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15 October 2014
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About This Site > Learning Zone > Schools: Women at War

Activities for Schools: Women at War

The resources on this page can be used by teachers and community educators in classrooms and learning centres. Lesson Plans are based on extracts from stories which were submitted to the WW2 People's War site. They are suitable for both primary and secondary students and have curriculum links to History, English, RE, Citizenship and Media Studies.

  • Lessons meet the skill and content requirements for the UK curriculum in history, English and citizenship (England and Wales).
  • It may be possible to use some exercises to support RE classes at Key Stages 2, 3 and 4.
  • The lessons could be adapted to use as part of centre-designed history coursework for Key Stage 4.
  • Some topics will naturally fit into one lesson and others may run over a number of weeks.

This lesson plan includes:

  • Lesson 1: Women in the Armed Forces (Key Stages 3 and 4)
  • Lesson 2: Women on the Home Front (Key Stages 2, 3 and 4)
  • Lesson 3: Nursing and Medicine(Key Stages 2, 3 and 4)

How to use these lesson plans

  • Use as a structured scheme of work on the British Home Front, 1939-45.
  • Use as generic lesson plans for the teacher, rather than material to be given direct to the pupils.
  • Alter the plans and cut and paste questions in order to make resource sheets according to the ability and age of the pupils.
  • The plans are for mixed ability groups, although the teacher may want to split groups and tasks according to ability.

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 world in which they live as a continuation of society in the 1940s, not as completely detached from it.

The list of resources at the beginning of each lesson includes a reference to stories from the BBC's WW2 People's War site, extracts from which are on the Story extracts page. You may find it useful to print out the full stories. There is also a guideline of preparation materials that are generally found in schools or can be provided by the teacher.

Lesson 1: Women in the Armed Forces

Key Stages - 3 and 4

Objectives - To understand the vital roles women undertook in the armed forces and their experiences at work.

Extracts from the following WW2 People's War stories can be found on the Story extracts page.

  • 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

Other resources needed for the class

  • Photocopies of the relevant extracts from the Story extracts page
  • Photocopies of Pupil Task Sheets
  • Photocopies of the Definitions sheet
  • Service cards for ATS, WAAF and WRNS, approximately ten of each (depending on the size of the class)
  • Sheets of A4 paper

Teaching and Learning Activities

Starter Activity

  • Write the word 'Stereotype' on the board and ask pupils if they know what it means. In most cases it will need to be explained.
  • Ask pupils to think of as many stereotypes they can.
  • As a class, create a stereotypical image of a man and a woman.
  • Spilt the class into pairs and ask them to write a list of all the ways the stereotypical image of men changed during World War Two.
  • They should think about men cooking their own meals, doing their own sewing, providing entertainment, doing first aid, etc.

Activity 1

Split the class into groups of three or four pupils. Ask each group to read the extracts Memories of a WAAF Teleprinter Operator at Station X (Bletchley Park); Balloon Command, Sheffield 1942 - 1943; One Wren's War, and The ATS in the Desert: Part I. These can be found on the Story extracts page.

They should identify the activities the women undertook that were different from traditional stereotypes of the work that women could undertake, and how they behaved while working.

Activity 2

Split the class into groups of three or four pupils. Ask each group to read the extracts Memories of a WAAF Teleprinter Operator at Station X (Bletchley Park); Balloon Command, Sheffield 1942 - 1943; One Wren's War, and The ATS in the Desert: Part I. These can be found on the Story extracts page.

Explain that each part of the armed forces had a women's section. Ask the pupils to read the extracts to see if they can identify to which of the armed forces the author of each extract belonged. Feed back and discuss as a class. Explain what the initials of each group stand for. Use the information from the Definitions sheet in Activity 3 to help clarify points.

Activity 3

Divide the class into groups of three pupils. Ask each group to nominate one person to write the initials ATS, one to write WAAF and one to write WRNS in the middle of an A4 sheet of plain paper. Using the extracts, they should add key words about the roles that women in these groups undertook. The key words should be written around the initials on the sheet of paper. Once the pupils have used all they can find in the extracts, hand out the Definitions sheet so that they can add extra information.

Definitions

ATS - Auxiliary Territorial Service
A force of about 200,000 women performing operational support tasks like driving, postal work, food preparation and ammunition inspection, among others.

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.

Each pupil feeds back their ideas to the rest of their group. The groups then feed back to the class and discuss as a class. Compile a class set of activities undertaken by each section.

Activity 4

Ask each group of three pupils to join with another group to create groups of six pupils. Each group should contain a pair that represents each section (ATS, WAAF, WRNS). Each pair should look at the activities and add a few key words to their A4 sheets, in a different colour pen, to explain why each activity was important to the war effort. The pairs feed back to the rest of the group.

Feed back to the class and discuss. Display the completed A4 sheets around the class or stick them on the board so that the class can use them for the next activity.

Activity 5

Produce cards with ATS, WAAF and WRNS written on. There should be about ten of each depending on the size of the class. Cut up the cards and put them in a hat. Ask each pupil to select a card, then to sit down and not tell anyone what card they have picked. They must then create themselves a character and prepare a short speech explaining what they did in the war and why their job was important. Pupils then act out their speech to the rest of the class. When each has finished, the class should guess which section of the armed forces they belonged to.

Plenary

Randomly say one of the acronyms - ATS, WAAF, WRNS - to each pupil and ask them to reply Army, Navy or Air Force.

Lesson 2: Women on the Home Front

Key Stages - 2, 3 and 4

Objectives - To understand the roles women undertook on the Home Front.

Extracts from the following WW2 People's War stories can be found on the Story extracts page.

  • The Women's Land Army: We Will Never Forget
  • In the Land Army and ATS
  • Working at the Food Office
  • From Country Girl to Factory Girl
  • Vera Houlston's WW2: Working in a Munitions Factory in Tenbury Wells

Other resources needed for the class

  • Photocopies of the relevant extracts from the Story extracts page
  • Print-out of the teacher notes for Activity 3
  • Photocopies of the Pupil Task Sheets

Teaching and Learning Activities

Starter Activity

  • Split the class into groups of four pupils. Ask each group to discuss what is needed for society to function. They could suggest food production, defence, police, manufacturing and the health service.
  • Feed back and discuss as a class.

Activity 1

In pairs, pupils write a list of all the jobs that would be involved in ensuring that a stable, well-run society is created. Feed back and discuss as a class.

Write a list of the jobs on the board.

Activity 2

Ask the class to imagine they are living in 1939 and war has been declared. They are members of the Cabinet who want all fit men to go into the armed forces, but before they do this they have to work out what jobs these men do and what impact the call-up will have on the stable running of the country.

Split the class into groups of three pupils. Ask them to use the list from the previous activity and remember the stereotypical interpretation of male and female work that existed in 1940 to decide which jobs would not be done if men went to war.

Feed back and discuss.

Activity 3

Explain about reserved occupations and the decisions made to have as many women working as possible.

Teacher notes

Reserved Occupations


In April 1939 the Military Training Act was passed. The terms of the Act meant that all men aged 20 and 21 had to register for six months' military training. At the same time a list of 'reserved occupations' was published. This listed occupations that were essential to the war effort and stated that people employed in th em were exempt from conscription. Reserved occupations included:
  • dock workers
  • miners
  • farmers
  • scientists
  • merchant seamen
  • railway workers
  • utility workers - water, gas, electricity

More information about Reserved Occupations is available in the Forces section of the Timeline.

Women in World War Two

During World War One, women volunteered for essential work in order to release men to go into the armed forces. Some 25 years later, as World War Two loomed, campaigns emphasised the need for women to volunteer in similar fashion. It was always clear, however, that this time volunteering was not going to meet the demands of wartime production, and in 1940 a secret report by Sir William Beveridge demonstrated that the conscription of women, as well as of men, was unavoidable.

From spring 1941, every woman in Britain aged 18-60 had to be registered and their family occupations were recorded. Each was interviewed and required to choose from a range of jobs, although it was emphasised that women would not be required to bear arms. Many women, however, were eventually to work - and die - under fire.

In December 1941, the National Service Act (No. 2) made the conscription of women legal. At first, only single women aged 20-30 were called up, but by mid-1943 almost 90% of single women and 80% of married women were employed in essential work for the war effort.

More information about the ATS, WAAF and WRNS is available in the Forces section of the Timeline.

Activity 4

Split the class into five groups. Give each group a different extract. Ask the groups to answer the questions below and nominate one pupil per group to feed back the results to the class.

Each group feeds back their comments to the rest of the class. While the class listen to the feedback they should make notes on the positive points of the women's contribution to the war effort.

Activity 5

Split the class into groups of four pupils. Tell each group that they are to represent the land army, munitions factories or food offices.

Plenary

Read the extract The Women's Land Army: We Will Never Forget on the Story extracts page. Ask each pupil to prepare a sentence they would say to the author of this extract, beginning: "We will not forget your contribution because..."

Lesson 3: Nursing and Medicine

Key Stages - 2, 3 and 4

Objectives - To understand the qualities needed by wartime nurses and how important the contribution of all women were to the stable running of the country and to the war effort.

Extracts from the following WW2 People's War stories can be found on the Story extracts page.

  • My First Three Months as a Fever Nurse
  • Recollections of a Nurse during WW2

Other resources needed for the class

  • Photocopies of the relevant extracts from the Story Extracts page
  • Photocopies of Pupil Task Sheets

Teaching and Learning Activities

Starter Activity

Divide the class into groups of four pupils. Ask each group to write a job description for a nurse. This should be divided into two parts: the personal qualities a nurse would need, such as being sympathetic, and the duties they would have to undertake, such as cleaning or changing dressings.

Each group reads out their job description to the rest of the class and pupils compile a class job description. Write the job description on the board as the pupils will need to look at it for the next activity.

Activity 1

Divide the class into pairs. Ask each pair to read the extracts My First Three Months as a Fever Nurse and Recollections of a Nurse during WW2. They should highlight in red the phrases that match the personal qualities listed in the job description on the board and underline in green those that match the duties listed in the job description.

Feed back and discuss as a class.

Activity 2

Split the class into groups of four pupils and hand out copies of the Pupil Task Sheet.

Activity 3

Divide the class into pairs. Ask each pair to discuss the work from the previous activities and to make a list of all the ways in which women contributed to the smooth running of Britain and to the war effort.

Then ask pupils to write a paragraph which explains why this work was so important in ensuring the smooth running of Britain and helping the war effort.

Plenary

Split the class into pairs and ask them to discuss what the women who worked hard during the war would have expected their lives to be like in the future. Ask each pair to feed back the results to the class.

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