Five million women in the United Kingdom had paid employment, but most would have expected to leave as soon as they married, or when they had their first child. Women were one-third the total workforce in the metal and chemical industries, as well as in ship-building and vehicle manufacture. They worked on the railways, canals and on buses. Women built Waterloo Bridge in London.



The Women's Land Army/Scottish Land Army was reformed in 1938 so that women could be trained in agricultural work, leaving male workers free to go to war. Most WLA members were young women from the towns and cities. Land Army Girls

Photograph showing ATS anti-aircraft crew, 1941
Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) was formed. Its initial plan was to recruit 25,000 female volunteers for driving, clerical, and general duties. In 1939, however, it was in action in France with the British Expeditionary Force. The vast majority of women in the ATS served in anti-aircraft command, on searchlights - the 93rd Searchlight Regiment were all female. They also worked in mixed batteries on anti-aircraft guns, but not officially allowed to fire them.


ATS anti-aircraft crew, 1941 


Spring 1939:

Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS) was reformed. Women aged 18-50 who lived close to near naval ports could apply. The WRNS was in charge of ship maintenance for the Royal Navy.  The WRNS also helped with secret planning for D-Day.

July    1939:

The Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) was created. Among other duties, they boosted the numbers in the Royal Observer Corps, maintained and flew barrage balloons.  Some, mainly from the voluntary First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, worked with the Special Operations Executive, dropping into enemy territory and working as saboteurs, couriers and radio operators.

Elsewhere overseas, female nurses in military field hospitals worked near the front line of battle, and many served with allied forces such as SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces). Women also came to Britain as members of other Allied forces - such as the Women's Australian Air Force, and its Canadian and American equivalents. Others came from across the then British Empire to serve in the ATS. At its peak the British auxiliary forces consisted of nearly half a million members.


Spring 1941: 

Every woman in Britain aged 18-60 had to be registered.

December 1941:

National Service Act (no 2) made the conscription of women legal for single women aged 20-30


Almost 90 per cent of single women and 80 per cent of married women were employed in essential work for the war effort.

May 1945:


  Photograph showing women celebrating VE Day, London, 1945

VE Day, London, May 1945 




Creation of permanent women's forces




Women's Land Army ended service to aid in postwar food shortages


 Women’s Voluntary Services proved itself too useful ever to disband and continues today, becoming 'Royal'.