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 ‘A House Divided: Gendered Spaces and the Politics of Exclusion in the Royal British Legion’s Women’s Section’

King's College London

Aimée Fox-Godden is a lecturer in the Defence Studies Department at King’s College London. She completed her doctorate at the University of Birmingham in 2015 with an examination of learning in the British army of the First World War, which forms the core of her first monograph to be published by Cambridge University Press. Her current project focuses on gendered spaces and the role of women in ex-service organisations in Britain and the Commonwealth between 1919-1939. She has held scholarships with the Royal British Legion, the Australian War Memorial, and the University of New South Wales, Canberra.

Commenting on the planned 2017 integration of the Women’s Section [WS] into the Royal British Legion [RBL], one WS member remarked how ‘a house divided against itself cannot stand’. Wind back the clock 95 years and such a sentiment would not be out of place. Established in 1921, the WS was open to ex-servicewomen and the female relations and dependents of former or present members of the forces. Growing from 6,560 members in 1922 to 107,580 by 1930, the WS provided support to widows, dependents and families, yet it was viewed with a certain degree of suspicion by its parent organisation. Indeed, ex-service organisations are traditionally viewed as inherently male spaces, often engaging in exclusionary practices that marginalise women and challenge the authenticity of their wartime experiences regardless of whether they had served or not. This paper seeks to explore the WS as both a gendered space, but also as a way for women to contest their marginalised status. The paper will show that WS branches acted as important loci for emotional, social, and spatial relations for their members, constituting both a space for feelings and a space for action. By highlighting the politics of exclusion surrounding the WS, the paper also suggests that, spurred on by its rapid growth, its members were imbued with a shared sense of community that, while not necessarily challenging broader cultural beliefs about men and women, contributed to the creation of a specifically female post-war civic identity.