Poster, VADs were urgently needed
Poster, WRAF needed women's particiation
In an Ambulance: a VAD lighting a cigarette for a patient c1917
by Olive Mudie-Cooke
Imperial War Museum
Poster, WAAC, every fit woman can release a fit man
There was no work that women in the WAAC and other sites could not do. The Imperial War Museum has photos that show women doing heavy, dirty or even heart breaking work eg members of the WAAC's tending the graves of Allied soldiers. When compulsory male conscription was introduced in 1916, a competent female workforce became even more important. Restrictions that had denied access to particular trades were forgotten for the rest of the war, and women did work they were previously thought incapable of eg coal hauling and ship building.
WAAC's tending the graves of Allied soldiers in Abbeville in France, 1918. Imperial War Museum photo
In Canada, recruiting of women intensified. Women trained to be munitions workers so that they were ready to move into factories; Canada could answer the call to nationalism with her Dependables. Thousands of other women were helping with agricultural work via Canada’s Women’s Land Army. “The world with difficulty accustomed itself to the thought of women facing real danger and doing arduous work”. No occupation, including quarrying and mining, should be considered closed to women as “every one knows that the Canadian woman is a real Dependable!” She served her nation and the British Empire.
In Australia WW1 was a genuinely liberating experience for many women; it made them feel useful as citizens and it also gave them the freedom and the wages only men had enjoyed so far. Women joined the workforce between 1914-18 in Government departments, public transport, the post office, as clerks in business, as land workers and in factories, especially in the dangerous munitions factories. Women did very well, surprising men with their efficiency and their ability to undertake heavy work. By the mid war they were already regarded as a force to be proud of, part of the glory of the British Empire. Undoubtedly, however, the Australian unions were as worried about male workers coming home after the war as were the British unions.
Poster, women were needed to work with planes
Find a fine paper called WOMEN AND WORK IN WARTIME BRITAIN by Deborah Thom
The really radical question was not “were women allowed to work in real jobs during the war?” but “what happened to those women once the war ended?”
Lucy Noakes suggested that the proposed emigration of large numbers of single women to the Empire in the aftermath of WW1 was one of the main ways Britain got rid of its "excess" single women. Although they had worked during the war and contributed enormously, they were a national embarrassment by 1919. They were forced to leave their exciting, meaningful jobs and were asked to go into domestic service. Worse still, so many men had died in the trenches in France and the Lowlands that these excess women would never find husbands or have babies in Britain.
Noakes said that women who refused to go into domestic work were vilified by the press as “ruthless self seekers, depriving men and their dependants of their livelihood”, or “leeches and parasites determined to have the time of their lives at the expense of the returning men and of wider society”. Women who had served in uniform were often depicted with particular venom. “Those women were bold and masculine, cigarette smoking.., with a loss of grace and charm”.
Thousands of women were asked to emigrate from Britain for new lives in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. And although British women were willing to do exactly that (see the lines at Australia House in London), the irony was that these New World nations actually wanted women to be domestic servants and simple labourers for farms. Again! Once the soldiers returned home from Europe, these New World countries did NOT want female engineers, aeroplane makers and repairers, ambulance drivers or ammunition manufacturers taking the men’s jobs.
Single working women queued up at Australia House, 1919, to emigrate
While Noakes judged the Free Passage Scheme a failure, based on the small number of working women who participated, others have pointed out that working women's participation was never the primary aim of the scheme.