Return

Liverpool Blitz: Munitions factories

Women were called up for war work from March 1941. Although there were many different types of jobs, many went to work in munitions factories, making either weapons or ammunition. However many were reluctant to do munitions work; it was lower paid than other jobs, dangerous, involved travelling to factories on the edge of the city and the hours were long. However, women could only avoid such work or entering the services if they had heavy family duties or if the work would interfere with their husband's job.

Workers on the factory floor
Workers on the factory floor at Kirkby
(larger version, opens new window)

Because of the dangerous nature of working with ammunition, nobody was allowed to take anything into the workshops that could cause an explosion. This meant no matches, coins, hairpins, rings or anything metallic. They were searched as they entered the factory. Despite these precautions, accidents did sometimes happen and women were killed and seriously injured in the explosions.

Factory workers around a bomb
Kirkby factory workers around a bomb
(larger version, opens new window)

Besides the danger of explosions, women faced other problems. The jobs sometimes involved working with chemicals that stained and marked their skin and hair. The work was often very hard and involved moving heavy loads or operating large machines. Many jobs were also very demanding - accuracy was vital in making weapon parts and shells had to be filled exactly or they would not perform as the gunners needed them too.

Women were paid less than men for their work in the factories. The unions did press for equal pay, but the employers always seemed to find a way of avoiding it, eg slightly altering a job description.

Repairing the Dunlop's factory
Repairing the first floor of Dunlop's factory on Rice Lane. The floor had been lifted by a blast on the floor beneath. 5 September 1940
(larger version, opens new window)

Despite these hardships, many women enjoyed their work. They understood the importance of what they were doing and how their husbands' lives depended on them. Many also made good friends in the factories and enjoyed the extra independence that work and their own wages gave them.

Activity

Visit the Spirit of the Blitz exhibition, until 5 December 2004, at Merseyside Maritime Museum to find out more about munitions work.

 

Audio

audio

May Clark talks about the uniform at the munitions factory.
(windows media | mp3 | read transcript)

Return