The Women Behind the Guns

Ministry of Information poster with a photograph showing women at work in a factory making guns, Catalogue ref: INF 2/8

Women did all kinds of work. Over half the workforce in the chemical and explosive industry was made up of women; 1½ 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.

  • What work are women doing in this factory to contribute to the war effort?
  • How is this government poster encouraging women to work in factories? Comment on the words and image used. Catalogue ref: INF 3/403
  • How is this government poster encouraging women to join the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service)? Comment on the words and image used. Catalogue ref: INF 13/42
  • Find four sources showing different jobs carried out by women during the Second World War.
  • What is the message of this recruitment poster aimed at women? Catalogue ref: INF 3/400




This photograph was taken during the final assembly stages in a British ordnance factory which is turning out large numbers of guns. In Britain’s Royal Ordnance Factories, 60% of the employees are women, 32.5% semi-skilled or unskilled men, and only 7.5% skilled men. In the newest Royal Ordnance Factory, now engaged in making 6-pounder guns, women form 80% of the labour on the production side. A great proportion of these women had never been in a factory two years ago. Now they are working fifty-six hours a week at the machines. They are doing skilled men’s jobs and doing them well.

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