The stories of World War II have been told many times through a multitude of male perspectives and usually with only enough women included to companionably pad the edges. Rarely has an effort been made to focus entirely on presenting the World War II women knew and lived.
WWII was a time of radical change for many, if not most, women. Their social, economic and political worlds were turned up-side-down. Their sense of safety, happiness and wellbeing were ripped to shreds. Suddenly forced to be and act without men in a society that was still geared towards women’s dependence on men, women learned what they were made of. They tested their strengths and weakness, discovered hidden talents, and learned new skills. Those experiences left their marks whether good or bad.
Growing up listening to the stories of my grandmother’s generation of women, it was apparent that each woman seemed to carry with her a sense of pride and accomplishment at being resourceful and adaptable collaborators in the war effort. Most of those women have now passed away, so it was a wonderful moment of shock and awe to stumble across not one, but three television series giving voice to the World War II women knew from three very different settings (though none from a US perspective).
On the eve of WWII, social order meets community survival practicality as the women of a rural English village struggle with keeping their social group, The Women’s Institute, active and opening it’s doors to less socially advantaged women in preparation of war. As BBC masterfully does, HOME FIRES depicts an era and a way of life while touching on all the social, class, family issues of the times. (A current PBS MASTERPIECE series on Sundays from Oct 4 – Nov 8, 2015 — 6 episodes)
BOMB GIRLS ran from 2012-2013 and its cancellation generated a website and Facebook drive to “Save Bomb Girls.” The series starts in 1941 and follows the lives of four women, from very different backgrounds, working in a munitions factory in Toronto, Canada. Well acted and very raw and real in presenting the many issues of the times that women dealt with (both war and non-war related) – gender role reversals, health hazards, housing shortages, financial dependence, unexpected and unwanted pregnancies, discrimination and detention of Italian nationals, black markets, fears of enemy infiltration… (It can be viewed on Netflix – 18 episodes and a 2 hour movie finale – FACING THE ENEMY.)
In preparation of going to war, Britain started the Women’s Land Army in 1939 to increase the production of food. At first all voluntary, it expanded when female conscription of unmarried women age 19–30 was enacted in 1942. In 1944, the WLA had 80,000 members. LAND GIRLS starts and focuses on the displaced (mostly city) women as they adjust to and clash with rural farm life, each other, the local gentry, prisoners of war, segregation… with sometimes tragic results. This series ran from 2009-2011 — 3 seasons, 15 episodes. Can be viewed on Netflix.
THE CRIMSON FIELD takes place during WWI, but I added it to the list since it seems to focus on women breaking boundaries and the social norms of their era during war…
Women volunteer nurses join the front line medics tending the wounded in a tented field hospital on the coast of France during WWI. This PBS series ran this summer 2015 in the US, but I missed it – 6 episodes.
Have you seen these shows? Please share your thoughts and any other great books, movies or shows that give voice to World War II Women…