Whilst I admire much of the austere clothing of the 1940s necessitated by war time regulations, I’m very much a 1950s girl when it comes to fashion history. The streamlined skirts just don’t make my heart flutter like a flouncy petticoat does. But of course the wartime years were about so much more than clothing – the stories of courageous people could take a lifetime to tell.
So I was honoured to be asked to take part in a fashion show at the 1940s Melton Mowbray Weekend on May 14 which highlighted women in wartime. I was showcasing the amazing Lilian Bader who was one of the first Black women to join the British Armed Forces.
Lilian was orphaned at the age of nine and went to live in a convent after being separated from her brothers. In highly unusual circumstances she remained there till she was 20 because they just didn’t know what to do with her or where she could go when she came of age.
In 1939 she enlisted in the Navy Army & Air Force Institutes (NAAFI) but was asked to leave after seven weeks when it was discovered that her father was not born in the UK. In 1941 she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) after hearing they were taking citizens of West Indian descent.
Lilian trained in instrument repair, which was a trade newly opened to women, and became a Leading Aircraft Woman. She was promoted to the rank of Corporal.
Once she left the Army to have her family, Lilian went onto complete her degree and became a teacher.
The show highlighted lots of other women including Dorothy Lamour and Marlene Dietrich for their wartime contributions. It also covered forgotten women – such as those in the East who were left behind in Japan.
Organiser and researcher of the show, Shirley Rees, narrated for the audience the deeds of each woman ranging from those who were famous to others such as French Resistance members and Spies.
Several of the wonderful ladies in the fashion show.
The show is on the road, travelling to other events, such as the Newport Pagnell Vintage Event , The Jubilee Celebration at Grand Central Railway and Harborough at War. Please be aware that the line up of those featured in Women in War may change depending on the event.
It was a wonderful experience and I am grateful that I was asked to be a part of it.
The majority of these beautiful clothes were supplied by the lovely Mel of Cherry Bomb Couture and Anna of Alice Brown’s Cupboard.
Apart from Lilian in uniform, these were taken by Gary Marvin, Jeff Wharton and Andrew Prendergast.
Newport Pagnell Vintage event – fashion show is 4th June
Grand Central Railway – fashion show is 5th June
Harborough at War – fashion show is 6th August