The Women War Workers of the North-West

North-West  The First World War was fought on a huge industrial scale. Munitions were needed in vast quantities to feed the guns and a variety of products were required to supply both military and civilian needs.

With men recruited for the armed forces, the industrial workforce changed. Over 600,000 women took on previously male-dominated roles in industry during the war, working alongside men in reserved occupations. Women made an increasingly varied contribution, working in labs, mills and factories, sometimes in hazardous circumstances.


As an industrial hub, the North-West of England had a significant role to play. Many of the region’s companies converted to produce munitions for the war effort. Local working class women already doing industrial jobs in the North-West were joined by other women learning new skills.


Women munitions workers, alongside their male counterparts, produce 6-inch high explosive shells at the works of the Yorkshire & Lancashire Railway Company at Horwich, Bolton in 1917. Many companies switched to making munitions during the war, as well as welcoming more women into their workforce.

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Women at work in the laboratory of Brunner, Mond & Co in Northwich, a company that manufactured sodium bicarbonate. Sometimes known as baking soda, sodium bicarbonate was used for baking and a range of other purposes. Women at the factory did a variety of jobs, from scientific lab work to packaging the finished product.


Women pit brow workers of the Wigan Coal and Iron Company, 1918. These women sorted coal and moved heavy tubs on the surface of a coal mine – work that was dirty and physically demanding. Jobs like these had been done by working class women before the war and continued to be important in wartime.


Women workers at the factory of Charles Macintosh & Sons in Manchester make tyres for motor vehicles. The company produced a wide range of vital rubber products, including mouthpieces for gas masks issued to soldiers. Making these products required technical skill.

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Women workers producing asbestos mattresses at the factory of Turner Brothers in Trafford Park, Manchester. Whilst appreciated as a hazardous material today, asbestos was used in a range of wartime products such as mattresses used to line the boilers of battleships.


Women workers of a flour mill at Rank & Sons, Birkenhead, Cheshire, happily pose for the camera in 1918. Working in industry could be hard, monotonous and sometimes dangerous, but there was also a strong sense of camaraderie amongst workers. Wartime conditions saw a greater variety of opportunities for women.


Women employees working in the glucose factory of Nicholls, Nagel & Co, Trafford Park, Manchester, 1918. They are scraping runs and shovelling starch into trucks as part of the manufacturing process. Women workers at this company did physical work like this, but also worked as chemists in the lab.