1) Describe the ways in which women’s work in the home contributed to the war effort.

In World War II the men left their jobs and homes to fight, leaving their wives behind to run the houses and families.

In 1940, the government started a rationing program to ensure that everyone received a fair share. Each family was registered with a local shop to collect their rations. Women had to queue for hours and didn’t necessarily get what they wanted. There was a shortage of fresh produce and so dried egg and SPAM was brought over from America. Nettle tea and acorn coffee substituted the real thing. Women had a hard job to make pleasant and nutritious meals for their family. People such as Lord Wooton published hundreds of recipes to help women to make the most out of the available ingredients.

Ships coming to England were under threat from attack and so few came. Women helped by accepting the rationing rules, which meant more of the ships importing things to Britain could bring essential war materials and not food.

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The ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign to encourage self sufficiency, urged people to grow their own fruit and vegetables. In 1945 Britain only imported one third of her food compared to two thirds in 1932. Women undertook much of this hard manual work.

The amount of allotments rose from eight hundred and fifteen thousand in 1939 to one million four hundred thousand in 1943. Gardens, golf courses and sports grounds were all cultivated. Rabbits, chickens and pigs were all kept at home and fed until they were ready to eat to add variety to basic rations.

By 1942, the Government had made a big move to encourage people to recycle their rubbish to make munitions. Salvaging things helped save metals which could be recycled for weapon production. Women helped by sorting their rubbish and salvaging things.

Women protected the safety of their property by preparing for bombs and fires and knowing what to do. This meant that firemen didn’t have so much to deal with and it was one less homeless family which reduced the strain on the social services who had to place them. Women also maintained blackouts, which helped to protect the cities from German bombers who located them by their lights.

Women had with fewer clothes when they were rationed in July 1941. A utility scheme was instigated in 1942 to prevent wastage and the clothes available were ugly and militaristic. Women managed to customize clothes and make them attractive so that when their husbands returned home they would please them. This left more material available for uniforms for service men.

Clothes were expensive for what they were and so people we asked to mend their clothes and instructions on how to prevent moth balls were published.

Women were faced with many new tasks and ideas which they undertook willingly. Moral was low at times in England and their effort helped increase it with positive messages being sent to their soldiers offering encouragement and support. They kept the whole country going.

2) In what ways did the lives of women change during the war as a result of their war work outside the home?

Prior to World War II, women mainly stayed at home. During the First World War many women helped the war effort but afterwards returned to their domestic role.

At the beginning of World War II, the Government used many propaganda techniques to persuade women to work in the war industries and women’s armed forces.

Here is an example of a propaganda poster. It shows a soldier waving goodbye to the woman who was to fill his job while he went off to fight.

The response to the advertising was bad. War industries did not offer attractive jobs, due to their long hours, poor conditions, uniform and the reputation that went with them. Women working in factories were expected to work up to twelve hour shifts. Fathers, boyfriends and other men disliked the idea of their women working; it was not seen as feminine and attractive. They thought it was wrong and that respectable girls should not work in factories. Men preferred women to stay in the home.

In 1941 due to the lack of response to the advertising campaigns to encourage women into the forces and work place, unmarried women between the ages of twenty and thirty were conscripted into the women’s armed forces, although they were not allowed to fight and later that year women between the ages of eighteen and forty could be conscripted into war industries anywhere in the country.

Women could join; Women’s Royal Navy Service (WRNS), Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) or the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). Their jobs were not made easy by the sexist attitudes from men, who even stopped some female pilots from having radios as they feared they would use them to gossip. This made flying very hard and dangerous. Many women in the services still took on the traditional female jobs such as secretaries, cooks and cleaners.

The Women’s Land Army allowed women to prove that they could handle tough jobs very well. At the start of the war there were five hundred and fifty thousand men working on the land and this number dropped significantly. Eighty thousand women took up working on the land. Despite what men thought and wanted the Land Girls were a success.

This is a poster encouraging people to join the Women’s Land Army. It makes it look very cheerful but in reality it was very hard and badly paid.

The Women’s Voluntary Service dealt with some very dangerous situations such as unexploded bombs and rescuing people from wrecked buildings. They helped look after the people made homeless from the air raids.

Married women could be conscripted after 1943, which was very hard for them. Many had to put their children into child care because the hours were long.

Even fashion changed as a result of the war. Women wore trousers and dungarees because they were more practical than dresses and skirts.

Working on the war effort probably had the largest effect on married women because they gained so much more freedom and independence from it. All the women proved that they could do skilled jobs and equal the men and in some cases jobs were done better by women.

The war work also helped close the barrier between the rich and poor because they were all working. Lower class women had always worked, in textiles factories and other jobs or in domestic services. Upper and middle class women had stayed at home and they thought it was ‘un-lady like’ to work. Gradually they started to find it acceptable to work.

By September 1943 there were three million more women being paid to work than before the war, making a total of eight million.

Having demonstrated their abilities employers were keen to use women to work after the War because their salaries were lower.

In 1944 an education act was passed but it was not implemented until after the war. The schooling age rose to fifteen, secondary education became free to all and for many girls the path to university was opened up for the first time. This was the begging of a new type of life for women. They could finally get higher paid jobs and the working world seemed to be a permanent fixture for them. Earning money for themselves gave women freedom and independence from the control of men.

3) ‘The roles of women in the war effort have often been seen as less important than those of men’. Why have women’s roles been seen as less important?

Women’s roles may have been seen as the supporting role because they did not fight on the front line and far fewer were risking their lives for their country. They were however, making a vital contribution to the war effort by keeping the country going and offering support to the soldiers. Without women, the soldiers could not have fought because they would have had no supplies.

Men were seen as the heroes because they fought on the front line and had been through traumatic experiences. If women were injured they knew they would have no future of getting married as men would not want them because they were considered useless. If men came home missing an arm or a leg they were thought of as heroes.

Government propaganda during the war to encourage women into the services portrayed women to have the supporting role. Posters such as ‘Support the men and join the WAAF’ were everywhere.

This poster for example shows the men in the Royal Air Force flying over head and is implying that women should making an effort aswell to support them.

Some women did things just as dangerous as men. Recognition of this was seen when women started to be awarded the George Cross for bravery which up till 1946 had only been awarded to men. The first woman to be awarded it was Odet Samsong who was an agent for S.O.E. She was parachuted into Nazi occupied parts but was captured in 1943. She was then interrogated and tortured and sent to a concentration camp where she stayed in the dark damp conditions of solitary confinement. She refused to give information to the Nazis and was sentenced to death.

Luckily she escaped death as it was thought that she was related to Winston Churchill and at that point Britain and her allies were winning the war. The Nazis thought it would look good if they saved her. Other women to be awarded the cross were Corporal Daphne Pearson of the WAAF and Violette Szabo who was also a spy. When spies were captured they did not give out any information even when under immense torture and pressure. Some gave their lives for their country. If the spies had not been strong enough the enemy could have found out information that would be very dangerous in their hands.

This propaganda poster is telling people to be careful what they say because they could be talking to a spy like the men are in the poster.

Another reason why men were portrayed to have the more important role is that most films, novels and books are produced by men who would understate the role of women. I researched this and found that only two out of a random selection of fifty books about the War were written by women. The men, having more of a voice in society, described how hard they had fought but because women were still dominated by men, they could not speak out and their contribution was not recognised.


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