During the Second World War women took over many of the roles left unfilled by men at war. These included farm work ammunitions production and some joined the naval and air forces. Without the help of women it is highly unlikely that Britain would have won the Second World War. Women are often credited for success of the Home Front in Britain. During the war they were often responsible for the families rationing and growing home grown produce e.g. fruit and vegetables. With even the moat outside the tower of London was turned into an allotment area. Women at home were often encouraged to mend their own clothes and spend very little money on material and buttons.
What types of jobs did they do?
Many new jobs became open to women; air-raid wardens, fire officers, evacuation officers, host families for evacuees, and so on. The novelty of women workers wore off more quickly than during the Second World War, because women were doing so in such large numbers. Women workers were taken for granted. Eight times as many women were working in the Second World War than in the first. For example, during World War 1, the Women’s Land Army was employing 33,000 women. By 1944, the Women’s Land Army employed more than 2million women in Britain, this caused the production of farm-grown food to double.
Why was conscription introduced?
By summer 1941, over half of the working population was employed by the government or government-funded schemes. But this was not enough. Due to fewer workers, the men were at war, the production of utilities was decreasing. For example, in 1940 coal supplies fell dangerously low and some 30,000 miners had to return from fighting in order to mine for coal. Late in 1941women were conscripted to war work. All women, 20 and over, had to register for war work at a labour exchange, exceptions were made if the women were ill, pregnant or had small children. They were often sent to work in industry or the auxiliary armed forces. It is reported that some women worked 80-90 hours per week on aeroplane assembly line. In 1939, there were some 7.5 million women working in Britain, out of a total population of 40 million. Of these 260,000 were working in the munitions industry in 1944.
What did the Trade Unions think of women?
The Trade Unions women worker much more readily than they had done in the previous war. The TUC campaigned to make sure women were treated the same as men; For example, the TUC successfully campaigned against the fact that women were paid 25% and received lower accident compensation than men in the Rolls Royce Armament Factories. Government even began to help women with childcare commitments, providing nurseries and encouraging employers to allow women with child to job share.
Despite these changes, there was not exactly a revolution in attitudes to women’s roles in society. Once the war was over, the government had great trouble persuading women to stay and work.
What happened to women after the war?
Once the war was over, the government had great trouble persuading women to stay and work. In 1947, around 18% of married women worked, compared to 10% in the 1930s. The government continued to provide help with childcare. Discrimination remained an issue-in mid 1950s women still earned about half as much as men on average.