Sunderland’s Katie Adie speaks out on women, willing and World War One

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SUNDERLAND-BORN war correspondent Kate Adie has today spoken of the influence of women in the First World War – exactly 100 years from the date Great Britain joined the conflict.

The journalist has dismissed arguments that many people joined the army – and subsequently lost their lives – due to propaganda.

PROTECTION FORCE: Anti-aircraft gun on Tunstall Hill, crewed by men of 20th Anti Aircraft Battery, Durham Royal Garrison Artillery, during the First World War.

PROTECTION FORCE: Anti-aircraft gun on Tunstall Hill, crewed by men of 20th Anti Aircraft Battery, Durham Royal Garrison Artillery, during the First World War.

The British Army took only volunteers in 1914 and many signed up before the age of consent, influenced by the famous Lord Kitchener poster with the “your country needs you” slogan.

Ms Adie, an honorary professor of journalism at the city’s university, said: “People certainly did not join the army purely based on propaganda.

“It is an absolute nonsense that is perceived these days without any understanding of the feelings of patriotism at the time, of the Empire and of national pride and duty.

“There is no doubt that there was encouragement to join because it was an urgent war – but it’s not propaganda.

“That is more a cheap 21st century shot, which a lot of people use and look at through the 1914 war through the prism of a narrow experience from the 21st century.

“In 1914, vast numbers thought it was their duty to defend their country and many still would today.”

About 8.7million people worldwide served in the war, and 956,703 members of the British Army died during the conflict, which was the largest-scale war the world had seen at that time.

Ms Adie added: “The First World War was something that hadn’t been seen before. Millions of lives were affected in a way that had not been in living memory before.”

The North-East coastline was one of the areas badly affected, despite the main battlefields being overseas.

Sunderland was attacked by planes dropping bombs on houses and areas along the coastline.

Dr Angela Smith, reader in language and culture at the university, said: “The home front was a battleground.

“You had the bombardment of the coast, Zeppelins flying over Sunderland, the bombardment of Hartlepool and Scarborough and airships flying over London.

“People weren’t used to flying aircrafts at all, never mind those that would drop bombs on them.

“It was a very different concept of war, people were killed in their homes in Britain, which was something that had never occurred for more than 1,000 years in wars.”

Ms Adie brought a book out last year to highlight the effect women had on the war.

She said: “Prior to the First World War, women were invisible to what we now call society.

“They were not fully civil citizens – they did not have the vote, no legal rights and played very little part in public life.

“They were immensely limited by convention and by law.

“In 1914 this changed, they began to come into public life and this had never been the case before. When you look back now, you realise where the deep roots are of arguments in today’s society about equality and it’s a hugely important story.

“History is what makes us what we are today.

“We ought to learn about history, to understand it and learn lessons from it.

“Considering the First World War was such a major part of shaping the last century, and its effects are still felt in many myriad ways, children should learn from it. Children need to learn about war and for them to see what a terrible thing it is. Across the world we see warfare still going on. People should see how dreadful it is and that it must be avoided at all costs.”