As part of its wider celebrations in this Year of Engineering, the British Army is celebrating International Women in Engineering Day on 23 June. We spoke to some of the women who work as helicopter engineers in the Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME).
Wildcat engineer, Sergeant Margaret Welton told us: “In 15 years I have managed to come from not having a clue about the Army to joining the Army Aeronautical Trade, and I have finished university this year to gain a First Class Degree in Engineering. The Army helped make that happen”.
There are lots more women joining the Corps Craftsman Katie Drelaud
We asked Craftsman Katie Drelaud about Army life: “Well, I fix and maintain Army weapons and it’s so rewarding to fix something and then see it working. There are lots more women joining the Corps; we’re all here for the same reason and we make friends on that basis. My mum is always telling me how proud she is.”
International Women in Engineering Day was launched in 2014 to celebrate the 95th anniversary of the Women’s Engineering Society. Created after World War I by the inspirational women who worked in engineering and technical roles during the war, the Women’s Engineering Society has been supporting diversity in engineering since 1919.
Women have always worked with the military. Famously, Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole were trailblazing and innovative nurses in the Crimean War; and on her return from the Crimean Campaign, Florence Nightingale persuaded the British Government to set up the ”Royal Commission on the Health of the British Army”. Later, with the vast numbers of men deployed overseas fighting in the Great War, women became even more critical to the war effort, with many undertaking traditionally male-dominated work: handling explosives, producing munitions and chemicals, assembling weapons, constructing machinery, driving vehicles.
Although the association always been there, it was not until the creation of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps on 7 July 1917 that women were formally employed by the Army. Initial obstacles included such considerations as uniforms and pay; and the very real problem of diverting women away from the work they were already doing in support of the war effort. Sir Douglas Haig wrote to the War Office in support of the employment of women in the Army, but expressed concern about their physical strength and about mixed genders working together in certain situations. Formalities established, women were able to be employed as Army cooks, clerks and mechanics to name just a few roles.
Immediately after Armistice, on 14 December 1918 for the first time in British History, women participated in the democratic process by voting in the General Election. Obviously, the most high profile campaigners for women’s rights were the Suffragettes, who had been putting their lives in danger for years to secure the vote for British women. However, it was their contribution to the war effort which finally swayed opinion and convinced the British parliament to extend the vote to women.
Opportunities now are more far-reaching for women in the Army, and by next year all 70 roles in the Army will be open to women. Today there are women serving in every rank in the British Army and everyone, regardless of gender or sexuality, is treated equally and paid equally. Recognised as one of the top 100 UK employers offering apprenticeships, the Army has the largest employer-provided apprenticeship programme in the country, with 95 per cent of new soldiers taking part, and more than 7,000 completing their apprenticeship training each year. Ranging from Equine Care to Plumbing and Heating, a large proportion of apprenticeships provided are in STEM subjects such as Engineering and Telecommunications.
As we reflect on the last 100 years of progress and remember those who paid the ultimate price back then and ever since, we remember the women who have been serving with distinction in the British Army for 100 years, and we salute them all.