Women and war

Joy Lofthouse, Air Transport Auxiliary pilot in the Second World War © Lee Karen Stow Francess Ngaboh-Smart, a teenager during the civil war in Sierra Leone, West Africa © Lee Karen Stow Colonel Debbie Telford TD L/QARANC, the first female to command the 208 (Liverpool) Field Hospital © Lee Karen Stow Tracy Dunn-Bridgeman, Liverpool mother of Kingsman Jason Dunn-Bridgeman who died in Afghanistan, September 2009 © Lee Karen Stow

"Poppies: Women and War is evolving. This is not an attempt to cover every conflict, or to dare to hope for peace. My research and my portraits grow organically as women and their stories enter into my own awakening.

I wasn’t aware of my own mother’s childhood during the Blitz in the Second World War. 'You never told me', I said. 'You never asked', she replied. I began to ask more. I hope others will do the same."
Lee Karen Stow

These are four of the women featured in the exhibition.

Joy Lofthouse

In 1943 a 20 year old Joy, along with her sister Yvonne, joined the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA). The women had never even driven a car, let alone piloted an airplane. Known as the ‘flying sisters’, they spent the rest of the Second World War flying single-seat Hurricanes, Mustangs and the legendary Spitfires between factories, maintenance units and frontline squadrons. 

In all, they flew 18 types of warplane, without radios or navigational systems, while at the mercy of the British weather. The risks were great, but the female pilots of the ATA helped release male pilots for frontline combat. 

Watch Joy return to the skies in a Spitfire at the age of 92 in an 'In Short' film on the BBC website.

Francess Ngaboh-Smart

Francess was a teenager during the civil war in Sierra Leone, West Africa. It ended in 2002, leaving thousands murdered, mutilated and homeless. 

Ironically, it is because of the war in her country, that Francess has a career and is now able to provide for her son. After the war, she got a job as a records officer at the United Nations Special Courts, set up in Sierra Leone to put those who bore the greatest responsibility for war crimes on trial. Her willingness to learn led her to The Hague in The Netherlands, where Charles Taylor was convicted and sentenced for war crimes during the civil war. She is now an archivist and is studying international law.

Colonel Debbie Telford

Colonel Debbie Telford TD L/QARANC, pictured in the Officer’s Mess at 208 (Liverpool) Field Hospital Territorial Army – now known as the Army Reserve. 

Wife, mother, grandmother, soldier and nurse, Colonel Telford is the first female to command the 208 Field Hospital. She was twice deployed to Afghanistan to the Role 3 Hospital at Camp Bastion.

"My experience in Afghanistan, I regard as the pinnacle of my military nursing career to date. I am privileged to have been part of the team which treated and cared for the most seriously injured soldiers, some with profound life-changing injuries. I am humbled to have witnessed the courage and valour displayed by those brave soldiers, doing their job, and facing incredible risks every day."

Tracy Dunn-Bridgeman 

In 2009, Tracy’s son Jason was shot in the neck and killed whilst on foot patrol in Helmand Province in Afghanistan. Kingsman Jason Dunn-Bridgeman of the 2nd Battalion, The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, died just before his 21st birthday. 

Tracy, a single mother from Liverpool, pays special tribute to her daughter Chelsea, who has been greatly affected by the loss of her brother. Of her own grief she says:

“Having legs like rods of steel helped me cope with the moment when Jason was brought home through [Royal] Wootton Bassett. I know I have lost Jason, but I haven’t actually dealt with losing Jason.” 


Tracy: "I'm not important, to me Jason's the important one and the other lads that were out there, they're the important people. So it's mixed emotions because I don't put myself out at the forefront of anything...

I don't like getting my picture took but it's a way - people come to the museum and they learn a lot. If people learn from what's happened, not just to me but to other people as well, and it makes them more aware then that can only be a good thing."