By Jodie Rogge
At the beginning of the first World War, Flora Sandes decided to join the army as a supporter. She worked as a nurse and drove an ambulance for the British forces. These jobs were very common for women who wanted to help in the war effort. Sandes, however, left her ambulance unit on the eastern front to join the Serbian Army. In late 1915 the Serbian Army was unable to resist the Austro-German and Bulgarian forces. They were forced to retreat back into to Kosovo. It was when they were retreating back that Sandes decided to leave her role as a supporter to become a fighter. She officially enlisted into the iron regiment during The Great Retreat toward the Albanian Mountains.
The fighting continued between the Serbian army and the Austro-German and Bulgarian armies. Within a year Sandes had further proved her worth and was promoted to Sergeant-General despite her gender and age. During this time she also wrote a book about her time on the front lines to help raise money for the Serbian Army. After the war ended, Sandes remained a part of the army and was the first woman to be promoted to Major by the time she decided to retire. She was also decorated with Serbia’s highest ranking medal, The King George Star.
It was very rare that women fought in wars on the front lines and achieved high ranking positions within the military. Although there are exceptions, most women contributed by being supporters. They were nurses and ambulance drivers. There were women who would be on the front lines attending to wounded soldiers and carrying them away to the hospitals. Women also supported from their homes by food rationing and taking men’s abandoned jobs. Sandes began as an ambulance driver and then became a fighter, but she was also a symbol. Flora Sandes was a symbol to other British ladies to show how women can fight in combat alongside and against men.