There were a multitude of services that women became encouraged to join especially after 1941 as national conscription began to be imposed. Many women were of course eager to join, it was just in their nature to do their bit.
These services would range from the ARP, Fire Services, Medical services and many more. I have covered just a few of those groups that were mainly formed from volunteers but whose work would become so vital, to so many. I have covered as many organisations as I can but of course there were many more groups and individuals that gave their all to the war effort.
Home Defence Services
Air Raid Precautions (ARP)
At the beginning in the so-called phoney war the work of the ARP would not be recognized, it was not until the bombs started dropping on our cities would their true role commitment and bravery come to the forefront, supporting and being vital to come to the rescue of many civilians and innocent victims in their darkest days.
In fact, the role of a warden could take on many duties, from a supporting role in the air raid tunnels, to searching for and marking incendiary devices, to assisting medically. Others would also choose to join the AFS (Auxiliary Fire Service) again dealing with a wide range of tasks, including working on the pumps, delivering vital messages and transport duties.
Women become involved in the service through the Women’s Voluntary Service. ARP would officially be renamed to Civil Defence Service from 1941.
Home Aid Duties
Woman’s Voluntary Services (WVS)
One of their most famous responsibilities and achievements were for clothing schemes. It was clothing that would become such a valuable commodity for the arriving refugees such as those from our neighbouring Channel Islands. They were also involved in the evacuation of children and giving advice on blackouts, bombing etc, and later assisted the wardens, distributing clothes, furniture and generally helping all in the aftermath of each nightly bombing during the Blitz.
In fact, Queen Elizabeth (Queen mother) would become president of WVS. A figure that was most prominent that was prepared to walk the streets to understand the pain and suffering of people but also someone determined to stand her ground and not leave the Country she loved. She stood by her morals, gave her support and donated in aid of the ‘Queens Messenger Food Convoys’.
They would also assist in helping the returning troops from Dunkirk as they travelled by train to their various destinations, the welcome stops in between would see the WVS proving, clothing and refreshments.
Across all the services one of the most British traditions would always be upheld, tea and sandwiches, they were always most welcoming. It just goes to prove that what seems the simplest things in life are what we cherish the most.
Not only would they deal with helping those in need after the bombings like any front-line team they would also lose their own members during the bombings. They faced many harrowing times trying to locate and reunite families lost in the wreckage and debris of the bombed buildings, and of course some could never be found.
Their work would also see them going overseas behind and supporting the advancing allied troops.
Factories and Munitions
In order to keep the supply of much needed military machinery on the frontline, many chose to work in factories and had the required skills and aptitude to keep up with the high demands. Undoubtedly this was very hard work, with long hours but was vital to ensure we had planes protecting our skies and the tanks ploughing through ahead of the soldiers following behind.
Of course, machinery alone would not be efficient, it needed the armour and munitions to take forward to the battle.
One of the most highly dangerous activities of all was working in the various munitions or filling factories across the country, which could often involve loss of limb or worse loss of life in fatal accidental explosions.
In fact, women were working in this highly dangerous environment dating back to the First World War.
Land and Produce
The Women’s Land Army
The Women’s Land Army (WLA) dates back to the First World War but was re-established again in 1939 due to a need for the country to be able to produce more of its own produce, and also to bridge the gap in the agriculture workforce with many workers joining the various armed forces.
It was a hard life, working long hours for little pay, for many in unfamiliar surroundings. Worked ranged from rat catching, and general farm duties, harvesting to land reclamation work, such as that carried out in Fen Land Cambridgeshire in 1942.
Furthermore, it had a dedicated Women’s Timber Corps which dealt with forestry work.
Women’s Institute (WI)
You might wonder why I have included the WI, but I think it may be overlooked that they were responsible for more than making jam, and in actual fact greatly contributed to the war efforts on the home front.
Working within the communities they helped set up markets selling produce and also promoted and were actively involved in growing produce. Evolving round their history of making jam they not only escalated their production to a vast proportion ensuring food was not wasted but also developed ways of preserving fruit.
In addition, they were instrumental in gathering substitutes for vitamins such as rosehips and other vital ingredients that could be used for medication needed especially for the young and those with heart conditions.
They were involved in working with evacuees doing their best to help ease them into the communities during such as period of change.
In order to provide clothing for both troops on the front line and evacuees they held knitting parties producing a very high volume of much needed warm clothing. It reminds me of an image of my Great Grandmother who was never idle and spent any spare time rapidly working away with the needles with a bag of wool constantly by her side. In her later years with a group of other ladies in her home she took part in knitting for troops of the Gulf War. My Nan loved knitting and perhaps unbeknown to me it symbolised her generation and the idea and slogan of the time ‘make do and mend’, something I fear now lost in time.
So, whatever the organisation, whatever they did everyone pulled together and certainly played their part.