100 years of Women at War, being formally enrolled in the UK Armed Forces | Bolt Burdon Kemp 100 years of Women at War, being formally enrolled in the UK Armed Forces | Bolt Burdon Kemp

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100 years of Women at War, being formally enrolled in the UK Armed Forces

7th July marked 100 years since women were legally allowed to serve in the British military.

The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) was formed on 15 May 1942 and converted to full status as the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) on 1 July 1943. At first, women could only volunteer to serve with, but not in, the army. It was only after September 1943 that women in the Corps received all the privileges of military service.

100 years ago a woman’s role in the army typically involved cooking for men in camps and hospitals, repairing motor vehicles and undertaking administrative tasks.  Today women are now flying fighter jets and serving side by side with their male counterparts in close combat roles in the Army, Royal Marines, Royal Armoured Corps and Royal Air Force Regiment.


Commemorating the 100th anniversary, the SSAFA (Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association) commissioned renowned war photographer Robert Wilson to create an iconic image of currently serving women and veterans from the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air force.

Serving and Veteran representatives of all the Services

The striking image showcases the remarkable and empowering journey women have undertaken in service over the last century. The twelve women photographed include the highest ranking woman in the British Army, the first woman to kill in combat, the first transgender woman to serve in the Army, who began her career in the Royal Air Force as a man, and a 95-year-old veteran who served in World War Two. Double Olympic Champion Dame Kelly Holmes who served in the British Army for 10 years is also captured alongside Major Heather Stanning, also a double Olympic Champion.

Major General Susan Ridge – The highest-ranking female officer

Susan worked as a Solicitor for 23 years in the Army Legal Service, which provides support to barracks on training and on operations.

Susan was appointed as the British Army’s first Major General in September 2015. She became the Army’s highest-ranking female officer when she took on the role as Director of General Army Legal Service.

Dame Kelly Holmes – Former Army PTI and Double Olympic medallist

Dame Kelly Holmes joined the Army at the age of 17 as a lorry driver in the Women’s Royal Army Corps (WRAC).

She later became an Army Physical Training Instructor in the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, and served for 10 years.

Holmes regularly competed in the men’s and women’s Army Athletic competitions and became the British Army Judo Champion.

In 1997 Kelly became a full-time professional athlete and a double gold medal-winner at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Rose Watson – World War Two Veteran

On 2 February 1939, Rose Watson lied about her age to join the women’s branch of the British Army named the Auxiliary Territorial Services, at the age of 16.  Attached to TA 66’ Leeds Rifles as an Orderly, Rose undertook various tasks including nursing, driving and cooking.

Now 95 years old, she is an active member of the Royal Artillery Association.


Sir Andrew Gregory, chief executive of SSAFA, said:  ‘Women have been officially serving our country for a century. SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity has been in existence for 132 years and has witnessed the evolution of the roles available for females within the military’.

‘We must take a moment to pause, reflect and celebrate their contribution as this milestone approaches. It is essential that we continue to promote inclusivity and diversity throughout our Armed Forces in order to benefit from the talent that exists across British society.’

Join us at Bolt Burdon Kemp in sharing stories of inspirational women who have served in the forces and mark the centenary of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps #Women100.

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