Women become Chelsea Pensioners
Dorothy Hughes and Winifred Phillips are soon to do something that for three centuries was almost unthinkable. And aged 85 & 82, they are relishing the challenge. Dorothy who was a gunner and Winifred a former Auxiliary Territorial Service member in the Second World War are to become the first women to join the ranks of the Chelsea Pensioners, the famous scarlet coated army veterans who live at London’s Royal Hospital. Both are looking forward to living alongside the 300 men who live there and wear the ‘red’ coat. Any woman can become a Chelsea pensioner, so long as they are over 65, free of a dependent and drawing an Army pension.
So one could ask why it has taken so long to get this far, given that around 10 per cent of the Army is now female? Lord Walker the hospital’s Governor General said that is has been talked about for the last four to five years and that it was always going to be an inevitable outcome since women joined the Army in increasing numbers from the 1950’s and became pensionable. Plus, the comment you get from most of the men you ask is that the ladies have got every right to be here – as much as they have.
Ms Phillip’s who served in the Army for 22 years, said she raised the question of why women were not allowed to become members a decade ago. She read an article called The Legion saying it wanted more men, so she wrote and said, ‘Why not women?’ Now she has seen her wish come true.
But even in today’s society it does not seem that ‘women’ are welcomed into the armed forces with such enthusiasm. Sexual harassment is still rife so is bullying and intimidation. Women being offered promotion or better treatment in return for sex and research has shown that jokes, stories, language and material offensive to women were widespread across the Army, the Navy & the Royal Air force. Women play a valuable part in our armed forces and this kind of behaviour is both sad and shocking. But having served as a gunner, operating guns in the blitz, I think Dorothy will be just fine holding her own amongst all those old male soldiers!
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