Wartime Women: HHNF

HHNFLet me begin by saying that this book was not what I expected. I think I was looking for more narrative, and what I found instead was an encyclopedia. Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy it…but how does one review an Encyclopedia? Well, you don’t. And while I’ve already critiqued the authors’ usage of language, I’m feeling less than confrontational this evening, and would rather like to share the authors’ informative mission and ensure that these women’s stories become

“better known…encouraging further reading and stimulating a wider interest in these women and their experiences. Women who have served, fought, and died must be given their due” (xx).

On that note…get ready for me to hit you with some knowledge!

Honestly, I just needed you to know that there was a woman named Dearbhfhorgaill (and she probably suffered from the Boy-Named-Sue syndrome). In 1315 she commanded her own army and “marched against the churches of Drumcliffe and plundered many of its clergy” (xxii) because of their oppressive stance against fighting women.

Boudicca: the Killer Queen
Known for her battle-cry “Death before slavery!” Boudicca was a Celtic queen whose husband died under Roman rule. Roman law didn’t permit royal inheritance to pass to any female- so the Romans pillaged her land and raped her two daughters. According to the Roman historian Tacitus “The whole island [of Briton] now rose up under the leadership of Boudicca, a queen, for Britons make no distinction of sex in their appointment of commanders.” They fought back, and hard, but unfortunately, Boudicca either took poison or died as a prisoner of war.

Andree “Dedee” de Jongh: Little Cyclone
Andree de Jongh established the highly successful Comet Line that helped Allied servicemen downed in Nazi territory escape and return to Allied land. In August 1941, de Jongh arrived at the Spanish Consulate with 3 Allied servicemen; she informed them that she would continue to bring soldiers back with her, and requested minor financial assistance. Needless to say, the line went to help approximately 600 soldiers return safely– 118 of them personally accompanied by de Jongh. Dedee was arrested on her 19th crossing, but was released because the Nazis “could not believe that a formidable enemy was sitting before them in the person of this demure woman” (333). Ha ha!  That’s what you get for subscribing to rigid gender stereotypes.

Irena Sendlerowa
During WWII Irena Sendlerowa helped save 2,500 Jewish children from the Holocaust. Do I need to continue? She helped smuggle children out of the Warsaw Ghetto and then placed these children in orphanages, convents, or with trustworthy families and “noted the names of the children on cigarette papers, which she then sealed in glass bottles and buried in a colleague’s garden… After the war, the bottles Sendlerowa had buried were dug up and…attempts were made to reunite the children with their families, but most of their relations had perished in the death camps” (363-4). It wasn’t until 2007 that her heroic work was recognized by the Polish government. She was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (it went to Al Gore).

Clearly I can’t include every woman from the book that impressed me, and I tried to pick a few that I thought were a little further under the radar than, say, your Florence Nightingales or Cleopatras (but you could read the book to learn more about them, too! HINT.)– comment with any military mavens you admire!


2 responses to “Wartime Women: HHNF

  1. I didn’t read the book. I’m actually kind of torn about whether or not I want to read it. Reading this post alone exposes my lacunae of knowledge on the subject matter of war-time women. I was a history major too. And though it sounds really interesting, the encyclopedia-esque presentation sounds kind of daunting however. Sounds like an in one ear right out the other style of learning – for me at least. I would really like to read this book if it came in a longer more engaging format.

    Did the book delve at all into why these heroic women are so under the radar? I guess that would become such a huge umbrella-type discussion if it did. With the exception of Cleopatra, Elizabeth, and Joan of Arc, these warrior women haven’t really made their way into pop culture. You would think that Hollywood would have featured these women in some kick-ass action movies – although drawing a parallel between this discussion and the transformers one, maybe pop culture doesn’t really like women in these totally kick-ass dominating roles.

    Anyway – to answer your call for military mavens I admire – Did the book touch on Virginia Hall at all? Maybe less military and more spy, but that’s right up my alley. She rocks.

    • Yes, the book did talk about Virginia Hall! That’s how I learned her prosthetic foot’s code name was “Cuthbert.” and that her handler forgot that was what Cuthbert was and told her that if Cuthbert caused any problems, she was to “Eliminate him.”

      There was a whole chapter on spies! I really liked the different categories the authors covered– they ran the gamut from soldiers, captains, and queens to spies to propagandists to war correspondents and reporters to so-called “valkyries, furies, and fiends.” Cross and Miles covered a lot of ground in only a few hundred pages– and always recommended resources for further reading.

      So, if you’d like to learn more about Virginia Hall for example, you could read Sisterhood of Spies: the Women of the OSS, by Elizabeth P. McIntosh.

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