Friday, 17 January 2014
She fought on the Somme disguised as a Tommy
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 Read more HERE
Shame on those that treated this brave lady so badly, her crime was to want to fight for her Country.