Women And War At The Imperial War Museum, London

By Corinne Field | 14 October 2003
Shows an illustration of two women marching side by side one in a brown army uniform the other in a blue navy uniform.

Photo: Detail from poster Join Now - ATS or WAAF courtesy of Imperial War Museum.

Women and War is the first major exhibition to explore the role of women in wartime in detail and is on show at the Imperial War Museum until April 18.

Did you know that the Amazons, a race of women warriors, cut off their right breasts so as not to hinder the use of their bow?

Or that Dr James Barry, the first woman to qualify as a doctor, worked for the British army disguised as a man for 46 years? Or that ‘England’s Greatest Recruiting Sergeant’ in the First World War was a music hall star called Vesta Tilley?

Shows a picture of war correspondent Kate Adie dressed in army fatigues.

Photo: Kate Adie © Allstar

From Joan of Arc to Kate Adie, Queen Victoria to Princess Diana, women have been involved in conflict throughout the ages. And the Imperial War Museum’s latest exhibition tells their stories.

The exhibition’s main focus is the First World War up to the present day. But the introductory section includes Rubens' portrait of Joan or Arc and George Housman Thomas’s painting of Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort in Aldershot.

Kate Adie’s helmet and kit bag from the Gulf War are on display as is the body armour that Princess Diana wore in Angola when promoting the anti-landmines campaign.

Shows a black and white photo of a lady wearing an army hard hat putting on lipstick. She has an armband that says she works for the ambulance brigade.

Photo: ARP Kingston House, Kennington courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.

But Women and War is not only interested in wartime celebrities. What the exhibition is really about is the unsung heroines, the service women, land girls, nurses, factory workers, secret agents, pilots and peacekeepers.

Their stories are told through the enormous wealth of artefacts on show, sourced from the Imperial War Museum collections and major museums all over the world. There are uniforms, medals, paintings, posters, photographs, film footage and personal memorabilia.

Shows a photo of a lady dressed in tight trousers, a t-shirt and heals, sat down holding an large automatic gun.

Photo: Marta Lorena on guard duty at the main telecommunications office, Managua, Nicaragua 1984 © Jenny Matthews/Network

Some of the more unusual exhibits include Goldie Hawn’s costume from Private Benjamin and Lindsay Forde’s wedding dresses. Forde was married twice and widowed twice, her first husband died in World War One and her second in World War Two.

An audio guide, specially commissioned to accompany the exhibition, enables visitors to listen to women describe their experiences in letters, diaries and tape-recordings, from a nurse on the Western Front to a widow in Rwanda.

There are a whole range of exhibition-related talks and events taking place at the Imperial War Museum throughout the winter including a week of special events for children during half term.

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