Manuscripts and Special Collections
   
   
  

Women supporting the military effort

During both the First and Second World Wars in the United Kingdom and other allied nations, women worked in many occupations traditionally regarded as 'men's work'. In order to free men for the front line it was necessary for women to undertake essential war work as well as to maintain life on the home front.

During the First World War in the United Kingdom women were employed in the munitions and related heavy industries, as well as in farming, with many more needed to help keep the transport systems running. However, once the war was over it was generally expected, particularly by the male dominated trade unions, that women would quietly return to their pre-war occupations.

From the outset of the Second World War women were required to register for war work and in the United Kingdom conscription was introduced in December 1941, although women's domestic responsibilities were taken into account in their deployment.

 

 

Photographs of the Land Army at work (private collection)

 

An example of the hard-wearing breeches, issued as part of their uniform,
which many women wore for gardening for years afterwards (private collection)

 

 

Certificates belonging to a member of the Women's Land Army (private collection)

 

From the A Complete Guide to the call up for Women, published by the Labour Research Dept (WWP 16/6)

This guide is an example of the kind of information issued to women during the Second World War.  It was to help them choose how best to support the war effort, in particular how to combine employment with family and domestic responsibilities. 

The importance of the part women played in supporting the war effort was recognised but in the aftermath of war the desire to 'get back to normal' included women returning to the home, whether they wished to do so or not.

I do believe that our Members of Parliament thought we would all go quietly back to our homes and marry and settle down to the normal kind of home life that we had experienced prior to 1939. But how could we! After those six years most of us had become independent young ladies...
 

Next: Supporting the Troops

 

Manuscripts and Special Collections

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