This weekend, up and down the country, we will be remembering. We will be remembering all those who have fought for their country. We will be remembering the lives that have been sacrificed, and their families. We will be showing support to the armed forces communities, as we have done collectively as a nation for 100 years.
This year, I would also like us to take some time to remember those who stayed at home during the wars – those who farmed, those who kept transport links running, and in particular those who worked in the factories that fuelled the war effort of World War II.
I visited BAE at Glascoed earlier this week, and for me the visit was a timely one. Glascoed was one of the largest Welsh munitions factories during World War II, and many of the workers there were women.
In Wales, where opportunities for full-time female employment were limited, women suddenly became the “key workers” of their time – producing essential armaments to supply the British forces. This weekend, I hope that we remember their contribution as well.
At the peak of wartime production 55% of Welsh workers involved in the war effort were female, the highest percentage in Britain. This employment gave many women a degree of financial independence for the first time in their lives, but it was not without opposition. Husbands often didn’t want their wives to work as it meant dinner was not on the table when they got home, and their wives were no longer able to provide all the housework and childcare that had previously been taken for granted.
Opposition also stemmed from the financial independence that women now gained – especially in South Wales, where wages- in munitions factories were higher than the average wage in the area. Women working in the munitions factory in Glascoed could earn more than their husbands or fathers working in the mines, which fostered resentment in some men, and presented a very real threat to the conventional gender roles.
The work that these women were doing was dangerous, with long hours, and despite the fact that it was essential for war production, it was not always welcomed by their communities. They deserve to be honoured and remembered for their incredible mobilisation.
Women still took home less pay than their male counterparts, and were regarded as lower skilled members of the workforce, yet without them, munition factories such as Glascoed would not have been able to operate. These women exposed themselves to dangerous machinery and hazardous chemicals that turned their skin and hair yellow, giving them the nickname ‘Canary Girls’.
When I visited Glascoed this week, I was reminded of the essential and incredible mobilisation of the female workforce that occurred there during World War II. Glascoed was a site for the essential production of munitions to supply our troops, the very troops that we remember this weekend. I hope that we also take some time to remember the ‘Canary Girls’ that powered the factories, and provided the equipment our troops needed.