MILITARY records for the first British women to serve in a combat zone are launched online today as part of International Women's Day.

The National Archives, at Kew, has digitised more than 7,000 records of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), who served between 1917 and 1920.

The corps was the first of the British women's military services to be set up, in January 1917, and the first women to wear a military uniform, launching the phrase "Khaki women".

Of the 57,000 women who served in the corps, 9,000 were deployed in France in areas exposed to direct conflict.

The women were charged with carrying out a variety of non-combat roles, such as telephonists, bakers, waitresses, electricians, cooks, typists, printers, signallers, and clerks, but they still took considerable physical risks.

In May 1918, during an air raid in France, nine corps personnel were killed, while three received the Military Medal for bravery as a result of their rescue efforts during the raid.

The archives, which show many records of women from the North-East, including nine Darlington-born women, reveal information such as medical records, telegrams, enrolment forms, references and contracts of employment.

Visitors to the site can search by a person's name or place of birth and can buy copies of the records online.

Spokeswoman Sheila Gopaulen said: "Historians have often focused attention on women's war efforts in substituting for men in the civilian workforce to release them for military service.

"Relatively little research has been carried out on women's military services during the Great War."

Only 7,016 of the 57,000 WAAC records remain after being severely damaged during a German air raid in September 1940.

William Spencer, a military records specialist, said the files that survived, were some of the most detailed British First World War service records in existence.

He said: "It is rare that war records give such insight into a recruit's existence beyond the scope of their time in service.

"These records provide a flavour of daily life for these women before they joined the armed services."

The corps was renamed the Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps in April 1918.

When the Royal Air Force was created in 1918, a number of WAAC volunteers entered the Women's Royal Air Force.

The Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps disbanded in September 1921.