During The Great War, many women were recruited into many departments and military services for different kinds of jobs. Some of these jobs were vacated by men who had gone to fight in the war. New jobs were also created as part of the war effort, for example, in munitions factories. Over 400 women died by the end of the war due to poor working conditions and inadequate safety equipment. The high demand for weapons resulted in the munitions factories becoming the largest single employer of women during 1918. Though there was initial resistance to hiring women for what was seen as ‘men’s work,’ the introduction of conscription in 1916 made the need for women workers urgent. Around this time, the government began coordinating the employment of women through campaigns and recruitment drives. British women took on jobs in munitions factories, drove ambulances, helped to keep the fledgling Royal Air Force in the sky, and gave succor to wounded soldiers, both at home and on the battlefield. Below, a compiled list of historical photos that show British women at work during World War I.
950,000 female workers were employed in British factories, including this worker, pictured making shell cases in a Vickers factory in January 1915 .
Women employed in the transport industry increased by 555 per cent during the war, and included this pair of female porters at Marylebone Station in 1915.
Women even took on tough, physical roles such as moving rubble, as seen in this photograph taken in Coventry during 1917.
Women operating radial drilling machines, drilling holes in girders
View of canteen at munitions factory
Women stacking wood
W.R.N.S. fitting a mine
Women testing a mine with air presssure
British woman winding cotton from spools on to rollers at lace factory in Nottingham
British women in Nottingham tannery drawing skins from the lime pit
British women painting planes at aeroplane factory near Birmingham
British women working in chemical laboratory near Manchester
British women rubber workers in Lancashire making mouth-pieces for gas masks
British women rubber workers in Lancashire forming the foundation for the tread
Women war workers, including the distinctively white-capped and aproned VAD nurses, parade outside Buckingham Palace in 1918.
Members of the Women’s Royal Air Force arrive at Buckingham Palace, London, to attend a party for war workers in 1919.
Female ambulance workers, such as this group photographed in November 1915, served both at home and on the front line.
While some women became nurses, others worked in hospital workshops, such as this one at the Kensington War Hospital, making prosthetic limbs.
400 women died in munitions factories, between 1914 (when this image was taken) and 1918, when the war ended.
Exposure to toxic sulphur left many workers with yellowed skin, while others were killed in explosions. One 1917 incident killed 73 and flattened 900 homes.
Despite being paid less than their male counterparts, many of the female munitionettes undertook dangerous and fiddly work.
Members of the Women’s Fire Brigade with their Chief Officer photographed in their uniforms beside an extinguished fire in March 1916.
Members of the Women’s Fire Brigade are put through their paces during a fire drill with hoses and extinguishers at full force in March 1916.
A member of the Women Porters At Marylebone Station Group, pictured in 1914 giving a Great Central Railways carriage a thorough clean.
As this 1917 photograph shows, female war workers didn’t just run trains and buses – they fixed and maintained them too.
As part of the war effort, old paper had to be reused. These women are pulling apart old ledgers belonging to the London & South West Railway.
The paper, as this photo taken on the 16th April 1917 shows, then had to be sorted into piles and stored.
General view of brass fittings shop
Women inspecting motor engine parts
Women loading nitrate of soda into a skip
Women straightening and bending steel girder
Women painting steel work
Women copper banding t60 pdr shrapnel
Women taping planes
Women in charge of electric motor
Women wheeling away earth excavated for the installation of hydraulic pumps
Woman driving O.E.T. crane
Women operating radial drills, drilling valve covers and strainer plates for weed boxes for marine engines
Women stacking wood
Women cleaning windows
Woman acting as helper at punching and shearing machine
Women transporting rough castings to the General Store
Women engaged in labouring work in dressing shop
Woman are with cores for ingot mould
Woman at battery drills, drilling angles and T bars for ribs of airship sheds
Woman operating vertical drilling machines, drilling angles for connections to ribs of airship sheds
Women operating circular saw, cutting steel bar
Woman operating a Sunderland gear planer, gear cutting
Woman driving 20 ton O.E.T. crane
Women inserting and packing tubes in condensors for marine engines
Women machining Admiralty electrical fittings
General view of women engaged on small parts for boilers and condensors.
Workers preparing for the construction of concrete ships
Railway workers cleaning carriages
Railway workers unloading goods from train
Women railway workers painting and decorating
Mine net workers wiring the floats together
W.R.N.S. instructor at respirator and mask drill for military recruits
Railway worker pulling signal box levers
Girl operating stitching machine in Leicestershire boot factory
British women moulding and finishing stoneware taps at terra cotta works in Leicestershire
British women working in lace factory in Nottingham
British women working in tannery in Nottingham
British women cleaning locomotive in Midlands
British women in glass factory cutting shop near Birmingham
British women in glass factory near Birmingham
British woman splicing airplane joints in aeroplane factory near Birmingham
Chemical works near Manchester – British women chemical workers in the Midlands
British women chemical workers in the Midlands taking limestone from stock, loading and wheeling barrows of lime to wagons
British rubber workers in Lancashire spreading machine for coaling canvas for tire making
British women rubber workers in Lancashire fixing studded tires
British women asbestos workers in factory in Lancashire
British women oil workers in Lancashire moulding cakes