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Women at Work in World Wars I and II (Hardback)

Factories, Farms and the Military and Civil Services

P&S History > Social History Women of History

By Paul Chrystal
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 224
Illustrations: 32 mono
ISBN: 9781399071260
Published: 9th January 2024



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This book is about women in World Wars I & II - women working in factories and on farms, or toiling perilously in field stations just behind the front lines, in inhospitable hospitals and convalescent homes. It is, therefore, about the prodigious contribution women made to the war efforts from 1914-1918 and 1939-1945, standing in for the men who had left their places of work for the various theatres of war from Greece and Italy to Belgium, from Mesopotamia to France. Their tasks were many and various: keeping the troops supplied with shells, bullets and explosives, keeping the nation from starving to death, keeping hundreds of thousands of wounded troops alive so that they might fight another day. The book is, in short, the uplifting but sometimes tragic story of the many women who stepped up to work in the factories, hospitals, field stations, in transport and in civil defence, on the farms and shipyards, or signed up to the various military and civil services during the two world wars of the 20th century, ‘wars to end all wars…’.

The book is different because it deals with women’s labour in both world wars and in all occupations, it covers the discrimination and prejudice they faced from men at every level, military and civilian, even when they had demonstrated beyond doubt that they were quick learners, industrious and proficient, and usually as good as any man. The book raises the embarrassing question why it has it taken so long for the prodigious contribution women made in both wars to be recognised, and why some women workers still remain air brushed from our military history after more than a century.

As it turned out, little was beyond their capabilities and it is reasonable to suppose that without their huge efforts and accomplishments both wars might have turned out very differently for us.

"This book is a valuable contribution to the story of the importance of women in the wars and how their experiences aided the progress of women's organisations seeking social reform during peacetime."

The Journal - Bristol & Avon Family History Society - June 2024

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I love that the author is shining a light on the bravery and hard work completed by women throughout WW1 and WW2. Some of the protagonists are known of but others are less so. These brave women, some of whom sacrificed their lives for their country deserve to be celebrated and this book does that. Featuring women on both the Home Front and those who faced the enemy head-on, this book tells their stories and the sacrifices they made. A fascinating read for anyone interested in this period.

NetGalley, Katrina Oliver

A very educational book. Perfect for any library or home where learning is done about history and the sacrifices people made.

NetGalley, Aubrey Kerr

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Paul Chrystal brings the home front to life in this fantastic history book. Exploring women’s work across the United Kingdom in both world wars, he explores the industrial, white-collar, military auxiliary, and government jobs that women took up as Britain’s men went to war. Focusing on a variety of jobs and different individual narratives, Chrystal cleverly divides the book into two sections, one for each war, which allows readers to clearly see the connections and the transformation of women’s work over this thirty-year period. By exploring the roles of women in the workforce on the home front, readers understand how the economic wheel keeps turning and how wartime provided women with dozens of opportunities to cross the gender divide, enter the workforce, and more overtly contribute to the national war effort. Chrystal’s use of primary documents and a variety of narratives and examples adds to the detail, depth, and complexity of this book, and his investigation of women’s contributions to the war efforts of World Wars I and II provide a necessary lens into this aspect of military and women’s history. Chrystal’s book is a fascinating insight into a complex, rich history, and he uses such detailed, precise prose to explicitly convey his historical information.

NetGalley, Lily Amidon

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

It may be difficult for women who were born in the last few decades to wrap their heads around just how restrictive life was for women even into the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. I can recall guidance counsellors in the 1960s not being able to fathom why a female would not want to be a teacher, nurse or secretary and married. Those of us with wider dreams were still looked upon as oddities. As challenging as it was for the generation of Women’s Liberation, it is almost impossible to imagine what life must have been like before WWI.

This book is a great reminder of the misogyny that hamstrung war efforts because men could not give up total control and only grudgingly permitted women to contribute to the war effort. Which, I might add, they did remarkably well. To a large degree, it helped secure the vote but many wanted things to return to the ‘good old days” until, once again, the male shortage demanded that women be allowed to do things that were male only jobs. This time it was harder for men to put the genie back in the bottle but progress was slow and arduous until the late 60s and 70s and beyond.

We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to those tough “birds” who refused to be denied and when given the chance, proved the barriers were nothing but constricts of those guarding their turf. This book does an admirable job of telling their stories. Five purrs and two paws up.

NetGalley, Susan Johnston

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This book explores the vital but often overlooked roles of women during the World Wars, spanning their wartime contributions in factories, farms, and more. Despite discrimination, women supplied troops, sustained nations, and cared for the wounded, shaping the outcomes of both wars.

This is a fascinating look at the world wars through the lens of the roles of women. It’s inspiring to see how these pioneers redefined the roles of women in the workplace. The book is engaging and easy to read.

NetGalley, Andrea Romance

An absolutely fascinating account of a neglected aspect of history. The two world wars changed so much for so many people and this book shows the impact on industry and the economy - how the wheels kept turning and how women made this happen. Well researched, well written and very interesting indeed.

NetGalley, Louise Gray

An interesting book telling of the contribution of women both home and abroad during WWI and WWII. Full of facts and figures it also tells of some of the lesser known organisations that helped the war effort and saw us through those turbulent years.

NetGalley, Stephen Dale

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

A great look at the work women proved they could do during the World Wars and the prejudice they faced by a world determined to keep them on the home front.

NetGalley, Caroline Palmer

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This was a really great read to see the work women did during the war, its sad that women's contributions isn't more widely recognised in our society.

NetGalley, A D
 Paul Chrystal

About Paul Chrystal

Paul Chrystal has been history advisor to York visitor attractions, writing features for national newspapers, and broadcasting on BBC local radio, on Radio 4’s PM programme and on the BBC World Service.
He is contributor to a number of history and archaeology magazines and writes features for national newspapers. He is author of the best-selling A History of Britain in 100 Objects (2022). His books have been translated into Chinese and Japanese.
He is author of Factory Girls: The Working Lives of Women and Children published by Pen & Sword in 2022.

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