While we know that females’ contribution during the First World War was away from the trenches like nurses or the Canary Girls of Britain, WWII had opened an opportunity for them to serve closer to the warzones than ever before.

In Britain, 640,000 women joined the armed forces, while the Soviet Union had 800,000 women enlisted. The US resisted sending women during this conflict, but some 350,000 still served in the Armed Forces, fulfilling critical roles both in and out of the country. Here are some of the parts that they took during World War II.

The WACs and WASPS of America

As mentioned, the United States didn’t want to send women into the combat zones at the very beginning until 1942, with the persuasion of First Lady Eleanor and the women’s group to Army Chief of Staff George Marshall. Then, seeing how British women were of great help in the service, he supported the idea and introduced a women’s service branch in the army.

Congress instituted what was initially called the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC) in 1942. This was later upgraded to the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) with full military status, credits to Director Oveta Culp Hobby. Initially, General Marshall authorized WAACs to be trained on anti-aircraft batteries and searchlight units. However, he had to call it off the following year due to fear of public outcry and Congressional opposition.

Regardless, more than 150,000 women still served in the WAC, thousands of them sent to the European and Pacific theaters. By 1945, more than 100,000 women were members of WAC, with 6,000 of them as officers. Although their works were non-combatant, their service led to the acceptance of the idea of women being in the military.

Elizabeth L. Remba Gardner, Women’s Airforce Service Pilots. (US Department of the Air Force., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The US Army Air Forces also started training female pilots to free male pilots so they could fight on the ground instead. Because of this, the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program was created.

Women were flying B-26 and B-29 bombers and similar planes straight from factories to military bases all over the country. They were also assigned to test and repair these planes and tow targets in the air so gunners on the ground could practice shooting using real live ammunition.

Twenty-five thousand applied to the program, with only 1,100 accepted. The program was closed in December 1944 as mandated by Congress. It faded into the abyss of the official military records until President Jimmy Carter granted these female aviators as US army veterans in the late 1970s.