Although women had worked in factories before, there was a big increase
after war broke out in 1939. As men were called-up to join the Armed
Forces more and more women were needed to replace them. Women could
not do the heaviest lifting jobs that still needed the greater physical
strength of men and they were not sent to work in the mines but
they soon proved that they could do almost any job usually undertaken
by a man, and do it as well, if not better.
Women did all kinds of work. Over half the workforce in the chemical
and explosive industry was made up of women; 1 ½ million worked
in the engineering and metal industries. Women made shells and bombs,
electrical cable and wire, uniforms, clothing, barrage balloons,
tents, parachutes and flying suits. Many became skilled welders.
Others played a crucial role in aircraft production. Altogether,
about 7 million women were employed in the war effort.
Many women had never worked before and had to learn to cope with
very long working hours and night shifts. Some had to make long
journeys to and from work. Others had to work part-time so they
could look after their children. The work could also be dangerous.
As well as the risk of enemy bombing raids upon factories, accidents
were common, especially in the explosive industry. Another problem
women had to face was the attitude of other workers and the employers.
Many men did not like working with women and most women were paid
less than men - often only half - for doing the same work.