Monument to unsung army of women who went to war

The Queen unveils a sculpture that finally marks the vital contribution of women who answered Churchill's call
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The Bishop of London remembered victims of the London bombings at a ceremony in Whitehall yesterday.

Speaking before the Queen unveiled a monument to the women of World War II, Richard Chartres said: "There was a spirit of unity and defiance which brought us to victory 60 years ago.

"Today we pray for London and Londoners of every faith and culture. We pray for the bereaved, the anguished, the injured and the grieving."

Before leading the Queen to the monument, former speaker Baroness Boothroyd also referred to the attack. "We did not waver then. We shall not flinch now," she said.

But for the 1,500 invited guests yesterday was not about the war on terror, but about the sacrifices of women in the war that ended in 1945, and in which the Queen, as Second Subaltern Elizabeth Windsor, had played a part.

Referring to the Queen's instruction in the repair of motor vehicles, Baroness Boothroyd, who is the patron of the monument's appeal fund, said: "In former centuries men were expected to do the fighting. But when Winston Churchill declared, 'Let the women come forward', our role changed forever. Never previously had a young Princess been instructed in engine maintenance before receiving her commission."

After a helicopter fly-past and music from the central band of the RAF, to which guests including Dane Vera Lynn, Baroness Thatcher and Sir Jimmy Savile sang along, the Queen drew the curtain.

The monument, by sculptor John Mills, recognises not only the 650,000 female military personnel, but also the rest of the seven million British women who contributed to the Allied victory.

The uniforms of female nurses, bus drivers and coal miners, which were just a few of the occupations filled by women while the men were away at war, are represented on the bronze sculpture, which stands 22ft high, 16ft long and six feet wide.

It is the result of a campaign which was started seven years ago by retired Army Major David Robertson, after prompting from the Ack Ack Command Reunion Branch of the Auxiliary Territorial Service. The female gunners pointed out that other nations which had fought on the Allied side, including America, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, had memorials recognising women's contributions for some time.

The National Heritage Memorial Fund gave nearly £1million to build the monument. It now stands aligned with the statue on Raleigh Green of Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke, in front of the Ministry of Defence and a short distance from the Cenotaph.

Yesterday was the penultimate day of the national commemoration week to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. Today is the official commemoration day, chosen because it falls between VE and VJ days.

It begins with a service of thanksgiving in Westminster Abbey, followed by lunch in Buckingham Palace gardens for veterans from the armed forces and the home front.

In the afternoon there will be a show on Horseguards Parade, with music from a tri-service orchestra and the Bach choir.

The Queen will give an address, after which the guns of HMS Belfast will signal a two minute silence.

Veterans are then expected to parade along The Mall and there will be a fly-past.

But yesterday was a special day for the female veterans of the war. Joan Collinson, 83, has come from County Durham for the ceremony.

"It's a wonderful tribute," she said. "The girls on the Land Army, like me, thought we had been forgotten about. There were no medals for us. This is about the only thing there is. It's brought back a lot of happy memories."


Jean Studholme, 83:

I lived in Dartmouth, a naval town, and my father was an army person; he was in the First and the Second World Wars. Everybody around me was in the military. I felt it was my duty to join up. I wanted to go into the Wrens (Women's Royal Naval Service). I really wanted to be a despatch rider, but I was too short, so I became a mobile Wren when I was 21.

I passed the overseas board and one night we were put onto a troopship. In the morning we realised we were the first ship in a convoy going to Port Said. There were times when I was very frightened, because we were dodging U-boats.

We had let the men go to defend England. Most of us had a strong feeling that we were doing our part.

Biddy Dack, 81:

My mother had 10 of us, and seven of us joined up. I volunteered because I wanted to go into the Air Force. One of my brothers was killed in April 1941, the same month I joined the Waaf, but I didn't realise.

I was 17, and had left school in Stepney because it was being evacuated. I worked for the Reader's Digest. But then I decided that I wasn't doing anything constructive, so I joined up. I wanted to do my bit. They wanted high-speed calligraphers, so I did a course in London. After I passed I was sent straight to Bletchley Park. We didn't know just how important the work we were doing was.

I really believe that if it hadn't been for the women in the war, we might have had a different result.

Violet Bass, 78:

First I worked in a sugar factory in Warrington, and then in a munitions factory at Risley. I must have been about 17 when I started and I stayed there till the war finished. The sugar factory work was a bit heavy, so I moved to munitions. For about 16 months I was inspecting trench mortar bombs for any discrepancies. I didn't like it but it had to be done.

Everything was rationed. You had to have what they gave you in the factory canteen - Victory pie, Spam. There was a lot of that. In the evenings we used to go to dances. We had some happy times. But it wasn't something I relished as an occupation. I think the memorial is good. It's about time the women were remembered for all they went through.