"Side by side with the men. Where we belong,"
Edna Storr, ATS Veteran, Monument Campaign Trustee, to H M Queen at the unveiling in Whitehall, London, July 2005.
"You look up to it. Because that is what we do. We look up to the women of World War Two"
John W Mills, sculptor, son of a WW2 soldier who died in action and a female firefighter.
The Monument was refused planning permission twice by Westminster Council. It was turned down for a place in Trafalgar Square, almost brushed aside into a little nook on the Embankment Wall at the back of the Houses of Parliament. Funding and sponsorship were turned down repeatedly during the eight year fight to commemorate and celebrate more than seven million war time women, until a dramatic last minute rescue.
Criticised for consisting of faceless bodies, no representation of real women, real lives. Attacked as anti-feminist, anti-female, reducing women to helpless, powerless, empty images.
During 1939 – 45 over seven million women living in Britain, supporting the war effort, were an organised resistance movement. They resisted being bombed, starved and terrified into submission. They resisted surrender when most European countries had been beaten into submission through untold horrors of mass imprisonment, mass slaughter. Hitler said the reason for bombing civilians was to destroy the 'legendary British spirit.' He didn't do it.
That spirit is contained in the Monument, by the Monument.
The sculpture's inclusiveness has been attacked for calling military and non-military action heroism. How can women who simply obeyed rationing or did childcare be called heroines when others risked injury and death joining the services or working in munitions?
It represents all women, none in particular. It represents your heroine's story, the unique story of wartime women in your family, your community, you just have to ask, discover and understand your heritage, where and who you come from. You are challenged to find it.
Raise Your Hats – Thanking the Women of WW2 wants you own your history, your culture, expand the contribution of your relatives in your own lives by enjoying a free, democratic society. A multi-faith society that recently recognised the heroism of Noor Inayat Khan, a Moslem executed by Nazi firing squad for spying for British and Allied forces. In 2005, the Ministry of Defence warned a thousand elderly women and their carers not to attend the unveiling of the sculpture by H M Queen because it was only two days after terrorists bombed buses and the underground in London.
They ignored the Ministry of Defence. Women on the first trains allowed into Kings Cross train station were overheard saying: "They couldn't stop us 60 years ago, they are not going to now".
"It's just so cool. The Monument represents what real life heroines did, not those you see in the movies,"
Patrick Lindley, vice-patron of Raise Your Hats, VE70 website designer for RYH.
"The Monument eternally expresses women's war time spirit – the determination to fight for family, freedom and country, whatever the hardship, however terrible the consequences,"
Peri Langdale, Monument Campaign Trustee.
"What kind of women were they? That is what the Monument asks you"
Baroness Betty Boothroyd, Knight of the Garter, Patron of The Memorial to the Women of WWII Trust 1998-2005
Hats, handbags, coats, uniforms, clothing – how does fashion represent war time women's spirit, virtues, skills and actions?
The coats – re-modelled men's coats for female soldiers that had to grow for shoulders to carry unimaginable grief, deprivation, hard work, dangerous risk.
What's in the handbags? Red lipstick for defiance, answering Churchill's call "Your image, Your cheerfulness will bring us Victory!"
Treasured letters – last love letters, last photos of children, husbands, parents, sweethearts sacrificed to war. Letters that may only come once a year or the final one telling of capture and imprisonment, lost in action or death in battle.
Ration cards – sharing the burden of conserving resources and inventive, creative 'make do and mend'. Could you make 100g of sugar last a month?
And the hats. The old fashioned term 'Raise Your Hats' for respect, tribute. Hats to make you lift your head, belong to a group, a role, a job – switching hats, jobs, roles. By day, street kitchen volunteer feeding those who had nothing but the clothes they wore; at night, putting out fire bombs with a broom and a bucket of sand.
The Monument is a hollow bronze seven meters high. It has 17 sets of clothing and uniforms. It is twice life size. The public raised £300,000 for it and the National Heritage Lottery Memorial Fund donated £930,000 as a one-of grant to celebrate its own 25th anniversary.
John W Mills won a national competition lead by the Tate Gallery to create it. This is what he says about it:
"It's a coat rack. You saw one at every dance in the war, in community halls, in churches, wherever. When you saw the coat rack, the coats, the hats and helmets, you knew who was there."
Your relatives, your heritage, your war time heroines. You fill the shoes.