Wartime Wednesday: Those Who Have Gone Before
As men headed overseas or moved into the defense jobs during WWII, a void was created in every industry from agriculture to manufacturing. Initially, employers were reluctant to hire women, instead using prisoners of war, interned Japanese-Americans, and males too old or too young to go into the armed forces. Eventually, companies realized that without using women, production goals would never be met.
However, there was one industry that seemed to have no shortage of men: journalism. Nearly every newspaper and magazine in the U.S. from tiny weekly periodicals to national publications employed a man who covered the conflict on location. In order to be allowed in a war zone, a reporter had to be accredited. Accreditation was a long, tedious process, but by the end of the war over 1,473 men and 127 women had achieved that coveted status.
Despite their approval, many female correspondents faced scorn, derision, and opposition in the form of refusal to transport them to the front, as was part of the “deal” of being accredited. Instead, they had to coerce, bribe, or charm their way onto jeeps, trucks, or ships. Collier’s journalist Martha Gellhorn wrote in a letter to military authorities, “I have too frequently received the impression that women war correspondents were an irritating nuisance. I wish to point out that none of us would have our jobs unless we knew how to do them, and this curious condescending treatment is as ridiculous as it is undignified.”
Unable to get to Normandy on D-Day any other way, Gellhorn stowed away on a hospital ship. When told by one hard-nosed general that he didn’t want his Marines to have to pull up their pants because she was around Dickey Chappelle responded, “That won’t bother me one bit. My object is to cover the war.” And ex-fashion photographer Lee Miller managed to make her way to Dachau where she captured pictures of the camp’s liberation. These women the other 124 correspondents exhibited grit and grace to get the job done.
My WWII mystery, Under Fire, features War Correspondent/Amateur Sleuth Ruth Brown. It is my hope that her story will honor those correspondents who forged the trail for future generations of women who can now choose to do or be anything they want.
Set in April 1942, Under Fire tells the story of Ruth Brown whose missing sister jane is declared dead. Convinced her sister is still alive, Ruth follows clues from her small New Hampshire town to war-torn London trying to find her. Discovering that Jane has been murdered results in a faith crisis for Ruth, and she decides she must find Jane’s killer. During her search for the culprit, she runs into smugglers, resistance fighters, and the IRA, all of whom want her dead for what she knows.
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