WO 398: Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps: service records 1917-1920

Records for personnel who served in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) and later Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps (QMAAC) have been catalogued by The National Archives in series WO 398.

By the time of the Armistice in November 1918, there were over 40,000 women serving with Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps and approximately 57,000 women served with the WAAC and QMAAC between 1917 and 1920. The corps was disbanded in 1920 although some women continued to serve with a small dedicated team within the Graves Registrations Commission at St Pol until September 1921.

Unfortunately, these records were also being stored at a warehouse in Arnside Street when it was hit by German incendiary bombs in 1940, and the vast majority were destroyed. You can access and download the surviving WO 398 records – 9,433 in total – by following the links on the British Army Ancestors website.

Typical papers found within this WO 398 collection include application forms, employer reference forms (M.40/11), enrolment forms (W.3578), identification certificates (W.3577) and medical health forms (W.3661). Together, these offer fascinating insights into the women who enrolled with the WAAC and later QMAAC, initially for 12 months.

The WAAC was organised into four sections: cookery, mechanical, clerical, and miscellaneous and in April 1918 it was re-named ‘Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps’ (QMAAC), with Her Majesty The Queen as Commander-in-Chief of the Corps.

Recruiting for the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) began in March 1917, and whilst it was a uniformed service, there were no military ranks. Replacing officers and other ranks there were ‘officials’ and ‘members’ with officials designated as ‘controllers’ or ‘administrators’ and members designated as ‘subordinate officials’, ‘forewomen’ and ‘workers’. ‘Worker’ is the most common status seen on surviving medals today.

Soldiers’ service records for the First World War in WO 363 and soldiers’ pension records from the First World War in WO 364 can also be readily accessed and downloaded via British Army Ancestors, although you will need to pay Findmypast in order to view these.

The Women's Army Auxiliary Corps was a short-lived British Army corps formed in 1917 and disbanded in 1921. Nevertheless, during its existence, over 50,000 women volunteered for service and from its humble beginnings with service initially confined to Britain, the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps expanded its range of operations overseas.

As the National Army Museum notes, women were restricted to ‘feminine’, auxiliary roles, such as store work, administration and catering, but the work they did freed up more men for front-line duties. Queen Mary became its patron in 1918 and the corps was renamed Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps (QMAAC) in recognition of this.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission records reveal that 188 women died whilst serving with QMAAC, 39 of these deaths occurring overseas in France, and one in Germany. Of these women, Nellie Teresa O'Neill, aged 28, and Edith H Routledge, aged 29, were mentioned in despatches, whilst Margaret A C Gibson was awarded the Military Medal.

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