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Female Railway Workers in World War II (Hardback)

WWII Transport History Women of History Trains and Railways Biographies

By Susan Major
Imprint: Pen & Sword Transport
Pages: 185
ISBN: 9781526703088
Published: 3rd August 2018


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During World War II women took on railway roles which were completely new to females. They worked as porters and guards, on the permanent way, and in maintenance and workshop operations. In this book Susan Major features the voices of women talking about their wartime railway experiences, using interviews by the Friends of the National Railway Museum. The interviews cover many areas of Britain.

Many were working in ‘men’s jobs’, or working with men for the first time, and these interviews offer tantalising glimpses of conditions, sometimes under great danger. What was it about railway work that attracted them? It’s fascinating to contrast their voices with the way they were portrayed in official publicity campaigns and in the light of attitudes to women working in the 1940s. These women talk about their difficulties in a workplace not designed for women – no toilets for example, the attitudes of their families, what they thought about American GIs and Italian POWs, how they coped with swearing and troublesome colleagues, rules about stockings. They describe devastating air raids and being thrust into tough responsibilities for the first time.

This book fills a gap, as most books on women’s wartime roles focus on the military services or industrial work. It offers valuable insights into the perceptions and concerns of these young women. As generations die out and families lose a direct connection, it becomes more important to be able to share their voices with a wider audience.

This book is a fascinating insight in to six years of British railway history told by those who were there some 75 years ago. The social attitudes of the day and the working conditions are so different from today. It is well worth reading not only for its railway history but also for the social history of those turbulent six years. The author has made great use of NAROH; it is hoped that future books will draw on this valuable resource.

Journal of the Friends of the National Railway Museum No.165

As featured in

Glasgow & West of Scotland FHS

Revealing book.

South Wales Echo, reviewed by Barry Lee

Even today this book is notable for being a railway history book written by a woman, about only women. Railways have tended to be a niche market, featured in books by men, for men; railway books authored by women are few and far between. War is often the way in for such books and such authors. War also presents a window of opportunity for women, not least because it brings them into the public arena and into mainstream consciousness.

In her introductory chapter Susan Major shows how women’s entry into railway work during the Second World War happened in fits and starts, overcoming the reluctance of company, union and railwaymen, as the Government made determined propaganda efforts to recruit these vital war workers while allaying men’s worries for their jobs. The other chapters are oral history in print, taken verbatim from recorded interviews. Here Major has forefronted the women’s own voices and allowed us to hear them directly. Their stories are cleverly placed under chapter headings that highlight their changing experiences over the war years.

What shines through is the pride the women took in ‘doing their bit’. This book is a fitting tribute.

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine, October 2018 - reviewed by Dr Rosa Matheson

As featured by

Railwatch magazine, October 2018


Barnsley Chronicle, 21st September 2018

As featured on...

Railway Museum Blog

Article: 'When women ran the railways...' as featured by

York Press (online & print), 8th September 2018 - words by Stephen Lewis
 Susan Major

About Susan Major

Susan Major completed a PhD with the Institute of Railway Studies & Transport History at the University of York in 2012. Drawing upon material from the National Railway Museum and the British Library, she focused on early railway excursions. Her book based on this research, Early Victorian Railway Excursions, was shortlisted for the Railways and Canal Historical Society Book of the Year Awards 2017. Susan was a programme consultant for the BBC series Railways: the Making of a Nation, taking part in the episode on leisure. She is retired and lives in York.

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