From 1939-1945, the second World War affected most of the world. Men fought on the frontlines. But countless women also contributed to global war efforts. A new exhibition highlights the important—and sometimes unusual—roles women around the world assumed during the war.
The International Museum of World War II in Natick, Massachusetts, is hosting the exhibit. “Women in WWII: On the Home Fronts and the Battlefronts” features more than 100 artifacts from the United States, Soviet Union, Germany, Japan, France, and Great Britain.
For many women, wartime was about more than planting gardens and rationing food for their families.
The Soviet Union’s army drafted women called “Red Army girls.” These Soviet women filled roles as doctors, snipers, and paratrooper nurses or “para-nurses.”
Female members of the French resistance loaded forbidden radios and weapons into secret compartments of baby carriages. They risked their lives strolling past Nazi soldiers to deliver illegal goods.
Across the English Channel, British women performed noncombat work such as handling massive searchlights to spot enemy aircraft over British cities. Even then-Princess Elizabeth (the current queen) worked under the hoods of military vehicles.
Nazi Germany developed its own twisted way for women to help the war effort. Leaders asked women to become mothers—either of their own children or by adopting little ones to raise to become Nazi soldiers. Bearing children for the Third Reich was considered so important that Germany awarded bronze, silver, or golden crosses—depending on how many children the women had.
God calls children “a heritage from the Lord.” (Psalm 127:3) But churning babies out like weapons or supplies to feed a war effort is not what God intended for marriage and the family.
On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, the United States entered the war late. But American women jumped right in, transporting planes in the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Service program. They flew aircraft to reserve men, who would fly them in combat.
Not all women performed such dramatic roles. Millions served as postal workers, trash collectors, and manufacturers—roles previously held by men. Twenty-four-year-old Fern Corbett washed windows 10 floors above a Minneapolis street. That was a long way (up!) from her original job as a secretary.
Telling the tales of World War II is a labor of love for founder Kenneth Rendell. He began collecting war memorabilia nearly 50 years ago. “It’s about the human story,” he explains. With this latest exhibition, he says, “We’re thrilled to . . . honor women’s service to the war effort.”