Taking the wife

I gave a short talk about myths of the War today, and afterwards an elderly lady spoke to me.
Her father had been a soldier in the Great War, and, she told me, he took his wife to France with him.
He was not a fighting soldier at the time, but part of the huge department devoted to delivering post. When in France he noted that a big cheese in the unit had his wife with him. ‘Well, if he can do it, so can I,’ he decided, and installed his wife in a flat well behind the lines (children were left at home).
I’d not heard of this happening before, but I bet there were other examples.



  1. Dennis Anderson
    Posted March 5, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    Interesting anecdote. I’m also interested in your talk today. Can you make your notes available on your blog?
    Dennis Anderson
    Lawrence, Kansas

    • Posted March 5, 2012 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for the suggestion. Maybe I’ll get the script into shape and post it (though a fair amount of it has been on the blog already, in one form or another).

  2. Posted March 5, 2012 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    In Bertrand W. Sinclair’s novel The Hidden Places, a Canadian wife accompanies her husband to England (but not France) when he’s sent over as part of the C.E.F.

    Not quite the same thing, I know, but I was surprised by this minor plot point and have been wondering whether it has any basis in fact.

    • James
      Posted March 7, 2012 at 1:17 am | Permalink

      It does indeed. Jonathan Vance’s latest book ‘Maple Leaf Empire’ states: “In May 1916, there were in Britain some 3,000 Canadian wives alone, and thousands more would follow that summer, to the dismay of the authorities….by early 1917, the number had swelled to 30,000.” p.86

      And may I add I’d also like to see the notes of your talk the other day.

      • Posted March 10, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

        Fascinating. In Sinclair’s book is it is not good enough that wife Myra sees her husband when he’s on leave. She takes a lover. Interesting to note, I think that, the wives of British officers in All Else is Folly by fellow Canadian Peregrine Acland do likewise. Or so it is implied… more than implied, really.

  3. Posted March 5, 2012 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    Wow, this is so unexpected. I think I would rather have stayed with my children.

  4. Roger
    Posted March 10, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    In Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End Tietjens’s depraved wife Sylvia wangles her way to France to torment him. She’s also doubling up as a general’s mistress, so it’s probably easier for her.

  5. Posted March 12, 2012 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    Maybe there were more British women in France than one suspected. This collection of pictures of women’s war work includes a reference to a workshop of English female boot repairers, somewhere in France. (Thanks for the link, Michelle.)

  6. christina howes
    Posted March 12, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    Is there any written documentation from any of these women, or the ones who were doing war work? Perhaps memoirs or something?

  7. Posted March 16, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    From Crozier’s A Brass Hat in No Man’s Land, describing a lull in 1916, just before the Battle of the Somme:
    ‘Several officers have asked for leave for Paris; none can be granted except to married officers whose wives may visit Paris for a stipulated number of days. The adjutant knows all about it, as he has only been married three months himself.’

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