Sunday, 7 July 2013

Women in Wartime - A Girl Joins Up

Today it's time to give you another Picture Post from the Imperial War Museums archive collection.


The coming of WW2 saw a change in what society perceived as acceptable roles for women. Up until the war 'women's-work' had mainly been secretarial or shop work, training was generally not given as their job was considered to be only temporary, women were expected to leave work once they married, or had their first baby.

With the tide of men leaving, called on to join the armed forces, Britain was left with a huge labour shortage, these jobs needed to be filled and quickly, so where better to look, than the previously untapped workforce of women. The government assumed that women would naturally move into 'essential work' as they had during WW1, but by early 1941 there was actually an increase in unemployment amongst women. So for the first time in history, the government made it compulsory for women to enrol in ‘useful war work’. From April 1941 all women had to register at their local Employment Exchanges, and those aged  between 18 and 40 (later extended to 50) would be destined for war work. These jobs could be within the area where they currently lived, or in some cases when travel was too expensive relocation was necessary, it all depended on their 'Household Responsibilities'.

The Butterfly Balcony - Picture Posts - A Girl Joins Up - Women in Wartime

It is from the Governments Employment Exchange that we start today's photographic journey. Today we are following Vera Elliot, a young mother from Sunderland, as she responds to the call and takes part in a Government Training Scheme and is placed in factory work.

The Butterfly Balcony - Picture Posts - A Girl Joins Up - Women in Wartime
Vera Elliott volunteers at her local employment exchange for work in a war production factory. The employment officer gives her an introduction card to a factory needing new recruits.
The Butterfly Balcony - Picture Posts - A Girl Joins Up - Women in Wartime
Vera Elliott kisses her daughter Heather goodbye at Sunderland railway station as she sets off to start war work elsewhere in Britain, while her foster mother Mrs Smith looks on. Behind them, a soldier and several women wait to board the train which can be seen behind them as they stand on the platform.
The Butterfly Balcony - Picture Posts - A Girl Joins Up - Women in Wartime
Vera Elliott says goodbye to her daughter Heather and her foster mother Mrs Smith from the window of a train as she sets off from Sunderland railway station to begin her war work
The Butterfly Balcony - Picture Posts - A Girl Joins Up - Women in Wartime
At the entrance to Birmingham New Street railway station, Vera Elliott stands with other new arrivals for factory work as they are split into groups, with each group being sent to a different factory. A Ministry of Labour guide is in charge of each group.
The Butterfly Balcony - Picture Posts - A Girl Joins Up - Women in Wartime
Vera Elliott sits on a pile of suitcases in the entrance hall of the YWCA reception hostel where she and her fellow new recruits will spend the night. She is greeted by Miss Smart, the matron, who is leaning over the Bannister's to talk to Vera. Miss Smart runs the hostel with her sister.
The Butterfly Balcony - Picture Posts - A Girl Joins Up - Women in Wartime
Vera Elliott and her new friends travel by coach from the YWCA hostel where they spent the night, to the factory where they will be working. On the journey, they look out of the window at their new surroundings.
The Butterfly Balcony - Picture Posts - A Girl Joins Up - Women in Wartime
After a night at a YWCA hostel, Vera Elliott and her fellow new recruits arrive by coach at the factory where they will begin their war work. The recruits are met by Nurse Moriarty, the factory welfare officer, and are immediately taken to the factory canteen.
Upon arrival, Vera Elliott's ration book and identity card are checked in the factory welfare department.
The Butterfly Balcony - Picture Posts - A Girl Joins Up - Women in Wartime
Vera Elliott and a fellow new recruit to this factory are interviewed by a factory welfare officer to identify the most appropriate job for them to do.
The Butterfly Balcony - Picture Posts - A Girl Joins Up - Women in Wartime
After being assigned a job at this factory, new recruit Vera Elliott receives her new overalls from the storeroom.

The Butterfly Balcony - Picture Posts - A Girl Joins Up - Women in Wartime
Vera Elliott and another female war worker watch as the foreman of the workshop demonstrates the machine that Vera will be working on at this factory.
The Butterfly Balcony - Picture Posts - A Girl Joins Up - Women in Wartime
Vera Elliott is welcomed to her billet by her new landlady, Mrs Wright. Mrs Wright is originally from Ireland, is married to an electrical engineer and has two children. The letters 'SP' can be seen painted on the wall beside the front door, indicating that a stirrup pump is kept in the house and is available for use by fire watchers if necessary.
The Butterfly Balcony - Picture Posts - A Girl Joins Up - Women in Wartime
Vera Elliott sits down to a tea of sardines on toast, mustard and cress, bread and butter, and plain cake, which Mrs Wright has provided for her in the dining room of their home. A vase of tulips adds colour to the tea table.
The Butterfly Balcony - Picture Posts - A Girl Joins Up - Women in Wartime
Vera Elliott helps Brian and Betsy Wright, the children of her new landlady, to play with their wooden blocks in the garden of her new billet. She is soon known to them as 'Auntie Vera'.
The Butterfly Balcony - Picture Posts - A Girl Joins Up - Women in Wartime
Vera Elliott is up early to get ready for her first day at the factory. Here, she is brushing her hair in front of the mirror in the bedroom she has been given in the home of her new landlady Mrs Wright.
Vera Elliott at work on a large piece of machinery at a factory somewhere in the West Midlands.
All Images and quoted text are taken from the Imperial War Museums Archive Collection
I sadly have not been able to find any further information on Vera. I wonder what exactly 'Household Responsibilities' meant, with Vera having children of her own to look after you would have thought this would make her exempt from relocation, but apparently not. Not having children myself, I can only guess at how hard it would have been to say goodbye to you little ones during such a turbulent time, especially when you are staying with someone else children!

If you enjoyed this post then you might fancy looking through some my past Picture Posts, just click the tab at the top!

Wendy x

5 comments:

  1. The organization is staggering! The recruitment and deployment was incredible and looks to have run like clockwork.

    How excruciating for Vera to have to have left her daughter behind! Especially as she is boarding in a home with children. I am not sure if I would even be able to consider doing so.

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  2. I can't imagine what a daunting experience this would have been. Away from your home and family. Thank you for sharing, what lovely shoes she has on at the station xx

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  3. These are awesome!! It's rare that you get to see photos in a series like this. It really helps tell the whole story. Just awesome.

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  4. I love these posts that you do :)

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  5. This is incredibly interesting, I wonder what happened to Vera. I could not imagine ever leaving my child to go to live in another part of the country as so many of these women had to do. Thank you for sharing her story with us.

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