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Remembering Women at War

This week I look at the contribution women made to Britain's wars and the memorials that exist for those who died serving their country
  
Last week, the Royal Mail launched a special collection of stamps, entitled "Remarkable Lives". The stamps feature ten notable individuals who each made a major contribution to British society and whose centenaries of birth fall in 2014. One of these is Noor Inayat Khan, whose life was cut short when she was executed by the Gestapo at Dachau Concentration Camp on 13 September 1944. An agent of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan originally joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) on 19 November 1940. Educated in Paris, she was fluent in English and French and was soon seconded to the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY). In June 1943 she was sent to work as a wireless operator with the French Resistance. She was captured in October of that year. After her death, Noor Inayat Khan was awarded the French Croix de Guerre and the British George Cross. Her citation for the George Cross stated that, "Assistant Section Officer INAYAT-KHAN displayed the most conspicuous courage, both moral and physical over a period of more than 12 months." A memorial statue to her was unveiled in London's Gordon Square Gardens in November 2012.
Noorunissa Inayat Khan became one of the silent heroes of the Second World War. With the code name ‘Madeleine’, she worked as a wireless officer for the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) in Paris during 1943, when the city was occupied by Nazi forces. She evaded capture far longer than expected in her role and continued to send important messages to London to aid the French Resistance. She was betrayed, arrested and interrogated, but she refused to give up her secrets. She was executed at Dachau by the Gestapo in September 1944. - See more at: http://www.royalmailgroup.com/ten-remarkable-lives-celebrated-new-royal-mail-stamp-set#sthash.Tlpxzmbg.dpuf
Inayat Khan is among hundreds of women whose military contribution is highlighted in my recent book, My Ancestor was a Woman at War (Society of Genealogists, 2013). Sadly, this contribution has often gone unrecognized. Many women who gave their lives as munition workers do not feature on rolls of honour as the British government did not recognize their deaths as war deaths. Few, particularly from the First World War, were given official war graves. A dedicated memorial to the women of the British Empire who gave their lives in the war 1914-1918 was unveiled in 1925 at York Minster. The names of these women are inscribed on twelve panels of an oak screen adjacent to the memorial Five Sisters window.


One young woman who does have an official war grave is Pearl Helen Emma Biffin. A copy of her burial record can be found on the Deceased Online website. Further details on her military service are available at the website of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Biffin served in the Second World War as Private in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). She died in hospital at Orpington in the London Borough of Bromley and was buried at Plumstead Cemetery. She was unmarried, and mourned by her parents, Horace George Leslie and Jessie Biffin of Sidcup, Kent.


Do you have a female ancestor who died during war or as a result of injuries sustained therein. Do let us know how she is remembered.

1914–1944
SOE agent in occupied France
Noorunissa Inayat Khan became one of the silent heroes of the Second World War. With the code name ‘Madeleine’, she worked as a wireless officer for the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) in Paris during 1943, when the city was occupied by Nazi forces. She evaded capture far longer than expected in her role and continued to send important messages to London to aid the French Resistance. She was betrayed, arrested and interrogated, but she refused to give up her secrets. She was executed at Dachau by the Gestapo in September 1944.
Born in Moscow to a Sufi teacher and an American mother, and descended from the 18th-century Tipu Sultan of Mysore, Noorunissa Inayat Khan was educated in Paris. Escaping to England after the fall of France, she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, then took one of the most dangerous postings in occupied territory. She maintained her views on non-violence by not carrying a weapon. She was posthumously awarded the French Croix de Guerre and the British George Cross, one of only three women to receive the latter award for service during the Second World War.
A memorial to her in Gordon Square Gardens, London was unveiled by the Princess Royal in 2012.
- See more at: http://www.royalmailgroup.com/ten-remarkable-lives-celebrated-new-royal-mail-stamp-set#sthash.Tlpxzmbg.dpuf
Next week we will run a competition to win a copy of My Ancestor was a Woman at War. Look out for updates on our Facebook and Twitter pages!

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