It has been a salient feature of twentieth century warfare that the industrial nature of conflict, combined with the huge number of men required and the numerous machines and armaments involved, has meant that industry has—of necessity—had to increase its capacity to keep the fighting forces constantly and consistently supplied. Yet each conflict has inevitably drained the places of industry of the very workforce it required to function effectively. The solution in both World Wars has been for women to step forward to fill the roles formally undertaken by men who were by then enlisted into the armed services. Of course, women invariably proved themselves to be equal to the tasks assigned to them and indeed without them wartime industrial production would inevitably have been compromised to the point of peril for the military outcome. The work was invariably hard and often dangerous, but women on the home front have long been regarded as the essential, if largely unsung, heroines of the war effort. The principal benefit of this book is that it not only describes the activities of women in the workplace, but that it includes many photographs of women at work, demonstrating the multitude of weapons, armaments, equipment and vehicles they manufactured during the First World War. This concise Leonaur edition includes two books—that were originally so short as to not have seen re-publication in modern times—for good value.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
At first, the women were mainly engaged in simple machine operations, such as boring, drilling, and turning, or in filling the shells. They are, at present, working hydraulic presses, guiding huge overhead cranes, ‘tonging’, or lifting the molten billets, ‘setting’, or fitting the tools in the machines, inspecting and gauging, painting the finished shell cases, making the boxes for dispatch of the finished product, and trucking these when finally screwed up and ready for exit from the factory to the Front. It is not possible to describe here in detail women’s entire contribution to the production of a shell, but, from foundry to railway truck, she has become an alert and promising worker.<br>
In the foundry, her appearance is as yet exceptional, yet in the North country it is no unusual sight to find a woman in the cage suspended from the overhead travelling crane, operating its protruding arm. Now, she will pick up with the clumsy iron fingers a pig of iron and thrust it into the glowing depths of a furnace, or she will lift the red-hot billet and bring it to the hydraulic press, where it is roughly hollowed into its predestined shape.<br>
In the shell shop proper you may watch the woman operator on some scores of processes; at one machine, she may be attacking the centre of the billet with a revolving nose, at another she may be ‘turning’ the outside of a shell. The shavings curl off in this process like hot bacon rind and fall in iridescent rings around her: blue, purple, peacock, or gleaming silver. Or, you may watch the woman worker ‘threading’ the shell, a process by which the screw threads are provided, into which the nose of the shell is afterwards fitted; or, you may stand and marvel at the skill of the worker who so deftly rivets the base-plate into the shell’s lower end. But, perhaps, the most attractive operation to the visitor to the shell shop is the fitting and grooving of the shell’s copper band, a process which leaves the machine and worker half-hidden in the glory of sunset tints, as the copper scrap falls thickly from the machine.<br>
At every stage, the shell is gauged and tested, examined and re-examined, since accuracy is the watch-word of its production. Sometimes, the machine-operator will gauge her own product; at other stages, the shell passes into the hands of women overlookers of the factory, the final tests being made by government ‘viewers’. The inside, as well as the outside of the shell is submitted to such inspection, and you may see women peering into the interior of the shells, aided by the light from a tiny electric bulb, mounted on a stick. This contrivance is thrust successively into rows and rows of shells.<br>
Women are now exclusively used for the painting of the shells, a process accomplished, not by means of a brush and paint-pot, but by the operator playing a fine electrically-worked syringe on to the surface of the shell. This process is undertaken in what is often called ‘the butcher’s shop,’ the shells, in pairs, being swung up on a rope into a compartment where the operator works from behind a protective iron screen.<br>
In the filling shops, women’s devotion to their work has been proved once and again. Whether the process undertaken be in company of a few comrades, or in isolated huts where lonely vigils are kept over stores of explosives, the munition-girls are hardly known to flinch in their duty.<br>
Sometimes, they have volunteered to work throughout the night when air-raids are in progress, at other times, women-workers have returned to the danger zone immediately after some bad experience there; and, in every case, the woman worker in the filling factory cheerfully sacrifices much which she holds dear in life. It may signify but little to a man to give up his small personal possessions whilst at work in the danger areas, but to many a woman worker it means much, that she may not wear a brooch, or a flower, while on duty, and that her wedding-ring, the only allowable trinket, must be bound with thread while she works. Her tresses, which she normally loves to braid, or twist into varying fashions, must also be left hairpinless beneath her cap. She must relinquish her personal belongings before going to her allotted task; no crochet-hook or knitting-pin may accompany her into the zone where friction of steel, or hard metal, might spell death to a multitude of employees. Yet this sacrifice of individuality is given freely by the woman in the filling shop, and she is still merry-hearted and blithe as she fills the small bags with deadly powder, or binds the charge which shall fire the shell.<br>
When the shell is finally filled and passed ‘O.K.,’ or perfect, it is a woman who packs it into its box and who wheels it on a truck, sometimes for a mile or more over narrow platforms, to hand it to another woman who stacks it into the waiting railway-wagon. Anyone who has watched throughout the production of a shell in a factory of today can only echo a well-known author’s recent salute: ‘Hats off to the Women.’