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Women as War Machines of World War I

Photography of war usually evokes images of men fighting, but a collection of World War I photos held at London's Imperial War Museum showed a different, more feminine side of the Great War.

The mass conscription of men to the front line of the fighting resulted in women entering the workforce in great numbers. In addition to replacing the male labor force in traditional occupations, women served as part of the war machine by performing dangerous jobs: building airplanes and even bombs in munition factories.

From The Public Domain Review:

As is documented by this vast collection of remarkable photographs, held by London’s Imperial War Museum, women’s lives were entirely transformed. The images show women performing a whole host of tasks: casting bricks, generating electricity, solutionising cork, building ships, painting railway stations, warming rubber, milking cows, signalling trains, smelting iron, blasting granite, making glucose, digging holes, and constructing houses, in addition to the work already prescribed to them such as childcare and domestic labour. ...
The conditions these women worked in were often dangerous and accidents were common. The TNT factories were particularly hazardous. In January 1917, an explosion at a plant in East London killed 73 people, and workers were nicknamed “canaries” due to the dangerous chemicals turning their skin yellow.

Image: Munition workers in a shell warehouse at National Shell Filling Factor No. 6 in Chilwell, Nottinghamshire, one of the largest shell factories in the UK/July 1917/Horace Nicholls/Wikimedia

Image: Female munition workers guiding 6-inch Howitzer shells at the National Shell Filling Factory in Chilwell, Nottinghamshire/July 1917/Horace Nicholls/Wikimedia)

Image: A female worker inspecting hand grenades at a British factory during World War I/1914/Author unknown/Wikimedia

Image: A female worker cleaning the rifling of a 15-inch gun at the Coventry Ordnance Works/1914/Horace Nicholls/Wikimedia

Image: Female worker pouring filling a shell at the No. 14 National Filling Factory in Hereford/Author Unknown/Imperial War Museums/Wikimedia

Image: A female munition worker painting shells in a factory/Author unknown/Imperial War Museums/Wikimedia

Image: Female workers stacking glass to be used as submarine portholes in a Lancashire factory/Sept 1918/George P. Lewis/Wikimedia

Image: Two munition workers stand beside shells produced at the National Shell Filling Factor No. 6 in Chilwell, Nottinghamshire/1917/Horace Nicholls/Wikimedia

View more of the fascinating photos over at The Public Domain Review and the Imperial War Museums


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