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War Office | Women's War Work

  • First and only edition of this uncommon and evocatively-illustrated publication on women’s contributions on the British home front during the First World War. This copy from the War Office Library, with its ink stamp on the title and upper cover.

    Very quickly after the outbreak of the war it became clear that the mobilisation of the male workforce would create shortages of munitions, equipment, and food, and that large numbers of women would need to move into jobs from which they were previously restricted. Despite the hesitance of some officials, factory managers, and trade unions, “reports were conducted early on as to the suitability of women to meet the demands of such work. As early as 1915 the Ministry of Munitions Supply Committee made recommendations on the employment and remuneration of women on munitions work. This helped contribute to agreed suitable conditions by which a woman could be employed, and the War Office published several guides as to the employment of women” (”The Munitionettes and the Work of Women in the First World War”, National Records of Scotland).

    Women’s War Work was one of these publications, appearing in 1916 and providing a very detailed list of roles in which women had been “successfully in the temporary replacement of men”, not only in munitions, but also the production of everyday goods such as chemicals and fertiliser, soap, candles, clothing and textiles, food and drink, and paper goods, including printing and book binding. The lists are accompanied by contact details of officials who can assist in the recruitment of women, and by an exceptional 72 large photographs of women at work. One woman is pictured modelling artificial teeth in wax for dentistry; brewery employees roll barrels and clean out vats; wagon washers pose with buckets and brushes in the middle of their messy shift; a smiling woman “stokes the furnaces of a large factory in South London”; an agricultural worker with the Women’s Volunteer Reserve sharpens the blade of a sickle, pianos are tuned, and women are photographed serving as butchers, bakers, window washers, porters, drivers, and posties. Numerous roles within heavy industry are photographed, from the manufacture of ammunition to the production of glass, radiators, tanned leather, and motorcycles. This is a fantastic record of women as home front workers, with most of the images so far having seen little to no reproduction in popular culture.

  • ...In Maintaining the Industries & Export Trade of the United Kingdom. Information Officially Compiled for the Use of Recruiting Officers, Military Representatives and Tribunals. Issued by the War Office, September 1916. London: Printed under the Authority of His Majesty’s Stationery Office by the Chiswick Press, 1916.

    Tall quarto. Original grey wrappers printed in black. 20 leaves of glossy paper with integral page numbering, 3 pages of which are text-only and one blank, the rest comprising 72 black and white photographs. War office Library ink stamps to the upper wrapper and title, small blue ink mark to the upper wrapper partially bracketing “War office” in the imprint, spot from sticker removal affecting the tail of the spine and edges of the wrappers. Loss from the spine, which has been strengthened with adhesive at some point in the past. A little light creasing and rubbing at the other edges of the wrappers. Contents clean. A very good copy.