Meet the Woman the World Forgot: Only Female To Officially Fight in World War I
Some people are not born to fit any particular mold. They seem to defy any label that people try to slap on them, and they end up forging their own paths.
Such is the story of Flora Sandes, who became a decorated war hero during WWI. Not many know about her, not even in Britain where she hails from, but she was quite the character.
From a young age, she knew she was different. She didn’t take to the interests most young girls did.
No, she wanted to fight. She wanted to march into war and fight alongside others. Staying at home was not an option for her.
It’s interesting to note that she was the daughter of a rector: It seems the apple fell far from the tree in her case. Her great-nephew Ben Johnston confirmed that she was one-of-a-kind in an interview with itv News.
“She didn’t want to sit at home and have cups of tea and needlework and that,” he said. “She wanted to go out and hunt and ride and shoot and be a boy — a boy. A real tomboy.”
She was fiercely independent, traveling across England, working in Cairo, and crossing both the USA and Canada according to Historic UK. She took up shooting and racing, and was everything but what was expected of a lady in that time.
During our time, that would be encouraged. But being a strong-willed, unique and military-minded woman in certain periods of the past would get you more than raised eyebrows.
When she was nearly 40, war began. The first step she took was to become a nurse. She saw what war did to the soldiers who crossed her path and were put in her care, but it didn’t deter her. It probably made her even more sure that she wanted to be a soldier.
Her opportunity came when the Serbian army was desperate for assistance. They would take anyone who would help, even boys and women.
Naturally, she answered the call. Unlike some other stories of women in war, she never tried to hide the fact that she was female. Everyone knew that Flora Sandes was a woman — and a good soldier, too.
She wasn’t the only woman fighting alongside the men, but the other women hid their identities. Despite being a woman, she was accepted and respected and called “brother” by her fellow soldiers.
Her bravery and skill were recognized and rewarded with the title of Sergeant-Major, and it was only in 1916 that she was stopped after a shrapnel-related injury left her seriously wounded. She persisted, though, and joined in the fight once she was healthy enough again to do so.
She was awarded the King George Star for her service, which is the highest award Serbia has to give. Later, a street in Belgrade was named after her.
When she was 50, she married an officer. She somehow survived WWII, enlisting at the age of 65, and lived to the ripe old age of 80.
She was a fighter until the end, traveling and planning travel up until she passed away. She’s left quite the legacy, but the only British memorial in her honor is a small plaque in the church her father served in.
“In memory of Flora Sandes Yudenitch, wife of Col. Yurie Yudenith and daughter of the Rev. S. D. Sandes rector of this parish 1885-1894.”
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