Sunday, 17 May 2015

Women at the Front

From the Illustrated London News, 15th May 1915.


"Here is a recruiting sergeant," I said to the young woman who was walking with me; "see the little bunch of ribbons on his cap."  To which she replied, with a heavy, longing sigh, "He should recruit me if he might."  Thousands of girls, beyond a doubt, are in a similar frame of mind.  It is hard indeed for them to realise that they may be filling a niche where their work is as important as going to the front.  Yet any sort of chance to render self-devotion to the Motherland would be gladly grasped by a great number of strong, energetic young women, and possibly they might be employed in active war service of more than one kind in far greater numbers than has yet been thought of.  They might be stretcher-bearers at the front, and orderlies, for instance, to set free many of the thousands of men now engaged in such perilous but non-combatant work.  The happy chance has, in fact, come to a few women, and has been splendidly met, apparently, by all to whom it has been fortunately allowed by fate.  Major Gordon, who acts continuously as King's Messenger between our King and the Belgian hero-King, told the St. John's Ambulance Association recently of the good work being done at the front by Lady Dorothie Feilding and many others.  One incident, he said, had filled him with admiration and amazement.  In one of the towns still held by the Belgian Army, and constantly shelled, so that the streets are most unsafe, Major Gordon saw an ambulance-wagon coolly driven in by an English girl; inside it were only two other British women.  As calm as if on a tennis-court, these three picked up as many as the vehicle could take of wounded men, and drove off with their sad load to hospital.  Thousands of girls' hearts will leap with longing to go and do likewise as they read of this quiet heroism of their unnamed sisters, and they will feel damped and depressed if good housewifery be offered to them in exchange.....

...There is likely to be a shortage of dyed woollen materials in the autumn, and fine dyed cloths are already more than twice as dear as the same materials were last summer.  But of charming cottons and muslins there is no lack, and they make dainty frocks at the minimum of expense.  The style for such little morning and quiet afternoon gowns is of the simplest.  The one-piece cut is much affected.  A Raglan sleeve, a full skirt and corsage all in one gathered on to a plain yoke, a deep belt of soft silk, and a tiny hem of the same silk showing under the scalloped or plain edge of the skirt of the fancy material—what can be more simple, and yet so pretty and girlish?  The designs of the muslins and cotton voiles are usually rather large and somewhat vivid, on white or delicate plain-coloured grounds.  It is the usual absurdity of fashion that dictates high collars for summer wear, after open throats all the winter; but as the collars are of the softest materials—lawn, and tucked muslin, and so on—they are not really oppressive.  Many of the little frocks, too, are provided only with collars rising high at the back of the throat, cut low or even with a tiny V-shaped opening under the chin; and the Raglan sleeve often rolls on from the shoulder line into such deep back collars.  In fact, one can select precisely what is most becoming, and be in the fashion all the same, in the matter of the throat finish; and what more can we ask?

"An original afternoon frock with a chemisette and high frilled collar of white tulle and a flounced skirt of the same material, the flounces being hemmed with bands of dark brown ninon."

[I was surprised to read that the writer of this article advocated allowing women to take roles on the front line, and put themselves in mortal danger, as long as they weren't actually fighting.  The discussion of the latest fashions later in the same article seems a very jarring contrast.]  

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