Eve in Khaki

Eve in Khaki – women’s role in the First World War

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Eve in Khaki is a short book written during the First World War which describes
some of the new roles that women were taking on with the Women’s Auxiliary
Army Corps (WAAC). Take a look at these extracts from the book and think about how they portray a woman’s role in wartime.

What do you feel are the author’s main motivation for writing (there
may be several reasons)? For example, does she want men to recognise women’s
hard work since the war began, or does she want to reveal how women are being
exploited? What in the language the author uses encourages you to think this?

Extract One

A new girl arrives wanting to volunteer for the WAAC.

  • What does the author mean by describing the girl as ‘of the trousered kind’?
  • Why do you think there is so much emphasis on the clothes that women
    are wearing?
  • How strong is the link between doing ‘a man’s work’
    and wearing ‘men’s clothes’?
  • What do you think the difference in social class is between the writer
    and the girl being described (look especially at the initial description of
  • Do you think that writer would imagine the reader as being the same
    social class as herself, or as the girl volunteering here?

Enter the girl war-worker clad in breeches, leggings, and an overcoat, her
hat tilted at the back of her head, with shortened hair and a pertly pretty
face somewhat marred by its expression of Cockney cuteness. As she swaggers
in, curious eyes tell that speculation is rife concerning her vocation, for
she is of the ‘trousered’ kind. With her hands on her hips she demands to see the ‘inspector.’

The hall orderly looks puzzled.

‘I’ve come to join,’ the newcomer explains. She is invited
to write her name on a paper slip; and, sitting in a rather sprawling fashion
at the table, she does so, nibbling at her pen end between whiles.

But once the writing is finished, there is an air of firmness and finality
in the poise of the supple young figure that betokens well for her work in
the W.A.A.C.

One realizes that, whatever her reason, she has decided to sign on ‘for
the duration,’ and that having once signed, she will throw her whole
heart and soul into her work.

And with her head held high she follows the little messenger to see her interviewer,
the ‘quartermistress,’ pausing a moment in the hall to query,
with native precocity –

‘I say, is she nice?’

The answer is given quickly, and with that subtle sympathy which always exists
between young things, –


The interview over, she appears with sparkling eyes.

‘That’s all right! I’m on the way to becoming a ‘Waac’.’
I shan’t be able to wear these,’ and she looks down at her breeches

‘It’s fun to do a man’s work and wear men’s clothes;
but I guess I’ll be doing more of the real thing if I join the Women’s
Army, even if they do wear skirts. They will find me something to do worth
doing. What’s my work now? Lift attendant in a large Stores, and I’m
dog-tired of seeing women coming up and down, always busy shopping, and always
loaded with parcels, as though there wasn’t a war!’

And she vanished through the wide swing-doors, bound for the nearest Employment
Exchange. (14-16)

Extract Two

The author describes another woman volunteer, this time in the Auxiliary Service
Corps (ASC).

  • Again, think about the emphasis on the clothes that the women are
  • According to the author, why does Betty want to join the ASC?
  • What do you think Betty’s social class is, compared to the girl
    in the first description?
  • Does the author think that women should be doing war work in this

Betty is in the A.S.C., a pretty, petite, and precocious young person, who
at first looked upon the war as a ‘priceless’ bore; who, indeed,
tried to forget that a war existed in a round of dances, charity-in-aids,
and frequent visits to the theatre -the veriest butterfly, and quite

Suddenly a new genus -the ‘khaki’ girl – arose, and
Betty began to sit up and take notice. She must be in the ‘movement’
but how was it to be achieved? A course of tuition in motor driving brought
her a commission; and now she is one of the most dependable workers in the
Women’s Army. The Sam Browne belt and breeches have long disappeared
into limbo; instead, we see her garbed in the neat uniform of a Waac officer,
a British Warm [a thick coat] certainly, and high boots if she chooses.’

Extract Three

The author compares the ‘khaki women’ of the First World War with
famous historical characters.

  • Once again, the author emphasises attitudes to clothes. Do you think
    it’s significant that the girl here is wearing an officer’s coat, rather than a private’s?
  • Do you think the author is keen to emphasise how women’s role
    is changing, or does the author want to make is seem as though little has

‘Cleopatra drilled with the Roman legionaries; Boadicea and Joan of
Arc are women soldiers of historical renown; but the khaki woman will rival
these famous women, and stand out in history a fascinating type of modern
femininity; although the mid-Victorian ‘papa’ would have been
horror-stricken to have received a letter in the following lines from his
youngest born:-

‘Have just go my commission, and I now wear an officer’s ‘British
Warm,’ [a thick coat], the dinkiest of riding breeches, a Sam Browne
belt, and top boots.’

Extract Four

The author describes how women have changed from the beginning of the war
to the middle.

  • Do you believe the author’s descriptions of the ‘swaggering’
    girls at the beginning of the war with the ‘Waacs’ that she is
    describing? Do you feel they are accurate, or might they be exaggerated?
  • What is there in the writer’s language that gives you clues
    about their attitudes?
  • Why might the author want to describe a change in behaviour between
    women at the start of the war and the date when she is writing?
  • Why do you think the writer emphasises how ‘charming and attractive’
    the women are?
  • What are the effects of describing the typical woman worker as a ‘little

At first, it must be confessed, we had the ‘swaggering’ type of
khaki-clad girl, her hat tilted at an acute angle and held by a chin strap;
her ‘regimentals’ complete with brass buttons and badges; and
a mannish assurance that was by no means an attractive quality.

The Waac, or ‘Brownie’, as she is called overseas, has developed
into a very charming and attractive little person in her neat coat-frock,
felt hat, brown shoes, gaiters and gloves.

‘Those khaki women look ‘top hole’,’ once said an
officer home on leave; ‘but I don’t think they are the kind of
women we men will want to marry. When a man does settle down apres la guerre,
he will choose above all the woman who is womanly.’ The story is a different
one now, for the ‘khaki woman’ has proved her womanliness and
worth over and over again. Moreover, men will always see women through a glamour
of romance, whether she dons khaki or not; for life, especially in war time,
is deadly dull minus ideals and illusions, and undoubtedly khaki has proved
an inspiration towards higher efforts and ideals in the work of the women
who wear the King’s uniform.

Extract Five

The author describes the pay and conditions of the women workers.

  • Why do you think the author is describing the working conditions
    of the women workers?
  • What sort of person might the author imagine reading Eve in Khaki?

Clerks and typists in France draw from 27s 6d to 31s. 6d. a week, and shorthand
typists and forewomen clerks 37s. 6d., and from this only 15s. a week is deducted
for board, lodging, and washing. This leaves a good margin over every week,
with little to spend it on, as kit is free, and generally entrance to amusements
and concerts as well. Women who lived in rooms and worked in London and other
big towns find themselves much better off from a financial standpoint since
they have become Waacs in France. Instead of a journey by train or tram of
‘bus at the beginning and end of the day, they have a short walk in
the fresh air. Instead of a hasty lunch at a teashop, there is a good nourishing
midday meal, where they can eat as much as they like without any thought of
keeping down expenses or of not exceeding the 1s. 2d. limit.

Hockey and Swedish drill during free time are better than the pictures or
a seat in the ‘gods.’ Thus, our city clerk soon loses her pale
cheeks and listless air, and becomes rose and bonny and fit. In a few weeks
she is a walking testimonial to the fact that discipline and a regular open-air
life can change a girl for the better, just as much as a soldier’s life
will transform her brother. (pp. 162-3)