Marking 100 years since the start of the First World War, one of the most significant and defining moments of the 20th century.
The conflict was the first ‘total war’ and had a fundamental impact on entire countries and populations, for those on the front line and those at home.
For the women of Britain, the conflict dramatically transformed day-to-day life. As tens of thousands of men left home to fight on the front-line women were called upon to take up the jobs left empty in their wake.
For the first time women were entering the workplace en masse in roles that had traditionally been the realm of men alone, in what today we consider the STEM ( science, engineering, technology and maths ) sector.
Throughout the war women took up roles in munitions factories, on farms and on buses, trams and trains amongst others. Working in these areas not only allowed women to work in more skilled and better paid roles but also exposed them to recreational activities like football for the first time.
While not welcomed by all, women’s take-up of this work was vital to Britain’s war effort.
After the war many women left the roles they had taken up to make way for returning soldiers and Britain faced the momentous task of readjusting after 4 years of the bloodiest conflict the world had ever seen.
Historians remain divided on the lasting impact of the war on women, with some describing it as a ‘watershed of social change’ opening up new opportunities that shaped women’s post-war years. Others take a more conservative view and suggest the impact on women and gender roles was limited and temporary ( Noakes, 2007 ).
Regardless of which camp you fall into, it cannot be denied that the First World War opened new opportunities to women who wanted to work, opportunities that many did not wish to give up after the war was won.
Over the coming weeks we are going to examine the impact of the First World War on women looking at the situation before the war, the impact of the war, women in the war time workplace, perceptions of women in the workplace and what happened after the war.
It is important that as the First World War is commemorated, we also remember the valuable contribution British women made to the war effort and the pivotal role this played in changing the role of women in British society.
Lucy Noakes, 2007 — Demobilising the Military woman —
By Natasha Davies. Twitter: @daviesna2.