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International Women's Day: the women who founded Combat Stress

The legacies of the women who founded Combat Stress

This International Women’s Day (8 March) we’re celebrating the legacies of the women who founded Combat Stress over 100 years ago. They have helped to raise awareness of combat-related mental health conditions such as PTSD, reduce the stigma surrounding mental health problems and ensure that veterans across the UK can get the support they need and deserve. What’s more, not only did these women work selflessly to help veterans affected by military trauma but demonstrated pioneering qualities that are remarkable to this day and would have been particularly exceptional in 1918, when they began their mission.

Helping end the stigma

The group of pioneering women aimed to set up the charity after the First World War to provide a recuperative home to veterans with mental health problems. At the time, veterans were returning from war to a society with little understanding of the impact of combat on mental health – in fact, even the concept of mental health was highly misunderstood in the 1900s. Sadly, veterans with what we now know and understand to be PTSD often ended up in mental hospitals (known at the time as asylums). However, our founders noticed this injustice and they fought – despite their positions – to change this, helping prevent veterans from ending up in asylums, providing them with adequate support and helping them leave the battlefield behind.

Defying expectations

Minutes from the first meeting
The women who helped shape Combat Stress held the very first meeting on Friday 1 November 1918. Their objective was to establish ‘an association for the betterment of ex-servicemen of all ranks and all service, their wives, widows and relatives’. The group was originally named the ‘Fellowship of Reconstruction and Welfare Bureau’ but this was soon changed to the ‘Ex-servicemen’s Welfare Society’.

Women’s rights in 1918

While changes were being seen in women’s rights there was still much women could not be seen doing – either by law or due to the opinions and beliefs held in society.

It was only in 1918 that women over the age of 30 were finally granted the vote (men had the right to vote from age 21). And it wouldn’t be until the following year (1919) that women would be allowed to become lawyers, vets and civil servants.

Indeed, even for our founders, the social system at the time was stacked against them. Men held the influence and connections needed to set up a charity such as ours. They were integral to getting things done in those years. However, the very first meeting for the conception of the Charity was attended only by women.

Women and business in 1900s England

Throughout the 1800s most businesses run by women were not perceived as having good reputations because to some it was considered shameful for women to be in these positions. Society frowned upon women involved in business.

However, with the emergence of the 1900s a minority of women began to stand against society's limits, despite disapproval.

We’re proud that the women of the Ex-servicemen’s Welfare Society (now known as Combat Stress) were among this minority.

The women of the Ex-servicemen’s Welfare Society were deifying societal expectation in order to help those veterans who were in desperate need, and deeply deserving, of support. Without their courage and determination our work simply would not have come to fruition.

The founders of Combat Stress

We thank every founder for coming together to create what we now know as Combat Stress, especially the women who held that very first meeting. They selflessly put the wheels in motion to ensure veterans could get the mental health support they needed and were treated with the respect and dignity they deserved. 


The founders, as stated in a later meeting in May 1919, were as follows:
Eden Manor - our first countryside home
  • Mrs Waddingham (Chair)
  • Mrs GM Clarke (Hon Organiser)
  • Miss NG Heathcote (Hon Secretary)
  • Mrs Blunt Beames
  • Mrs Charles King
  • Major Pells
  • Mr Jones Allen
  • Mr GJ Neal

(Pictured: Eden Manor - our first countryside home)