Pingyang (598-623) was a rebel general and later princess who helped found the Tang Dynasty in China.

During the early 7th Century, China was ruled by Emperor Yang of the Sui Dynasty, who was extremely unpopular thanks to starting numerous wars and ordering construction projects to expand the Great Wall and Grand Canal which worked 6 million people to death. Pingyang’s father, Li Yuan, was one of Yang’s most successful generals. However in 617 the Emperor became paranoid about Li Yuan’s popularity and ordered for him to be executed. In response Li Yuan rose up in open rebellion against Yang’s rule.

At this time Pingyang was living in the capital, Chang’an, where her husband Cai Shao was head of the palace guard. With the news of Li Yuan’s rebellion the pair were forced to flee the city, separating to improve their chance of escape. Pingyang returned to her family estate to find the region was suffering from severe drought. She opened up the estate’s food stores to feed the local people and in doing so was able to recruit many of them to form her own army to fight against the Emperor, dubbed ‘The Army of the Lady’.

Selling everything her family owned to fund her rebellion, Pingyang added to her forces by assimilating the armies of local warlords, either through bribery or by defeating them on the battlefield and recruiting the surviving soldiers. She ultimately became commander of a force of over 70,000 rebels. She forbade her troops from looting, pillaging, or raping, instead insisting that after conquering an area that food should be distributed to the locals. Unsurprisingly this gained her immense popular support, increased even further by her repeated victories against the Emperor’s armies.

Joining up with the armies of her father and her husband, Pingyang’s forces captured the capital within a year. Yang fled the city and was later killed by his own men. Li Yuan became Emperor Gaozu of the newly founded Tang Dynasty, while Pingyang officially became a princess in addition to being awarded the rank of Marshall and the honorific title zhou, meaning 'wise'. However she only lived a few years in this role, dying aged only 23 of unknown causes. On her death, her father broke with tradition and insisted that Pingyang was given a military funeral in honour of her achievements.

British Women in World War 2

From a guide for US troops stationed in Britain in World War 2:

'A British woman officer or non-commissioned officer can and often does give orders to a man private. The men obey smartly and know it is no shame. For British women have proven themselves in this war. They have stuck to their posts near burning ammunition dumps, delivered messages afoot after their motorcycles have been blasted from under them. They have pulled aviators from burning planes. They have died at the gun posts and as they fell another girl has stepped directly into the position and “carried on.” There is not a single record in this war of any British woman in uniformed service quitting her post or failing in her duty under fire.

Now you understand why British soldiers respect the women in uniform. They have won the right to the utmost respect.'


Ack Ack Girls

'Ack Ack Girls' were members of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) that helped operate Anti-Aircraft Guns in the defense of Britain from German bombing raids during World War 2. 

From 1941 onward all unmarried British women aged 20 to 30 were required to join one of the Auxiliary services, which included the ATS. One of the most dangerous and exciting ATS roles was to be selected for 'Ack Ack' duty, manning the Anti-Aircraft guns known for their distinctive ack-ack sound as they fired. The idea to use women in gun crews was first proposed by British engineer Caroline Haslett and was eagerly approved by Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Churchill's own daughter, Mary Soames, was one of the first Ack Ack volunteers and served at a gun site in London's Hyde Park.

As a royal proclamation forbade women from operating deadly weapons, Ack Ack Girls worked as part of mixed-gender squads where men would load and fire the weapons with the women's support. The three main roles of the women were Spotters who used binoculars to find enemy planes, Range-Finding teams who calculated the distance a gun shell would have to travel to hit the target, and Predictor teams who worked out the length of the fuse necessary to make sure the shell exploded at the right height.

Women were subject to the same intensive training as men and  had to undergo rigorous testing in terms of fitness, hearing, eyesight and nerves in order to be accepted. This was essential for enduring the hard conditions at the gun emplacements and to keep on task while bombs fell all around them. When the Germans deployed V1 flying bombs against Britain, 369 Ack Ack Girls were killed in just 3 months. Their sacrifice and dedication proved invaluable to the war effort, as well as providing a boost to civilian morale, the sound of the Ack Ack guns becoming a well-recognised symbol of British resistance.

Read a personal account of Ack Ack Girl, Vee Robinson, here.