Galway Women in the Great War: The story of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) - Stephen Dolan
In 1917, as the First World War drained Britain's manpower, a force of pioneering female soldiers embarked for France. As part of a series of articles commemorating the centenary of World War I, this short SEGAHS article focuses on the often over-looked contribution of women in the armed forces during the great-war. After the heavy losses of the Somme, a report was commissioned to investigate using women as substitutes for men in auxiliary roles. Soon after, the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) was formed. Initially, women held roles from cooking and waiting on officers; to serving as clerks, telephone operators, store-women, drivers, etc. However, on the 31st March 1917, the WAACs arrived on the Western Front. By 1918, nearly 40,000 women had enrolled in the (now renamed after Queen Mary) QMAAC. Of these, about 7,000 served on the Western Front, the rest serving ‘at home’. Alas, so low was the profile of the WAAC in Ireland that there are only a handful of references in Irish newspapers in 1917-18. 1 They were however referenced when air raids on their camps or depots occurred 2 and some of these raids resulted in fatalities. Many more women however fell victim to the influenza epidemic of 1918-19. Among those from south-east Galway 3 who served in the WAAC were Bridget Carmody (aged 22, from Craughwell), Catherine Griffin (23, from Loughrea), and Kathleen Walker (18, from near Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe town 4 ). From elsewhere in Galway were Julia Curran, Annie Dunne, Agnes Fleming, Helena Forbes, Elizabeth Kean, Isabella McDermott, and Kathleen Norman. For more on the WAAC, see http://www.nam.ac.uk/ . Separately, Galway women also served as nurses with the Royal Army Medical Corps on the western front, and the testimony of one such Nurse from Gort, Susannah Daly (daughter of the Archdeacon of Clonfert and Kilmacduagh), is available on the web-site of the Imperial War Museum at: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80005352 .