Ella’s Report on the podcast, “Women Trailblazers”

For my special mission project, I listened to 13 short podcasts about remarkable women’s stories from WW1.  In the BBC podcast series titled “Women Trailblazers,”  I learned about courageous women that served in the war, who held positions such as VADs, mechanics, moral guardians, patrols- and even soldiers.  I found many similarities to the women in Not so Quiet, especially in regards to the resistance these characters experienced, from men, families, and society as a whole.  In the “Women Trailblazers” podcasts, I learned that all of these women had the same thing in common: the desire to be an active and involved participant in the war.  

Vera Brittain, a woman that grew up in Buxton, England, reminded me a lot of Helen in Not so Quiet.  Brittain was a VAD during the war and experienced the same violence as Helen, and found assimilating back into society very difficult.  Brittain said she felt trapped in her town and compared it to a prison.  Brittain was angry about the “snobbishness” many people exhibited, similar to the artificial qualities of Helen’s mother and Mrs. Evans-Mawnington.  Brittain chose to further her education instead, ignoring the disapproval of her family and town, and their intent arguments that “you will never be married this way.” Yet, Brittain persevered, and later wrote the novel, Testament of Youth, a memoir that describes the struggles of acceptance educated women faced in WW1.   

One of the most accomplished women in the podcast series is Flora Sandes.  Sandes grew up in rural Suffolk and had always “been a keen rider and a good shot.”  Sandes had always wanted to be a soldier, and when she worked as a nurse, her potential to be a soldier was recognized when she was given the rank of private.  As a result of her bravery, Sandes won the Star of Karađorđe; Serbia’s highest military honor.  Sandes won this title when she bravely broke cover during a surprise attack, leaving her seriously injured.  Sandes, and many other women in these podcast sessions, remind me of Tosh, and the their indifference to appear “feminine.” and instead demonstrating bravery.  ndes showed more bravery than any man in her troop, and risked her life as a result.

Sandes isn’t the only woman that held a military position at the time.  Elizabeth “Dolly” Shepherd got her sergeant stripes, but was often cat-called by men, with things like “Kiss me sergeant!” Because of this constant name calling, Shepherd covered her stripes and kept her head down.  However, that isn’t to say she didn’t make her mark.  When one soldier’s car broke down, men hurried to help fix the issue, scrambling for ideas.  When they had all but given up, Shepherd asked if she could “take a look.”  They allowed this, but dismissed the idea of her fixing anything.  Lo and behold, Shepherd, using one of her “invisible hairpins,” was able to tinker and resolve the issue.  This gained her the respect of all the men, leading to a small, but impactful moment for Shepherd, and all women.  

In terms of positions of power, women could become patrols, or as they were named: legal guardians.  This meant they had no real power; they couldn’t arrest people, but they were able to give warnings, particularly to correct other women.  For example, Edith Smith was the first female officer to be given full powers of arrest.  She was sworn in at Grantham Police Station in 1915.  A report sheet, dated in 1917, provides examples of her duties:  “40 foolish girls warned, 20 prostitutes sent out of Grantham, 2 fallen girls helped, 5 bad women cautioned.”  Although Smith was respected for her position, she still only had power to arrest other women, while male officers had power to arrest both men and women.  This reminds me of the Commander in Not so Quiet, she has a position of authority, but it only extends so far. 

I enjoyed listening to the “Women Trailblazers” podcasts.  I wasn’t surprised by the backlash women in war faced, but I was disappointed.  For example, Vera Brittain’s family did not light the fire in her room that kept her warm, because they did not want her to go to university.  It’s so sad how vehemently families opposed their daughters from gaining any education or independence.  Although, I enjoyed listening about the different loopholes women would take, such as Sandes becoming a private in the war. 

Abby Algeier’s report on the podcast “Britain: The Psychology of War”

The BBC has a series of podcasts about World War I (aptly called “World War One”) that include episodes of different topics. I listened to the “Britain: The Psychology of War” episode that discusses why men volunteered to go to the front and what drove them to the edge.

The first thing Amanda Vickery and her guests Dan Todman and Michael Roper talk about is the drastic increase in men joining the army, from 100,000 at the beginning of the war to 100 million towards the end, 80,000 of whom had shell-shock. There was not much patriotism among young British men until after Britain joined World War I, and while there was a small rush to the recruitment offices beforehand, at the end of August 1914 men joined the army in droves.

One segment I found particularly relevant to our class occurred about 18 minutes, 41 seconds in. The speakers spoke about the 8 million letters per week sent home from the Western Front and how many of them contained shopping lists; the situation at the Front was very domestic, leading into an interesting topic: men in maternal roles. One speaker read aloud what a man named David wrote about a comrade who was hit by shells. He held him in his arms, and kissed him twice on his brow — once for the man’s mother, and once for himself. This immediately reminded me of the scene in All Quiet on the Western Front with Paul and Franz (we all know the one). There are many accounts of dying men crying out for their mothers, and some men wrote about the ground being their mother’s arms, which also called to mind All Quiet.

The topic moved to the influx of poetry by men about the war, made possible due to mass literacy. They delved further into poetry and gendered points of view about the war and patriotism before bringing in Joanna Bourke, the third guest, to discuss shell-shock.

Bourke explained that shell-shock as a term is similar to “soldier’s heart” from the American Civil War and PTSD from Vietnam. She states that shell-shock was a uniquely United Kingdom experience, but I disagree. Shell shock affected Allied and German powers alike — the speakers later remarked that other countries had shell-shocked soldiers too. The term itself originates from the theory that a shell exploding nearby released shockwaves that strongly affected the brain by shattering their nerves. Diagnoses determined whether men received pension, treatment, or were “shot at dawn.” Lower-ranked privates were considered womanish while higher-ranked. higher-class officers had anxiety disorders.

One audience member spoke about his grandfather, a doctor during WWI, who was traumatized by caring for soldiers, and he said something very profound: the war did not end in 1918. His grandfather’s children were affected by the trauma, too. The speakers noted that at first, discussion about the war, its effects, and shell-shock skyrocketed but fell off after some time. Children often wet the bed and had night terrors.

The speakers briefly spoke about male vs. female shell-shock. While women experienced identical symptoms, especially nurses, V.A.D.s, and ambulance drivers who saw destroyed men, they were largely ignored. This reminded me of Not So Quiet‘s…everything! Nellie knew her mother would think her hysterical, yet at the end of the novel, she lost her soul.

None of our novels were mentioned at all in this podcast, but I still recognized elements from All Quiet and Not So Quiet — even though the former was German, not British. It’s easy to separate the fictional war books from real-life events. The themes we discussed in class are real for men and women in WWI, and to me, this is absolutely mindblowing!

Kimber Foreman’s report on the podcast ‘Women’s lives on the Home Front’

I listened to Women’s Lives on the Home Front, a BBC special episode of Women’s Hour. This episode is a behind-the-scenes look at the start of a four year broadcast drama on Radio 4 called Home Front. Home Front itself is a radio drama broadcast designed to look at the lives of “people normally hidden from history” during World War One, – indicating the stories of women and working-class people – and this behind the scenes look is a conversation with creators and actors about the historical details they used to craft their characters.

This delves into an array of topics, including the rapid militarization of a town called Folkstone and their early refugee acceptance, how women supported or rejected British participation in the war, what women felt their role in the war was, how non-wartime issues were affected by the outbreak of war, how modern issues like sexual violence were treated (and ignored) at this time, and even a little myth-busting. Apparently it’s been commonly spread that combatants believed they’d be home by Christmas, but when one of the writers did a little historian sleuthing, he found that it was only a common idea among the Germans! They were so confident in their military capabilities they thought they’d be able to outdo their opponents in no time.

This podcast does well in covering a lot of ground quite quickly as well as introducing some topics not often brought to the forefront of war conversations, but in moving through topics so rapidly I think some opportunity for detail was lost. This episode feels like the beginning of a conversation, but because it isn’t part of a larger series these topics don’t get explored beyond the surface level introductions in this episode. That said, I do think there’s value in these surface level introductions. When lessons on World War One intersect with women’s suffrage the conversation often starts and ends with “women replaced men in factory jobs and saw increased employment before being forced back home after the war”, but this introduces the point that women’s suffrage was already a movement before the war, and as such the war had an impact on an already existing ideology and group of advocates. The women’s suffrage movement was split into many groups who disagreed on whether or not to support the war, how exactly to support the war, how exactly to resist the war, and what it may mean for the suffrage of women – or if they should even be considering women’s suffrage during war time. While this topic could be an hour long podcast episode on its own, I’d rather have the three minutes of education on it than the zero minutes I had before listening.

In addition to discussions with the writers on the research they did to create the show, this episode also includes clips from the Radio 4 broadcast, which allows the actors to talk about the beliefs they included in their character creation – this connects really well with our class, and how we parse out wartime ideas through the frame of specific characters. It also provides an interesting disconnect – we often discuss women in our course, but our focus has been on upper class women like those in the ambulance brigades as opposed to those working at home.

Overall, I think this episode could stand to be two or three times its current length, but there is certainly still much to be gained from the interviews. The focus on beliefs and experiences of people less glorified by common historical accounts is not only interesting in itself, but interesting in the ways it intersects with our classroom conversations on the women’s experience during the war.