Women in wartime
Women were encouraged to take the place of absent men in many jobs, some quite dangerous. They also had to look after the home and any children who had not been evacuated. Despite that, they sometimes had a good social life, with the cinema being very popular, for example, and found it hard to go back to being housewives, not working, and obeying their husbands, after the war. below are some recruitment posters, and personal memories.
Mrs Lewis, of Severne Road, interviewed in 1977
I had to go to work - for the first time since I got married. I was getting 27s 6d from the army to keep me and two children, and pay 15s 9d a week rent. So I got a job at Lucas, on Shaftmoor Lane, on the assembly. And I worked there for four years, during the war....As a matter of fact I did enjoy it, and I was sorry then that I hadn't gone to work before. But every time I mentioned getting a job (my husband) used to jump on me: "No, you be here when the kids come home from school".
We had a lot of bombing, you know, all round here. That park there, there was a gun in there. And there was a gun up at the top of the road. And as soon as the planes came over, the guns used to start up. We couldn't go in our shelter, because it was full of water, so I used to go in the shelter next door but one, with my little girl. The boy was in hospital at the time. he had about four years in hospital, with a tubercular spine.
I got very run down. You see I was working full-time at Lucas, and then coming home, and I'd got all the housework to do. Well, keep it tidy, anyway, and washing etc., and then no sleep because of the bombers over practically every night. And we'd had as long as thirteen hours in the shelter, waiting for them to go.
And then one morning I was going to work on the bus, and the bus I was on knocked two boys off their bikes. And the shock of it completely unnerved me, and I just had to give up going to work. I had to stop at home then, which I didn't like very much.
Joan Tyler, in a letter to us
I was 16 when war broke out. At the age of 18 I joined the Land Army. Why I don't know, because I was terrified of cows! I was stationed at Barston, near Balsall Common. At the one farm the cockerel starting crowing at 4 am. I had to be in the cowsheds at 5 for the milking, no talking or singing allowed. The head cowman's name was Harry Herd! I really enjoyed it. The farmers called me a townite. I stayed in the W.L.A. for three years. Oh, to go back! Happy days. P.S. To this day I still can't stand the sound of cocks crowing.
Doreen Mander, interviewed in 2004
I was working in an office in Sheldon until I was called up at 18. I went to Ryton near Coventry to make parts for the tail section of Lancaster bombers. I travelled to work by Midland Red from the Swan at 6.30 in the morning. I had to go to Pool Meadow first, and then on to Ryton. I had to be working by 7.30. You still had to get in to work on time the day after a bombing raid. You couldn’t say you couldn’t go in because you had had no sleep. I had a 10 shilling ticket that lasted a week, and was clipped each time. I finished work about 5. I regularly went to the Sheldon Cinema after work. This is now Safeway. Sometimes I met my mother there, who had come from Florence Road. I had my 21st Birthday at the factory: they made me a key out of the “skin” that we made the planes with.
I had to learn riveting and drilling, and was sent on a 6 week course before I started. The factory was owned by A.V. Roe. One of the Lancasters we helped to build took part in the sinking of the Tirpitz. I think Chamberlain bought us time.
Everyone just got on and did their job. They knew they had to. Working there meant I met a greater variety of people than in the office, girls from other counties. 80% of the workers were women, the men were older, or in charge.
One day the union came and said “All the women are out, none can stay in”. There was a lot of anger, as women had had freedom and had been earning money. It was all done in one day. By lunchtime all the women had packed up and gone. This was resented a lot by some, but was a fait accompli. I went back to my previous job, which had been left open. The lady who had been doing my job was upset at having to leave.
I had a friend from the factory staying with my mother and me during the war. She left the hostel near the factory, because of what went on there – you know, men visiting some of the women at night. She didn’t like that. She came from Cheslyn Hay, and couldn’t get to the Coventry factory from there. She told me she cried for 2 or 3 weeks after she returned to her life in the country at the end of the war.
The euphoria at the end of the war was short-lived. You had to get on with normal life.
There are many references to the role of women in the war, with images. Here are a few:
A famous painting by Dame Laura Knight, of Ruby Loftus, a 21 year-old from Newport, in Wales. This shows a woman working in engineering in wartime, Canadian War Museum website
In armaments factories some women made bullets and shells and handled explosives all the time. The chemicals in the explosives turned their skin and hair yellow, and these women became known as ‘canaries’. The effects could be fatal.