This was the quip attributed to the badge of the Women’s Legion. One hundred years ago today, Edith, Lady Londonderry addressed a meeting in Londonderry House to announce the formation of this organization. As Lady Castlereagh, she had been Commander in Chief of the Women’s Volunteer Reserve (WVR), and for sometime she had been discontented with what she regarded as an excess of militarism which was being displayed by some of the women’s organizations in WW1.
Her vision was that the Women’s Legion was to be an umbrella organization, with a number of sections, of which the Women’s Volunteer Reserve would be one. Plus canteen, ambulance and military cookery. However, after a few months, the Women’s Legion and Women’s Volunteer Reserve parted company. Other sections were formed as the need became apparent. These included Agriculture, Motor Transport, and Gas.
The Motor Transport Section set up shop on 3 August 1915 in Upper Berkeley Street, London, providing squads of 22 women led by a Head Driver, with 10 drivers, and probationers and garage washers. The pay was 35 shillings per week, and 5d per hour overtime! They worked directly to the Army Service Corps (ASC), and wore a khaki coat and skirt with a flat cap bearing the Women’s Legion badge. The Head Driver wore a black and white armband with a gold laurel wreath. Officers wore the same uniform with Tudor rose collar badges.
In 1916, this section and Military Cookery came under direct command of the Army. Lady Londonderry used all her connections in the War Office to achieve this ground-breaking move. She observed that wearing her Women’s Legion uniform smoothed most opposition.
In January 1917, the Army Council appealed for 1,000 women to join the Women’s Legion. Some 26,000 enlisted! This meant that Edith, Lady Londonderry, as President, was now at the head of nearly 40,000 women!
Her leadership was recognized on 4 June 1917, when she was honoured with Dame Commander DBE in the newly constituted Order of the British Empire. Two years later, she was one of five women transferred to the Military Division of the Order, which she felt more appreciative of her work.
In September 1917, The War Office decided to take complete control of the workforce, and some sections ceased to exist as 8,000 personnel were absorbed into the new Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), but kept the Women’s Legion badge.
Lady Londonderry’s aim was for women ‘to do their duties as women, and not as makeshift men.’ Women in today’s armed forces are fulfilling this vision.
At Mount Stewart there are images of this period. The uniform worn by Lady Londonderry and her DBE and Star are on display in the house, and on the South Terrace the badges of the Women’s Legion are carved on the large flower pots.