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How to take a more inclusive look at the First World War

A Turkish sniper determined to defend her home against Allied forces. A British ambulance driver risking her life to carry wounded soldiers to safety. The First World War is full of stories like these, yet, thanks to the lack of prominence given in school curriculums to the role of women in the conflict, you could be forgiven for thinking them unique. 

A new book may help to change this. Aimed at young people, War Girls explores how the conflict changed and shaped the lives of women forever; it could also prove a useful starting point for teachers to teach this period in history in a broader way, which could also include learning about soldiers shot for cowardice (as explored in the 1 August issue of TES) or black and Asian soldiers who fought in Europe.

The stories in War Girls present a diverse overview of how the war touched women and Daniel Hartley, deputy headteacher at Minehead Middle School in Somerset, says this should be one of many topics in history teaching that should adopt a more diverse approach.  

“Teachers are often very creative with developing history schemes with built-in elements of diversity,” says Hartley. “In the primary phase, pupils study a significant historical person, who could easily be a woman. The curriculum also offers scope to focus on a significant woman in the community within the local-study element. Dependent on your location, I think that a study of a significant local woman in wartime would make for an excellent enquiry.

“By Key Stage 3, there are ample opportunities to study gender. You could conduct enquiries into social and economic differences for women between the two world wars. Studying the government response to women after each war is also really interesting, especially when getting pupils to explore some of the views around the time. Old government posters and newsreel is really good for getting pupils hooked.”   

Since the war’s outbreak in 1914, women in Britain have won voting rights, the chance to sit in Parliament and free access to contraception on the NHS. A lot has changed. The First World War was a turning point in women’s history; it is important to communicate this to students as we continue to mark the centenary.

War Girls is published by Anderson Press.

Read the full article on soldiers shot for cowardice in the August 1 edition of the TES on your tablet or phone or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents. 

Further resources to help you teach about women’s experiences of the First World War:

The impact of the First World War on women
Explore how the First World War changed the lives of women.

Historical enquiry: Women’s lives, First World War
Materials from the IOE Battlefield Tours Programme to help conduct a detailed historical enquiry.

First World War A to Z: W is for Women
Introduce younger students to the role that women played in the war with this short BBC Learning video.

The impact of the First World War on the suffragettes
Did the First World War help women to get the vote?

Women at work in the First World War
Consider how working women contributed to the war effort.

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