“At Them, Girls!” How the Amazon Defence Corps Trained to Take on Nazi Invaders

  • Originally published on the Bartitsu.org site on Saturday, 17th June 2017
Members of the Amazon Defence Corps train in unarmed combat (July, 1940).

During the fraught summer of 1940, the people of England were bracing themselves for a seemingly inevitable invasion by the German army.  While politicians dithered over whether women should be allowed to serve as “Home Defenders” – and some women planned suicides – others began training themselves to repel the Nazis by force.

Venetia Foster’s London-based Amazon Defence Corps was among the first of these organizations. Legally prevented from carrying firearms, they neverthless practiced with rifles in shooting galleries set up in public amusement arcades and members’ homes.  Weighted beanbags served as facsimile hand-grenades and molotov cocktails.  The Amazons also studied unarmed combat, rehearsing jujitsu throws on their lawns, and scanned the skies for German parachutists with their opera glasses.

As branches of the Amazons Defence Corps got underway in areas outside London, Percy Longhurst (whose self-defence expertise dated back to the glory days of the Bartitsu Club circa 1900) contributed a series of five illustrated photo-features to the Daily Mail.  Titled “At Him, Girls!”, the articles instructed readers in some basic jiujitsu techniques and also included advice on how to wield an umbrella, walking stick or fireplace poker if attacked by an invading enemy soldier.

In August of 1940 the ADC joined forces with Dr. Edith Summerskill’s new Women’s Home Defence organization and thereafter continued their training throughout wartime, as shown in this newsreel footage:

Although women were never formally admitted into England’s Home Guard as potential combatants, the former members of the Amazon Defence Corps showed true initiative and determination in preparing to resist Nazi invaders.

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