The War Effort

Last updated: 04 March 2011

It took a world war to get women out of the house and into paid employment.

When World War One began in 1914, women were urged to replace the men who were called up to fight for their country. Women began to work in shops, drive delivery vans and do munitions work. The munitions factory work was especially important as it produced the ammunition used in the fighting. Wages were good, at around £2-3 a week - far higher than the average pay a girl in domestic service would receive.

The factory girls enjoyed the freedom of going out to work, and the chance to make friends and socialise. But the munitions factories could be dangerous places to work.

The worst accident in Wales happenied in a factory in Swansea in 1917 when two teenagers were killed. The town came to a standstill as the funeral procession moved through the streets. The coffins were draped with the Union Jack, highlighting the military link and the importance with which the munitions work was now viewed.

One women's organisation set up as a reaction to the war was the Women's Institute. The very first branch in Britain was esablished in Wales - in Llanfairpwll, Anglesey in 1915

Women were able to take advantage of the factory recreation opportunities - something previously unavailable to them. Sport had been a a men-only activity, but now women were playing team sports like football. The enthusiasm of the munitionettes saw almost every shell factory forming its own women's football team.

Outside of the towns and cities, the war effort focused on food production. Women took on all sorts of farm labouring tasks, and because they were so good, many farmers wanted to keep them on once the war as over.

One women's organisation set up as a reaction to the war was the Women's Institute. The very first branch in Britain was esablished in Wales - in Llanfairpwll, Anglesey in 1915. By end of the war it had spread throughout the UK and is still running today.

The end of the war in 1918 meant women were expected to return to their traditional place in the home. They were seen as 'dole scroungers' - women who stole men's jobs. Unlike the rest of Britain, the number of working women fell in Wales. Because they'd worked during the war, they could now claim dole, but the labour exchanges pushed them into the one job they didn't want - domestic service.

But, once again, it took a war for women to be allowed to re-assert themselves and to gain a taste of work outside the home. World War Two began in 1939 and, by 1941, the goverment took the unpresidented step of conscripting women for war work and the women's services.

Once again, women were the core of munition production and there were proportionately more women entering the workforce in Wales than anywhere else in the UK.

During the 1950s, many manufacturing industries were attracted to Wales as a place to set up their factories, precisely because there was such a wealth of women ready to do this kind of work.


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