08 March 2018

Women at war

The CWGC commemorates nearly 3,000 women who died during the First and Second World Wars. From pilots and SOE officers to nurses and munitions factory workers, women served in a number of roles on the battlefield and at home. To mark International Women’s Day today (8 March), here are three inspirational stories about women commemorated by the Commission.

Section Officer Noor Inayat Khan, GC

Section Officer Noor Inayat Khan, GC Noor Inayat Khan was a Special Operations Executive (SOE) Officer during the Second World War. She was born on 1 January 1914 in Moscow to an Indian father and an American mother. She was a direct descendant of Tipu Sultan, the 18th century Muslim ruler of Mysore. Noor's father was a musician and Sufi teacher. The family moved to London and then to Paris, where Noor was educated and later worked as a writer. 

Following the fall of France she escaped to England where she joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF). In 1942 she was recruited into the SOE. In June 1943 she was the first female radio operator sent into occupied France. During her mission she was betrayed and captured. She was kept in solitary confinement and tortured for information. Despite her terrible treatment she never gave any information away. She was sent to Dachau Concentration Camp where she was executed on 13 September 1944. For her courage she was posthumously awarded the George Cross.

She has no known grave and is commemorated on the CWGC Runnymede Memorial, panel 243.

First officer Amy Johnson, CBE

First officer Amy Johnson, CBEAmy Johnson was the first female pilot to fly alone from Britain to Australia and she set numerous long distance flying records during the 1930s. Born in 1903, she grew up in Yorkshire. She first started to fly in the late 1920s and received her pilots licence in 1929. Amy achieved global fame when she made her 11,000 mile solo journey from Australia to Britain. She went on to become an international superstar and female icon.

During the Second World War she volunteered for the Air Transport Auxiliary which transported military aircraft throughout the British Isles. Amy died on 5 January 1941 when her aircraft ran out of fuel and she parachuted into the freezing Thames Estuary near Herne Bay. Desperate efforts were made to save her - Lt Commander Walter Fletcher died of hypothermia after diving into the water to help - but she was never found.

Amy has no known grave and is commemorated on the CWGC Runnymede Memorial, panel 288.

Ensign Violette Szabo, GC

Ensign Violette Szabo, GCViolette Szabo was a Special Operations Executive (SOE) Officer during the Second World War. She was born in France but grew up in London. At the outbreak of the Second World War she joined the Women’s Land Army and later the Auxiliary Territorial Services. In June 1942 she was recruited into the SOE. During her second mission in occupied France she was captured and tortured but never gave up any information. In 1944 she was sent to Ravensbrück Concentration Camp where she was executed on 25 January 1945. For her courage she was posthumously awarded the George Cross. Her story was made famous by the 1958 film Carve Her Name With Pride.

She has no known grave and is commemorated on the Brookwood 1939-1945 Memorial, panel 26. Column 3.

SOE agents often used codes within poems to disguise messages. This was one of Violette’s code poems given to her just before leaving for France the second time.

The life that I have

Is all that I have

And the life that I have

Is yours.

 

The love that I have

Of the life that I have

Is yours and yours and yours.

 

A sleep I shall have

A rest I shall have

Yet death will be but a pause.

 

For the peace of my years

In the long green grass

Will be yours and yours and yours

Latest News

The recent Typhoon in Hong Kong, Typhoon Mangkhut, has caused damage to CWGC cemeteries.

The grave of 26-year-old Flying Officer David Stein, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, was rededicated in France on Wednesday 19 September.

Dedication Ceremony for Wing Commander B.F.N. RAWSON in Hamilton Woodland Cemetery