The Canary Girls
By Carol Hall
Following a shortage of artillery shells in 1915, women were asked to register for war work. Thousands volunteered to work in the munitions factories, making bombs, shells and other weapons. Up to a million women were working as ‘munitionettes’ by the end of the war.
Great Northern Railway’s Doncaster Works, known as The Plant, was taken over as a munitions factory. 124,000 shells were made there during the First World War.
It was dangerous work using explosive and toxic chemicals. Exposure turned the women’s skin and hair bright yellow, despite their protective clothing. They were nicknamed the ‘Canary Girls’. They often suffered long-term health problems and some workers even gave birth to bright yellow babies.
There was also the threat of the munitions factories being bombed by enemy forces. It was dangerous work for the ‘Canary Girls’.
Lady Tram Drivers
By Carol Hall
Someone had to drive the trams and collect fares when the men left the town to go to war, and women were asked to apply for these jobs. By July 1915, four women were in training to work on Doncaster trams. Two of these women were young widows who lost their husbands when the HMS Good Hope was sunk in 1914. These women were working on the Avenue Road to Hexthorpe and Racecourse to Hyde Park tram routes.
Their uniforms were blue with red piping around the shoulder and collar, and they wore blue and red caps with the Corporation badge on the front.
One early newspaper headline from 1915 describes ‘the gentle sex collecting fares’. What does this reveal about attitudes to women working in traditionally male jobs?
Would You Apply For This Job?
By Jean Walker
- Aged 20 years or older
- Able to read and write
- Pass a physical exam
- References required
- Work wherever in the country you are most needed
- Carry out heavy physical work in all weather
- 10 hours a day
- 6 days a week
- Behave quietly
- No drinking at the pub
- No smoking in public
- No walking with hands in your pockets
- Starting at 20 shillings a week
- Deduct 17 shillings of your wage for bed and breakfast
This is the job that around a quarter of a million women signed up for when they joined the Women’s Land Army.
As over three million men left for military service, women workers were desperately needed to maintain the country’s food supply. In 1915 the government founded the Women’s Land Army. Women were trained in all farming activities, at centres such as Plumtree Farm in Bawtry.
The Land Army had their own uniform, which was met with disapproval at first, with comments like “women in trousers – disgraceful!” Opinions gradually changed, and it became a very respectable job.
After 30 days service women were issued with a green armband, and a stripe was added for every six months of work.