For a room where the average age was most likely over sixty, they were a rowdy bunch at the Britannia Birmingham Hotel on this chilly Wednesday afternoon.
The Women’s Royal Army Corps (WRAC) Association’s Christmas celebration was dubbed the liveliest of the month so far by the catering staff – a title the ladies fought to keep throughout the afternoon.
The WRAC was the female branch of the Army since the early 20th century but was later disbanded in the 90’s and the women were forced to integrate with the men.
During the life of the WRAC there were all-female units across the country. Trudi Banning joined the WRAC in 1991 and had a short-lived career in one of these all-female army environments.
Best career move
Despite her brief encounter, however, she still described it as the best career move she ever made.
“It was like family and friends and a job all in one.”
When Trudi began serving in the WRAC, recruitment was all women. As she put it herself: there were “no men allowed”.
Then, when the corps was disbanded in 1992, she had to undergo the transition period.
“Women had to conform to what the men had to do”, she explained to me as we escaped the mayhem of the party.
“Not only were there to be mixed sex units, but all the training had to change. The women were expected to run as fast as the men in the basic fitness tests.”
While some members of the WRAC were pleased with the transition and introduction of gender equality, others were dubious about the change.
“I think if it had been down to us, our decision and our choice, we’d never had got rid of the WRAC but again, that decision was taken out of our hands.
”It was a shame. Personally deep down, I think they should never have disbanded the WRAC because of the structure that it stands for. The WRAC will never die.”
In fact, at the age of 39, Trudi is one of the youngest members of the WRAC and she could eventually be one of the last surviving members too.
“It is sad because we will lose our identity and eventually we will die out and people will forget all about us” mused Babs Blay as the party dispersed.
She explained to me that the last generation of WRAC ladies is already 38 years old, as 1992 was the last year women would be assigned to all-female units.
Nonetheless, she ensured me her enthusiasm for the association is certainly not dying – nor is anyone else’s.
While she had never served with any of the women at the Birmingham branch of the association, she said it didn’t matter.
“It’s like a language that we have, we understand each other. If anyone, even now, is in trouble then everybody comes together.”
“Where would we go for this camaraderie? That’s what it’s about really, the camaraderie and the sisterhood, knowing there’s always somebody there for you.”