In 1917 the Headmistress of Bournemouth High School for Girls made a chilling announcement to her sixth form: ‘I have come to tell you a terrible fact. Only one out of ten of you girls can ever marry … Nearly all the men who might have married you have been killed. You will have to make your way in the world as best you can.’ She was right: 700,000 British soldiers died in the First World War, and over a million and a half were wounded. Ghastly and unthinkable though their fate was, it has been endlessly commemorated with Remembrance days, with war memorials and a literature which still continues to grow. The women who were left behind are forgotten. The Census of 1921 revealed a surplus of one and three-quarter million women over men. These Surplus Women form the subject of Virginia Nicholson’s book. She succeeds triumphantly in telling the human story behind the demographic statistic.
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