1917 is credited as the year that changed the direction of the first world war. Much has been written, including the recent Oscar nominated film, about the battles and politics that marked this year as a turning point but very little is written about women’s lives in 1917 and the way women’s experiences of the war impacted the next hundred years.
This blog, written a century later, tells a small part of the story of 1917 through the eyes of expat women living in London. They were a few good women sharing rooms at 41 Westminster Gardens, just around the corner from the Australian military headquarters in Horseferry Road. They worked as comfort workers, doctors, senior bureaucrats and investigators.
1917 was a challenging and exciting year for the women who for the first time in their lives had agency over those lives. In their diaries, alongside the horrors and challenges of the war, they wrote of their work, loves and aspirations. When the war was over and they returned home they often reflected on the war years as the best years of their lives. Every time a woman today uses a sanitary pad or tampon they have the first world war, the Americans and a bunch of ingenious desperate field nurses to thank.
In 2016 I was awarded a QANZAC 100 Fellowship by the State Library of Queensland to research these women, primarily, Annie and Portia Wheeler and their extraordinary work during the first world war. This research is the basis for a television series “The Red Boxes” and novel. I am also re-working the blog posts into a non-fiction book about 1917 and these women – “1917 – A Few Good Women”. I tell a little of their story in this blog and two SLQ Vimeo videos – Discovering Annie Wheeler, and my 2016 Fellowship video.