Grandma goes to war


When the First World War started my Grandmother was 24.  She had left her comfortable home in Lewisham (where her father Dr J T Macnamara was Medical Officer at the Ladywell Institution) to go and live in lodgings in Vauxhall Bridge Road.  Letters from her brothers suggest this wasn’t an entirely popular decision on her part.

In 1917 on February 22nd Aileen enrolled in the Women’s Volunteer Reserve PNT Volunteer Battalion.  On November 23rd she was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant.  In 1918 she joined on January 1st she enrolled in the Women’s Army Forage Department E989 Forage Supervisor, Dept V, Coy East Area 3.  Aileen was discharged from the Corps on 1st Jan 1919.

I don’t know who Billie was, and whether he was ever her boyfriend.  Just as I don’t know who Tommy is – or even if he was really called Tommy, given that was the nick-name for British Soldiers.  I do know that Aileen met my grand-father Frederick Stanley Mason at some point during the war and that they eventually married in 1922.  He was also a 2nd Lieutenant.

Aileen died when I was 12 and I never got a chance to ask her about any of these things.  I don’t know if she would have wanted to talk about it – although she looks quite happy in her uniform!  By the time I knew her she was a rather stern old-lady.  I did know, that like my other Grandmother, she was an independent woman.  Finding her war record long after she died gave me a new respect for her and her desire to carve out her own life, rather than the one her parents might have chosen for her.

If you click on one of the thumbnails it opens up a slider gallery so you can see the pictures in a larger format.


An update on this post with some documents I rediscovered recently whilst tidying my desk.

These include Aileen’s (or as her commanding officer calls her ‘Macnamara’s’ exam papers, exam marks and confirmation of commission and certificate of passing the commission exam. Her ID card, her discharge papers and a letter of thanks from the Quarter Master General. A circular on the wearing of uniform by ex-officials of the Women’s Forage Corps. This last is dated 2nd January 1920. The discharge papers are from 3rd January 1919. It’s clear that the war didn’t end for those involved in it with the armistice on 11th November 1918.

Click on an image to open the scroller gallery to see full images – press ‘Esc’ key to exit scroller gallery when you are done.


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