Photograph of female ambulance drivers running to their vehicles in Etaples, France

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This black and white photograph features female Red Cross ambulance drivers running to their vehicles in Étaples, northern France, in 1917. In this particular case, the women are responding to a signal for a hospital train which transported wounded soldiers from the front line to safer areas for treatment and recovery in army hospitals. Étaples was selected as a British Army base camp as it is situated near railways, canals and roads for transport purposes but also on the coast of France so that those who required long-term treatment in Britain could easily be transported home. Étaples was the largest military base on the opal coast, with 20 military hospitals and 20,000 beds.

I was fascinated by this photograph because throughout my experiences as a student of contemporary history and politics, I have never encountered Étaples and examined its role as a military base during the First World War.

This photograph is also key in highlighting the important role that women played in the First World War, breaking down stereotypes and assumptions of male roles during this campaign. It also provides a significant insight into the bravery of the British Red Cross female ambulance drivers, to be active on the Western Front so close to fire.

Audio recording by Jasmine Cazals (Volunteer), Birmingham.
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