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18 September 2014
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The Home Front in World War One

By Peter Craddick-Adams
Munitions workers

Image of woman working in a shell factory
Keeping the Western Front supplied with shells, Nottingham, 1917 ©
The hordes of female munitions workers perhaps gave the greatest impression that there was a Home Front during the Great War, and that social change was just around the corner. Corporal HV Shawyer recalled some female munitions workers in a Sutton Coldfield pub:
'... I felt damned embarrassed when I walked into a pub ... one girl forestalled me saying, "You keep your money Corporal. This is on us", and with no more ado she … produced a roll of notes big enough to choke a cow. Many of the girls earned ten times my pay as a full Corporal ...Lyn Macdonald, 1914-18, Voices and Images of the Great War

After the introduction of conscription in March 1916, the government encouraged women to take the place of male employees who had been released from their normal occupations to serve at the front. Whereas in July 1914, 212,000 women worked in engineering and munitions, by 1918 the total was nearly a million.

The attractions were higher wages, better conditions and greater independence. Few would return to the poor wages and conditions of domestic service if they could possibly help it. The fact that some Home Front jobs were dangerous provided a further bond with men serving at the front. However, there were several spectacular accidents in the munitions factories, for example, and around 400 women died from overexposure to TNT whilst handling shells during the war.

Published: 2005-03-14

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