The Role of the Women

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THE MUNITIONS WORKERS
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According to records held in the National Archives, by the time the war ended in 1918 a staggering 950,000 were employed making munitions.
Known as 'Munitionettes' or canaries, thanks to the yellowing effect exposure to sulphur has on the skin, the women worked long, arduous hours in extremely dangerous conditions.
Despite producing more than 80 per cent of the UK's shell and bullet supply by the end of the war, poor working conditions and inadequate safety equipment resulted in approximately 400 deaths by the end of the war, as a result of explosions and from exposure to dangerous chemicals such as nitric and sulphuric acid.
One particularly appalling incident came in January 1917, when an explosion in a London munitions factory that also flattened 900 surrounding homes killed 73 people.

By 1916 the two munitions plants in Faversham were manufacturing rather more powerful explosives than gunpowder. On Sunday April 2 1916 an accident at the plant in Uplees killed 115 people there. During a period of hot weather some empty sacks somehow caught fire at a store containing 200 tons of TNT, with inevitably disastrous consequences. The works fire brigade, every member of which eventually died in the series of explosions through the plant, tried to fight the blaze without success. Evacuation was ordered, but too late, as many were killed before they reached safety. A crater 40m wide and about 6m deep was created by the blast.

The huge number of female munitions workers perhaps gave the greatest impression that there was a Home Front during the Great War, and that social change was just around the corner.

After the introduction of conscription in March 1916, the government encouraged women to take the place of male employees who had been released from their normal occupations to serve at the front. Whereas in July 1914, 212,000 women worked in engineering and munitions, by 1918 the total was nearly a million.
The attractions were higher wages, better conditions and greater independence. Few would return to the poor wages and conditions of domestic service if they could possibly help it. The fact that some Home Front jobs were dangerous provided a further bond with men serving at the front.