed in their usefulness in war by the royal role model provided by Queen Mary.

Introduction: (Royal) Women and War

The previous chapter explored the crucial contribution made by George V to the war effort, but as this chapter demonstrates, the women of the British royal family, led by the Queen, provided an important element in public understandings of the institution of monarchy in a time of war. Queen Mary made a number of choices to ensure that, from the time it became clear war was likely, the British public would see that the monarchy was a stable institution and a force for good in the national crisis because the King was being actively sustained by his immediate family in his leadership of the nation. There was, it could be argued, little new in queens consort so doing. Queen Alexandra had done it for Edward VII during the Boer War.1 Elsewhere in the belligerent nations involved in the Great War, queens consort were active in providing visible support for their husbands.2 But there was more to Queen Mary’s involvement, this chapter will argue, than the traditional supportive role expected of a female consort. Queen Mary’s actions fortified the monarchy because she took actions which helped to modernise and so strengthen the British monarchy as an institution.

Queen Mary’s initiatives between 1914 and 1918 will be shown to have been essentially practical, with her remedies substantially inspired by her own recollections of the realities of the Boer War. She remembered that conflict in terms of what it had meant both for those on active service and wives and families at home, in terms of their requirements and the need for an efficient delivery service to see that what was required arrived where the demand was. Queen Mary had already been preparing herself for contributing to the domestic aspects of an upcoming conflict, in the shape of the fears of civil war in Ireland. When European events overtook that prospect in late July and the first days of August 1914 she was conscious that, even if it was (as many hoped) a short war and ‘over by Christmas’, the scale of the impending European conflict would ensure that the impact on those groups would be even more dramatic and, unless carefully managed, chaotic. The wider context of her actions and public statements was, undoubtedly, her desire to demonstrate to nation and Empire that the King’s family as a whole, and not just the King himself, were placing themselves at the forefront when it came to providing leadership in the war effort. This chapter considers the expectations of royal women, assessing the extent to which, in the ways in which she chose to support the war effort, the Queen was simply acting in accordance with established conventions about the ways in which royal women showed themselves as being supportive of the national effort in war. However, it also asks whether the particular nature of her participation amounted to something new, in terms of both scale and practical activity? Certainly her involvement in various aspects of the management of the Home Front was both extensive in scope and intensive in terms of her sustained and detailed interest in the tasks she assumed. How much of a role, then, did Queen Mary play in demonstrating to her husband’s subjects that monarchy was useful and relevant to their lives, and not merely a relic of an outdated symbolism?

Traditional Expectations

As part of the centennial retrospect of the early twenty-first century, surviving ephemera has reminded us of, for instance, the role of George V’s daughter, Princess Mary, in coming forward to lend her name to a national fund to provide Christmas gifts for the troops at the Front. The funds raised were used to purchase tins emblazoned with the image of the princess and her name, and filled with perishables such as cigarettes.3 These gifts were often treasured by the recipients for the symbolism they encapsulated as much as for their consumable content, and the tins were consequently kept as souvenirs even after the war. That gesture represents only a small part of the much wider and very public contribution made in a very conscious spirit by the Royal Family to ensure through these tangibly symbolic consumables that the British people were made aware that their patriotism and suffering, and devoted service for King and Country, was appropriately and thoughtfully recognised at regular and reassuring intervals.4

Given the precedents set by previous queens and queens consort, the fact that Queen Mary was indubitably a visible figurehead in such efforts, and was also aided in this royal visibility by other women in the family could be said to be a predictable one.5 Being useful by being noticeable in the background to the battle action was a long-established model for women in wartime, as they have been the classic non-combatants in modern Western history. Those queens (including queens consort) and other elite ladies who have, historically, been actively involved in the combat dimension as leaders and strategists were, by the nineteenth century, the exceptions which tested the rule of females as being normatively adjuncts and non-combatants; something the collected biographies of model historic heroines made plain while lauding the achievements of these exceptional women.6

However, despite such inspiring heroines being found in history, by the end of the nineteenth century no explicitly military active role in conflict was envisioned as being appropriate for modern women of any rank. War was essentially understood as a form of sanctioned (and, ideally, well-managed) collective male violence.7 Women of all ranks were, as Elshtain has put it, expected to be part of an intimate collaboration with their menfolk, predominantly in the sustaining of patriotic values as part of the pursuit of victory.8 Where they demonstrated this, they mainly did it on an individual level by providing comforts for the men in their own families, or as part of small community efforts. This chapter has implications for a more complex understanding of the nature of women’s involvement in conflict between 1914 and 1918, and of how this contributed to the advance of British women’s political, cultural and socio-economic advancement, especially in terms of women’s leadership. The focus here is on the extent to which Queen Mary constituted more than a symbolic figurehead, achieving an acknowledged national leadership by deliberately exploiting her position; and doing so to spearhead a process of identifying and expanding the contributions women were expected to make to the war effort. This enables a conclusion on how far she was stepping outside the boundaries of what would traditionally have been expected of her, both as a woman and as the Queen Consort, adding a further dimension to scholarship exploring the contribution and relevancy of monarchy and leadership during the Great War in Britain, including its longer term impacts.

Women’s War Effort in the Great War

From the start of the conflict, the women of Britain generally were very extensively engaged in what was described by the government and the contemporary media as ‘useful war work’. Even in the short number of days before the actual declaration of war, the coming conflict was being presented to the nation by the government as one which would require the total engagement of the whole population, civilian as well as military—including women. For most recipients of such messages from government and other prominent public figures, the most recent memory of war on a substantial scale was of the Boer War. It had been ‘won’ by Britain but at huge cost. There was a widespread expectation that since, as Kipling had put it, Britain had had ‘a jolly good lesson’ from that experience; that the nation’s leaders had subsequently turned that lesson to use.9 Some lessons had certainly been learned by them, including a consciousness of the value of an extensive contribution to the war effort from women. Most famously, they had gone out to nurse the wounded on a hitherto unprecedented scale.10 What is often overlooked is the significant contribution on the domestic front between 1899–1902. During the Boer War British women had demonstrated they could be effective as recruiters to and cheerleaders of the British military effort. More, they had been invaluable fund-raisers as well as providers of essential comforts for the troops—especially the wounded. This summarisation of the memory of the Boer War was encapsulated not just in the reportage of the day but also in various forms of popular culture, which helped to perpetuate and also to mythologise the value of women’s work.11

Consequently, when (during the last days of July and first days of August 1914), official acceptance of the likelihood of a major conflict grew, war planning included an expectation that a substantive female contribution to the domestic front from the start would emerge. Estimations of the scale and impact of the coming European struggle acknowledged that what was likely to be crucial to sustaining the British war effort was what became known as the Home Front, something which would require a ‘total involvement’ by the ‘stay-at-homes’, including women.12 The media was used to disseminate as widely as possible this anticipation of a female contribution to the war effort, emanating from a domestic locale. But equally, while there was some explicit speculation that war would mean that extra responsibilities would consequently rest upon women, for the mainly masculine discussants this was anticipated as being only as an emergency measure and for the duration of the conflict only. When it came to any battle-front, there was, officially, a only a limited expectation of female involvement, via the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service and the Royal Yeomanry Nursing Corps, both tested and established as valuable background adjuncts to male military action during the Boer War.13

The tone of the official comments thus conveyed an implicit message to the population that there was to be only a temporary divergence from ‘normal’ domestic duties and not a permanent shift in women’s roles; and this was a perspective disseminated clearly in the mass print media of the day.14 The Ladies’ Page of the Illustrated London News had pointed out to its readership on 25 July that ‘women are capable of intense national and patriotic feeling’ at times of national emergency and those sentiments were never called on ‘in vain’. But the emphasis was on the concept of it being an emergency. Interestingly, the context for such comments made in the British press in June and July 1914 related not to a potential European conflict, but instead to a more domestic concern: the real fear of imminent civil war over Irish Home Rule. The Illustrated News of 25 July went on to share Lady Londonderry’s announcement that 3520 women had joined the Voluntary Aid Detachments in Ulster to provide nursing and ‘other war services’ if called on.15 This underlines that there was a conscious preparedness in the minds of many British women of a coming need for them to take supportive involvement in a forthcoming conflict, even if it was not the one that actually materialised in the days following 27 July 1914.

Inspiring Britain’s Women in the War Effort

In researching this chapter, it has become clear that though much has been written on the topic of the female contribution to World War I for all combatant countries, the extent and nature of the involvement in the Great War of the women of the British royal family has remained substantially under-explored territory. A survey of both serious historical works and more frivolous ones on the topic of British female war efforts is interesting. It results in a conclusion that there has been, deservedly, an increasing amount of scholarship devoted to the women who volunteered for war work in various ways outside their homes. However, the framework for understanding the structure of that contribution, especially in terms of identifying the female leadership inspiring it, has not been well understood. As part of this, the ‘war effort’ of women who did not leave their homes needs to be considered and understood in relation to women’s work in general. Current historiography has been shaped primarily by the emphasis on the more general histories of women’s advances from the late Victorian era through to the interwar period, which has led to an assumption that key suffrage figures including Millicent Fawcett, Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst, were the key inspiration for women’s substantial and whole-hearted volunteering to become involved in the war effort.

Consequently, the emphasis in the scholarship has been on the different work opportunities opened to women which, as the war progressed, were enthusiastically seized upon by the membership of both the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) and the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). A substantial contribution was indeed made by very many women suffrage campaigners; women who fought hard to be allowed to make a real and valuable contribution to the British war effort.16 Many individual and small groups of supporters did contribute to the women’s war effort in a number of active and important ways. Louisa Anderson and Flora Murray, for example, formed the Women’s Hospital Corps (WHC) in September 1914, to provide from the ranks of qualified suffragists both doctors and nurses for the conflict in the face of considerable hostility from the British authorities. So great was that hostility that initially the WHC worked on what became the Western Front under the French Red Cross. Fortunately, the value of the WHC was recognised by the War Office eventually, and in May 1915, the WHC was asked to take over management of the Endell Street Military Hospital.17 Equally, the formation of the Women’s Police Service was initially a private citizen initiative from a group of suffragettes before becoming adopted by the authorities.18 However, apart from encouragement to men and women to volunteer for war work, there was at the start of the conflict no clearly-led organisational impetus for women’s work from the various suffrage leaders at national level.

The most visible war-related national event organised by a suffragette was the Women’s March Through London, with banners reading ‘We Demand the Right to Serve’; but that did not come until 21 July 1915. It had been organised by Emmeline Pankhurst—working in collaboration with Lloyd George, who gave a grant of £3000 to enable the thirty-thousand strong march.19 This widely-approved suffragette-led initiative, interestingly enough, was instigated by the King, who had read an article by Christabel Pankhurst in the Observer, and suggested to Lloyd George that utilising the Pankhursts might be a useful way of demonstrating the modernity of thought underpinning the war’s moral aims from the British perspective.20 Assessments of their contributions have been framed by knowledge of the claimed outcome of that work in the shape of the granting of women’s suffrage, as Christabel Pankhurst maintained in her speech justifying the patriotic stance of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU).21 However, the belief that the cessation of militancy by suffrage leaders and the accompanying vocally-expressed support of the suffragists and suffragettes for the British cause in the war was the crucial factor in women coming forward to aid the war effort is an insufficient interpretation of how and why British women came forward to be ‘useful’ in wartime. The reality was much more complex.

Part of the complexity lies in the reality that the leaders of both the suffragists and the suffragettes were at a real disadvantage in coming forward to offer leadership to women at a national level in the days before the outbreak of war, and the weeks immediately following it. Millicent Fawcett publicly voiced her opposition to war as late as 2 August 1914, though in the wake of declaration of war, and especially in reaction to the sufferings of Belgian refugees, she encouraged members of the NUWSS to use the opportunities provided by the conflict to demonstrate their citizenship.22 Mrs Pankhurst and her daughters, Christabel and Sylvia, had vehemently opposed the Boer War, that earlier test of popular patriotism which had concluded a mere dozen years beforehand. In 1914, Mrs Pankhurst and Christabel swiftly came out in support of the war, but they were in St Malo, France on 4 August. Christabel drafted an article to appear on 7 August in the Suffragette, in which she voiced her and her mother’s support for the British side in the war as a matter of humanitarian principle.23 But other WSPU leaders in Britain were more confused in their reactions, especially as numbers of their more prominent members were in prison as a result of their militant activity. On 10 August, by which time Mrs Pankhurst and Christabel had returned to Britain and made it plain they supported the war effort, the Home Secretary cancelled the sentences of suffragette prisoners and on 13 August, Mrs Pankhurst formally announced the suspension of militant activity.24

However, in assessing the impact on the majority of British women of the support voiced by these prominent women activists for the patriotic cause, that support needs to be framed in the broader context of levels of support for women’s suffrage activity in the population in general, and amongst women in particular. Membership of the more numerous NUWSS stood at around 50,000 with about 500 different branches through the country. Membership of the WSPU was smaller, at a mere 5000. While there was also support for the cause from those who were not members, it has to be recognised that the women’s suffrage cause was actually unpopular with a substantial number of British women, as well as men. More, the initial confusion and hostility to the war emanating from figures like Millicent Fawcett did not aid them in being seen immediately as the obvious national leaders in orchestrating women’s wartime activities. It was different within their own membership, of course. The Times was typical of press reaction in commenting unfavourably on the ‘irresponsible section of the suffragists’ who were, amongst other actions, responsible for ‘particularly humiliating scenes’ at Westminster Abbey and St Pauls, where services were being held to prepare the nation for war, should it come.25

Women suffrage leaders were thus unable to establish a national leadership role that was widely recognised and responded to by the majority of British women, in either managing or defining women’s appropriate contribution to the war effort. While The Times announced briefly on 17 August 1914 that the NUWSS had ‘organised a Women’s Active Service Corps’, few details were given and there was little subsequent mention of this. Equally, the Women’s Suffrage National Aid Corps, organised by the Women’s Freedom League was described as working to deliver help ‘chiefly to the women and children of the nation’, but its activities were substantially subsumed in the work of other groups, including the Queen’s Work for Women Fund (discussed later).26 It was not until towards the end of the war that this changed to an extent. Millicent Fawcett had continued to lobby for votes for women behind the scene, and in late 1916, when the Speaker of the House of Commons summoned a conference to consider franchise reform, she was a prominent voice.27 From late 1917 into 1918, against the backdrop of a changed political landscape in the aftermath of the government decision to grant a limited franchise to women, the political organisational experience of the leaders of the NUWSS and the WSPU finally became important and regularly reported on. This enabled Emmeline Pankhurst in particular to achieve the prominence in a national wartime role that had eluded her earlier.28

However, from the start, patriotic women did want and look for leadership within their own sex to inspire and shape their war efforts. This provided a real opportunity for the royal family, and particularly the Queen. The lack of a clear alternative in the shape of female leaders at the start of the conflict has already been touched on, but what is often not recognised is the lack of an alternative to the Queen, just as there was a lack of alternative in terms of male leadership to the King amongst the politicians of the day. Whereas in terms of acknowledged national leadership during World War Two, Winston Churchill certainly shared the media limelight with the then King and Queen, even superseding them in importance as the key media spokesman for what the British thought and felt during the war, this reality does not hold for the Great War. Instead, George V and the Queen were the most widely and most regularly seen and reported individuals when it came to giving a lead to the nation’s war effort. There were two key reasons for this. First was the established expectation of leadership from the royal family which would always have made it very difficult for any other woman to challenge Queen Mary for dominance between 1914 and 1918. Second, from the start the Queen was on the spot and personally determined to take the initiative, as well as being in a position to do so effectively because of her access to a significant number of already existing women’s networks, and the readiness of those networks to accept this royal leadership.

This latter reality must not be underestimated, in terms of its importance as a factor enabling the Queen to take so immediate and effective a leadership of war efforts on what came to be known as the Home Front, especially those emanating from women. Reflecting on the suffragists’ contribution during the war, Millicent Fawcett had emphasised the importance of the NUWSS representing ‘a tolerably large band of organised women’ and so in a position to offer ‘organising and money-raising skills’ to the patriotic cause.29 It has been substantially assumed that the NUWSS and WUSPU took a lead because they had strong and coherent structures on which to capitalise, and the first histories of women’s involvement did not challenge this.30 The older scholarship focused on women’s 1914–1918 activities in direct war work such as nursing and key factory work including munitions, has in recent years expanded to look at how they helped to sustain agriculture and forestry as well as in a number of public services, including police and transport.31 Such scholarship has ensured that, rightly, such contributions now form an integral part of Great War historiography.32 But though more work has been done in recent years on the Home Front, what still needs to be tackled extensively is the complex landscape provided by a long tradition of women’s philanthropic but apolitical voluntary organisations and a range of other imagined communities relating to, for instance, magazine readership and the correspondence that generated.33 It was through such networks and communities that huge numbers of British (and colonial) women were accessed and then encouraged and informed about how to be ‘useful in war time’. Queen Mary was both part of the network of voluntary organisations (she had been from childhood) and aware of the power of the periodical press and so in an ideal position to capitalise on both dimensions. And being Queen Consort gave a platform from which to organise a national leadership initiative.

Royal Leadership in Times of Crisis

During the early decades of the twentieth century, the emphasis being placed on monarchical leadership in Britain at times of crisis and conflict is very plain in British media reportage. In the summer of 1914, leading up to the outbreak of the Great War, royal activities and comment was widely reflected on. In the spring and summer of 1914, for instance, despite the threat of both suffragette and Irish violence directed against them and other prominent figures, the King and Queen had resolutely continued with a series of visits to English towns and cities, such as Nottingham.34 Underlining this expectation of royal leadership, The Times, along with other papers, made it plain that it then expected that any resolution of the Ulster Crisis that might avoid conflict there would depend on intervention by the King as a mediator between his government and the other political interests and agendas involved.35 Though the Conference broke down due to the ‘intransigence’ of the politicians involved, the King was held generally to have done his duty as a national leader.36 However, events on the European stage ensured that the focus on the King shifted away from his responsibility for resolving the Ulster Crisis to his responsibility for taking a lead in resolving, if possible, the European Crisis instead. As it became more likely that a major European war would break out in the closing days of July 1914, forcing Britain to make a decision about involvement or abstention from involvement, the King was again to the forefront in the media commentary. The Times on 1 August reflected that war was ‘an act of government for which the responsibility rests in the first place upon the Crown’.37 Though, as another article on the same day underlined, it was accepted that he would be advised and guided by his Ministers, the responsibility and the emphasis was on the Crown.38

As other comments in the press on succeeding days underline, while the King was the key figure in the monarchy as institution, the focus on the Crown included expectations of the Royal Family as a whole, including its women members. For one thing, there were hopes to the last that war might be avoided, and women were traditionally seen as peace-makers. The Sunday Times, for instance, voicing continuing hopes for peace on 2 August, insisted that the advice given to the King by his mother, the Dowager Queen Alexandra, had been ‘almost invaluable’, because of ‘influence that Queen Alexandra has on the Chancelleries of Europe today’.39 While the extent of her insights and the real impact of her influence can be questioned, to do so misses the point that what this newspaper was doing was providing national comfort at a time of crisis. That it took the form of assuring its readers that the Royal Family, its women included, was taking the lead in seeking to resolve the conflict is telling. It was not that leading British politicians were not being mentioned.40 However, overall that their role and significance in developments was downplayed, even subordinated, to the emphasis on the King, and his family, as the national leaders at this time of crisis. Huge attendance was reported at Sunday services on 2 August, ‘from the Monarchy downwards’.41 The newspapers also depicted how, on the evening of the declaration of war on 4 August, the greatest crowds in London gathered outside Buckingham Palace, not outside Parliament, or Downing Street. The King and Queen had to appear no less than three times in response to cheering from the crowds.42

Contextualising Queen Mary—The Victorian Trend

As Frank Prochaska has pointed out, traditionally ‘Royal women … reflected and reinforced the prevailing idea that the female sex had a particular calling or social purpose’ in charitable enterprises in peacetime.43 If, by 1914, the key women in the British royal family were already experienced and practical philanthropists, with substantial organisational experience in fund-raising behind them, the trend-setter for the modern royal family, and one of the leading figures in this royal philanthropy was Queen Victoria herself. She understood, very early in her reign, that one of the first arenas of war-related activity for royal women was the philanthropic one. She had taken an active interest in the Crimean War, showing care and concern for the wounded, and setting the trend of knitting and making comforts for soldiers.44 During the Boer War, most recently, and especially with members of her family involved in the war, Victoria’s claim to personal concern for her troops had an even greater ring of truth to it. After all, her much-loved grandson, Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein, shared the fate of so many other officers and men when he died of enteric fever in Pretoria, in October 1900.45 It underlined the fact that, when at war, her campaigns had an ‘eminently representative character’, involving sacrifice, duty in the name of service to Queen and Country from all ranks in society.46

Victoria’s prominence in leading the nation’s support at home for her soldiers and sailors had set a new standard of expectation for the women of the royal family. The nation was reminded of this when, despite her advanced years and failing health, the Queen came out of the retirement that had marked her widowhood to take a lead in reviewing the troops in her service as they departed for South Africa, and in visiting the hospitals where the wounded had been taken on their return. It was Victoria who revived the idea of making a personal gift to the men in her service, with gifts of chocolate in tins, sent out to the Cape between December 1899 and March 1900. She also, again, worked to provide comforts for the troops, to inspire her women subjects to do the same. This time, she symbolically knitted with her own hands items bearing her monogram (VRI) for five men, identified as being representative of her brave soldiers.47

The nature of philanthropy changed over the last half of the nineteenth century, and increasingly, state-provided welfare initiatives began to be established in the early twentieth century. However, it was still an everyday reality that charitable fund-raising was a necessity to ameliorate the harshness of daily life for many, and Victoria understood that women, not men, were still expected to take the lead in such philanthropically-inspired fund-raising.48 She trained up her daughters to be active and noted philanthropists as well and they developed a huge range of philanthropic interests.49 Victoria also expected that her daughters-in-law would follow suit, and the same held true for her expectations of the more minor royals related to British royalty who were fully or mainly British domiciled, given her realisation that the attendance of even a minor royal lent cachet to an event which significantly promoted the totals raised.50 As a result, thanks to Queen Victoria’s practical philanthropic sympathies, British royal women had, by 1914, not only 55 years of experience of co-ordinating home based fund-raising efforts, but also of being involved with (and patrons of) army nursing both at home and abroad. There was, then, a pool of royal women with substantial experience in managing domestic philanthropic endeavours. Boer War in particular had honed that experience for the royal family and prepared them well for the Great War.

One of the reasons why Queen Victoria had identified her first cousin once removed, Princess Victoria Mary of Teck, as a suitable bride for her unsatisfactorily rackety heir apparent, the Duke of Clarence, had been because she was known in the Royal Family for her activism in charitable works. May, as she was known, was an enthusiastic follower in the footsteps of her mother, affectionately dubbed ‘Fat Mary’. Victoria had later endorsed her marrying the new and inexperienced heir apparent, the new Duke of York and future George V, because of this adjudged suitability.51 But Mary had, however, more than experience of making the right kind of philanthropic gesture—she was a naturally talented organiser and a firm manager.52 During the Boer War, she had also (like Victoria) had a personal stake in the war. Mary’s brother, Prince Alexander of Teck, was in the British Army and was involved in the relief of Mafeking. This was widely known, and so when the Duke and Duchess of York toured the country on behalf of the Queen, sympathy was regularly expressed with her anxieties.53 As a result of her Boer War experience, she certainly felt herself both ready and able to take up the challenge of supporting her husband as King of a country at war in a very active way.

It must be stressed that the efforts of British royal women was intended to compliment, not to challenge, what British royal males were doing for the national cause. As Glencross’s chapter underlines, the King regularly met with not only his government ministers but also his generals and admirals and this was something that newspapers took care to publicise.54 It was reported in considerable detail that the Prince of Wales, already in the Navy, joined the army as well.55 Duke of Connaught was reported as co-ordinating and inspiring the Canadian war effort.56 A quick examination of the reportage of the Queen’s activities reveals that she, apparently by contrast, was focusing on the appropriate and traditionally feminine aspects of the war effort.

Womanly Duty—Caring for the Wounded

One of the major activities of the Queen, from the start, was to assist the King in his own war work, and where needed, to co-ordinate her female relatives to help out as well. Their Majesties regularly received wounded soldiers (officers and men) at Buckingham Palace to invest them with awards for bravery. They also regularly visited the wounded in hospitals in London, and the surrounding area—visiting Brighton, Southampton, and Dover for example to achieve the widest possible spread. She even deputed for him on one visit to Aldershot in 1915, when George V was recovering from his fall at the Front. During the war years, the King and Queen regularly went on morale-boosting domestic royal tours, where they visited the factories and institutions working for the war effort. One such trip was to Liverpool and the North West in May 1917 which, typically, was widely and enthusiastically reported in the local and national press. Tribute was regularly paid to the ‘intimate and friendly’ way in which they spoke (more likely George V) but also to the ‘practical and informed interest’ in people’s lives (most likely Mary) that they demonstrated on such trips.57 In addition, the Queen organised for her husband a number of ‘King’s Parties’, held at Buckingham Palace, to entertain wounded soldiers. At the one held on 21 March 1916, it was reported that eight or nine hundred were entertained to tea and a special programme of entertainment., where six sets of tables were presided over by senior royal women, including Princess Arthur of Connaught and Princess Maud, with senior aristocrats including the Duchesses of Devonshire, Buccleuch and Sutherland acting as waitresses. The occasion was described as ‘friendly and homely’!58

Nowhere, however, is this traditional expectation of the Queen doing what women were expected to do in times of war more obviously visible than in the usage of her as a recruitment symbol. The Queen only consented to become an icon for recruitment efforts because it had a direct practical impact on the war effort. At the start of the war, the popular lyricist, Paul Ruben, wrote a song for women to use to aid recruitment—Your King and Country Want You, with those familiar lines ‘We don’t want to lose you, but we think you ought to go’.59 Performed without fee by popular music-hall figures like Vesta Tilley, it was considered to be a hugely valuable tool in the first eighteen months of the war, until the introduction of conscription. However, it was announced from the start that the funds from the sale of the sheet music would be donated by Paul Rubens and the publishers, Messrs Chappell and Co., to one of the Queen’s new funding initiatives, the Queen’s Work for Women Fund.60 Though initially reluctant, the Queen finally accepted the composer’s offer that the song to be officially dedicated to her, recognising that her public endorsement would heighten the profile both of the song and her Fund.

Queen Mary as Fund-Raiser: The Initial Mobilisation of Philanthropy

When thinking about the nature of women’s contributions to the success of the national cause, this meant, for most contemporaries, various philanthropic endeavours, and above all, fund-raising for aspects of the war effort where the government was not held to have a role in providing it.61 Under Queen Mary’s leadership, British royal women swung rapidly into action by taking a lead in organising fund-raising efforts. Initially—predictably—those efforts can seem essentially traditional in imagination and scope. A grand national bazaar at Olympia, for instance, was announced on 5 August and further details emerged over following days. It was advertised as being intended to raise money for ‘military comforts’, organised by Queens Mary and Alexandra along with ‘the whole of the remainder of the ladies of our Royal Family’ for November 1914.62 However, behind this apparently traditional approach to fund-raising was a different tenor and scale. The Queen was substantially responsible for this, in the way that she came forward, with her mother-in-law, daughter and other relatives, to ensure that there was a greater central co-ordination of such efforts than had been seen previously. In both local and national reportage, events such as the proposed bazaar largely faded into the background in favour of other, more useful and targeted appeals led by the Queen, using the names also of her mother-in-law and daughter as well as her eldest son.

Importantly, on 6 August, Queen Alexandra issued a national appeal, in her capacity as President of the Soldiers and Sailors Family Association (SSFA) for funds to help the families of the soldiers and sailors on active service, exhorting them to remember their generosity during the South African War. She did the same for the Red Cross, as she was also President of this (with Queen Mary as one of the patrons).63 That same day, she was reportedly almost mobbed by an enthusiastically cheering crowd, when returning to Marlborough House.64 More interestingly, a National Relief Fund was launched in the name of the Prince of Wales—but the hand of his mother was all over that appeal, in terms of the organisation and tone of the appeal. Its launch was contextualised by the Queen’s ‘message to the women of the country’ to accompany the appeal of her ‘dear son’, providing an acknowledgement of who would be the key fundraisers.65 The example of generosity was then set for the nation with a set of carefully graduated donations from the Royal Family, with the King donating £5000, the Prince of Wales gave £3000, and Queen Mary gave £1500, while Queen Alexandra added £500, with a further £750 coming from the Princess Royal and Princess Victoria. Within 36 hours, over £250,000 had been raised. This was achieved because of the way that it was organised. Experienced local women volunteers were asked by the Queen to co-ordinate giving in their districts: they were then asked to forward the results to her at Buckingham Palace. All envelopes with money, orders and cheques were sent to the office she established at the Palace, and each donation, no matter how small, received a receipt. The message was that the men were busy with conflict preparations: this was women’s work.66 The system, and the women, worked well. By 4 September, a month after the declaration of war, the Fund had reached £2,063,000. True some of that had come from substantial individual or institutional donations—the Co-operative Union gave £1720 18 s 6d, and the Lord Provost of Abderdeen £5000, while the Church of England diverted £100,000 from dedicated Church collections. The majority, however, came from collections organised by women locally and forwarded to the Palace to be distributed nationally.67

Under the Queen’s management, though in her son’s name, the National Relief Fund continued to draw in donations throughout the war. But other national schemes with royal leadership were also announced promptly. In September 1914, Princess Mary’s League was announced, where the young Princess ‘with the approval of her mother’ became Patron of the new League of Young Patriots, which included amongst its patriotic activities fund-raising via events such as school concerts for the Prince of Wales Fund. Again, the funds raised were to be administered centrally, to ensure maximum efficiency of use.68 Along with generating monies for the Red Cross, which funded—amongst other things—the VAD nursing movement, the Fund remained one of the Queen’s top priorities in war work until the end of 1918. There was regular media reportage reminding readers of the needs for funds for these worthy objectives, accompanied by continual examples of royal generosity as setting the example through their attendance at or other involvement in a wide range of events, from art exhibitions to charity theatrical performances.69 The pride taken by local branches of the League in precisely how much they produced for the war effort is evident in a range of books and memoirs detailing local efforts.70 But recognition of their essential role should not obscure the importance of the central organisation of the distribution of their efforts, under the leadership of the Queen and her family. The Queen was also busy with other war-related activities intended to inspire the womenfolk of Britain—and the Empire—to similar energy.

Queen Mary and Practical Charity: Needlework and Knitting

One area of considerable activity related to that traditional arena for women in time of war: sewing, knitting and otherwise manufacturing items of clothing for the comfort of men on active service, and later, the bandages and dressings and other materials for tending the wounded.71 Mary had long experience here, thanks to her mother. From the 1880s, the Duchess of Teck had been Patron of the London Needlework Guild, dedicated to providing clothing for the children of various orphanages. Having inducted her daughter into the charity in her youth, the Duchess passed that duty wholly on to her in 1897. Even then, Mary had set about expanding it, to supply hospitals and parishes all over London (it benefitted from her personal supervision, and was said to be her favourite charity).72 On 9 August 1914, it was publicly announced that the Queen’s Committee had been summoned to meet by the Queen, and that the focus of the Guild would change, for the wartime period, to provision of items of clothing for soldiers and sailors. It would also become a national, and not simply a London, charity.73 At the meeting, the name was changed to Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild (QMNG), and women across the Empire—not just in the UK—were invited to set up branches and become part of an overall central hierarchy for co-ordinating and distributing its products.

The Admiralty and War Office, in settling their financial plans for supplying the navy and the army, did not budget for things considered to be non-essential and ‘extra’ comforts for the troops (which included spare socks, vests, gloves, scarves, balaclava helmets). It was considered to be up to their womenfolk to provide, through their stitchery and their knitting, any deficiencies in the official provision, as in previous wars such as the Boer War. One thing Queen Mary would have remembered from the Boer War is the swings from over-supply of needed comforts in times of enthusiasm, to the dearth of supplies at times when fatigue and confusion set in as a result of the proliferation of too many women of social prominence coming forward to lead their own fund-raising initiatives.74 The importance of Queen Mary’s initiative is therefore that she had realised, reflecting back on the Boer War, that many of the parcels sent by individual mothers, sisters and sweethearts had not reached the men they were intended for. She understood that it would need a vast and centrally co-ordinated effort to make sure that the distribution of comforts to those on active service was efficient and balanced, and that this was where the QMNG could act. All women with skills in needlework and knitting (which in practice meant all respectable women of all classes) were appealed to by the Queen to join the needlework guilds that existed throughout the kingdom.75 Her invitation was enthusiastically taken up, including throughout the Empire, from India to the Dominions.

The Queen set up a central co-ordinating office, initially for all London branches of the Guild and then expanded nationally. Based in St James’ Palace, its role was to receive and distribute the contributions appropriately, through the organisations that could access the service men most efficiently. Thus the Guild worked with the Red Cross, SSFA,76 and the Territorials in order to deliver to army depots and ports, where the War Office and the Admiralty then took on responsibility for distribution to those on active service. As the details were announced, with the instruction that QMNG local branches should collect the things made by women in their district and forward them direct to Buckingham Palace, she added that she hoped that this organisational pattern would be followed widely.77 As a result, the imperial submissions also ended up at Buckingham Palace, or at offshoot depots managed by the Royal Household. By June 1915, it was reported that the Guild had a registered membership in London alone of over 60,000 and had supplied over 200,000 items of clothing via Buckingham Palace.78 More than that, the Queen also realised that buying the materials for such a mass needlework and knitting initiative would be beyond the financial reach of many potential volunteers, and from the start, the appeal was to middle and upper class ladies both to provide the financial support for the QMNG, in the shape of subscriptions for both ‘the cost of materials’ and to ‘pay those women who cannot afford to give their time’.79

The evidence is that, substantially, the system worked.80 Lord Kitchener’s letter of gratitude to the Queen, published throughout the national press, assured both Her Majesty and the women of the Empire that their gifts of knitted or woven belts and socks (300,000 belts; 300,000 pairs of socks) had been received and ‘careful instructions’ had been made to ensure their successful distribution to the troops in France.81 Subsequent reportage over the following years commented on the sustained huge response that her regularly re-stated appeal to the women of the Empire generated, and at the Queen’s request (and with her design input) a badge was created for those working for the QMNG.82 Over the years of the war, the QMNG played a key role in keeping British and Empire troops in garments and accessories warm for winter and appropriate for summer heat, as well as sewing and knitting (and weaving and stuffing) nightshirts, dressing gowns, feather pillows, bandages and lint etc.83 Again, this indicates that the Queen’s direct involvement in the management of the Guild and its subsidiary arms went beyond providing an inspirational figurehead and was, in practical terms, both consistent and deep in ways that had not previously been usual for royal philanthropy. Mary was publicly (and subsequently, anecdotally) credited with her ‘thoroughness’ in appreciating that the work of the Guild had, if it was to be consistently useful, to be flexible enough to be both seasonal and responsive to demands such as for extra bandages and dressings because of rises in casualty figures for example.84

The Queen’s ‘Busy-Ness’

The range of the Queen’s vision of what could constitute war work for women that was appropriate and needed was exhaustive, even exhausting. Again her practical skills, but also her imaginative approach to what could be done were visible. Made aware of a need through correspondence in The Times, she helped to fund the Free Refreshment Buffet for Soldiers at Victoria Station, to be open at the hours that trains were coming or going, so men arriving or departing could get a comforting cuppa! She later visited it, with Princess Mary in tow, and reportedly, was pleased to see ‘the attractive appearance’ of the stall.85 It was also Queen Mary who was publicly given credit for suggesting to the War Office that it would be ‘much appreciated’ if—‘so far as is possible’—recovering sailors and soldiers could be located in convalescent homes ‘nearest to their own localities’.86 According to The Times as it assessed the nation after the first four months of war, ‘Queen Mary has been unsparing in her work, not only for the soldiers and sailors at the front, but still more for their dependents and for all to whom the war has brought poverty and affliction and for the sick and wounded’.87

As already indicated, she was active in supporting nursing organisations, but much of that was left by her to other royal women. Including Queen Alexandra, they were taking charge of the effort to find home-based accommodation for wounded men returning to Britain, for instance. They were also active as patrons and in fund-raising for nursing and hospitals, and ambulances on the front. Princess Henry of Battenberg had the leading role in the British Water Ambulance Brigade. This, plus a note on 9 August 1914 that ‘Princess Louise of Schleswig-Holstein’ had given the ‘working-girls’ club in Jamaica-Road, Bermondsey, fully equipped for use as a hospital’, underlines the reality that not all British royals who had also a German royal alter ego chose to side with the German cause.88 There was a pretty universal involvement of British royal women and no one was considered too old or young to help. Queen Alexandra’s name was regularly invoked, and under her mother’s tutelage, Princess Mary—just emerging into adulthood—also took named roles in various enterprises. These ranged from her eponymous Princess Mary’s Christmas Gift Fund, launched in October 1914, to the Princess Mary’s Gift Book series, published annually to raise funds for her mother’s ‘Work for Women Fund’ from December 1914 on.

But the evidence is that the Queen looked beyond mere patronage and sought out less usual paths in which to assume leadership in her effort to be useful in wartime. Certainly the Queen’s initiatives looking to the unusual were an inspiration to others. Miss Edith Storey, for instance, sent The Times an approving personal letter she had just received from the Queen; which was contextualised with her story of how she had been inspired to send cases of Bovril to the front. She had done this because she had wished to follow the example of the Queen in doing something practical, but had informed the Palace because of the constant message from there about the importance of centralising these efforts to avoid duplication so that the work of aiding the troops might continue effectively.89 As this attests, the impact of the Queen’s emphasis on central co-ordination was very obvious in a number of areas. Nor is this a single anecdote: similar initiatives and the importance of central co-ordination has been uncovered through Doyle’s important recent study on the use of periodicals by government and fund-raisers to inform local communities and share news about new ideas to help the men on active service.90

Caring for Women

One particularly crucial leadership role assumed by the Queen related to women themselves, very directly. When the QMNG first started its work, its enthusiastic workers started making all kinds of garments, including those that were provided free for soldiers and sailors as part of their uniform issue by the Admiralty and War Office. Leading trade union activists fighting for women’s interests, notably the socialist and suffragist ‘Red’ Mary Macarthur, of the National Federation of Women’s Workers were outraged. Macarthur (personally an opponent of the war but who joined and became Secretary of the Ministry of Labour’s Central Committee on Women’s Employment) wrote directly to the Queen to represent the interests of the seamstresses and women tailors. She protested that the QMNG’s wholesale efforts were putting these women out of work at a time when many women were anyway facing problems with gaining regular employment in a number of trades, thanks to the war.91 The Queen’s response was equally prompt and comprehensive. She immediately instructed the Guild to make sure that they did not, in their voluntary work, compete with those women who, as part of their paid employment, produced garments for the War Office and Admiralty—ensuring thereby that neither could try to cut costs by reducing the free uniform allowance because so much of it was being provided charitably.92 This exchange led to an unlikely collaboration between these two very different women, based on mutual respect and even, one suspects, liking. Both were strong women, capable of taking leadership roles and genuinely concerned for social welfare issues, even if they did not agree on their political views.93

However, the contact with Mary Macarthur, and the information she provided, aroused the Queen to a real concern over the plight of women who had been thrown out of work in a number of areas by the new focus on the war and on domestic thrift and economy as a key part of the war effort. This had a real impact on trades associated with women’s dress, from the dressmakers and milliners to those manufacturing fashionable accessories. Again using Lady Crewe alongside Mary Macarthur, she organised investigations into the situation facing women who fell outside the remit of the SSFA, the Prince of Wales Fund and similar charitable resources aimed at women whose husbands were on active service. The information gathered led to her decision to set up the Queen’s Work for Women Fund, aiming to help ‘distressed’ women whose wage-earning opportunities had been affected by the war. Its motto was ‘Women’s Help for Women’.94 In announcing this new initiative, her personal message to the nation emphasised her ‘firm belief that prevention of distress is better than relief, and that employment is better than charity’.95 Working with the Workers National Committee, the funds raised established the Queen Mary’s Workshops for such women.96 Throughout this enterprise, Mary Macarthur was her key advisor, regularly taking tea at Buckingham Palace during the war.97 These two apparently unlikely collaborators proved to be very effective when it came to identifying and implementing the practicalities of providing work and promoting welfare for women, with the Queen happily taking Red Mary’s advice as to what was most needed for the working women they both most wanted to help.98

The Queen Around the Country

As well as raising funds, Queen Mary was determined to show women workers for the war effort that their contribution was appreciated. She visited widely, on her own account, both in and around London, the factories and workshops which her Fund was helping to support.99 Also, when the King went to inspect dockyards and army depots around the country, she went with him—but while George V examined the military arrangements, she focused on the munition factories and the lofts and other, often very uncomfortable, surroundings in which women were working. On her trip to Liverpool, for instance, it is estimated that—dressed in her usual elegance—the indomitable Queen walked approximately three miles, in blazing heat. She interspersed her walk with climbing up and down steep stairs in order to get into the frequently cramped work spaces to which women workers were confined—and (unlike her ladies-in-waiting) refusing to show signs of exhaustion.100

The Queen even accompanied the King on his fourth visit to the Front, in July 1917, where she felt she was acting as the ‘representative’ of those women who could not, themselves, go to visit their wounded, so she was a symbol of the wives and mothers on the Home Front, longing to see their loved ones. She did therefore, as expected, visit the field hospitals to talk to wounded soldiers and nurses working behind the front lines. But she also went out of her way to support working women there. Specifically, she visited the other, less visible and glamorous, women war workers to be found just behind the front lines.101 In particular, she took an interest in those who were working to repair the machineries of war, from guns to tanks and lorries, as part of the still substantially unofficial Auxiliary Army Corps.102 There she gained insights into not only into the practicalities of what these women (mainly drawn from the working and lower middle classes) were doing and how essential was their contribution to the war effort. She also understood the extent to which their unofficial status left them vulnerable should they be wounded, for instance—and this was a real danger given their proximity to the Front.103 Her visits engendered in her a determination that their work should be properly recognised. She understood that this would require that they should achieve an official status, with all the formal acknowledgement of their work that that would provide, as well as access to support and protection if they were wounded or killed.

There were already discussions under way within the War Office to regularise the position of women, abroad as well as at home, who were substituting for men in army-related duties, but these had not been accorded much urgency. Queen Mary’s active interest changed that. Very shortly after her return from France, the women attached to the Auxiliary Army Corps became instead members of the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC). She became Commandant of the WAAC before the end of the year, and thereafter, Commander in Chief of what was, from April 1918, known as Queen Mary’s Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps.104 She took her commandant role very seriously. When wounded WAACs came home, she made a point of visiting them and ensuring their comfort and happiness.105 Demobilisation of these women was another area she ensured was not forgotten, initiating the setting up emergency hostels for women war workers released from the WAAC (along with nurses and VADS, Land Army girls etc.).106 The Queen also made sure these women were not simply forgotten amidst the national celebrations and expressions of gratitude at the end of the war.107


Overall, Queen Mary showed her husband’s subjects how it was possible, in very practical ways, to ‘keep the home fires burning’ in the traditional sense. Her leadership in these areas ensured good media coverage of women’s efforts, and enabled individuals and communities of women throughout Britain and its Empire to know they were doing genuinely useful war work. The picture gleaned from the media, and also from many of the memoirs of those who were members of the Needlework Guild, as well as those who benefitted from the Fund for Women, indicates clearly that was it was the Queen, and other royal women, to whom they looked for leadership. These royal women acted as their role models in their war efforts. When it came to inspiring their fellow British women to be ‘useful’ in the war, the symbolic role possessed by the Queen was consciously and deliberately exploited by her to enable her to go beyond usual expectations of feminine involvement, and to encourage others to do likewise. In supporting women who stepped outside their usual domestic roles and into less glamorous occupations in war-related factory labour or as troop supporters behind the Front, she ensured that they attained a public profile that would almost certainly have eluded them otherwise.

In terms of the Queen’s ability to communicate widely to the women of Britain and the Empire, the relative invisibility of the suffrage leaders in the media during the Great War is particularly telling. Mrs Pankhurst was directly mentioned positively in The Times, for instance, a total of thirty times between 1 August 1914 and 31 December 1918 and Millicent Fawcett, forty-one times. Moreover, the vast majority of those mentions date from January 1918, with the revision to the franchise to include women already in view. The WSPU, and other suffrage organisations were directly invoked in connection with war work for women a total of 83 times in the same period in that newspaper. This contrasts with a mention of the Queen on over 6000 occasions, with other royal figures like Princess Mary were also prominent. Princess Mary garnered over a thousand mentions; Queen Alexandra over two thousand. It was the royal women, above all Queen Mary, who acted as the consistently prominent exemplars, demonstrating to British women not only that they could be ‘useful in wartime’, but also how to achieve this practically. Above all, this was done not just in terms of their symbolic role and promotion through that of the public acknowledgement of women’s actual practical contributions. These were very practical initiatives, largely thanks to the sustained involvement of the Queen. She understood the need for co-ordination of women’s efforts, to demonstrate their scale, as well as their value. This chapter has been able only to touch on the full scope of the Queen’s activities and involvement, and more needs to be done to flesh this out and estimate the extent of its significance in empowering women post-war. This a reality that historians of women’s contributions to World War One need to take seriously to reveal the full reality of women’s lives in war between 1914 and 1918.


  1. 1.

    Most notably, she had paid for a fully-equipped hospital ship to go to Africa, and in 1902, founded the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Army Nursing Corps. See, for instance, Geoffrey Wakeford (1971) Three Consort Queens: Adelaide, Alexandra and Mary (London: Hale); Julie Piggott (1990) Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps (Barnsley: Pen and Sword) pp38–9 in particular.

  2. 2.

    For the involvement and contributions of royal women from other states, see notably Chapter  4, p87; and Chapter  9, p251.

  3. 3.

    Catriona Pennell (2012) A Kingdom United: Popular Responses to the Outbreak of the First World War in Britain and Ireland (Oxford: Oxford University Press) p223.

  4. 4.

    For more discussion of this, see Heather Jones (2016) ‘The Nature of Kingship in the First World War’, in Matthew Glencross, Judith Rowbotham and Michael Kandiah, eds The Windsor Dynasty: Long to Reign Over Us? (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan) pp194–216.

  5. 5.

    See, for instance, the discussions of Queen Victoria’s active and sustained interest in the welfare of her soldiers and sailors during military campaigns during her reign in Helen Rappaport (2003) Queen Victoria: A Biographical Companion (London: ABC-Clio) p107; Paula Bartley (2016) Queen Victoria (Abingdon: Routledge) p287.

  6. 6.

    See, for example, W. Davenport Adams (1868) Stories of the Lives of Noble Women (London: Nelson and Sons); Anna Jameson (1836) Lives of Celebrated Female Sovereigns and Illustrious Women (London: Fisher and Sons).

  7. 7.

    Jean Bethke Elshtain (1998) Preface, Women and War (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press); Judith Rowbotham (2000) ‘“Only When Drunk”: The Stereotyping of Violence in Britain, c1850–1900’ in Shani D’Cruze, ed. Everyday Violence in Britain 18501950 (Harlow: Longmans) 155–69, pp55–6.

  8. 8.

    Elshtain, Women and War, px.

  9. 9.

    Rudyard Kipling (1903) ‘The Lesson’.

  10. 10.

    Piggott, QARANC; Anne Summers (1988) Angels and Citizens: British Women as Military Nurses 18541914 (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul).

  11. 11.

    For contemporary reflections on women’s roles see, amongst others, Evelyn Everett Green (1904) The Three Graces (London: Andrew Melrose) dealing with the domestic front during the Boer War; similarly see Rosa Nouchette Carey (1903) Passage Perilous (London: Macmillan); L. T. Meade (1901) A Sister of the Red Cross. A Tale of the South African War (London: Nelson). Most recently see Jennifer Doyle (2017) ‘Imagined Communities in the First World War: Food, Periodicals and Readers’, Unpublished PhD thesis, King’s College, London.

  12. 12.

    See, for example, Maggie Andrews and Janis Lomas, eds (2014) The Home Front in Britain: Images, Myths and Forgotten Experiences Since 1904 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan).

  13. 13.

    As histories of nursing show, as the war progressed, many more women became involved in nursing the wounded and sick servicemen than were members of the Army medical services. Civilian nurses on hospital ships and in hospitals at home, as well as the Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs). See Summers, Angels and Citizens; Vivien Newman (2014) We Also Served: The Forgotten Women of the First World War (Barnsley: Pen and Sword) Chapter 2.

  14. 14.

    The extent to which women’s domestic duties to home and family were considered paramount is underlined by Vera Brittain’s experience. Men could not expect to be relieved from war duties because they were needed at home; women were expected to demonstrate their traditional feminine instincts by putting these first, as Vera did when her father summoned her home in March 1918, because her mother had collapsed under the strain of running a war-time household. Vera returned home in April 1918, and took up home duties, if resentfully. See Mark Bostridge (2015) Vera Brittain and the First World War: The Story of Testament of Youth (London: Bloomsbury) pp99–100.

  15. 15.

    ‘Ladies Page’, Illustrated London News, 25 July 1914.

  16. 16.

    Not all suffragists, or suffragettes, however, felt able to support the war directly because of their personal pacifist beliefs. Sylvia Pankhurst’s pacifism is well-known, but other figures including the suffragists Catherine Marshall and Maude Royden continued to agitate for peace. For more on this, including the Women’s International League and its activities during and just after the war, see David Patterson (2012) The Search for Negotiated Peace: Women’s Activism and Citizen Diplomacy in World War I (Abingdon: Routledge) pp233–4.

  17. 17.

    Susan Greyzel (2013) Women and the First World War (Abingdon: Routledge) pp37–38; Newman, We Also Served.

  18. 18.

    Helen Jones (2014) Women in British Public Life 19141950: Gender, Power and Social Policy (Abingdon: Routledge) p32.

  19. 19.

    See Antonia Raeburn (1973) The Militant Suffragettes (London: Michael Joseph), see also June Purvis (2003) Emmeline Pankhurst. A Biography (London: Routledge) pp275–9.

  20. 20.

    Ibid. See also ‘The Women’s March Through London’, The Times, 22 July 1915.

  21. 21.

    Many general and specialist texts on the period highlight Christabel Pankhurst’s claim that victory won with British women’s aid would advance the suffrage cause for women. See, for instance, George Robb (2014) British Culture and the First World War (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan); Sandra Houlton and June Purvis, eds (2002) Votes for Women (London: Routledge).

  22. 22.

    Peter Grant (2014) Philanthropy and Voluntary Action in the First World War: Mobilising Charity (Basingstoke: Routledge) p50. Mrs Fawcett made no attempt to dissuade other NUWSS members to share her internationalist views which made it difficult for her to emulate Mrs Pankhurst in taking part in recruitment activities etc. However, both condemned the International Congress of Women, meeting at the Hague in 1915, as giving comfort to the enemy. See Purvis, Emmeline Pankhurst, p274.

  23. 23.

    Jacqueline de Vries (2003) ‘Gendering Patriotism: Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst and World War One’, in Sybil Oldfield, ed. This Working Day World: Women’s Lives and Culture(s) in Britain 19141945 (Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press).

  24. 24.

    Ibid. By contrast, Sylvia came out formally as a pacifist and split with her mother and sister to form the Workers Suffrage Federation. See Grant, Philanthropy, p50.

  25. 25.

    ‘A Nation at Prayer’, The Times, 3 August 1914.

  26. 26.

    ‘Women’s Work’, The Times, 17 August 1914.

  27. 27.

    This activity was not, however, either lengthily or extensively reported. See ‘Women’s Future Status’, The Times, 29 March 1916; ‘The Future of the Suffrage’, The Times, 16 May 1916; ‘War Work and Votes. The Demands of Women Suffragists’, The Times, 21 February 1917.

  28. 28.

    Purvis, Emmeline Pankhurst, p309.

  29. 29.

    Millicent Fawcett (1923) The Women’s VictoryAnd After. Personal Reminiscences 19111918 (London: Sidgwick and Jackson) p87.

  30. 30.

    See, for instance, Grant, Philanthropy, pp50–4.

  31. 31.

    Notably Newman, We Also Served; Jones, Women; Grayzel, Women.

  32. 32.

    See for instance Robb, British Culture; Adrian Gregory (2008) The Last Great War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

  33. 33.

    Recently, an admirable PhD thesis has begun to remedy this: Doyle, ‘Imagined Communities’.

  34. 34.

    The royal visit to Nottingham took place on 24 June 1914; that morning a militant suffragette, Eileen Casey, was arrested in an attempt to plant explosives under the platform the King and Queen would stand on in Market Square. ‘King and Queen’s Visit to Nottingham’, The Times, 25 June 1914; ‘Police News’, Nottingham Guardian, 26 June 1914.

  35. 35.

    See ‘The King’s Stroke for Irish Peace, the Ulster Conference’, Illustrated London News, 25 July 1914; ‘The King’s Speech’, The Times, 25 July 1914. The Buckingham Palace Conference failed, but the role of the King was generally applauded in the media.

  36. 36.

    In the face of attacks by the radical press on the King’s intervention and its tone, the mainstream press robustly refuted any suggestion of constitutional impropriety, see ‘Mr Asquith’s Vindication of the King’, The Times, 23 July 1914.

  37. 37.

    ‘England’s Duty’, The Times, 1 August 1914.

  38. 38.

    ‘The King’s Intervention’, The Times, 1 August 1914.

  39. 39.

    ‘Court and Society’, The Times, 2 August 1914. There is also an interesting echo in the use of the Dowager Duchess of Parma as a channel for ‘behind-the-scenes’ diplomacy, in Chapter 4.

  40. 40.

    ‘Cabinet Today’, The Times, 2 August 1914, which noted the large crowds assembled outside Downing Street, to watch the arrival of the full membership of the Cabinet. See also ‘The Nation and the Government’, The Times, 4 August 1914.

  41. 41.

    ‘A Nation at Prayer’, The Times, 3 August 1914.

  42. 42.

    See, for instance, ‘London and the Declaration of War. Impressive Midnight Scene: The King and His People’, The Times, 5 August 1914.

  43. 43.

    Frank Prochaska (1995) Royal Bounty: The Making of a Welfare Monarchy (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press) p75.

  44. 44.

    John Plunkett (2003) Queen VictoriaFirst Media Monarch (Oxford: Oxford University Press) p61. See also Helen Rappaport (2003) Queen Victoria. A Biographical Companion, (London: ABC Clio) p110.

  45. 45.

    ‘He has given his life for his Queen and Country’, Editorial, Western Mail, 30 October 1900.

  46. 46.

    ‘Prince and Peasant’, Western Mail, 31 October 1900.

  47. 47.

    Valerie Parkhouse (2015) Memorialising the Anglo-Boer War 18991902 (Leicester: Troubador Publishing) Chapter 3, on the royal family’s involvement.

  48. 48.

    See, for instance, James Macaulay (1904) Queen Victoria and Other Excellent Women (London: Religious Tract Society).

  49. 49.

    Anne Anderson (2002) ‘Queen Victoria’s Daughters and “The Tide of Fashionable Philanthropy”’, Women’s History Magazine, 41, pp10–15.

  50. 50.

    Frank Prochaska (1988) Women and Philanthropy in Nineteenth Century England (Oxford: Oxford University Press) p35.

  51. 51.

    See, for instance, Sir Clement Kinloch-Cooke (1900) A Memory of Her Royal Highness, Princess Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck (New York: Scribners).

  52. 52.

    Charlotte Cavendish (1930) The Biography of H. M. Queen Mary (New York: A.E. Marriot) pp171–2.

  53. 53.

    The Duke and Duchess also toured the colonies, and similar sympathy and enthusiasm was demonstrated there. See ‘News of the Day’, Birmingham Daily Post, 24 July 1900; ‘Women’s Chat’, Ipswich Journal 19 December 1900; ‘The Royal Tour’, The Times, 29 May 1901.

  54. 54.

    ‘The King at War’, The Times, 5 August 1914.

  55. 55.

    See, for instance, ‘The King Salutes His Son’s Regiment: Grenadiers in War Kit’, Illustrated London News, 15 August 1914.

  56. 56.

    ‘The Canadian Force. The Duke of Connaught to Go Into Camp’, The Times, 12 August 1914.

  57. 57.

    See, for instance, ‘The Royal Tour’, The Times, 15 May 1917.

  58. 58.

    ‘Wounded Men at the Palace’, The Times, 22 March 1916.

  59. 59.

    For the full lyrics, see, accessed 23 July 2015.

  60. 60.

    ‘A Woman’s Recruiting Song’, Daily Mail, 14 September 1914.

  61. 61.

    There had been a considerable scope for wartime philanthropy since the Crimean War. See Matthew Hendley (2012) Organised Patriotism and the Crucible of War (Toronto: McGill-Queen’s University Press); Grant, Philanthropy.

  62. 62.

    ‘Court and Society’, The Times, 9 August 1914.

  63. 63.

    ‘Queen’s Appeal’, The Times, 7 August 1914; ‘Queen Alexandra’s Appeal’, The Times, 8 August 1914.

  64. 64.

    ‘The War Day by Day’, The Times, 8 August 1914.

  65. 65.

    ‘The Prince of Wales’ Fund, The Times, 8 August 1914.

  66. 66.


  67. 67.

    ‘Prince of Wales Appeal: £2,063,000’, Daily Mail, 4 September 1914. While there was some criticism over the administration and fears that it was not being promptly dispensed, Balfour provided detailed assurances this was not the case. See ‘The Prince of Wales Fund’, The Times, 14 September 1914.

  68. 68.

    ‘Princess Mary’s League’, Daily Mail, 2 September 1914; see also Grant, Philanthropy, pp40–41.

  69. 69.

    See, for instance, ‘Royal War Relief Purchases’, Daily Mail, 6 January 1914.

  70. 70.

    Newman, We Also Served, rightly dedicates a substantial amount of coverage to women’s fund-raising.

  71. 71.

    Ibid., Chapter 1.

  72. 72.

    David Llewellyn (2010) The First Lady of Mulberry Walk: The Life and Times of Irish Sculptress Anne Acheson (Leicester: Matador Press).

  73. 73.

    ‘Queen’s Committee’, The Times, 9 August 1914.

  74. 74.

    See for instance, Julia Bush (2000) Edwardian Ladies and Imperial Power (London: A & C Black) pp43–5.

  75. 75.

    ‘Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild’, The Times, 10 August 1914.

  76. 76.

    Then the Soldiers and Sailors Families Association; now Soldiers, Sailors and Airman Families Association, SSAFA.

  77. 77.

    ‘Her Majesty’s Appeal’, The Times, 10 August 1914.

  78. 78.

    ‘What Women Are Doing’, Daily Mail, 3 June 1915. There were many other women associated with the work of the Guild informally, of course.

  79. 79.

    ‘Women’s Work’, The Times, 17 August 1914. Daughter of the Dean of Westminster and author of several royal biographies, Mrs Alexander Murray Smith was the identified co-ordinator of this aspect of the QMNG, appealing also for women to come forward to act as local organisers, distributing materials, setting up working parties etc.

  80. 80.

    Anon (1919) Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild: Its Work During the Great War (London: St James’ Palace); Grant, Philanthropy, p74.

  81. 81.

    ‘Lord Kitchener’s Letter of Gratitude to the Queen’, Daily Mail, 15 December 1915.

  82. 82.

    ‘The Queen’s Appeal. Widespread Response from All Ranks’, The Times, 14 August 1914.

  83. 83.

    Set up in 1914 under the auspices of the Guild was the Surgical Requisites Association, based at Mulberry Walk, Chelsea, which particularly concentrated on the medical necessities needed for nursing the wounded. Initially concentrating on dressings, bandages etc., it went on to work on more ‘sculptural’ aids, from cages to plaster casts. For more details of its work, Llewellyn, First Lady of Mulberry Walk.

  84. 84.

    ‘Her Majesty’s Quest’, The Times, 28 March 1915; Anon, QMNG. The importance of the sustained anecdotal tributes to her involvement is that those paying tribute had no reason, post-1918, to give tribute where it was not due: so this suggests that her involvement made an enduring impact on ordinary Guild members.

  85. 85.

    ‘The Queen’, The Times, 28 March 1915. By all accounts, her habit of turning up to check on operations could be slightly off-putting to returning servicemen, when confronted by her immaculately-clad and imposing figure as they were consuming sandwiches or hot drinks, and then being exhorted by her to carry on consuming!

  86. 86.

    ‘The Queen and the Wounded. A Sympathetic Suggestion’, The Times, 22 August 1914.

  87. 87.

    ‘The King’s Return’, Editorial, The Times, 7 December 1914.

  88. 88.

    ‘Care of the Wounded’, The Times, 9 August 1914.

  89. 89.

    ‘The Queen and the Army’, The Times, 24 February 1915.

  90. 90.

    Doyle, ‘Imagined Communities’.

  91. 91.

    Grant, Philanthropy, p38.

  92. 92.

    ‘Voluntary Workers’, The Times, 22 August 1914.

  93. 93.

    It was the Queen who took the initiative in setting up a meeting, via Lady Crewe initially. See David Duff (1985) Queen Mary (London: Collins) p161.

  94. 94.

    ‘Women’s Work for Women Fund’, Editorial, Daily Mail, 4 September 1914; Deborah Thom (2010) Nice Girls and Rude Girls (Oxford: Oxford University Press) p30. Out of the QWWF emerged the Central Committee on Women’s Work and Training, also actively supported by the Queen and involving Mary Macarthur.

  95. 95.

    ‘The Queen’s Work for Women Fund. Message from Her Majesty. Employment Better Than Charity’, Daily Mail, 4 September 1914.

  96. 96.

    It is easy to criticise the low wages paid in these Workshops—but the aim was to employ as many as possible, and it was at least employment. The contemporary evidence is that many of the women employed were grateful for that overall and things improved, at least marginally, as government contracts began to be directed to the Workshops. Equally, Mary Macarthur continued to campaign for minimum wages and overall improved pay rates and conditions for women throughout the war. See Gerry Holloway (2007) Women and Work in Britain Since 1840 (Abingdon: Routledge) pp131–2; Gail Braybon (2012) Women Workers in the First World War (Abingdon: Routledge) pp44–5.

  97. 97.

    Thom, Nice Girls, pp30–1. See also ‘Women Breadwinners: Useful Work of the Queen’s Fund’, Daily Mail, 26 October 1914.

  98. 98.

    The association continued after the ending of the Great War, ending only with Mary Macarthur’s early death in 1921.

  99. 99.

    ‘Queen Visits East End Factories’, Daily Mail, 15 October 1914.

  100. 100.

    ‘King and Queen Visit Liverpool’, Daily Mail, 10 June 1916.

  101. 101.

    There were a number of these, in both domestic and industrial roles, as is revealed in contemporary fiction. See, in particular, C. N. and A. M. Williamson (1917) Everyman’s Land (London: Hutchinson) with its description of life on the front line immediately behind the trenches. While the focus is on the fighting forces, there are vivid depictions of the women working here as well.

  102. 102.

    ‘Queen’s Visit to France’, The Times, 19 July 1917. The origins of the Corps lay in the suggestion that a volunteer force of uniformed women be established to free up men from the need to serve in subsidiary support roles behind the Front lines—recognising the extent to which more informally, this was already going on. See Samantha Philo-Gill (2017) The Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps in France 191721. Women Urgently Wanted (Barnsley: Pen and Sword) Chapter 1.

  103. 103.


  104. 104.

    ‘Queen Mary’s Army Named’, Daily Mail, 20 April 1918, advertised as giving the Corps ‘the royal recognition it deserved’. This was part of an attempt led by the Queen to redeem the racy reputation that the WAAC had rapidly acquired, which was reflected regularly in the media of the day. See Janet Watson (2004) Fighting Different Wars: Experience, Memory and the First World War in Britain (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) pp36–40.

  105. 105.

    See, for instance, ‘Wounded WAACs’, The Times, 10 June 1918.

  106. 106.

    ‘A Hostel for Demobilised War Workers’, Daily Mail, 21 January 1919.

  107. 107.

    ‘Queen Filmed for Film on Women’s Work’, Daily Mail, 3 December 1918; ‘The Queen’s Cup for Women’, Daily Mail, 2 April 1919. See also Watson, Fighting Different Wars.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Plymouth UniversityPlymouthUK

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