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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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About This Site > Learning Zone > Families: Women at War

Activities for Families: Women at War

In learning about the past it is always best to start in an environment that is familiar. All children have some understanding of the world of today, which they can use as a point of reference to compare against historical events. It is important for children to view the multi-cultural world in which they live as a continuation of society in the 1940s, not as completely detached from it.

The activities below will help children consider the contribution made to the war effort by women. These activities should supplement formal education by giving a sense of what life was like in the 1940s, rather than a detailed factual knowledge of it. They are meant to be engaging - both for children and for the adults helping them - but not to appear to be part of a structured curriculum. You can do one or all of the activities, depending upon time.

Stereotypes

Activity 1

With your child, discuss the meaning of the word stereotype, and then think of as many different types of stereotypes as you can. Discuss a stereotypical image of a man and a woman.

Together read the following extracts.

  • Memories of a WAAF Teleprinter Operator at Station X (Bletchley Park)
  • Balloon Command, Sheffield 1942-1943
  • One Wren's War
  • The ATS in the Desert: Part I

These stories are available in the Sources file.

Together write a list of all the ways the stereotypical image of men changed during World War Two. The list could include men cooking their own meals, doing their own sewing, providing entertainment, administering first aid, etc.

Talk about the activities the women undertook during World War Two that were different from the traditional stereotype of a woman's work, and describe how the women behaved while working.

Suggested answers

Memories of a WAAF Teleprinter Operator at Station X (Bletchley Park)
This extract is about secret work, and traditionally women are not considered to be able to keep secrets, as they gossip.

Balloon Command, Sheffield 1942 - 1943
This extract is about women having no time to wash or clean up, which goes against the traditional image that women are never prepared to get dirty.

One Wren's War
In this extract a woman undertakes mechanical work, engineering in the Navy, which goes against traditional view of the sort of work women can undertake.

The ATS in the Desert: Part 1
In this extract a woman is in command of male soldiers and ATS, at a time when people were not used to women ever being in charge of men.

War work

Activity 2

Write the initials ATS, WAAF and WRNS in the middle of an A4 sheet of plain paper. Add key words from the extracts in Activity 1 about the roles that women in these groups undertook. The key words should be written around the initials on the sheet of paper. Once you have used all you can find in the extracts, see if the definitions list below can help you add extra information.

Definitions

ATS - Auxiliary Territorial Service
A force of about 200,000 women performing operational support tasks to the Army, such as driving, postal work, food preparation and ammunition inspection.

WAAF - Women's Auxiliary Air Force
WAAF personnel provided administrative support to the RAF, and worked in operational control rooms and as radar operators.

WRNS - Women's Royal Naval Service
Known as the Wrens, WRNS personnel performed many shore-based duties, thus making more men available for service at sea.

Activity 3

Re-read the extracts from Activity 1, then ask your child/children if they can answer the questions below.

Ask you child to imagine that it is 1942 and you have to prepare a poem or song to boost the morale of women working, by saying why their work is so valuable.

Activity 4

Read out loud the extract The Women's Land Army: We Will Never Forget from the Story extracts page.

Ask your child/children what they would say to the author of this extract, in a sentence beginning: 'We will not forget your contribution during World War Two because...'

Discuss what the women who worked hard during the war would have expected their lives to be like in the future.

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