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Women at War - What contribution did women workers make? Main page

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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 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.

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For more information and images on the role of women in the war, click on the link below to the Holnet website on London at War, 1939-1945More Information on Women at War