This is a bit different- something I wrote a few years ago but never had published anywhere online . It’s on Women Warriors, but not only US Military. More like a history of women in militaries around the world. I hope folks enjoy 🙂
Salute to Women Warriors
It’s said that behind every man, is a great woman. When folks think of war, women aren’t usually the first thought that comes to mind.
Today, we salute women of the past, some of whom many folks might not know about. I know there are women warriors of our time and they have my utmost respect- but the following women, not all Americans, really did amazing things and deserve recognition.
The name Molly Pitcher may sound familiar to those who like to study American History, but I didn’t know about her until I was researching for something else and came upon her (and others’) story by accident.
While the name Molly Pitcher seems to be synonymous with other women who fought during the Revolutionary War, the main woman who comes to mind is Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley who was married William Hays. Hays had been involved in the 1774 boycott of British goods during the tax protests, and in 1777, he enlisted in the Continental Army as an artilleryman.
His wife Mary joined a group of camp followers led by Martha Washington, and their duties included taking care of the troops, washing clothes, making meals and helping care for the sick or injured soldiers.
The nickname “Molly Pitcher” is believed to have come from soldiers’ calling, “Molly! Pitcher!” when they were thirsty or when their overheated cannons needed to be cooled down.
In June of 1778 during the Battle of Monmouth, Mary Hays carried water from a spring to the thirsty soldiers under heavy fire and when her husband collapsed and was carried from the battlefield, Mary took his place at his cannon.
According to a written account by a Private Joseph Martin, Mary’s bravery was accounted for:
“A woman whose husband belonged to the artillery and who was then attached to a piece in the engagement, attended with her husband at the piece for the whole time. While in the act of reaching a cartridge and having one of her feet as far before the other as she could step, a cannon shot from the enemy passed directly between her legs without doing any other damage than carrying away all the lower part of her petticoat. Looking at it with apparent unconcern, she observed that it was lucky it did not pass a little higher, for in that case it might have carried away something else, and continued her occupation.”
When we think of POWs, we tend to overlook women held by the enemy.
Lt. Reba Whittle was imprisoned as a POW in Europe during World War 2. The U.S. government did not officially acknowledge her status as POW most likely because she was the only woman held in Western Europe. She was a flight nurse with over 500 hours logged in the 813th Medical Air Evacuation Squadron. In September of 1944, on a flight to pick up casualties in France, her plane went off course and was shot down over Aachen, Germany. The survivors were captured by German soldiers and taken on a forced march to prison camp. Along the way, they were examined at a German hospital, where a doctor asked Whittle questions about her occupation. In her diary Whittle wrote that the German doctor “at last shook his head and said, ‘Too bad having a woman, as you are the first and no one knows exactly what to do.’ “
Lt. Whittle was the Germans’ first female military POW from the Western Front. In the East, many female Russian soldiers had been taken as POWs and used for forced labor. Lt. Whittle was allowed to treat and tend the wounded in camp. A Swiss legation that negotiated POW transfers discovered her in the camp and began to arrange her release. Whittle was escorted by the German Red Cross away from the camp along with 109 male POWS on January 25th, 1945.
She had been ordered by the Army not to talk about her experience which is common during wartime to protect military personnel still held by the enemy. Lt. Reba Whittle was awarded the Air Medal and the Purple Heart in 1945, and in 1992, she was posthumously recognized as a POW.
When Queen Elizabeth was a 13 year old princess in 1939, World War II broke out. She, her parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (later to be the Queen Mother) and her sister, 9 year old Margaret, had been vacationing at Balmoral in Scotland.
When war was declared, the King and Queen rushed back to London but the princesses stayed in Scotland so they could live as normally as possible. They continued with their lessons, joined the local Girl Guides Company for hikes, tea parties and occasional movie shows in their schoolroom. Once a week, they held sewing parties so they could contribute to the war effort.
Soon, instead of evacuating to Canada, the princesses and their staff were moved to Windsor Castle where they remained until the end of the war. During air raids they all went to the shelter in one of the castle dungeons and slept in the shelter every night when bombing was fierce.
The King and Queen stayed at Windsor on weekends when they could to be close to the girls. The King and Queen were in Buckingham Palace when several bombs hit. The Palace chapel was destroyed, some people were injured and one of the Royal staff was killed. The girls, like other British children worried about their parents and they knew of the pain of being separated from their families during the war. When asked, 14 year old Elizabeth was more than willing to make a radio broadcast to the children of Great Britain in 1940 to try and comfort them. The Royal family also knew heart break of war when the Duke of Kent, the King’s brother and uncle to Elizabeth and Margaret, was killed in a plane crash while on active service.
The girls put on yearly plays to try and lighten people’s spirits and also raise money for the war effort. In total, between £800 and £900 was raised for the Queen’s Wool Fund during the few years they performed. One year, Prince Philip came to see one of the performances, and it was from then, Elizabeth and Philip began exchanging letters.
In 1942, the King made Elizabeth Colonel of the Grenadier Guards and she carried out their inspections. When she turned 16, she registered with the Labor Exchange like other girls her age and joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service and was trained as a mechanic. She learned how to change wheels, take engines apart and rebuild them, and also how to drive heavy vehicles such as ambulances. Her experiences during the war gave her experience with hard work and also contact with ordinary people, including evacuees and fellow ATS officers, which endeared her to many, and that honor carries on still today.
When the war ended on 8th May 1945, Elizabeth appeared on the Buckingham Palace balcony alongside her parents and Winston Churchill wearing her ATS uniform.
How many folks have heard of the Night Witches?
In 1941, Soviet Union was facing a massive German advance and Stalin ordered the formation of three all-women air force units to help fight. Their job was to take out the Germans’ encampments, storage depots and supply lines. They weren’t able to do much physical damage to the enemy, but the psychological effects were huge. The Germans called them “Night Witches” because they only flew at night, and their planes were simply made of wood and fabric, slow and made a whooshing noise as they flew overhead when they cut their engines before dropping their bombs. The Nazis were so freaked by them, an Iron Cross was promised to any Luftwaffe pilot who could shoot one down.
The planes so simply made and small carried no guns, and no parachutes. To navigate, the pilots had nothing but a stopwatch and a map. The night witches, or officially, the Night Bomber Regiment used 2 seated Polikarpov PO-2 biplanes, which were only capable of carrying two bombs strapped under their wings. This meant the pilots had to fly multiple missions every night, returning to base to collect more bombs. They flew in formations of three with two of the planes breaking off to act as decoys and attract the searchlights while the third plane bombed the targets.
It was reported that once during a mission in 1943, two pilots from 588th Regiment were confronted by 42 German bombers. The larger and faster enemy planes couldn’t handle the maneuvers made by the lighter planes. One of the Regiment’s planes lost a wing as it was shot off and the pilot bailed out. Remember, they had no parachutes. It was said that civilians rushed to her rescue in a field and offered help and they were much surprised that she was no “brave lad” at all, but a female air bomber in the Soviet Air Force.
One of the most famous night witches was Nadezhda Popova who once flew 18 missions in a single night. She was 19-year-old when she first joined the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, and eventually became one of the most celebrated heroes of the Soviet Union.
Every woman that has ever served in the American military has volunteered, and they fight and die right along with their brothers. Today more women serve in United States military than at any other time in our nation’s history. Their courage is reminiscent of those brave women from Revolution to the women who helped and fought in the Civil War as nurses, spies and soldiers. During World War 1, some 300 women lost their lives fighting. More than 700,000 American women helped the in the efforts during World War 2, Korea and Vietnam. Over 150 American military women have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
They truly are some of our nation’s unsung heroes and incredible patriots.
(late addition) Suffer sent this to me Monday, and this is cool! One of the first Aircraft Carriers ever built- the USS Lexington has been found in the Coral Sea off Australia by Paul Allen’s team (discovered USS Indianapolis and USS Ward, the Italian WWII destroyer Artigliere, USS Astoria and Japanese battleship Musashi ). You can read more about this amazing find here.
Have a blessed day all.