Gender, Identity and the Legacy of the First World War: an analysis of the female Old Comrades Associations as emotional communities, 1920 - 1945

  • Jane Clarke

Student thesis: Phd


This PhD thesis explores the multiple and complex ways in which women’s experience of serving in the auxiliary corps in the First World War shaped their lives after 1918. It uses the journals of the Old Comrades Associations (OCAs), organisations established for former members of the Queen Mary Army Auxiliary Corps, the Women’s Royal Naval Service and the Women’s Royal Air Force, to explore the ways in which female veteran associations gave expression to a gendered, emotional memory of the First World War. The thesis works with Barbara Rosenwein’s concept of the ‘emotional community’ to highlight the enduring importance of emotional norms and discourses in shaping the culture of female veteran associations in the inter-war period and the Second World War. Chapter 1 offers an assessment of the emotional values and vocabularies that defined the OCAs. It looks at the social and discursive spaces in which members constructed and fostered an emotional legacy of the war that was built around shared expressions of nostalgia and a collective investment in the enduring significance of military service. Chapters 2 and 3 focus on the diverse ways in which women’s ‘service’ identities flowed through different political arenas in the inter-war period. These chapters explore the ways in which leading women in the OCAs appealed to a shared emotional legacy of wartime service to promote political engagement with the inter-war feminist movement and the pacifist movement mobilized through the League of Nations Union. Chapter 4 investigates the ways in which ex-servicewomen negotiated the gendered and emotional landscapes of the commemoration of World War One in London and the regions between 1921 and 1936. It discusses the formation of a unique culture of remembrance within the emotional community of the OCAs and shows how the emotional norms promoted in these veteran associations led to the re-configuration of dominant cultural discourses related to Armistice Day celebrations. Chapter 5 considers the significance of the emotional responses of OCA members to the arrival of a new generation of servicewomen after 1939. It argues that feelings of loss, pride and nostalgia were crucial in defining the experiences of many ex-servicewomen on the home front whose age or responsibilities prevented them from enlisting once more with the women’s auxiliary services. Overall, the thesis offers new insights into the dynamic relationship between war memory, emotion and politics in the lives of female veterans between 1919 and 1945.
Date of Award31 Dec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorCharlotte Wildman (Supervisor) & Penny Summerfield (Supervisor)


  • First World War
  • Interwar
  • female veterans
  • Emotions

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