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London pride | Celebrating the capital’s women of World War II for VE Day 75

Discover the stories of the London women of the Second World War

This May marks the 75th anniversary of VE Day. Moving the Bank Holiday from the usual Monday to Friday 8 May 2020, we will commemorate the end of World War II. Today, there aren’t many alive who remember the war, so it’s important to keep the stories of heroism and sacrifice alive so we’re always reminded to never get in another conflict like this again.

While it was predominantly men on the battlefield and leading the government during the war, women paid vitally important roles in WWII, both on the home front and abroad.

To mark VE Day, let’s look back at some of London’s women who made great contributions to the war effort.

  • Dame Doris Winifred Beale, DBE, RRC & Bar (1889-1971)

Born in Forest Hill, south London, Dame Doris grew up to become a military nurse. During the war, she served as Matron-in-Chief of Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service from 1941-1944. She was made a Dame in the 1944 Birthday Honours. She is also believed to have died in her home district of Forest Hill at 84 London Road.

  • Faith Bennett (1903-1969)

Born Margaret Ellen Riddick in East Dulwich, south London, she went on to have contrasting careers in acting and flying. While acting under the name Faith Bennett in the 1930s, she also took flying lessons, earning licenses in both the US and UK. After divorcing her husband Charles Alfred Sewlyn Bennett, she joined the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) in 1941. She was assigned to the No. 5 Ferry Pilot Pool (F.P.P.), but two days later sustained ‘slight injuries’ after she made a crash landing due to bad weather and engine trouble. She was assigned to the Training Ferry Pool and remained with the ATA until July 1945.

  • Captain Hannah Billig, MBE GM (1901-1987)

Born to Russian refugee parents in Hanbury Street, Spitalfields, Hannah Billig won a scholarship to read medicine at the University of London in the early 1920s. After qualifying as a doctor, she set up a small clinic near Cable Street in 1927, later moving round the corner to 198 Cable Street in 1935 (where a blue plaque commemorates her today). During the Blitz, she was the chief doctor for the air raid shelters in Wapping, tending to the sick and wounded in incredibly challenging conditions. She was awarded the George Medal for a particularly courageous act in March 1941. Billig broke her ankle when a bomb blasted her out of a Wapping shelter, where she had been attending to those inside. She bandaged her own ankle, rescued those trapped in the rubble and provided medical care to them, earning the nickname ‘The Angel of Cable Street’. In 1942, she went to Calcutta, India, with the Indian Army Medical Corps. She received an MBE in 1945 for her efforts during the war. Following VE Day, she resumed her practice on Cable Street and later retired to Israel.

  • Lady Ursula Isabel d’Abo [née Manners, formerly Marreco] (1916-2017)

Born into wealth in London, Lady Ursula joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment during World War II. She started out cleaning railway carriages, before working as a nurse at Battersea General Hospital, and later St George’s Hospital at Hyde Park. She managed to survive uninjured when her mother’s house in Mayfair was bombed. After leaving London, she started working at an ammunitions factory in Grantham, overseeing 2,000 women. The war years are just a small piece of her fascinating life, which is detailed in her autobiography The Girl with the Widow’s Peak: The Memoirs.

  • Martha Gellhorn (1908-1998)

Missouri, USA-born Gellhorn was a pioneer as a female war correspondent, whose coverage of WWII and the Spanish Civil War was well respected. She spent her latter years living at 72 Cadogan Square in Knightsbridge, where she is commemorated with a blue plaque. Read the rest of this entry

Celebrate female talent at Devonshire Square’s International Women in Arts Festival

The International Women in Arts Festival at Devonshire Square
© Patrizia Ilaria Sechi

A month-long festival celebrating female talent has kicked off in the capital this month. Running until 26 July, the International Women in Arts Festival is taking place in Devonshire Square. Hosted by WeWork and with donations going to The Pink Ribbon Foundation, the four-week programme will offer Londoners and visitors free entertainment.

Throughout the month there will all-female bands performing a range of musical genres, including jazz, swing, classical and pop. Meanwhile, an array of professional dancers and students from top dance schools and creative companies will be showcasing their dance skills.

Highlights included dance shows choreographed by Artistic Director, former English National Ballet soloist Jenna Lee; performances by Oriental dancer and school founder Fleur Estelle; and award-winning Samba sensation Gladys Cavalcante. Also performing will be professional Javanese and Balinese dancers Andrea Rutkowski accompanied by Artistic Director Ni Made’ Pujawati, who will perform sacred Rejang Sari and traditional Legong Kuntul dances. Gymnasts from Team GB will showcase their ribbon choreography, followed by a high-energy set from an all-female acrobatic trio.

During the festival, WeWork’s Devonshire Square community with be fundraising for the Pink Ribbon Foundation, or guests can donate online. Located in the City of London, just a short walk from Liverpool Street or Spitalfields Market, Devonshire Square is a historic business, dining and entertainment quarter, dating back to the 18th century.

  • The International Women in Arts Festival takes place from 5 – 26 July 2019. Most performances start at 1pm. Free. At Devonshire Square (Western Courtyard), City of London, EC2M. Nearest stations: Liverpool Street or Aldgate. For more information, visit the Devonshire Square website.

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Fearless Girl statue visits the City of London for the spring

Fearless Girl London © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

Fearless Girl by Kristen Visbal has come to London for three months

Fearless Girl London © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019Two years ago, a bronze sculpture of a young girl appeared in New York City and made international headlines. ‘Fearless Girl’ by Kristen Visbal was originally commissioned by State Street Global Advisors (SSGA) to highlight companies with more balanced gender representations and more women amongst leadership roles. The sculpture was erected opposite Wall Street’s famous Charging Bull statue.

A copy of Fearless Girl was unveiled in London on International Women’s Day (8 March 2019). The bronze statue stands outside the London Stock Exchange on Paternoster Square, just moments from St Paul‘s Cathedral. Standing at around 50 inches high, the sculpture will remain in situ until early June. The SSGA said it hopes the statue’s appearance in London will encourage companies to address gender imbalance in leadership roles.

  • Fearless Girl is on show until 4 June 2019. At Paternoster Square, City of London, EC4M. Nearest stations: St Paul’s or City Thameslink.

For the latest what’s on guide in London, click here.

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Talks, philantropy and more as Seven Dials marks International Women’s Day

© Seven Dials

Gemma Cairney will be hosting a live panel with Charlie Craggs, Dinny Hall, Jenny Scott, Olivia Wollenberg as part of Seven Dials’ International Women’s Day celebrations

Following the recent #MeToo movement, this year’s International Women’s Day is predicted to be the biggest ever. Although it’s still not a public holiday like in Cambodia and the Ukraine (we can dream…), there are a host of events on around the capital to celebrate woman power.

This year, Seven Dials will be hosting a week of events, launches and promotions focused on females. One of the highlights will be an ‘In Conversation With’ talk on International Women’s Day itself on 8 March. Presenter Gemma Cairney will be a hosting a free discussion with a varied panel of influential and progressive women to discuss IWD’s theme of ‘Press for Progress’. Taking place at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Mercer Street Hotel, the panel will feature Trans activist and author Charlie Craggs; British jeweller Dinny Hall; Founder of Mothers Meeting Jenny Scott and Founder of Livia’s Kitchen, Olivia Wollenberg.

Throughout the rest of the week, the area’s boutiques, cafes and bars will be taking part with various activities and promotions. Rossopomodoro will be serving a special chocolate pannacotta with marmalade from CasaLorena, an Italian organisation who help women affected by domestic violence or sexual harassment. Neal’s Yard Remedies will be hosting create-your-own massage oil workshops and offering free hand and arm massages, superfood tasting and in-store discounts. Illustrator Morgan Seaford will be talking about her designs at Duke and Dexter, while jeweller Dinny Hall will be launching a Suffragette-inspired edit at the boutique. Meanwhile, steak restaurant and bar Hawksmoor Seven Dials have created a £6 ‘Sister Suffragette’ cocktail (Appleton Rum, Cocchi Rosa Vermouth, Lavender Bitters and Triple Sec). Throughout the week, Seven Dials have partnered with Hey Girls, who are campaigning to end period poverty in the UK.

  • National Women’s Day celebrations are taking place from 1 – 8 March 2018. At venues and stores around Seven Dials, Covent Garden, WC2H. Nearest station: Leicester Square or Covent Garden. The panel discussion takes place on 8 March at 7pm at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Mercer Street Hotel. To claim your free ticket to the talk, enter the ballot on the Seven Dials website before 2 March at 6pm. For more information, visit the Seven Dials website.

For a guide to what else is on in London, click here.

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Follow in the footsteps of the Suffragettes on a London history walk

Guide to London’s landmarks for Suffragette and Suffrage history.

With the current new wave of feminism, women’s rights are rightly a hot topic right now. In early part of the 20th century, London was the focal point of many suffragette demonstrations and protests due to its location as the home of the UK government.

Here’s a guide to London landmarks and monuments from the early 20th century Suffragette movement so you can follow in the footsteps of women who changed British political history.

  • Suffragette Memorial

Bronze sculpture to commemorate the Suffragettes’ campaign for women’s right to vote. The memorial was sculpted by Edwin Russell and unveiled in 1970 with several surviving Suffragettes in attendance. Christchurch Gardens, Victoria, SW1E. Nearest station: St James’s Park.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

The Suffragette Memorial in Christchurch Gardens

  • Royal College Of Nursing

This Georgian townhouse, which is now part of the headquarters for the Royal College of Nursing, was originally home to Henry Herbert Asquith (1852-1928), who was Prime Minister from 1908 to 1916. Asquith was opposed to women’s suffrage and as a result became a frequent target of protests. Some Suffragettes chained to themselves to the iron railings outside his home – which still exist today. Ironic, that his home went on to become a place championing career women in the Royal College of Nursing. Royal College Of Nursing, 20 Cavendish Square, W1G 0RN. Nearest station: Oxford Circus.

  • Minnie Lansbury’s Memorial Clock

Minnie Lansbury (1889-1922) was a leading Suffragette, having joined the East London Suffragettes in 1915. She was elected alderman on Poplar’s first Labour council in 1919. She died of pneumonia in 1922 after falling ill while spending six weeks in prison for refusing to levy full rates in Poplar. A clock in her memory, originally erected in 1930s and restored in 2008, hangs on Electric House in Bow. Electric House, Bow Road, Bow, E3 4LN. Nearest station: Bow Church or Mile End.

  • Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett’s home

Suffolk-born Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847-1929) was an important figure in the fight for women’s rights and took a more moderate approach to campaigning. From 1897 until 1919 she was president of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), with supporters known as suffragists. She lived and died in a house on Gower Street, with a blue plaque unveiled in 1954. 2 Gower Street, Bloomsbury, WC1E 6DP. Nearest station: Russell Square or Goodge Street.

Read the rest of this entry

Monument to a woman who changed history | Emmeline Pankhurst statue in Victoria Tower Gardens

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

The monument to Emmeline Pankhurst stands in the shadows of the Houses of Parliament in Victoria Tower Gardens

 

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

A bronze medallion of Emmeline eldest daughter Christabel was added in 1959

Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928) is widely acknowledged as one of the most important, British female figures of the 20th century, if somewhat controversial. As the figurehead of the fight for women’s suffrage, she helped pave the way for future female politicians and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher – who wouldn’t have been able to vote, let alone run the country. The Manchester-born campaigner ended up living most of her adult life and died here in London so it is only fitting to have such an important figure in the history of British politics commemorated in the city.

This post is not intended to give a history of women’s suffrage – because frankly I don’t have all day to write it, nor do you (I assume) have all day to read it! However, most British women – whether they perceive themselves as feminists or not – acknowledge they owe a debt of gratitude to Pankhurst and her fellow suffragettes for improving women’s rights in this country (although we all know we still have some way to go when it comes to equal pay, but I’m not going to get on my soap box so moving on…).

Victoria Tower Gardens is a small park just west of the Houses of Parliament leading down to Lambeth Bridge. It contains various monuments and a good view of the River Thames. Entering through the north-east gate, the first monument you come to is one dedicated to Pankhurst.

Emmeline Pankhurst statue © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

The sculpture of Emmeline was erected two years after her death

Emmeline died on June 14, 1928 at the age of 69 – just a few weeks before the Government passed the Representation Of The People Act which extended the vote to all women over 21 (previously it had been given to women aged 30 or over who were either a member or married to a member of the Local Government Register in 1918). Shortly after her funeral, her former bodyguard at the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union), Katherine Marshall begun fundraising for a monument to Pankhurst.

On 6 March 1930, a bronze statue of Emmeline by sculptor AG Walker was unveiled by former Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin (1867-1947). In attendance were former suffragettes, radicals and other dignitaries, along with her daughter Sylvia (1882-1960). Her eldest daughter Christabel (1880-1958) was absent as she was touring North America, but her telegram was read out. Addressing the crowd, Baldwin said: ‘I say with no fear of contradiction, that whatever view posterity may take, Mrs. Pankhurst has won for herself a niche in the Temple of Fame which will last for all time.’ Although today, the sculpture of Emmeline stands in the centre of the two side screens, when it was first unveiled it stood alone and was situated further south. However, it was moved to its present position in 1959 with the screens, one which features a bronze medallion of Christabel (who died the previous year in Santa Monica, California) and the other a replica of the WSPU prisoners’ badge.

  • Victoria Tower Gardens is accessed from Abingdon Street/Millbank on the north bank of the River Thames. Nearest station: Westminster.

For more posts on London history, click here.