From starting the fight for equal pay, to changing the role of women in society forever, the women involved in the war work made a huge difference to future generations. And on the smaller scale, working in Barrow’s Shipyard during WW2 also changed the lives of these women, whether for better or worse.
Women that worked in the shipyard were working with incredibly dangerous machinery. And many women did sustain injuries to fingers, hands and scalps. In the long term, some women found that working in the shipyard had a lasting detrimental impact on their health. With some women, like Agnes Kershaw, no longer able to have children after having sustained injuries in the shipyard.
Women’s war work sparked the battle for equal pay. In fact, some women resorted to agitating at a local level to ensure equal pay for their work in the war effort. Eventually a compromise was reached, that would allow women to be entitled to equal pay if they performed the same role, without supervision or assistance. As a result, the vast majority of employers managed to circumvent this issue by promoting the remaining men to the role of supervisor.
Women’s war work was uplifting and empowering for women across the UK, and was perhaps the beginning of a period of progress towards emancipation. Edith Summerskill wrote in March 1942:
‘The freedom which women are enjoying today will spell the doom of home life as enjoyed by the male who is lord and master immediately he enters his own front door.’
Women like Irene Sweeney, rising to the rank of supervisor in Barrow’s Shipyard during WW2, is a sign of this very change.
Women’s war work helped women make friends and experience camaraderie, just like Elsie Dixon. And this expanded the lives of women beyond the home and immediate family. Serving as a taste of the future changes to come.
Women’s war work found women working alongside men for up to 12 hours a day. The perfect environment to find love and friendship, as well as companionship. And with the constant threat of bombs and death, the stiff morals that had governed society seemed to flex a little. As a result, of the 5.3 million British babies born between 1939-1945, more than a third of them were illegitimate. This led to a rise in single mothers, just like Rubina Lamb, during and immediately after the war.