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Liverpool Blitz: The wartime roles of women

For many women, life on the home front (in Britain) was as much a struggle as it was for the men away fighting. Their lives were still in danger from the German bombs; they had little money, as the traditional bread-winner was away fighting; their children often had to do without essentials or were evacuated, and women were also expected to contribute to the war effort in factories and other jobs.

During the conflict, the idea of 'total war' meant that every part of society had to be focussed on winning the battle against Germany - little else mattered. For women, this meant taking jobs left vacant by the men. As well as working, women carried out voluntary duties such as driving ambulances, helping the bombed-out, caring for the injured and clearing bomb damage. On top of this, many had to run a family. Their troubles were made worse by the frequent nighttime air raids that meant a full night's sleep was a luxury.

On a lorry with bombs
On a lorry with bombs at the Royal Ordnance factory, Kirkby
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However, women found there were some advantages in this new lifestyle. Many gained a sense of independence they had not known before. It was unusual for married women to have jobs before the war, but now nearly all did. This gave them their own money and often improved their social lives outside of the home. Working was made easier for women after 1941 when more nurseries were opened to provide childcare. Women also learned new skills, such as nursing or working on the land. Many women would want to continue working after the war. Women's new lives at work even changed their eating habits. They would now have a hot main meal for lunch in work canteens. Prior to this, evening meals were usually the most substantial of the day.

Women Land Army trainees
Women Land Army trainees
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Work also influenced women's fashion. It became acceptable for women to wear trousers, flat shoes and turbans. Although these were practical working clothes, many became fashionable in their own right. Clothes rations meant women concentrated instead on elaborate hairstyles (when going out) or bright fabrics to be fashionable. The government actively encouraged women to look their best as a way of boosting morale. The wearing of lipstick was especially encouraged, described as a woman's 'red badge of courage'.

Activity

Read Liverpool Women at War: An Anthology of Personal Memories, Picton Press, 1991 or Women at War: Liverpool Women 1939-1945, Liver Press, 1988

 

Audio

audio

Emily Banks talks about testing hand grenades.
(windows media | mp3 | read transcript)

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