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Guide Choosing women for war-industry jobs

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Young single women, often away from home for the first time, might be billeted miles from their families. Flexible working hours, nurseries and other arrangements soon became commonplace to accommodate the needs of working women with children. Before long, women made up one third of the total workforce in the metal and chemical industries, as well as in ship-building and vehicle manufacture.

They worked on the railways, canals and on buses. Women built Waterloo Bridge in London. Nellie Brook left the munitions factory where she worked due to poor health, and was assigned to aircraft manufacture. That was like something out of science fiction. To get there, we were taken out into the country. When you arrived you would never have thought there was a factory there, it was so well camouflaged; great big grass hillocks and once you went inside it was amazing.


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No windows, all these hundreds of people of both sexes all working away like ants. All doing different jobs that finished up producing one of Britain's finest planes. Women often wore trousers, or a one-piece siren suit so-called because it could be pulled on quickly when an air raid warning siren sounded. Headgear became practical, seen as a means of keeping hair out of the way rather than as a fashion statement. Large handbags - to carry all the family's ration books - were also practical rather than fashionable accessories. Knitting became a national female obsession.


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  6. Various schemes gave advice on recycling or making clothes last longer, two of these were the Make Do and Mend, and Sew and Save, schemes. Leading designers worked on the Utility scheme, aiming to make the best use of materials to produce functional clothing.

    Hair was worn long, but off the face. As war drew to a close, women adopted the 'Victory Roll', where the hair was rolled up tightly, fixed in place, and topped with a swept-up curl.

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    Longer hair, like red lipstick, was thought to add to a woman's glamour. The popular wisdom was that such feminine touches boosted morale, both for women and for the men around them. The practical demands of wartime changed social customs beyond all recognition. People enjoyed far greater social freedom than before, with more opportunities for encounters with members of the opposite sex, and a sense that normal rules did not apply in the face of so much imminent danger.

    The drawback to such new opportunities was the increase in numbers of people with venereal disease, Being, or having an illegitimate child were socially unacceptable then, but even so, there was a huge increase in the number of children born to single mothers during the war. However, increasingly explicit sex education did mean that people ended the war far better informed about this topic than they might have otherwise have been.

    Its initial plan was to recruit 25, female volunteers for driving, clerical and general duties. In , however, it was in action in France with the British Expeditionary Force. The vast majority of women in the ATS served in anti-aircraft command, on searchlights - the 93rd Searchlight Regiment were all female. They also worked in mixed batteries on anti-aircraft guns, but were not officially allowed to fire them. Women aged and living near naval ports could apply. In her letters home, she often mentions her brother and her father, both serving in the Royal Navy. On 15 June she wrote:.

    I am keeping an eye on Daddy and Keith. Today women comprise nearly half of the UK's workforce. While there have been many important changes in recent decades there are also many continuities in the issues women face in the workplace. Most working class women in Victorian England had no choice but to undertake paid work in order to help support their families.

    Women worked in factories, in domestic service, in family businesses and carried out home-based work such as finishing garments and shoes for factories and laundry.

    Women Under Fire in World War Two

    During this period women were paid less than men. During WWI , large numbers of women were recruited into jobs vacated by men who had gone to fight in the war. New jobs were also created as part of the war effort, for example in ammunitions factories. The lend-lease agreement entered into by the USA and Australia required the home front to produce food, clothing. The traditional female-employing industries now became vital to the war effort.

    All offered very low wages, and refusal of employers to raise them obstructed the war effort because it was difficult to fill the jobs. Women w ere confronted by the obstinacy of employers who preferred to leave war contracts unmet rather than raise the wages of women workers. In the factories the situation was even worse. In the food-processing, clothing and textile industries, in particular, labour shortages were critical.

    The shortages have been blamed for the decline of the textile industry after The fact was that there were hundreds of voluntary organisations where you could do your bit for the front without having to suffer the unattractive conditions of the factories. The pittances offered as wages in traditional female-employing factories attracted no one except the most desperate.

    Once these women were employed, factories could not entice others. Women stated clearly that they would happily work for higher remuneration, and the higher rates elsewhere did in fact attract enormous numbers. At this time female labour was critically short in the low-paid areas.

    In the ruling against a wage increase for female boot and trade workers, it said: This claim was especially hollow when at this very time women were being conscripted to work in factories under the Manpower regulations. A Manpower Committee had been set up at the beginning of the war to reorganise the direction of labour resources. It could now direct any person to engage in specified employment, and it used these powers to direct women into low-paid jobs.

    All childless women between the ages of eighteen and forty-five were required to register, and the National Service Officers called up large numbers of women for interviews. The first forced engagements took place in March The Manpower Committee worked with employers to ensure them a supply of cheap female labour. The Annual Report of the Chamber of Manufactures revealed that they had negotiated with the Deputy Director-General of Manpower; he had agreed to make an office available to a liaison officer who would work with the Manpower officials.

    In a Melbourne textile factory four teenage girls walked out after one of them had been compulsorily moved to a new section of the factory. The union tried to conciliate in the dispute and the girls agreed to return to work if the boss apologised personally. Instead he reported them to the local Manpower office. The union was able to intervene, however, and the girls were given back their jobs. Many resisted industrial conscription.

    Of all the women conscripted between January and July , 14 per cent lodged appeals, of which half were upheld. Middle-class women had wider job claims, and could prepare more effective appeals; this meant that the target of Manpower was working-class women. And it was working-class women who were driven into factories. Penalties for disobeying were severe. It is an interesting statement on the social attitudes toward female labour that there were no serious moves to oppose female conscription into low-paid jobs, yet the institution of the WEB and the rates it delivered were consistently opposed.

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    Clearly social prejudices and the needs of employers were not so much against women working as against their entering new fields of employment and receiving higher wages. Women themselves showed their antagonism to many of the jobs they were expected to fill during the war. Employed women showed their preparedness to fight: The number of disputes involving men and women increased steadily from in to in These last statistics are not sex-segregated, but some indication of the number of women involved is given by a statement on female minimum rates prepared by the Clothing Trades Union in So far as the men are concerned, this objective [no disputes] was largely achieved and at no stage during the war was there a dispute even of a minor nature involving males What has applied by and large to men has not, unfortunately applied equally to women workers in the clothing industry.

    Circumstances in regard to female employment are totally at variance to those surrounding employment of males and the result has been somewhat disastrous. Thousands of women chose to stay unemployed despite the widespread publicity and the threats of the Manpower Committee. In the long run, however, even conscription could not solve the employment situation satisfactorily.

    Women were being involuntarily transferred to the food-processing industry from metal-industry jobs attached to war contracts, and suffered large salary reductions. The discontent that arose from such transfers is hardly surprising. At the very end of the war the situation was still critical: It was also a measure designed to last only until the war ended. Although these rates did eventually flow on, the immediate post-war wage rates returned to the pre-war levels. This becomes even more apparent when we consider that most employers in vital industries were filling government contracts on a cost-plus basis, whereby the government paid employers a percentage of their costs as a profit.