The historic day was marked at a land power demonstration on Salisbury Plain, involving some of the first women to join the Royal Armoured Corps.
Mr Williamson announced that as of today, women already serving in the Army are able to transfer into infantry roles in the British Army. Those not currently serving will be able to apply for infantry roles from 21 December 2018. Basic training for new recruits will be available from April 2019.
Speaking at the event, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson praised the day as a defining moment in the history of the armed forces. He said:
“I am delighted that for the first time in its history, our armed forces will be determined by ability alone and not gender.
“So by opening all combat roles to women, we will maximise the talents available to our military and further make the armed forces a more modern employer.”
While women have for many years given exemplary service, including in combat facing roles, females were unable to serve in ground close combat roles until the ban was lifted by the then Prime Minister in 2016.
The Royal Armoured Corps was the first ground close combat branch to open its doors (in November 2016) to female soldiers and officers, followed by the RAF Regiment in September 2017.
The opening of ground close combat roles to women followed extensive physiological research that considered potential areas of risk to women on the front line.
Since November 2016 the Army has around 35 women either serving or being trained to join the Royal Armoured Corps, with a number of personnel already being deployed in their new role to Estonia and Oman.
Commander Field Army, Lieutenant General Patrick Sanders CBE DSO, said:
“Some of the best soldiers and most promising officers I know are women. And let’s not forget that women have been serving on the front line in combat, often under fire for the last 15 years. Simply put the Infantry will be more effective in war if we include the best talent our country can breed – male and female.”
While the military does not necessarily expect large numbers of women to apply for ground close combat roles, the changes are aimed at creating opportunity for individuals from all backgrounds to make the most of their talents. By making all branches and trades of the military open to everyone, regardless of their gender, the armed forces are building on their reputation of being a leading equal opportunities employer.