Dorothy Hughes: the girl who broke the rules
The story of how Dorothy Hughes came to be one of the first female Chelsea pensioners. Dorothy came from quite a strict, but comfortable home. Like many women, Dorothy was attracted by the thought of contributing to the war effort. She defied her parents’ wishes for her to become a teacher and decided to join the Army, becoming a gunner shooting down German planes over London. At first, she experienced suspicion and hostility from male gunners before she was accepted as an equal. Many years later, after her husband had died, she decided to challenge another male institution, deciding to live at the world famous Royal Hospital Chelsea for retired British soldiers.
Could be used as part of an enquiry into the impact of the war on British society, Dorothy’s story could be used to help explore how far the war helped advance the role of women in Britain. Pupils could examine why her parents resisted her decision to join the army, before considering why more women were needed to support the war effort and the reaction of some men to the introduction of women into roles which traditionally were carried out by men. It might be interesting to consider why women were not allowed to become a Chelsea pensioner until 2009.
This clip will be relevant for teaching History at KS3 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and 3rd Level in Scotland.