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Women go dressed to kill - and to care.

Byline: By Richard Lister

Throughout history, the battlefield has been a male preserve but where women have appeared, they have left lasting images.

It is perhaps the most potent symbol of a women in a man's world, to see a woman in uniform and many emotions are stirred by the mix of warfare and sexuality.

Female costumes of corsets khaki and fur coats are the subject of a new book by journalist Kate Adie. Most famous for appearing on our television sets reporting from the world's hotspots, she has now turned her attention to the role of women in conflict and the uniforms they wore.

Corsets to Camouflage chronicles the role of women in war from the time of Joan of Arc right up to the recent conflict in Iraq.

Inspiration for the book came from her own early experiences with women in uniform, although she did not warmly accept the then attire.

Recalling from her schooldays in Sunderland a lecture given by servicewomen, she says: "Here were two grown-ups, people who'd achieved the enviable womanhood we yearned for, apparently dressed - well, not so much dressed but upholstered, in a manner which defied analysis.

"They'd seemingly chosen to encase their legs in some kind of ancient lisle, vaguely reminiscent of something seen in the dusty windows of surgical appliance suppliers.

"Our teenage imaginations trembled. And there and then, I decided that uniforms were not for me."

The BBC journalist uses local sources and colourful personal memories from both herself and others to recount the actions of women through generations of conflict throughout the world.

From Sunderland munitions workers to F-18 fighter pilots, women have been treated with varying degrees of respect and suspicion, but have earned the right to be considered for the front line - be that on the home front or where the fighting is.

Despite her view of uniforms, Kate would later don the sandy camouflage of the British Army for her BBC coverage of the Gulf War.

"At a very early age, I'd sampled the impact of uniforms: their power to deliver an instantaneous message, their ability to reduce the individual to a unit, simultaneously marking you out and blending you in," she says.

She examines the changing face of the female role in society, throughout the two world wars and further, covering factory workers, land girls and servicewomen.

Her own experience of the military stems from her early childhood in Sunderland.

"My home in North-East England was a fruitful recruiting ground for the Durham Light Infantry and the occasional warship was heaved into the mouth of the River Wear by over-enthusiastic tugs, pranging the inner piers," she says.

Women's involvement in the factories, fields and the front was a major factor in winning the vote for women at the end of the First World War. Countless women were killed during the war or later, as a result of illness caused by their work in the ammunition factories.

Many served at the front, driving ambulances and supply trucks and caring for wounded at the front line hospitals.

Female involvement in conflict has usually been associated with attending the wounded. Even though any further participation in war was stringently denied to women for many years by a male-dominated society, those serving their country performed extraordinary acts of dedication and bravery.

By the end of the Second World War, when the woman's role was further extended on the Home Front, opportunities offered by women's services such as the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) helped train women in skilled professions that, in peacetime, would not have been open to them.

Flying aircraft, driving trucks and learning skilled trades liberated women from the domestic and offered them a route into previously male-dominated occupations.

In a more dangerous and daring role, women working for the secret services fought behind enemy lines co-ordinating attacks by the French Resistance.

While British women were mainly serving at home during the Second World War, in Communist Russia, women fought alongside men in their common struggle against invasion.

Though there are plenty of accounts of women's heroism, their important role in conflict both at home and at the front remains a subject often overlooked.

After graduating from Newcastle University, Kate joined the BBC in Durham as a studio technician.

Her reporting of the Iranian Embassy siege on May 6, 1980, won her her second Royal Television Society's, Reporter of the Year award.

She also received an OBE in 1993 and two Monte Carlo International Golden Nymph Awards in 1981 and 1990.

As well as the Gulf War, Kate Adie has reported on major events in Libya, Kuwait, Northern Ireland and Bosnia and covered the Dunblane and Zeebrugge tragedies.

Fitting then that she should bring the enormous and often unsung achievements of women in uniform to life in a century which, for them, began bound in corsets and ended on the battlefield in camouflage.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Sep 2, 2003
Words:822
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