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A Biography of the Trousered Munitions Women’s Uniform of World War 1

Jennifer Roberts

Résumés

Ce chapitre fournit une vue d’ensemble de la recherche pour un exemple survivant de l’uniforme de pantalons des « munitionettes », alors que les travailleurs dans les usines de munitions dans la Première Guerre Mondiale étaient reconnus. Si nous examinons la réaction sur les femmes qui portent un vêtement d’homme et les discussions d’émancipation de cet uniforme, ces recherches ont étudié considérablement les archives jadis moins utilisées dans l’histoire des vêtements. Comme il n’existe plus aucun exemple de cet uniforme, il a fallu utiliser les photographies des femmes en uniforme et les écritures trouvées dans les archives du Ministère des Munitions. En étudiant ces documents, on pouvait analyser le tissu et la construction de ces vêtements. On va considérer les femmes elles-même et la situation dans laquelle ells ont porté cet uniforme. Les archives d’enregistrement des « munitionettes » conservés dans la ‘Women’s Work Collection, Imperial War Museum’, Londres, ont éclairé le succès de l’uniforme et les pantalons et ce qui est arrivé à ces vêtements a été découvert. Que les pantalons représentent la liberation des femmes ou non sera déliberé.

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1This chapter provides a brief overview of a more detailed study carried out as part of my Master’s thesis researching female protective factory dress, specifically the trousers worn by the women munitions workers during the First World War. A major aim of this research was to discover if any of these garments were still in existence and then to complete a material culture biography of the garment. The search for an existing pair of the trousers proved unsuccessful so the study of these garments became reliant on the use of photographs of the women munitions workers, their supervisors, and places of work as Dress History reference aids. The photographs of the women in their uniform – popular mementoes of their time in the factories – and the extensive archive of photographs at The Devil’s Porridge Archive in Eastriggs, Scotland allowed me to analyse the uniforms. Most of the photographs found were of the women standing or sitting in fairly masculine stances without any props, unlike this unusual one with two women holding shells (fig. 1).

2

Figure 1. Photograph of two anonymous munitions workers at Gretna. Courtesy of The Devil’s Porridge Archive, Eastriggs, Dumfries. Date Unknown.

Figure 1. Photograph of two anonymous munitions workers at Gretna. Courtesy of The Devil’s Porridge Archive, Eastriggs, Dumfries. Date Unknown.

3Pamphlets and instruction manuals showing garments, which could be ordered centrally, were issued by the Ministry of Munitions and were found in the Imperial War Museum and in the Ministry of Munitions paperwork at The National Archives in Kew. These documents were accessed for the first time in the historical research of these garments. As no factory paperwork relating to the design of the uniforms was found, one could assume it was destroyed. All of this, despite the lack of surviving garments, has allowed me to analyse the design, function, and consumption of the range of munitionette’s uniforms.

The beginning of the war

4At the outbreak of war munitions were produced in Government-controlled armouries: the Woolwich Arsenal, The Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield, and the Royal Gunpowder Factory, Waltham Abbey, for example. Independent firms such as Armstrong Vickers and smaller firms such as R.A. Lister and Co. in Gloucestershire and George Kent Ltd, Luton supplemented production. This setup had long been established before the war and continued until the Shell Crisis of 1915, which was revealed by Sir John French, the Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force, who blamed the failure of an attack at Aubers Ridge on the shortage of ammunition. Criticism published in The Times and the Daily Mail that the British Army had had to ration the number of missiles deployed and the fact there were only enough shells to last an alleged three days led to public outcry. It forced Asquith, then Prime Minister to dissolve Parliament; a cross-party coalition was then formed and the Government had to subsequently rethink its munitions strategy. The Ministry of Munitions was formed in May 1915, with Lloyd George taking over the responsibility of the newly-formed department, replacing Lord Kitchener.

  • 1 Griffiths, G. R., Women’s Factory Work in World War One. Stroud: The History Press, 1914. Print. p. (...)

5The immediate consequence of the outbreak of war was large-scale unemployment for women as the sectors that traditionally employed women (dressmaking and millenary, for example) were initially badly hit by loss of trade. Historian Gareth Griffiths states in his book Women’s Factory Work in World War One that the number of British (?) women who were employed full time was, according to ‘official statistics,’ 5 million.1 This number, however, excludes the many women who were also employed within their own homes taking ‘work in’ (laundry, for example). Thus, official employment figures relating to women’s work should be treated with caution, as the amount of women taking ‘work in’ was not regulated or notated because it was frowned upon for a woman to work after marriage; yet many working-class women needed the extra income, however small. By November 1914, employment for women began to rise again as they found work as clerical or shop assistants. These opportunities had opened up to them before the war but this was an area of expansion as many initial army volunteers came from these sectors. Ironically, the engineering industry was slow to require replacement manpower. The dichotomy of requiring munitions on hand one, while also needed men to fight on the other, meant that women became to be seen as a solution. The reluctance of the decision to use women in munitions factories was shown primarily through debates which centred on women's physical abilities to carry out men’s jobs – debates which disregarded the physicality of domestic service – thus highlighting gendered discourses about what was deemed as acceptable female work.

6In July 1915 Mrs. Pankhurst organized the 'Right to Serve' march, demanding that women be involved in the war effort. The creation of the Women's War Register, established following this march, allowed women to express their desire to work mainly in munitions. Following this, the Government and the Unions agreed to a process of Dilution. Dilution allowed skilled work to be broken down into various less skilled jobs, justifying the lower wages paid to the women and appeasing concerns of skilled men who thought they would be priced out of employment by cheaper competition. Unrest caused by the prospect of women replacing skilled men – unrest connected with concerns over wages, status, and gender – caused the Government to decree that women would replace men would only last for the duration of the war. Dilution was thus considered a policy of Union appeasement, allowing it to be eventually accepted by industrialists and the unions.

  • 2 Braybon, Gail & Summerfield, Penny, Out of the Cage Women’s Experiences in two World Wars, London: (...)
  • 3 Ibid, p. 34.
  • 4 Ibid, p. 41.

7Within the first five weeks following the declaration of war in August 1914, 200,0002 men had joined up. Consequently, as the number of men volunteering began to affect the national infrastructure and the ability of companies to manufacture or to continue with the services they provided, the number of women began to grow in the workplace. To begin with, many women had entered the workplace to replace their male family members in small business concerns where the family had to rely on the man’s wage; this translated to a drop in women’s unemployment from to 75,000 in December 1914 to 35,000 in February 1915.3 The realization was beginning to take hold that this war would not be over by Christmas and with the introduction of conscription in 1916 women were needed in ever-greater numbers to replace the men who were being called up for Duty. By 1916, the total number of women employed had risen to 6 million with the numbers of women working within the munitions industry having risen from 13% in 1914 in national shell factories, to 73% in 1915, and almost 1,000,000 women in all fields of munitions by 1917’s peak of production.4

  • 5 Thom, Deborah. Nice Girls and Rude Girls: Women Workers in World War I. London: I. B. Tauris, 1998. (...)
  • 6 Woollacott, Angel, On her Their Lives Depend. Munitions Workers in the Great War. London: Universit (...)

8Yet historian Deborah Thom writes in her book Nice Girls, Rude Girls5 of the difficulty in confidently producing any definitive figures of the amount of women dilutees. It seems that the Government manipulated figures at the beginning of the war to encourage other manufacturers to employ women, thus freeing men to fight; but, by the end of the war, they did not want claims of equal money from women for the work they had done stepping in for the men. Hence, the figures were exaggerated at the beginning and vice versa towards the end when demand for armaments was diminishing. Historian Angela Woollacott notes in her comprehensive work on the munitionette workers, On her Their Lives Depend. Munitions Workers in the Great War, that a survey, possibly carried out in 1917 when women were beginning to be replaced by the returning soldiers, calculated that of the total number of women questioned, twenty-five hundred of them preferred to stay in their wartime factories and not return to their pre-war roles.6

9It is important not to forget or dismiss the level of concern about women’s involvement in this aspect of the workforce. There was a great deal of unrest about their introduction into what the men considered their skilled bastion. Instances of unhelpful male colleagues and even descriptions of deliberate sabotage against women have been documented in factory magazines and memoirs such as Peggy Hamilton’s Three Years or the Duration. This ex-munitions worker conveys the hard work, monotony, long hours, and constant struggle against the elements with great passion. Writing of her time at the London and Scottish Engineering Company, she details how the man who worked her machine during the day would remove the light bulb and other inconvenient ploys to make her shift the more difficult.7Another controversial aspect of munitions work was the alleged higher wages: sweeping generalisations abound of women leaving domestic service for the higher paid positions and subsequently spending their exorbitant wages on furs. In her memoir, Hamilton writes defensively of the economic and physical hardships suffered. Hamilton describes earning £1 a week for six twelve-hour shifts per week (the approximate equivalent to £43.06 in 2005).8 The wages the women received depended on the job carried out; sometimes the women had to pay some of their wages to the skilled male engineer who set out their tools. Then there would have been considerations for rent and travel, family responsibilities, food, and clothing. Thom writes that wages during the war averaged about 30 shillings per week (the approximate equivalent to £64.59 in 2005),9 whilst pre-war they were just 11/6 shillings (the approximate equivalent to £24.76 in 2005).10 This figure does not take into account overtime or piecework, whereby workers were paid by the amount of items produced in a given time. Middle-class supervisors received higher wages than those who worked the machines, whilst women working in the filling shops, working with the T.N.T for example, received higher wages, which were referred to as ‘Danger Money’.

The Development of the Uniforms

10It needs to be clarified that the munitions women were not the first female workers to wear trousers. There is a history of working-women wearing trousers stemming back to the 1860’s: the Munby Pit Brow Lasses in Wigan and the Patch Girls at Tredegar, for example. At the height of munitions production in 1917, almost 1,000,000 women were involved in some part of the national munitions manufacturing process; yet, despite this consequential number, no in-depth analysis of their uniform has been undertaken.

  • 11 Joseph, Nathan, Uniforms and Nonuniforms Communication through Clothing. New York: Greenwood Press, (...)

11Sociologist Nathan Joseph argues in his book Uniforms and Nonuniforms Communication through Clothing that uniform is a sign of an individual’s claim to membership and notes that: ‘we have learned to think in terms of uniformity as a minimal symbol. Paradoxically, uniformity is not essential to the uniform.’11Critically, he interprets the wearing of uniform in World War 1 by women as their emotional investment in the war and the visual indication of their work outside of the domestic sphere. He also writes that there is an implicit assumption that there are values embedded within the uniform that will be taken on by the wearer. This is an important point when looking at the stylized representations of munitions women where their femininity has been exaggerated within in the vast industrialised setting of a previously male-dominated work place. However, to suggest that women had any agency over the design and wearing of these working clothes is misleading. The actual uniform was not viewed as a success by the workers themselves: some women felt that the trousers were hot and heavy and the more traditional gown lacked practicality. Peggy Hamilton, a middle class munitions worker, wrote in her autobiography that:

  • 12 Hamilton, Peggy, 1978, p. 78.

‘The overalls for the entire works were designed by the Welfare Department and were not appreciated. We in the toolroom were given thick, voluminous cotton overalls with caps to match. The overalls were hot and bulky and tied round the waist with anything we could find. We looked like a bunch of old rags…I have no doubt that the Welfare Department did a very good job under difficult and frustrating conditions. It was staffed by people largely unaccustomed to work, who were being asked to design clothes for women doing work that their sex had never performed before.’12

  • 13 Joseph, Nathan, 1986. Print. p. 155.

12Joseph dedicates a chapter to occupational clothing in his book in which he defines clothing without insignia as a ‘quasi uniform,’ as it is recognisable but also allows a freedom of choice. Uniforms, according to his reasoning, are such because they incorporate an insignia legitimised by the state. His argument that civilians change out of their day-to-day clothing into another form of clothing to carry out their work is another way in which he qualifies occupational clothing. Joseph sees a clear distinction between uniform and occupational clothing: ‘The quasi uniform may also be valued as a utilitarian device which protects against contagion, makes the performance of chores more comfortable, and reduces the cost of working clothes….use of the quasi uniform and uniform is based upon a bureaucratic ideology which stresses external identification of status and accountability through observability.’13 In other words, the munitionettes’ dress is more than occupational dress as it has come to represent a role and an important contribution to the war effort and those wearing it are immediately recognisable as munitionettes. Thus, according to Joseph’s assessment, this type of occupational dress would qualify as a quasi-uniform. Perhaps the term ‘uniform’ was used to describe this occupational dress during the war to acknowledge the importance of munitions work and legitimise the work.

  • 14 Foxwell, A. K. Munitions Lasses, Six Months as Principal Overlooker in Danger Buildings. London: Ho (...)

13At the beginning of the war there were no real uniforms to speak of. A K Foxwell, who served as a supervisor at the Woolwich Arsenal during the war, wrote of her experiences in the book Munitions Lasses, Six Months as Principal Overlooker in Danger Buildings.14 She writes that the uniforms were made at the Woolwich Arsenal in the Tailor’s shop and describes the palpable excitement felt by the women when the uniforms were delivered. In the archives of the Imperial War Museum, the pamphlet ‘How to Dress for Munition Making’ (fig. 2) details the fabric (stout brown drill, a stiffly woven cotton fabric used in uniform and work wear manufacture), the cost (9s 8d.), the sizes (small, medium and large), and for what type of munitions work each garment should be worn. It is also evident that uniforms were specifically commissioned from established ready-to-wear factories.

Figure 2. Cover of "How to Dress for Munition Making" and inside of brochure detailing fabric and costs.

Figure 2. Cover of "How to Dress for Munition Making" and inside of brochure detailing fabric and costs.

Imperial War Museum Reference MUN. V/1

14In the archives of the Clothing Department of the Ministry of Munitions, set up in 1916, there is mention of the establishment of Government clothing contracts with British manufacturers; by the 19th February 1917, the provision of workers’ clothing was finally rationalized by the Ministry of Munitions and centralised at the Explosives Department. Six branches of the ministry required clothing: Explosives, National Projectile Department, Trench Warfare Department, Controlled Establishment Section, National Filling Factories Department and Inspection of Munitions Department. Only four entered into the scheme the last two felt that they had first-hand knowledge of the dangers of the chemicals used and the protection required. Nevertheless it seems that as late as the 10th May, 1917, when, in a letter to Lord Rothermere, a Mr S Addison writes that the uniforms were still in the experimental stage, that there was no standardised design and that only small quantities were ordered at any given time.15 The still from a news reel film showing a woman munitions worker making cartridges wearing a striped blouse under an apron,16 suggests she is wearing her own everyday clothing (Fig. 3).

Figure 3. Still from British Pathe film showing a woman munitions worker wearing a striped blouse whilst packing cartridges. Information found in Tin 41 which British Pathe attribute possibly to 1914 but could be later

Figure 3. Still from British Pathe film showing a woman munitions worker wearing a striped blouse whilst packing cartridges. Information found in Tin 41 which British Pathe attribute possibly to 1914 but could be later

http://www.britishpathe.com/​record.php?id=58125.

The Actual Trousers

  • 17 Report on Welfare Work, May 1919, Ministry of Munitions Archives, National Archives, London, Docume (...)

15The uniform fabric, most likely a heavy cotton, was probably imported from America, woven into yarn in the Midlands and dyed, then sent by train to clothing manufacturers in Leeds and Manchester. I suspect that these companies were also producing uniforms for the services, hence the abundance of khaki coloured material, but I have no evidence to corroborate this theory. There are no surviving purchase orders, receipts or invoices pertaining to the ordering of the uniforms, as in the case of the Land army, and it seems records may have been kept by the Lady Supervisors as in the case of Miss E.C. Wagstaff, supervisor of the Newport National Shell Factory in which she writes that: ‘The issuing and receiving of Overalls, their repair and the necessary records were put into the hands of the successor to the original Matron…’17

  • 18 Report on Welfare Work, May 1919, Ministry of Munitions Archives, National Archives, London, Docume (...)
  • 19 Report on Welfare Work, May 1919, Ministry of Munitions Archives, National Archives, London, Docume (...)

16Part of the duties of the Welfare Supervisors at the Woolwich Arsenal, as Dame Lilian Barker, the Chief Lady Superintendent of the Woolwich Armoury, wrote in her evidence to the Ministry of Munitions, was to ensure that the correct clothing was given out to the different departments. Barker clarified that: ‘Rational clothing (tunic and trousers) [were provided] for those girls working on trucks where skirts were likely to hamper their movement.’18 It was also part of the Welfare Supervisors remit to check that the correct uniform was worn and that it was properly laundered. Another Welfare Supervisor at the National Projectile factory in Lancaster, Miss Broughton, whose 1919 note survives in the Ministry of Munitions Archives, wrote in her supervisor’s report that: ‘Fortnightly, all old shoes and clothing (working shirts and etc.,) were turned out of cloak rooms, or any dark corners, and if not reclaimed, were sold or destroyed.’19

17The basic outfit, as seen in the photographs, was very loose which allowed for movement but would not have provided much protection as the dust and chemicals would have been absorbed through exposed skin or eaten away at the cloth. Trousers were expressly distributed for work involving very dirty work, climbing ladders or to the crane drivers to preserve the women’s decency when working up high. On looking at the photographs different tones of the fabric can be seen and it seems that the trousers may have been made to a standard pattern hence the differing lengths (fig. 4).

Figure 4. Detail of photographs showing varying fabrics and lengths of the trousers. Courtesy of The Devil’s Porridge Archive, Eastriggs, Dumfries. Date Unknown

Figure 4. Detail of photographs showing varying fabrics and lengths of the trousers. Courtesy of The Devil’s Porridge Archive, Eastriggs, Dumfries. Date Unknown

18Sometimes the trousers are worn with shoes, sometimes with boots, which would again depend on the type of work and also the fact that the photograph was taken in a studio. Other photographs indicate laces tied tightly around the legs (fig. 5) – probably to prevent the dangerous dust reaching the body.

Figure 5. Photograph of Harsleden munitions workers' trousers tied with string. Date unknown

Figure 5. Photograph of Harsleden munitions workers' trousers tied with string. Date unknown

Author’s own photograph

  • 20 A puttee resembled a bandage and consisted of a piece of cloth that was tightly wound around the lo (...)
  • 21 Elsie McIntyre, Imperial War Museum, Women’s Work, Sound Recordings, Reference: 673/9.

19Puttees were also distributed for this purpose although they were not popular because of the time it took to put them on.20 The colour of the uniforms has been described in oral testimonies, seen in paintings and described in books. Colour was also important in order to depict the rank of a worker as described by Elsie McIntyre who worked at the Barnbow Factory, Leeds: “I always had a terrible khaki coloured overall to cover you but as time went on and you got to be made a charge hand and you was in pale blue...tunic and skirt. As you got made an overlooker you were wearing a chocolate brown tunic with a green belt and green collar and trousers.”21

Gender, femininity and the feminising of the uniform

  • 22 Wilson, Elizabeth, Adorned in Dreams. London: I. B. Tauris, 2005. Print.
  • 23 Ibid p. 162.

20Gender and femininity had a role to play in the attitude towards the trousers during and after the War. As dress historian Elizabeth Wilson in her book Adorned in Dreams,22 writes of the munitions workers’ dress, the trouser was a practical garment worn for tough, physical and dirty work and was deemed, therefore, as representative of the poorest working class women or as a step back to rational reform dress debates amongst the middle and upper class women of twenty years earlier, in the 1880’s to 1900 period.23

  • 24 Foxwell, A. K., 1917. Print. p. 43.

21The trousers came to be associated with hard, dangerous and dirty work, immoral or lower class women and closely linked to sexual impropriety. Some believed that femininity and the female sex had to maintain certain characteristics and that any destabilisation of this role would lead to promiscuity; as such the uniform had to be seen as a temporary utilitarian garment essential in the unusual circumstances of war. The women had to remove all trappings of femininity like hairpins and corsets before commencing work in the factory. A.K Foxwell writes extensively and romantically on how the women tried to feminize their uniforms firstly with flowers, then brightly coloured ribbons and even stockings and high-heeled shoes.24

Worn only in the factories

  • 25 Regulations of the Ammunitions Factories under The Ministry of Munitions not including the Royal Fa (...)
  • 26 Ibid, p. 17
  • 27 Ibid.
  • 28 Report on Welfare Work, May 1919, Ministry of Munitions Archives, National Archives, London, Docume (...)

22My research showed that the uniform would only have been worn in the factories with very few exceptions, for example public funerals of munition workers. The ‘Regulation for Ammunitions Factories Handbook’25 1915 clarifies that workers had to change out of their civilian wear into factory wear before and after commencing their shifts removing all items of jewellery, hair pins and anything that could create a spark, especially those who worked in the Danger Rooms the area associated and T.N.T. processing. The handbook directs: ‘Every person employed in the danger area of the Factory shall put on the special uninflammable “magazine” clothing, without pockets, which are provided in the Dressing Rooms, and shall leave them there before quitting the Factory.’26 The linen room was a different space responsible for the washing of the uniforms at least once a week, although in those areas where dangerous chemicals were used or the work was excessively dirty, the uniforms would be changed more frequently.27 Miss E. Wagstaff, Supervisor at the Mile End factory clearly commented that: ‘One of my first duties was to engage all girls and see that they were properly equipped with overalls and caps…. A sewing room was provided where all overalls, etc., were repaired.’28

23An unusual photograph from the Woolwich Arsenal shows a munitions worker having the chemical dust ‘hoovered’ off her uniform (fig. 6).

Figure 6. Photograph showing a munitions worker having danergous chemicals 'hoovered' off her uniform. Date unknown

Figure 6. Photograph showing a munitions worker having danergous chemicals 'hoovered' off her uniform. Date unknown

Courtesy of The Woolwich Arsenal Archives, The Greenwich Heritage Centre, Woolwich

24Dame Lilian Barker the Lady Superintendent of the Woolwich Arsenal wrote in her Welfare Report of 1919: ‘Women on powders such as TNT were provided with special clothes for canteen wear, and it was a strictly observed rule that these clothes were used so as to preclude any danger of the women eating their food in gowns that had become impregnated with powder.’29 This is corroborated by a film from the Imperial War Museum’s archives, which shows the women wearing white floor length gowns and washing their faces, arms and hands before either commencing or finishing their shift.30 Photographic stills from Gretna show the girls at the station there in their ‘every day’ clothes about to travel to or from their shifts (fig. 7).

Figure 7. Munitions workers at Gretna Railway Station. Date Unknown

Figure 7. Munitions workers at Gretna Railway Station. Date Unknown

Courtesy of The Devil’s Porridge Archive, Eastriggs, Dumfries

  • 31 Barker, Lilian, Welfare Report, Woolwich Arsenal, May 1919, Ministry of Munitions, National Archive (...)
  • 32 Ella Grace Hunt, Imperial War Museum, Women’s Work, Sound Recordings, Reference: 7440.
  • 33 Bristingl, Ursula, Extract from her diary of war work, Item 6, Domestic Front, Liddle Collection, B (...)

25There were exceptions to this as some of the oral history testaments show. However records were not kept meticulously and in evidence given to the Ministry of Munitions one supervisor wrote from Mile End factory, London in 1919: ‘The supply of Overalls and caps was irregular and there was almost as many women without them as were wearing them. Very little check was exercised on those leaving to see if they had returned their overalls, and records of issue and return were in a hopeless state of confusion….’31 This evidence offers us useful details as it implies that protective clothing for this Mile End munitions factory was supplied from outside the factory and, that women workers were able unchecked to take their uniforms off the premises, for instance, for photography purposes. One munitions worker, Ella Grace Hunt who worked on the cranes at Woolston Rolling Mills in Southampton between 1914-1918 and Mornhill Camp, Winchester 1918-1919, recalled how she used to wear her trousers home as they proved useful as she cycled to and from work: ‘They were like riding breeches you see. We weren’t allowed to wear our uniform outside but I used to keep my breeches on because I used to cycle see.’32 Another munitionette, Ursula Bristingl, who worked in a factory in Birmingham, recalled how she was about to leave the factory in her lunch break wearing her ‘smart’ men’s overall and male cap and an old woman stopped her and lent her a ragged coat and bonnet because it would not do to be seen outside in men’s clothes: “Ere, loov, where’s your pride? Going down the street in an overall….Must be decent in the street. You in a man’s overall an’all! Where’s your pride?”33

Conclusion

26Due to the secret nature of the work or the location of the factories, many of the incidents of accidental injury were unreported, with the exception of larger explosions e.g. Silvertown London where 73 people were killed and 300 hundred people were injured on the 19th January, 1917 at Brunner, Mond & Co’s chemical factory.34At Chilwell, Nottingham on 1 July, 1918 134 people were killed and at Barnbow, Leeds three explosions on 5 December, 1916 caused 35 women’s deaths, on 21 March, 1917 two women died and on the 31 March, 1918 three men died.35 There were minor accidents and disfiguring illnesses causes by the highly volatile chemicals used, most notably T.N.T. and as the Mile End supervisor recalled in her Welfare Report of 1919: ‘I was astonished to find that in those germ-laden surroundings the Doctor performed minor operations, such as cutting off fingers and toes.’36

  • 37 Woollacott, Angela, 1994. Print.
  • 38 See Tickner, Lisa, “Women and Trousers: unisex clothing and sex role changes in the 20th Century.” (...)

27There thus seems to have been genuine efforts by the middle class supervisors to take care of the health and well being of the women workers. However well meaning, the actuality of their protective clothing was woefully inadequate as shown in the many deaths and the appalling injuries and illnesses these poor women suffered, from skin discolouration, jaundice, vomiting, to changes in menstruation and heart palpitations.37 Munitions work was grim and dangerous and the women did not have any freedom of choice over the wearing of these trousered garments; they were not seen as equal to the male workers or to the middle class supervisors in the factories. The garments, as the women’s roles, were only regarded as temporary and the women did not regard the trousers as symbolic of their fight for equality. They were merely as a garment suitable for their war work. The argument that the trousers were a signifier of the working opportunities offered to women through munitions work through better pay and being able to work in roles in previously male dominated spheres, first used by feminists in the late 1970’s,38 is intrinsically flawed. By its nature the trousers were a uniform that had to be worn by the employees and the idea that it was a signifier of the hopes and aspirations of the wearer is therefore contradictory.

  • 39 Hamilton, Peggy, 1978. Print p. 42.
  • 40 Minutes of The Committee into the Disposal of Surplus Stocks, Ministry of Munitions Archives, Natio (...)
  • 41 Daily Express, Monday, June 16, 1919.

28Peggy Hamilton talks about the numbness that set in during the course of the war: the excitement and freedom that so many women had hoped for with the expansion of their world through work, or through an increase in wages, passed and she writes: ‘… the war dragged on and on until we became numbed into a state of dull acceptancy in which we almost regarded destruction and death as normal conditions of life.’39 This sentiment partly explains why the trousers did not survive the war. Not only did these women have to contend with the deaths of family and loved ones but the dangers and loss of life in the factories were also very real. Yet one of the main reasons the trousers did not survive the war was due to their becoming impregnated with the chemicals used. Once the war was over the Ministry of Munitions minutes detailed what should be done with the surplus stock and that ‘stuff that has been in wear for six months should be burnt outright.’40 These archives also show that towards the end of the war surplus stocks were sold off and an advertisement in the Daily Express of June 191941 requests applications to be made by tender for the purchase of part worn khaki overcoats dyed blue from the Ministry of Munitions. With the cessation of hostilities the majority of women were expected to relinquish their jobs to the returning soldiers. Hence, after the war there would have been no need to retain their uniforms. As none of the oral history records pursued what the women did with their uniforms, it seems probable that the trousered uniforms were destroyed due to the dangerous chemicals and having no fashionable worth, were regarded as redundant in peacetime.

29This chapter has discussed the development of the design and distribution of the uniforms; it has highlighted the lack of protection that these uniforms actually provided and has suggested reasons why these garments did not survive the war. The women munitions workers not only suffered physically but were also subjected to harsh criticism by the press. This photograph of two possibly sister munitionettes outside the Woolwich Arsenal (fig. 8), is an indicative visual record of the hard, dirty work these women carried out and their camaraderie. Ultimately, however, this image is an anonymous record of a non-existent garment.

Figure 8. Photograph Two Munitions Workers at Woolwich Arsenal. Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum Q 27894. Date unknown

Figure 8. Photograph Two Munitions Workers at Woolwich Arsenal. Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum Q 27894. Date unknown

*CREDIT*

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Notes

1 Griffiths, G. R., Women’s Factory Work in World War One. Stroud: The History Press, 1914. Print. p. 11.

2 Braybon, Gail & Summerfield, Penny, Out of the Cage Women’s Experiences in two World Wars, London: Pandora Press, 1987. Print. p. 31.

3 Ibid, p. 34.

4 Ibid, p. 41.

5 Thom, Deborah. Nice Girls and Rude Girls: Women Workers in World War I. London: I. B. Tauris, 1998. Print.

6 Woollacott, Angel, On her Their Lives Depend. Munitions Workers in the Great War. London: University of California Press, 1995. Print. P.191 quoting Daggert, Mabel, Women Wanted: The Story Written in Blood Red Letters on the Horizon of the Great World War. New York:George H.Doran Co., 1918, p. 194.

7 Hamilton, Peggy, Three Years or the Duration. The Memoirs of a Munition Worker, 1914-1918. London: Peter Owen, 1978. Print. p. 113.

8 http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/currency/results.asp#mid accessed 2nd November, 2015.

9 http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/currency/results.asp#mid accessed 2nd November, 2015.

10 http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/currency/results.asp#mid accessed 2nd November, 2015.

11 Joseph, Nathan, Uniforms and Nonuniforms Communication through Clothing. New York: Greenwood Press, 1986. Print. p. 26.

12 Hamilton, Peggy, 1978, p. 78.

13 Joseph, Nathan, 1986. Print. p. 155.

14 Foxwell, A. K. Munitions Lasses, Six Months as Principal Overlooker in Danger Buildings. London: Hodder & Staughton, 1917. Print.

15 Ministry of Munitions Government Papers reference MUN4/6479.

16 http://www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=58125. Information found in Tin 41 which British Pathe attribute possibly to 1914 but could be later.

17 Report on Welfare Work, May 1919, Ministry of Munitions Archives, National Archives, London, Document reference: MUN 5/92/346 Miss E C Wagstaff Supervisor.

18 Report on Welfare Work, May 1919, Ministry of Munitions Archives, National Archives, London, Document reference: MUN 5/92/346/33 Dame Lillian Barker, Woolwich Supervisor.

19 Report on Welfare Work, May 1919, Ministry of Munitions Archives, National Archives, London, Document reference: MUN 5/92/346/30 Miss A Broughton, Welfare Supervisor at the National Projectile Factory, Lancaster.

20 A puttee resembled a bandage and consisted of a piece of cloth that was tightly wound around the lower part of the leg in a spiral fashion, providing support and protection. Predominantly worn by soldiers, the name originally derived from Hindi meaning bandage.

21 Elsie McIntyre, Imperial War Museum, Women’s Work, Sound Recordings, Reference: 673/9.

22 Wilson, Elizabeth, Adorned in Dreams. London: I. B. Tauris, 2005. Print.

23 Ibid p. 162.

24 Foxwell, A. K., 1917. Print. p. 43.

25 Regulations of the Ammunitions Factories under The Ministry of Munitions not including the Royal Factories, 1915, Ministry of Munitions Archives, National Archives, London, Document reference: MUN 5/147/HISTREC/R/1122/73.

26 Ibid, p. 17

27 Ibid.

28 Report on Welfare Work, May 1919, Ministry of Munitions Archives, National Archives, London, Document reference: MUN 5/92/346 Miss E C Wagstaff, Supervisor.

29 Barker, Lilian, Welfare Report, Woolwich Arsenal, May 1919, Ministry of Munitions, National Archives, London, Document Reference: MUN 5/92/346/33.

30 “A Day in the Life of a Munition Worker” http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/collections/item/5522.

31 Barker, Lilian, Welfare Report, Woolwich Arsenal, May 1919, Ministry of Munitions, National Archives, London, Document Reference: MUN 5/92/346/33.

32 Ella Grace Hunt, Imperial War Museum, Women’s Work, Sound Recordings, Reference: 7440.

33 Bristingl, Ursula, Extract from her diary of war work, Item 6, Domestic Front, Liddle Collection, Brotherton Library, University of Leeds.

34 www.20thcenturylondon.org.uk/server.php?show=conInformationRecord.207.

35 http://www.barwickinelmethistoricalsociety.com/4746.html.

36 Mile End Supervisor’s Report, May 1919 Ministry of Munitions Archives, National Archives, London, Document Reference: MUN/5/92/346.

37 Woollacott, Angela, 1994. Print.

38 See Tickner, Lisa, “Women and Trousers: unisex clothing and sex role changes in the 20th Century.” Design History Society, Leisure in the Twentieth Century (London: Design Council, 1977) p. 56-67, quoted in Judy Attfield, “Form Follows Function” in J. Walker, Design History and The History of Design. London: Pluto, 1989.

39 Hamilton, Peggy, 1978. Print p. 42.

40 Minutes of The Committee into the Disposal of Surplus Stocks, Ministry of Munitions Archives, National Archives, London, Document Reference: MUN 5/147/1122/54, p. 7.

41 Daily Express, Monday, June 16, 1919.

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Figure 1. Photograph of two anonymous munitions workers at Gretna. Courtesy of The Devil’s Porridge Archive, Eastriggs, Dumfries. Date Unknown.
URL http://apparences.revues.org/docannexe/image/1355/img-1.jpg
image/jpeg, 200k
Figure 2. Cover of "How to Dress for Munition Making" and inside of brochure detailing fabric and costs.
Imperial War Museum Reference MUN. V/1
URL http://apparences.revues.org/docannexe/image/1355/img-2.jpg
image/jpeg, 356k
Figure 3. Still from British Pathe film showing a woman munitions worker wearing a striped blouse whilst packing cartridges. Information found in Tin 41 which British Pathe attribute possibly to 1914 but could be later
http://www.britishpathe.com/​record.php?id=58125.
URL http://apparences.revues.org/docannexe/image/1355/img-3.jpg
image/jpeg, 132k
Figure 4. Detail of photographs showing varying fabrics and lengths of the trousers. Courtesy of The Devil’s Porridge Archive, Eastriggs, Dumfries. Date Unknown
URL http://apparences.revues.org/docannexe/image/1355/img-4.jpg
image/jpeg, 56k
Figure 5. Photograph of Harsleden munitions workers' trousers tied with string. Date unknown
Author’s own photograph
URL http://apparences.revues.org/docannexe/image/1355/img-5.jpg
image/jpeg, 192k
Figure 6. Photograph showing a munitions worker having danergous chemicals 'hoovered' off her uniform. Date unknown
Courtesy of The Woolwich Arsenal Archives, The Greenwich Heritage Centre, Woolwich
URL http://apparences.revues.org/docannexe/image/1355/img-6.jpg
image/jpeg, 208k
Figure 7. Munitions workers at Gretna Railway Station. Date Unknown
Courtesy of The Devil’s Porridge Archive, Eastriggs, Dumfries
URL http://apparences.revues.org/docannexe/image/1355/img-7.jpg
image/jpeg, 172k
Figure 8. Photograph Two Munitions Workers at Woolwich Arsenal. Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum Q 27894. Date unknown
*CREDIT*
URL http://apparences.revues.org/docannexe/image/1355/img-8.jpg
image/jpeg, 184k
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Jennifer Roberts, « A Biography of the Trousered Munitions Women’s Uniform of World War 1 », Apparence(s) [En ligne], 7 | 2017, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2017, Consulté le 19 novembre 2017. URL : http://apparences.revues.org/1355

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Jennifer Roberts

University of Brighton

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Les contenus de la revue Apparence(s) sont disponibles selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d’Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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