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Friday December 1 2017

A Visit to the WAAC in France

Published in the Woman's Guild Supplement to Life and Work of December 1917, an account of the work of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, who had first been sent to France to serve as cooks and waitresses in the Army Camps earlier that year.

THE exigencies of war have brought women’s work so much into the foreground of national life that one has long ago ceased to be surprised at finding women undertaking men’s jobs anywhere.

Even in the Camps in France, the W.A.A.C. girl, in her workman-like khaki coat and skirt or long ulster and felt hat, is now quite a familiar figure, and by capable service is fully justifying her presence there.

It was the privilege of the present writer and a friend, while working in a Scottish Churches’ Hut in one of our largest Camps in France, to see something of the work of “The Khaki Girls”.

The very clever and charming lady in charge – Miss Campbell, a Scotchwoman, trained at Atholl Crescent Cooking School, Edinburgh – met us as we wended our way among the tents and huts, and gave us kindly welcome.

As we approached the kitchen, a group of girls sitting outside the door and peeling onions sprang up “to attention.” In spite of the lachrymose task in which they were engaged, they seemed bright and cheerful, and responded readily to our questions about their work. The ladies in charge of the W.A.A.C. rank as officers, and receive the same deference from the girls as men officers from the privates. Indeed, in all rules and regulations the W.A.A.C. girl is treated exactly as a private soldier.

As far as the women of the Cooking Section are concerned, one of the greatest hardships must be the awful heat of the kitchens. When we visited, the thermometer must have been standing well above 80°, yet not one of the girls complained.

The kitchen was in a state of spotless cleanliness, all down the centre the large stoves shone with repeated polishings. Enormous boilers for cooking soups and stews were sending up clouds of savoury steam. On looking into one of the, the head cook explained that the contents were Irish stew, which with rice and apples was to form the dinner that day for half the men, the other half having roast beef.

A diet sheet, hung up at the end of the kitchen, proved rather an interesting study, and would show anxious friends at home that at least a fair amount of variety is provided for Tommy in France. The head cook, a pleasant-faced young woman, was evidently thoroughly interested in her work, and she, with her assistants were animated by the one idea of giving the boys as tasty meals as possible out of the rations at their disposal.

The life in the Camps is undoubtedly hard; the girls go on duty at 5 in the morning and do not go off duty till 5 in the afternoon, except those who are on the extra shift for serving supper and stay till 7. Only eleven girls and the head cook are employed in the kitchen which is here described, and in it 1700 men are cooked for.

They are allowed to walk out with the Tommies, but, being regarded in the same light as privates, they are not allowed to talk to or go out with officers. In the evenings after the day’s work is done, the khaki girls and the Tommies are often to be seen taking a stroll along some of the roads in the vicinity of the Camps.

The khaki girls are for the most part facing up to the new conditions very pluckily. Many are homesick, of course, but they have British pluck and endurance, and have made up their minds to “stick it out” and “carry on.” They are doing work that will help to hasten the victorious end of the War, and the nation owes them a debt of gratitude.


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