Heroines of the Great War kept our county going

Women took over the buildings sites locally
Women took over the buildings sites locally
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Local historian Alf Ridyard takes a look back at the heroines of World War One in his weekly column, Tash Tales...

As it’s 100 years since women were granted the vote, and quite rightly so, the immense contribution the ladies made to the war effort in WW1 should not be overlooked.

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Sometimes overshadowed by the sheer carnage portrayed from the trenches, up to fifty percent of the male work force were recruited to fight, leaving the country with a severe manpower shortage.

Some jobs were exempt of course, skilled jobs in the mines, engineering, manufacturing, farming and munitions, are just a few examples. Labourers and less skilled men in these jobs were not exempt.

Through our pictures we look at some of the jobs these ladies undertook.

They were equally as important as the lads in the trenches, without their contributions the outcome of the war could have been so different.

The railways were one example – by 1915, 100,000 male rail workers had enlisted, many of these jobs were then taken on by the ladies. On the trams women were first recruited as conductors and as more men were conscripted they became drivers.

In the munitions factories 80 per cent were women in total, and 900,000 were employed making the shells and other war materials.

The munitions factory probably closest to Leigh in WW1 was the Horwich loco works of the Lancashire Yorkshire Railway where 106 women and 36 men were employed on shell making.

A further 300-plus women were employed on the railway itself as our pictures will show, Sutcliffe and Speakman of Leigh came to the forefront as a company by producing gas masks, a godsend against the horrors of the newly introduced gas warfare.

Another aspect of the women taking over from the men was in football.

Ladies football had been around on a small scale since the late 1890s, but now we find locally the first ever company-sponsored team, LUT ladies of Howe Bridge.

We also know Sutcliffe and Speakman had a ladies team in 1917 through reports of a game against Irlam Coop soap works.

Throughout industry as a whole, two million women replaced men, not just on the home front, women also played a major role in France and Belgium as nurses and the more dangerous job of ambulance drivers.

There is also recordings of women pilots. We now come to a situation which is making news in the present day, equality of pay, women were payed 5d and 1 farthing (less than 3p) per hour whilst men doing the same job were payed 10d 3 farthings(less than 5p).

Agreements with the unions stipulated the ladies would give up the male dominated jobs at the end of hostilities. There is no doubt whatsoever that the perception of women workers had changed forever and would be a contributory factor in women over 30 being given the vote on November 18, 1918, just seven days after the cessation of hostilities.