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15 October 2014
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Marshall's - A Woman's Job in a Man's World

by cambsaction

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Contributed by 
People in story: 
Katherine Orme
Location of story: 
Six Mile Bottom and Cambridge
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
26 September 2005

[This story was submitted to the People’s War website by a volunteer from BBC Radio Cambridgeshire on behalf of Katherine Orme and has been added to the site with her permission. Mrs Orme fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.]

At the start of the war, I was living in London and working in a shop in Edmonton. We had a bomb drop on a house, 3 or 4 houses down, and when I wrote to tell my father he immediately sent me the money to return home to Six Mile Bottom.

I went to the Employment Office when I arrived and was sent straight to Marshall’s. They put me with two young RAF apprentices. Expecting office work, I was dressed in a skirt, so all day long the apprentices found reasons to send me up and down into the aircraft just so they could see up my skirt. The next day I grew wise and borrowed my brother’s overalls!

I think the men at Marshall’s objected to the women taking up men’s jobs and they were not kind. Eventually, I was the only woman in a team of 10 men, working on Airspeed Oxfords. I learnt on the job and became a semi-skilled aircraft fitter, working there throughout the war.

I think the men were a bit jealous of how quickly I picked it up. They would play all sorts of nasty tricks in the early days, like deliberately giving nasty little electric shocks.

Another job the men would always get me to do would be to climb onto the wing when a plane’s ignition failed and turn a crank handle on the engines. This delivered a heavy jolt to me then the propeller would turn in front of my face. It was a very dangerous job they would never do themselves.

Eventually, I became one of the highest paid girls there. We worked in the biggest hanger in England until they made a purpose built engine and carpentry shop.

During the war there was a strike at the site. I did not want to take part — I had two brothers in the war and didn’t think it was right. Two women threatened me if I didn’t join, but I was strong in those days and stood up to them. However, as a member of the union, I eventually had to join the others. Luckily, it was soon over.

After a full day’s work, we would think nothing of cycling the 8 miles back home, washing, then cycling from Six Mile Bottom to Newmarket for a dance. I always gave the Americans a wide berth, though!

After the war, I became a civil servant, but the job at Marshall’s was always my number one job. I loved it. It was dirty, hard and cold but gave me enormous job satisfaction. I really felt we were helping the war effort and that I contributed.

However, my health has suffered, it is believed as a consequence of the very heavy work I did, which was not at all suited to a woman.

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