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Women in WWII

From the home front to the front lines

WAVES – WWII Women in the Navy

To attract enlistees, and avoid the issues that the Army had with WAC uniforms, the Navy employed fashion designers to create the WAVES uniform smart navy blue uniform.

The Navy accepted Enlistees between 20 and 36 years of age to serve only in the continental US for the duration of the war. The WAVES were to be discharged within six months after the war. (Full Enlistment Information as of 1943). Interestingly, initial regulations prohibited them to marry Naval personal, although there were no regulations against marrying Coast Guard or other Services personal. This regulation was later relaxed, however, the wives of US Naval officers were prohibited from joining the WAVES. The WAVES performed the following roles within the Navy:

  • Storekeeper
  • Ship’s cook
  • Baker
  • Radioman
  • Specialist
  • Chauffeur
  • Mail-room Clerk
  • Messenger
  • Librarian
  • Information Bureau
  • Line Assistant
  • Escort
  • Waitress
  • Mess cook
  • Mimeograph Operator
  • Yeoman
  • Pharmacist’s mate
  • Aviation machinist’s mate
  • Aviation metalsmith
  • Photographer’s mate
  • Aerographer’s mate
  • Parachute riger

The Coast Guard’s SPARS were closely related to the Waves, and wore the same uniforms with minor changes in insignia to show USCG instead of USNAVY. They too served only in the continental US. There were 12,000 SPARS when the program was disbanded shortly after WWII.

In addition to the WAVES and SPARS, the Navy also had Navy Nurses. For more information on the WAVES uniform, or in starting a WAVES living history impression, please visit the reenactor’s guide.

Recommended Reading on the WAVES:

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Women Spies in WWII

Mata Hari had made the woman spy famous during WWI, however, women had been used as spies for centuries. During WWII, it was realized that women were perfect for certain types of intellegent work. The expanding roles of women allowed them to play a larger role in spying and yet still slip through the enemy’s fingertips much easier than men. Although women often lacked the necessary background for reporting specific technical informaiton, they were often able to extract “intimate” knowledge of German military intentions from military officers in a variety of ways. Often, the women found jobs as servants or otherwise transplanted themselves into the lives of the enemy, allowing themselves to become part of the officer’s dating pool or social circle. Of course, there were women who worked for both the SOE and OSS who were not operatives overseas.

Women such as Julia Child, who worked with the OSS and concocted a shark repellant to keep sharks from setting off underwater explosives, served as WACS, ATS, and civilian employees in offices to create inovative spy tools and gadgets – think James Bond toys -to help WWII spies.

One of the most famous OSS women spies was Virginia Hall, who was the only civilian to be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. She was first a French agent, and then, after having escaped once from Germany (which was no easy task, due to the fact that she had one wooden leg), she re-entered France as part of the OSS, and continued to be a vital source of information until the D-day invasion. She was so valuable a spy that the Germans put out wanted posters in towns telling people to look for a woman with a limp, but her elderly milk maid disguise and painstaking work to teach herself how to walk without limping paid off, and she was not discovered.

Marlene Dietrich also worked with the OSS. What many people don’t know is that she was begged to return to Germany prior to the war, so her many appearances at the front lines were not exactly spy-related, but rather part of a large propaganda campaign trying to point out the fact that the United States, and Marlene Dietrich was not afraid of Germany. There are some rumors that Glenn Miller may have also been involved with this, as well as her rescue from the battle of the bugle, but there’s no solid proof of any dealings between the two of them, or Miller with the OSS.

In the SOE, most women had to either “joined in the FANY” or “joined the WAAF” to explain their absence and training. They were almost all fluent in French and / or German, and many of them had visited or lived in Paris before the war. Each story is somewhat different in the mission details, however, these women were almost always dropped via parachute into the French countryside, where they made their way to their destination.

Recommended Reading on Women Spies in WWII:

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Missing in Action – A WWII Flight Nurse Story

Missing in Action is about a flight nurse who is missing in action.   For a limited time, it’s just $2.99.  Or, you can just download it free if you are a member of kindle prime.  Check it out!

What’s a flight nurse?  A flight nurse is the predecessor to MASH.  You know, like the TV series MASH.   Unfortunately, in Missing in Action, Lt. Evelyn Blake’s transport plane crashes in enemy territory, where she’s rescued by a group of paratroopers.


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