During both World Wars, women had to take over what was then classed as “Men’s Work”, even today certain parts of the workplace are designated for men because the work is “far too dangerous, far too hard and far too dirty” to let women do it, and even when we do go into those areas of work, women are more often frowned upon, or not welcomed. As a woman who has been in various areas of work, I have done all sort’s but yet at those times when I have worked in a primarily male environment I have been made to feel very out-of-place or being the only woman on site, I have either been leered at or treated with kids gloves. After all these years of proving that we can do anything a man can do we, women are still delegated to looking pretty and making tea. This is why International Women’s Day is so important, we have celebrated just how brilliant we, women are and we have to remember all those amazing women before us that did just what men thought they couldn’t.
Today I am talking about the amazing women, who – during both wars – went into the man’s world and they did a damn good job. My main focus today is about those incredible women who went into what was by far one of the hardest and most dangerous industries; The steelworks! Now my dad was a steelworker and I have seen what it did to him, the scars from where he was injured, the damaged hearing and other seen and unseen scar’s that all steelworkers carry with them. For me, this particular random history post is very personal and one that I have been wanting to post for a long time.
During WW2, with all our men gone to fight the world-famous Sheffield Steelworks had to keep going, in fact, it was critical for the war effort that it keeps open, due to the fact that the Steelworks were making the very ammunition that our soldiers needed. But all the men were gone, who would man the Steelworks? There was only one for it. Women!
Sheffield women donned their overalls and walked into that factory with their heads held high and they did the job. Like in every other Steelwork around the country, the women took over and they ruled. Usually, when we think of heroes from WW2 we think of the Land Army Girls, The Wrens and the front line Nurses, but this band of extraordinary women slaved away, day in and day out in Sheffield’s Steelwork, it was highly dangerous work but highly important work, without them who knows what would have happened – the war could have ended very differently.
The work they were doing was so far removed from what they would have been used to, most were pulled from their own jobs in Retail and Hospitality while the majority of the women were housewives. It is said that they got very little training if any at all and most of this would have been their first-ever taste of work. Can you imagine how that would have been? Being forced from what you know into that hot, dangerous and intimidating factory, where one false move could very well end your death if you were lucky you get basic training. In constant fear of the burners overheating and there is an explosion, of getting burnt daily. Then there are the long-term injuries such as back problems, hearing loss, and eyesight problems. Shoulders, knees and hand problems where they would have been burnt and strained and in some cases psychological problems after experiencing accidents.
The work was hard, typical daily tasks would have included picking up the steel at one end while a colleague had held off the other end, they would then have to put the steel into the heat and hammer it. Another daily task was climbing 20ft ladders to use forklifts, so it was no good complaining about being scared of heights, you just had to get on with it, and grin and bear it. The days-long with only perhaps Sunday free, it was hard manual labour, if all that was bad enough then there was the ‘Canary Girls’ who worked with the chemicals inside the ammunition. Their skin would turn yellow because of being in constant exposure to chemicals, they would get ill and they were in constant fear that the chemicals they were handling daily could explode.
What is incredible though is that once the war was over and the men returned, they walked straight into the Steelworks, and told the woman to go back to their own lives without so much as a Thanks or Well done. These women had gone above and beyond to keep the factory running and to keep those very men in ammunition and that was the thanks that they got. Go back home!
The men may not have given these incredible women the respect and recognition that they deserved but we do. In Sheffield City Centre there is the proud and iconic Steel Statue, which is quite fitting called; The Women of Steel, which is in tribute to those inspirational women who did so much for us.
If you want to learn more about The Women of Steel then follow the Link http://www.sheffieldnewsroom.co.uk/tag/women-of-steel/
Below are just a few of the many ways that women were taking on so-called men’s work during WW2.
In early 1941, the Government Minister for Labour declared that ‘One million wives were wanted for war work” In December 1941 the National Service Act was passed in Parliament, which included that all unmarried women aged 20 -30 were to be conscripted for war work, (The age was extended later to 19 -43). They had to either join the Armed Forces, work in a factory or work the land with the Woman’s Land Army
ATS : The Auxiliary Territorial Service.
The ATS was a branch of the British Army during WW2, all women between 17 and 43 could join, although they were barred from serving in battle. They took on the roles such as cooks, storekeepers, orderlies, drivers and postal workers. Later in the war as there was becoming a shortage in men, the women in the ATS became radar operators and anti-aircraft gun crew members.
WRNS: The Women’s Royal Navy Service.
At the beginning of the war, the women’s branch of the Royal Navy was seen as a way of freeing men who were in non-combatant roles, such as cooking and driving to fight. “Join the Wrens today and free a man to join the fleet.” Which is what a recruitment poster urged women to do. The Wrens went on to do very important and varied work such as code-breaking at Bletchley Park and operating radar equipment.
HAPPY INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY!