Women At War: Britain 1939-1945

As well as working in many traditional male jobs during WW2, women also joined the armed forces.

Members of The Women’s Guerrilla Corps being instructed in how to carry and use a rifle, 1941. All the women are aged between 40 and 60, so too old to join the regular armed forces at the time. They were training to resist any German invasion of Britain.

A female pilot of the Air Transport Auxiliary, 1944. They ferried planes from aircraft factories to airfields across the UK. This lady is about to fly a Spitfire.

A group of West Indian army recruits at a training camp in 1943.

Two plotters for an anti-aircraft battery, waiting for enemy aircraft to arrive over the coast.

Volunteers of The Home Defence Corps learning hand to hand combat. London, 1942.

A civiilan war worker fixing tracks onto a tank, 1940.

Polish volunteers in the British army undergo combat training, 1943.

A member of The Observer Corps stands ready with her binoculars to spot German aircraft, 1943.

A group of women from The British Mechanised Transport Corps push an ambulance out of soft ground, 1940.

53 thoughts on “Women At War: Britain 1939-1945

  1. I love these images, especially the lady fixing the chain on a tank in her outdoor shoes they bring back memories of my mother’s elder sisters who were in the land army in WW2 …everyone played their part the youngest like my mother was evacuated and the elder siblings helped in the war effort you don’t see that now although that is apparent in Ukraine but in many countries families just flee rather than stay and fight for their country…x

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  2. (1) The Women’s Guerrilla Corps stuck to their guns. (They used Guerrilla Glue.)
    (2) That pilot’s husband claims his wife is a spitfire at home, too.
    (3) Three of the West Indian army recruits were singing, “Put your hand on my shoulder!” (My apologies to Paul Anka.)
    (4) Two plotters for an anti-aircraft battery, waiting for the plot to thicken.
    (5) The Home Defence Corps mastered hand to hand combat. Enemy soldiers were warned, “Whatever you do, don’t be rotten to the corps!”
    (6) I think Tanker Bell is on track for a promotion. (Once she gets it, she’ll celebrate by kicking up a cloud of pixie dust.)
    (7) “Don’t shoot! I’m the milk man! Remember me? How’s the baby?”
    (8) Were all members of The Observer Corps that sexy? I can’t help but stare at her!
    (9) After the British Mechanised Transport Corps pushed that ambulance out of soft ground, half of them were so exhausted that they collapsed. Fortunately, the ambulance was there to take them to the hospital.

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  3. I knew one of the ATA women pilots – Diana Barnato, a friend of my paternal grandparents. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diana_Barnato_Walker

    So ridiculous that after the, the women had to lose their jobs back. Reminds me of how many of the Soviet women combat pilots were sidelined after the war. Strange that Putin unlike Stalin doesn’t have women serving. Ukraine does though.

    My other WW2 heroines are the Soviet Night Witches https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_Witches

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      1. Very true. This is why the nurses don’t get paid very well – because it’s mostly women who do this job. Years ago they were happy to earn less, but now many women are heads of households. If it were mostly male nurses they’d all be paid double by now.

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    1. One of the hardest things society have today is not accepting history. We judge the past on what we do things today. Women were the fair sect, at home bringing up the family, supporting the husband – and they were happy with that. I’m kissing 70 and still open a door for a lady. Stevie, thats how it was. It may be wrong now – it wasn’t then. As for your last comment, back then it was easier for a woman to find a job than for a man.

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      1. Can I qualify my last comment that I realise might be disagreed with or upset.
        In 1939, 28% percent of women were working. By 1945, this figure was 35%. Why not higher during the war? Much of the work women did during WW2 was related to the war effort and not necessarily a job a man would have done during peace times.
        At war end, the female labour force grew by 50%. 1:10 married women got jobs, mainly in banking, textile, electronics, clerical, secretarial and assembly work – thats in addition to nursing and teaching (which required training).
        Yes jobs were still strictly segregated by gender & lower wages.
        There was such a thing then a Spinsters and with no welfare benefit, they had to find work.
        The majority of the women were in love with the returned soldiers and wanted a family. But domesticity there were money pressures as the govt ‘forced’ people to be home owners.
        Of interest to myself & Pete is we were in the ambulance service when women first joined. “There was much lifting” was the reason women weren’t drivers before that. But they were lifting patients during WW2? My research and interviews with those women drivers stated = the big men were fighting so not many men to lift, we transported mainly the frail, children and fellow women and we had plenty of help, and if we did get a soldier, the male medics lifted them.
        As for men finding work after the war = very difficult as many were incapacitated, shell shocked, shoved on farms they knew nothing about or forced into hard labour jobs. Many men died.

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  4. And when Johnny came marching home again, society tried to push them back from doing ‘man’s’ work; but the lid could no longer fit and these women changed the world.
    Great photos, Pete. One group overlooked in them were the women who left the cities and worked the farms that fed the nation,

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    1. Yes, over here, they were called The Land Army, (known as Land Girls). They didn’t feature in the article I took the photos from, so I will give them their own blog post another time.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. They were a gutsy lot. I was always in awe of the people who fought that war in so many different way. It seems as if they just got on with it. Quite a contrast to what we see today. I never felt I measured up but young people today have no idea what it would be like to go through a really tough experience.

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    1. My mum always said “We just got on with it, what other choice did we have?” , when I asked her how she coped during The Blitz. She also told me that she didn’t want to join the armed forces as she might get posted away from home. At that time, she had never been away from home at all.
      Best wishes, Pete.


  6. I have written a book and spoken on such topics and theres far more more to the war effort than people will ever know. This a the surface of what women did.. Wonderful photos.

    Liked by 1 person

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