Recognition for Women of Steel

I’ve just been reading about the Women of Steel – women who worked in factories in the UK during Word War II:

it fell to the women of the city to keep the steel mills working and during the course of the conflict, thousands juggled family life with the demands of heavy industry …  But when peacetime came they were unceremoniously dumped from their jobs – their vital role on the home front largely forgotten.

Last week they received recognition for their work from the Ministry of Defence.

 A woman war worker adjusting the tracks on a tank

Dorothy Slingsby, (L) Richard Caborn MP, (2ndL) Kit Sollitt, (3rd L) British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, (C) Kathleen Roberts, (3rd R) Veterans Minister Kevin Jones (2nd R) and Ruby Gascoigne (R) pose for a photograph in 10 Downing Street

7 thoughts on “Recognition for Women of Steel

  1. It doesn’t surprise me that the lady in the picture would wear her fancy shoes to work in such an industry. This picture brings back fond memories of the stories my Gran used to tell over tea, a ritual that most of us don’t observe on this side of the pond. She used her “special” china with the English roses and taught me girlie things, like the art of baking biscuits, and talked about the way “proper ladies” in her day wore their gloves and hats to do their grocery shopping.

    Then she smiled as several bees swarmed her plate to eat the leftover bits of jam. Gran almost never even tried to chase them away. For years, I thought the old girl was slightly dottie– I mean gloves, tea, biscuits, bees–they didn’t quite go together in my ten-year-old thinking. At the time, I had no clue about what she’d experienced during the blitz.

    Years later, I guess when she thought I was old enough to understand, my mom gave me the missing pieces of that part of our family history. Apparently, my Gran had proudly gone to work building aircraft in a factory in or near London during the war. One afternoon, (in early September?) while she was walking to work, a swarm of bees went after the jam that she’d spilled on her dress. As mom tells it, the bees chased Grandma Pat all the way home.

    She was the only person scheduled to work in that particular factory on that particular evening who survived the Luftwaffe raid that came later–because she was home washing her dress. In the nearly 50 years that she lived after the war, my grandmother never killed a bee. She swears they saved her life.

    Thanks for the reminder. I’ve been meaning to do some research into some of these fascinating family stories. Maybe the Ministry will be more open to that kind of fact checking right now?

  2. Hi Xena,
    What a story – quite amazing. Glad to have prompted such memories.

    One thing that is great about this picture is the way it undermines stereotypes. You’ve prompted me to think that its important to do so with regards to the women as they now are (no shortage of damaging stereotypes about elderly women), so I’ve added another picture into the post.

    You might be interested in this site, which has more resources on the women who worked in the factories:
    http://www.womenofsteel.co.uk/index.html
    Look forward to hearing more about what you find out!

  3. Thanks so much for that, Stoat. That image does blast a lot of stereotypes. I’m not sure if there’s as much of a generational difference in health/lifestyle in the UK–from what I understand more people do more walking on the other side of the pond–older cities were built with livestock and pedestrians rather than SUV’s in mind. Over here (Canada&the U.S.), I’ve noticed a huge difference in the way many of the pre-baby boom generation approach work, travel and food compared to baby boomers, gen x and gen y. Older men&women alike walk(ed) everywhere, believed in working with their backs and their hands and ate fresh grown or market fresh foods. None of this jumping into a car and driving across 2 counties for a job that barely pays the take-out and credit card bills. Maybe you or another one of the experts on the site could confirm or refute this observation, but it appears that my grandmother’s generation is (was) heartier, stronger, healthier.

    I think I’m going to order the book from the WOS website. It looks like a possible lead into my geneaology research or a great read at the very least.

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