War workers in Liverpool

Women's Land Army worker with a horse and cartThousands of Liverpool people served their country through war work. As so many men were called up to serve, the country depended on women to carry out much of the war work. Some jobs, however, were protected occupations meaning the men doing them were exempt from being called up.

Many local people served in the forces at home or abroad and others volunteered for the Home Guard, emergency or Women's Voluntary Service.

"I had no chance of moving jobs once the war started. They said "if you're going anywhere you'll be going to Wallsend on Tyne building aircraft carriers"." Charles Evans, dock worker

Home Guard

©Liverpool Daily Post & Echo

The Local Defence Volunteers were formed in 1940. Their job was to defend the country in case of invasion and later in the war they crewed anti-aircraft (Ack Ack) rocket batteries.

The name was eventually changed to 'Home Guard' and volunteer numbers never fell below one million. Members were aged between 17 and 65 and mainly in reserved occupations. Approximately 40% were experienced soldiers who had served in the First World War. Towards the end of the war the Women's Home Guard Auxiliaries were formed and worked in an administrative capacity, with the Home Guard.

"My husband joined the Home Guard and he used to do twelve hours at Cammell Laird's, come home, have his tea, and go and do all nighters on the Ack Ack guns in Higher Bebington." Eve Tate, Entertainer

Women's Land Army

In 1939 the government revived the Women's Land Army. It was formed during the First World War to prevent food shortages as farm employees left to fight abroad. Thousands of women left varied careers to become land-girls. By 1941 20,000 women had signed up and at its peak in 1943, over 80,000 had joined up.

The women learned and performed tasks from all aspects of agricultural production with about a quarter of them employed in milking and general farm work. Six thousand women worked in the Timber Corps, felling trees and running sawmills. A thousand women were employed to catch rats!

Some women lived in hostels but most lived on individual farms. Conditions were often poor and pay was low but many women enjoyed the work. The Women's Land Army remained in existence until 1950.

Serving in uniform

For thousands of people the war was fought far from home, away from their families. Men aged between 18 and 41 were conscripted - they had to join the forces unless they worked in a 'reserved' occupation. Local men joined the King's Liverpool Regiment or served in other units of the Army, Navy or Air Force. Thousands from Liverpool served in the Merchant Navy or Royal Navy.

© Liverpool Daily Post & Echo

Women did not fight in battle but they could join the forces. At first their roles were limited to cooking or clerical work but they soon took on more varied work. For example, the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) helped to direct anti-aircraft gunfire. The Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAFs) worked as mechanics on aircraft and operated barrage balloons. The Women's Royal Naval Service (WRENS) served on shore as radio operators and ambulance drivers.

"I went from Derby House to South Africa but Derby House was very interesting because that's where the Battle of the Atlantic was sorted out on the maps on the walls." Irene Cowley, Wren

Dock work in wartime

During the Second World War the Port of Liverpool became the most vital source of supply and despatch for the country. Bombing raids concentrated on the river and docks between 1940 and 1941, resulting in loss of life and property.

Despite the bombings, the port remained open and working for most of the war, handling over 70 million tons of cargo. Liverpool was also a crucial centre for warships repairs. Most of the supplies for the North African invasion were sent out from Merseyside. Later the port played a big part in the landing in Normandy.

"Liverpool triumphed over death and disaster, kept its great river and docks open and remained the country's chief gateway to the outer world throughout the six fateful years of war." - The Merseyside Militant