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She fought on the Somme disguised as a Tommy...

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BerichtGeplaatst: 12 Jan 2014 8:40    Onderwerp: She fought on the Somme disguised as a Tommy... Reageer met quote

.... so why did Dorothy die unloved and unlauded in a lunatic asylum? Incredible story of the only British woman to fight in the trenches.

In Paris, in the high summer of 1915, Dorothy Lawrence – a young Englishwoman with more by way of courage and ambition than wealth or connections – turned herself into a Tommy.
She flattened her hourglass curves with a home-made corset stuffed with cotton-wool, hacked off her long, brown hair and darkened her complexion with Condy’s Fluid, a disinfectant made from potassium permanganate. She even razored the pale skin of her cheeks in the hope of giving herself a shaving rash.
In a borrowed military uniform she disguised the last vestiges of her female shape and found two British soldiers to teach her to walk like a man. She completed her transformation by forging her own bona fides and travel permits for war-ravaged France and caught a train to Amiens.
And then Dorothy Lawrence, a cub reporter who hungered to be a war correspondent, cycled to Albert, the village known as the front of the Front, and joined the ranks of 179 Tunnelling Company, 51st Division, Royal Engineers, as they dug beneath no-man’s-land and across to German lines.
They kept her presence a secret. ‘You don’t know what danger you are in,’ Sapper Tommy Dunn warned her, meaning from the battle-hardened, woman-starved men of her own side, not the enemy mortars.
What he could not have known was the terrible secret which had driven Dorothy to take such risks. Ten years later she would reveal she had been raped as a child by the ‘highly respected’ church guardian who had raised her after she was orphaned.
For almost two weeks in August 1915, Dorothy toiled in the sniper-infested trenches of the Somme – which a year later were to erupt in the bloody hell immortalised by the Sebastian Faulks novel Birdsong – until, weakened by contaminated water and exhaustion, she revealed herself to be a female civilian to her ‘superiors’.
She knew she had the scoop of her life, a story which would set Fleet Street alight.
Even when the British military locked her in a convent to keep her quiet in the final days before the Battle of Loos the following month, she was confident it would make her name.
Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the Suffragettes, agreed. After a chance encounter on the ferry home, she invited Dorothy to lecture the growing ranks of women desperate to contribute to Britain’s war effort. But Dorothy was banned by the War Office from telling her inspirational story either through newspaper articles or talks until after the Armistice in 1918.
By the time her book, Sapper Dorothy Lawrence, The Only English Woman Soldier, appeared in 1919 it was well received in England, America and Australia, but remaindered within a year as a world exhausted by war looked ahead to the glamour of the Roaring Twenties.
It left Dorothy with neither reputation nor income, and by 1925 she was living in rented rooms in Islington, North London, her behaviour increasingly erratic. With no family to look after her, she was taken into care, and committed first to the London County Mental Hospital and then Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum.
It was here she revealed the tragedy of her broken childhood to doctors – but there is no evidence her allegations were taken seriously and investigated as they would be today.
It is even possible she was declared insane because she dared to air them publicly. A century ago the word of a man of the Church would have been believed over that of a woman capable of something The Spectator described in its September 1919 review of her book as a ‘girlish freak’.
Dorothy was in hospital for a shocking 39 years until her lonely death in the asylum in 1964. She was buried in a pauper’s grave in New Southgate Cemetery, where the site of her plot is no longer clear.
It was a tragic end to what could have been a brilliant life in the vanguard of women’s journalism. Today, however, as Britain prepares to mark the centenary of the First World War, her exploits are finally being applauded.
Military historian Simon Jones stumbled across a copy of her long-forgotten book while working at the Royal Engineers Museum in Chatham, Kent, ten years ago and is now writing her biography.
With his help, The Mail on Sunday has pieced together fragments of Dorothy’s personal and professional life – and can reveal for the first time that her rape allegations were sufficiently compelling to be included in her medical records, held in the London Metropolitan Archives.
‘At the time she was committed her account of the rape was seen as manic behaviour, delusional, but if it was true it might go some way to explaining why she did what she did,’ Simon says.
‘We know today that victims of sexual abuse do not value their own wellbeing – did Dorothy deliberately put herself in danger? If she understood the danger she was in, she did not seem to fear it. Albert in those days was somewhere soldiers tried to avoid – they would even deliberately injure themselves – yet she headed straight for it.’
Simon has, however, been frustrated by the mysteries of Dorothy’s early and later life.
Her adventures in 1915 are clearly told – although he believes they benefit from a bit of spin – but her early years remain an enigma and, as a mental patient, little is known about her from 1925 onwards.
He believes she was born in Hendon, North London, at the end of the 1880s to an unmarried mother who used several aliases.
When her mother died, Dorothy – then aged around 13 or 14 – was handed into the care of a churchman. Dorothy describes him as ‘highly respected’ and says she was raised in ‘one of England’s cathedral cities’. Simon has traced this to South-West England.
By the outbreak of war she was scratching a living as a journalist in London.
She resolved to cover the fighting on the Western Front but was ridiculed by editors unable to secure access for seasoned foreign correspondents.
‘I’ll see what an ordinary English girl can accomplish,’ she wrote.
‘I’ll see whether I can go one better than these big men with their cars, credentials and money .  .  . I’ll be hanged if I don’t try.’
And so she did, befriending the soldiers in Paris – her ‘khaki accomplices’, as she nicknames them – who would enable her to pass herself off as a Tommy.
Rebecca Nash, curator of the Royal Engineers Museum explains: ‘The sappers’ uniform would have given Dorothy some leeway to move around – tunnellers had a kind of right to roam. They were not subject to the same military strictures as infantry soldiers, for example, and would often turn up without the commanding officer of an infantry regiment having been informed. It was the perfect cover.’
What was also perfect was meeting Sapper Tommy Dunn on the road to Albert. Beguiled by Dorothy’s mad bravery, he resolved to protect her, hiding her in an abandoned cottage until 179 Company troop moved up and she was able to camouflage herself among his comrades. What happened next is open to academic debate. Simon Jones is Britain’s foremost expert on the Somme tunnels, and he is not convinced by Dorothy’s account. He reveals: ‘I am sceptical of the passages in the book in which Dorothy talks of tunnelling under the front line, but there is no doubt whatsoever that she was in the trenches and that she was disguised as a man.’
His conviction is backed by Rebecca Nash. It is further corroborated by letters in the Imperial War Museum archive from Sir Walter Kirke, of the British Expeditionary Force’s secret service, which speak of a young female journalist disguised as a man on the front line.
After ten days Dorothy began to suffer fainting fits. She feared that if she were found unconscious her sex would immediately be revealed, compromising Sapper Dunn and others harbouring her.
She gave herself up, only to have a fit of the giggles while being interrogated by the colonel: ‘I really could not help it,’ she wrote.
‘So utterly ludicrous appeared this betrousered little female, marshalled solemnly by three soldiers and deposited before 20 embarrassed men.’
She was sent down the line to Third Army headquarters and subject to a quasi court martial by three generals, who had her locked in a local convent until she could be put on a ferry back across the Channel.
Correspondence held by the Harry Ransom Centre in the University of Texas in Austin includes a letter from Dorothy saying she had had to scrap her first book on the instructions of the War Office, which seems to have invoked the 1914 Defence of the Realm Act to silence her. The letter is on the headed notepaper of The Wide World Magazine, a London-based illustrated monthly where Dorothy appears to have worked.
But even with this journalistic break Dorothy was unable to parlay her experiences and talent into a successful career.
Nor is there any record of her marrying, so when her mental health failed she was incarcerated without argument for the rest of her life.
It’s only now, as Britain commemorates the centenary of the Great War, that her unique part in it is being officially recognised with a mention in the new gallery at the Imperial War Museum, which will open this summer.
Curator Laura Clouting said: ‘This was a time when there was no provision for women to join any branch of the Services and they weren’t even able to work in munitions factories. Mostly they were involved in charity fundraising or succumbed to knitting mania.
‘We’re including Dorothy Lawrence because she proved the exception to the rule.’
So although she left little trace – no family papers or albums of photographs, and of course, no descendants to celebrate her achievement – 100 years after Dorothy Lawrence became a Sapper on the Somme, her place in history is finally secured.
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BerichtGeplaatst: 12 Jan 2014 8:46    Onderwerp: Reageer met quote

Er is over haar een boek verschenen:

Sapper Dorothy: the Only English Woman Soldier in the Royal Engineers 51st Division, 79th Tunnelling Co. During the First World War

Book Description:
The adventures of an intrepid young woman on the Western Front

It would not be quite accurate to portray Dorothy Lawrence as a bona fide soldier of the British Army. Dorothy was in fact a young woman with great aspirations to embark upon a career in journalism and she knew it would be a coup to give a female perspective of the activities of men on the front line-as it were-from within their own ranks. So she devised a scheme to bring her objectives about and its success was marked by a 10 day stint in the line at Albert in 1915 with the Royal Engineers during the opening stages of the battle of Loos. Dorothy certainly saw action-the trench she occupied lay less than 400 yards from the German front line. She was eventually discovered and the entire story of how she pulled off her subterfuge, her time in the trenches and what befell her thereafter is told in this delightful account. This is a notable account of the Great War from a woman's viewpoint. Available in soft back or hard cover with dust jacket.
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BerichtGeplaatst: 12 Jan 2014 8:52    Onderwerp: Reageer met quote

topic over haar
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