What did we do?

We led a community-based workshop involving eight local veterans including a cross-section of ages, former ranks and services. The workshop to explore their gendered reflections on military service. Participants shared their perspectives in small groups crossing boundaries of age former ranks and service, prompted by stimulating questions to encourage reflection.

We then identified particular topics which emerged from these discussions as well as interesting dynamics between participants before recording paired conversations in a TV studio. Having captured nearly two hours of footage, this was then edited to a short documentary film (16 minutes).

How can you help?

We would love to hear from veterans reflecting on your experience of gender and military service. Please add your comments below or share by social media (@hannah_r_west) or email (hrw38@bath.ac.uk).

Why did we do it?

One hundred years since women enlisted in the British military and the first women’s votes, and in the era of #metooand #thisgirlcan, is it time to explore again the place of women in the public conversation about war?  With women recently given the right to serve in any capacity in the UK armed forces, how does this explode perceptions of the culture underpinning military operations?

Since the 1700s there has been a folk-tradition in music and performance of portraying women, such as Mary Ambree, who, by adopting the persona of soldiers or sailors on the front line, crossed the well-defended barricade around military masculinity.  In these artistic works our notions about the gendered nature of warfare have been challenged and disturbed. Even very recently, writers and musicians have explored the cultural dissonances of women in war, for example in the BBC TV series Our Girl, and in the song Pretty Young Soldiers, a folk-inflected contemporary pop song recently released by veteran rock balladeer, Sting.

Who did we work with?

This was a husband and wife collaboration with my husband, Tim West, facilitating the workshop and directing the filming. We invited a group of local veterans to join us for a workshop and had a fantastic day sharing experiences and reflecting on our service.

We also worked with Simon Wharf, University of Bath Audio Visual Team, who produced and edited the film.

The project was funded by the South West Doctoral Training Partnership Impact Fund.

How has it helped my research?

The subject of my PhD is ‘women as counterinsurgents’ in British campaigns from Malaya and Northern Ireland to Afghanistan and contemporary operations. Being ex-military and having served in Afghanistan the relationship between my own experiences and my research has become central to this reflexive study.

Many of my own reflection’s on the gendered experience of military service have been triggered by face to face conversations with other veterans. Creating the video has offered unrivalled opportunities to explore my own reflections on my gendered experiences of military masculinity and femininity, framings of female combatants and how my view about gender in war have changed since leaving the military.  It has really helped me as a vehicle for examining my own experiences and shaped how I will go on to frame my research and situate it in the wider literature on gender and counterinsurgency.

Where next?

We are proposing to create a piece of thought-provoking devised theatre, crafted from veteran’s reflections on gender and their service in the armed forces, blended with a re-imagining of the folk-tradition of the cross-dressing female soldier, possibly using the song Pretty Young Soldiersas the frame narrative.

This piece of devised verbatim theatre is envisaged for performance in public access venues with military interest, for example the National Army Museum. We are in the process of identifying potential funding sources for this phase of the project and have developed a phased approach through the production of this film and also a music video to demonstrate our concept and accumulate experience to support the preparation from this.

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