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April 22, 2022

Vintage Photos of Women Workers in the Factories in London During World War II

These women were all training in various London polytechnics to work in munitions factories during the early 1940s.

Women have always worked outside the home but never before in the numbers or with the same impact as they did in World War II. Prior to the war, most of the women that did work were from the lower working classes and many of these were minorities. There were a variety of attitudes towards women in the work force. Some thought they should only have jobs that men didn’t want while others felt women should give up their jobs so unemployed men could have a job. Still others held the view that women from the middle class or above should never lower themselves to go to work.

Around 950,000 British women worked in munitions factories during World War II, making weapons like shells and bullets. Munitions work was often well-paid but involved long hours, sometimes up to seven days a week. Workers were also at serious risk from accidents with dangerous machinery or when working with highly explosive material.

Some munitions workers handled toxic chemicals every day. Those who handled sulphur were nicknamed ‘Canary Girls’, because their skin and hair turned yellow from contact with the chemical.

A machine shop trainee at the Ministry of Labour training centre at Chelsea Polytechnic at work on a milling machine.

A trainee reads a micrometer at the Ministry of Labour training centre at Chelsea Polytechnic.

Mrs Hilda Woods of Whitton is ‘scribing’ (marking out lines) as part of her training at Chiswick Polytechnic. Before volunteering for war work, she was the manageress of a tobacconist’s shop. Her husband is in the navy and works as an artificer.

Mrs G Norris, from Richmond, works on a drilling machine at Chiswick Polytechnic. Her husband is in the Auxiliary Fire Service and they have two daughters, Marie (aged 11) and Eileen (aged 3 1/2). Before volunteering for war work, Mrs Norris was a window dresser.

Mrs G M Godwin (20) and Miss Grace Bridges (20) at work at Chiswick Polytechnic. They appear to be sharpening tools, with Mrs Godwin (from Feltham in Middlesex) holding a large chisel. Mrs Godwin’s husband is in the Army, and her hobbies are dancing, tennis and hiking. Before volunteering for war work, she was a filing clerk. Miss Bridges was a variety and cabaret dancer, and comes from a family of six.

Mr H A de Jong, the Chief Instructor of Chiswick Polytechnic at Turnham Green, delivers a lesson to a group of trainees. The trainees undertake an eight-week training course at Chiswick before transferring to one of the many factories across the country.

Mrs Elizabeth Henderson (originally from Gateshead) inspects the extension pistons of Bren guns at Chiswick Polytechnic. Her husband is in the Army.

Mary Devlin, aged 20, is originally from Ireland. Here she can be seen working on the manufacture of a Bren gun part at Chiswick Polytechnic.

Peggy Stevenson (aged 21) is inspecting gauges at Chiswick Polytechnic. Peggy is from Bansham and, in her spare time, likes walking, dancing and drawing.

A trainee in the fitting shop of the Ministry of Labour training centre at Chelsea Polytechnic punches a hole into a bar of metal.


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