The First World War signaled a new type of warfare.
For the first time the western world faced the realities of ‘total war’ with consequences and impacts that would be felt not just on the frontline but in the towns and cities back home.
As the war progressed the UK Government faced an increasing labour shortage as more and more men were called up to serve in the armed forces. This was accompanied by increasing demand for items vital to the war effort, such as munitions. They were left with little choice other than to turn to women to fill the gaps.
For many women this was not an unwanted call to action. In July 1915 a large demonstration was organised in London by leading female figures, including Emmeline Pankhurst, which saw women march for their ‘right to serve’.
Women also came together in other ways to support the war effort. In 1915 the first Women’s Institute was set up in Anglesey – North Wales, to help with food production and preservation.
When conscription was introduced in 1916.
The need for women to take up roles left vacant became even more pressing. The Government were keen to get as many women as were needed into the workplace to keep Britain and the war effort going.
They used propaganda to encourage women to do their bit and they subsidised on-site crèches at munitions factories to enable women to support the war effort as well as fulfil their duties as wife and mother.
By January 1918 the number of women in employment had risen to 5m, up from 3.2m in 1914. 1 million women were employed by the Ministry of Munitions, 250,000 women took up jobs in agriculture, while the number working in transport increased by 544% and in metal work by 376%.
This influx of women into the workforce, and into roles traditionally held only by men in what we would consider the STEM ( science, technology, engineering and maths ) sector, is seen by some as one of the most significant impacts of the war on women.
It enabled women to benefit from higher wages, greater independence and from recreational activities that they had been excluded from before such as football.
While perceptions of women in the workplace varied greatly at the time and they were not always greeted warmly, the war allowed women to experience a level of independence that many would be loath to give up once peace was secured.
By Natasha Davies. Twitter: @daviesna2.