“We shall Fight in France…we shall never surrender…”

 

Winston Churchill to Parliament on 4 June 1940

“…we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be…we shall never surrender.”

 

THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1940 (F 2038) Men of the 2nd Battalion Royal Fusiliers in a trench in front of the Maginot Line, 3 January 1940. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205204830

 

THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1940 (F 4121) Men of 2nd Battalion Essex Regiment study a map during an exercise at Meurchin, 27 April 1940. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205204923

 

THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1940 (F 4074) Gracie Fields shares a joke with troops in a village near Valenciennes, 26 April 1940. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205204920

 

THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1940 (F 4186) Searchlight of 10th Battery, 3rd Searchlight Regiment, Royal Artillery, near Carvin, 1 May 1940. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205204924

 

THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1940 (F 3238) Troops from 2nd Battalion Middlesex Regiment, 3rd Division, training on the Vickers machine gun at Gondecourt, 21 March 1940 Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205204892

 

THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1939 (O 46) Motor transport of 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards outside Battalion HQ at Conlie, 22 September 1939. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205204992

 

THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1939 (O 223) Men of 1st Battalion Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders constructing trenches at Aix, 12 November 1939. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205205011

 

THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1939 (O 514) Troops of the 1st Royal Berkshire Regiment, 2nd Division, checking the papers of civilians at Becun on the Franco-Belgian border, 10 October 1939. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205205029

 

THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1939-40 (O 2288) The Grenadier Guards building breastworks on flooded ground at Hem, December 1939. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205205065

 

THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1939 (O 86) Men of the BEF being transported from Cherbourg to their assembly area in a railway goods wagon, 29 September 1939. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205204998

On the top right you will note the loading limits of the goods wagon for military purposes:  40 men or 8 horses.

THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1939 (O 415) Troops from the Royal Berkshire Regiment manning trenches near Mouchin, 29 November 1939. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205205023

 

THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1939 (O 427) The cramped interior of the battery commander’s dugout at a 25-pdr field gun battery near Mouchin, 29 November 1939. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205205025

 

THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1939-40 (O 878) Lines of barbed-wire obstacles stretch across snow-covered fields near Menin, 17 Infantry Brigade sector, 21 January 1940. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205205055
THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1939 (O 327) A 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun and crew near Douai, November 1939. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205205017

 

*Featured image:  A 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun and crew near Douai, November 1939 Courtesy Imperial War Museum

British Troops In Hell at Dunkirk

 

DUNKIRK 1940 (MH 5848) British troops disembarking from a destroyer at Dover after their return from the Dunkirk beaches, June 1940. Copyright: © IWM. 
DUNKIRK AND THE RETREAT FROM FRANCE 1940 (C 1720) Ships off the beaches at Dunkirk, c.3 June 1940. Smoke billows from burning oil storage tanks. Copyright: © IWM.

 

DUNKIRK AND THE RETREAT FROM FRANCE 1940 (C 1717) A Hudson of RAF Coastal Command patrols over Dunkirk, as oil storage tanks burn fiercely in the background, c. 3 June 1940. Copyright: © IWM.

 

Soldiers from the British Expeditionary Force fire at low flying German aircraft during the Dunkirk evacuation. (PHOTO COURTESY OF AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL) This photo is in the public domain and getty images cannot claim as one of their pictures.

 

 

THE EVACUATION FROM DUNKIRK 1940 (HU 73187) A hospital ship carrying wounded soldiers away from Dunkirk. In the background can be seen columns of smoke and flames from fires burning in the bomb and shell shattered port. Copyright: © IWM.

 

THE FALL OF FRANCE IN 1940: GERMAN OFFICIAL COLOUR PHOTOGRAPHS OF DUNKIRK IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE BRITISH EVACUATION (COL 289) German forces arrive in Dunkirk after the completion of the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force earlier in the day. Clearing the blocked road into Dunkirk. Under the direction of their German captors, French troops push away an immobilised British Universal Carrier tracked vehicle. Copyright: © IWM.

 

THE FALL OF FRANCE IN 1940: GERMAN OFFICIAL COLOUR PHOTOGRAPHS OF DUNKIRK IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE BRITISH EVACUATION (COL 288) German forces arrive in Dunkirk. The sea front at Dunkirk photographed immediately after the completion of the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force earlier in the day. Vehicles and troops of the German mobile assault unit Motorensturm 13, drawn up on the sea front at Dunkirk near one of the unit’s light anti-tank guns. Copyright: © IWM.

 

DUNKIRK AND THE RETREAT FROM FRANCE 1940 (HU 104614) A woman from the Mechanised Transport Corps (MTC) hands out tea to troops evacuated from Dunkirk at a railway station in the UK, 31 May 1940. Copyright: © IWM.

Dunkirk, France. 1940-05-28. Troops of the British Expeditionary Force lined up on the beach awaiting the arrival of the British Evacuation fleet.

 

DUNKIRK AND THE RETREAT FROM FRANCE 1940 (HU 104604) A paddle steamer, seen from the deck of another vessel, reaches safety at an east coast port during the evacuation from Dunkirk, 2 June 1940. Copyright: © IWM. 

 

DUNKIRK AND THE RETREAT FROM FRANCE 1940 (HU 104607) Some of the ‘little ships’ used during the evacuation of Dunkirk being towed back along the River Thames past Tower Bridge, 9 June 1940. Copyright: © IWM. 

 

Featured Image: As oil storage tanks burn in the distance, a trawler crowded with troops heads from Dunkirk back to England, June 1940. Imperial War Museum

Fleet Air Arm Protecting Convoys

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 22308) Protection for convoys is one of the jobs of the Fleet Air Arm planes of the Royal Air Naval Station, Sierra Leone. Here a Boulton Paul Defiant from the station sweeps over a big convoy which is just leaving Freetown Harbour. The aircraft took off from from HMS SPURWING, Royal Naval Air Station in Sierra Leone, once a stretch of untouchable bush. Part of the wings and struts of the biplane from wh… Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205016128

 

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 22306) Two of the station’s Boulton Paul Defiant aircraft in flight after taking off from HMS SPURWING, Royal Naval Air Station in Sierra Leone, once a stretch of untouchable bush. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205016127

 

 

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 7869) A Fairey Fulmar returns to HMS VICTORIOUS after doing patrol during a Home Fleet convoy to Russia. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205185619

Escorting convoys to Russia was a brutal task given the terrible weather and constant attacks by German aircraft and U-boats out of Norway. Home Fleet provided “distant cover” since fleet carriers like HMS Victorious and battleships such as KGV were too valuable to risk anywhere close to German air attack. Home FLeet distant cover was laid on in the event the Tirpitz came out.

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 22312) A Fairey Fulmar aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm about to take off from HMS SPURWING, a Royal Naval Air Station in Sierra Leone, on a coastal reconnaissance. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205186969

The Royal Navy named all of its bases as if they were ships. Hence, HMS Spurwing was a Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm base providing cover for convoys forming up off Freetown, Sierra Leone, a major convoy destination point where escorts changed.

The Royal Navy did most of its accounting by ship so it was easier to keep track of everything if all bases were treated as ships. For instance, unassigned officers were carried on the books of HMS Victory although they were obviously not on the ship itself although it did have accommodation for a small number of officers in transit.

If you wrote someone in the Royal Navy in World War Two, you addressed the letter to that person followed by name of ship followed by GPO, London.

 

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 6123) A Fairey Fulmar being flagged off from the flight deck of HMS VICTORIOUS at Scapa Flow. The carrier’s island can be seen in the background. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205185487

 

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 6120) A Fairey Fulmar taking off from the flight deck of HMS VICTORIOUS at Scapa Flow. Two more of the aircraft can be seen at the end of the flight deck. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205185486

The two photographs above are unusual because they show planes both landing and taking off from the Royal Navy fleet carrier HMS Victorious while the carrier is at anchor in the Royal Navy Home Fleet anchorage of Scapa Flow.

Because of aerodynamic reasons, carriers in World War Two typically had to turn into the wind which gave added lift to planes taking off.  As an aircraft carrier neared its anchorage, the planes based on the carrier took off while the carrier was still at sea and could turn into the wind and flew to a Fleet Air Arm base on land.

They usually practiced landing on a carrier deck by landing on runways on land marked with the length of a carrier deck. Aircraft carrier pilots then and to this day often describe landing on a carrier as a “controlled crash.” It isn’t and wasn’t for the faint of heart.

In the last few years, the US Navy has started to fly drones from aircraft carriers which calls in question our naval strategy based around massive aircraft carrier battle groups. This is according to defense writer and expert Thomas Ricks, not me.

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 6955) A Fairey Fulmar warming up on the flight deck of HMS VICTORIOUS. Note the Donald Duck painted on the nose of the plane. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205185544

 

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 7003) Sub Lieutenant (A) M Bennett, RNVR, in the cockpit of his Fairey Fulmar on board HMS VICTORIOUS. Note the art work on the nose of the aircraft. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205185552

RNVR means Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. Officers wore wavy stripes on their coat sleeves instead of regular stripes worn by professional “regular service” officers. Hence known as “wavy navy.” Nonetheless, RNVR officers came to vastly outnumber the regular service officers of whom there were only about 5,000 when the war began.

RNVR officers who were pilots assigned to the Fleet Air Arm wore a small insignia denoting this. The men claimed the small insignia was meant to inform all other RN personnel that they knew absolutely nothing about the navy.

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 7279) In the hangar deck of HMS VICTORIOUS at Hvalfjord, Iceland a row of Fairey Fulmars is flanked on either side by two rows of Fairey Albacores, all with their wings folded. The photograph was taken around the time of the search for the TIRPITZ. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205185573

Hvalfjord was a treacherous anchorage because it was exposed to vicious winds. Ships at anchor normally dropped both bow and stern anchors which they usually didn’t do in more protected anchorages as well as keep steam on since they often had to make revolutions for two or three knots simply to stay where they were and not drag their anchors if a storm came up.

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 5950) The forward part of the flight deck of HMS VICTORIOUS with Fairey Fulmars and Fairey Albacores on board during preparations for Norwegian operations. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205185479

 

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 7540) A bearded Fleet Air Arm gunner, Leading Airman C H Clark, from Tadworth, Surrey, exits his Fairey Albacore aircraft carrying his flying kit, after his aircraft returned from a patrol to HMS VICTORIOUS off the coast of Iceland. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205185586

 

Featured image shows: Fairey Albacores, the torpedo carrying plane of the Fleet Air Arm landing on the deck of HMS VICTORIOUS while the ship was en route to Hvalfjord, Iceland from Scapa Flow. The automatic Bat can be seen in the right of the picture, as can the arrestor wires running across the flight deck.

ROYAL NAVY COASTAL FORCES DURING WORLD WAR TWO

Motor Gun Boats during the Second World War, 1939-1945

 

Motor Gun Boats during the Second World War, 1939-1945
Steam Gun Boat, MGB S309, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Peter Scott underway at sea. S.309 was also known as ‘Grey Goose’ Photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 25313) 71.5ft British Power Boat MTB 447 based at the coastal forces base HMS BEEHIVE. The boat was not fitted with tubes and was really a Motor Gun Boat. Powered by three Packard engines, it had a complement of two officers and 14 ratings. The armament included a 2pdr pom-pom and three 20mm Oerlikons. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205119897

 

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 4262) Motor Gun Boat Flotilla, including MGB 62 and MGB 64, manoeuvring at sea. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205119377

 

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 4263) Motor Gun Boat Flotilla manoeuvring at sea in line ahead formation, with a close up shot of MGB 62. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205119378

 

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 4259) Motor gun boats in line abreast at speed. Nearest is MGB 60 with MGB 62 and MGB 65 further back. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205119376

 

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 6960) The machine gunner of Motor Anti-Submarine Boat MASB 37 on the alert with his pair of Lewis Guns, in the Firth of Forth. These vessels are known as the mosquitos of the Navy and help keep the channels clear of enemy submarines. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205185545

 

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 4251) Some of the crew on the bridge of an MTB as the flotilla goes to sea from Felixstowe. One of the men is fitting a magazine to a Lewis Gun. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205185327

 

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 25309) A 21-inch torpedo being fired from the port tube of a 70ft Vosper MTB based at the coastal forces base HMS BEEHIVE, Felixstowe. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205187312

US Navy Aircraft Carrier Nimitz on Patrol

Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz

USS Nimitz on patrol in the Pacific. Named for our greatest admiral, Chester W. Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief US Navy Pacific fleet in World War Two. Fleet Admiral Nimitz led US naval forces to victory over Japan. Nimitz class carriers are the largest warships in the world.

 

The surrender of Japan aboard USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, September 2, 1945: Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, representing the United States, signs the instrument of surrender.

 

An F/A-18E Super Hornet launches from the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz.

USS Nimitz in the Pacific Ocean.

 An F/A-18E Super Hornet launches off the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68).

Admiral Chester W. Nimitz pins Navy Cross on Doris Miller, at a ceremony on board the USS Enterprise (CV-6) at Pearl Harbor, May 27, 1942. Miller was the first African-American to be awarded the US Navy Cross, the second highest decoration of the US Navy.  

The citation for the medal says Miller was recognized for his “distinguished devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and disregard for his own personal safety during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941. 

Spitfires to Malta

AChtung! spitfire!

Attention! Spitfire!

This was not a warning German pilots liked hearing over the headphones during air battles over England.

Flames roar from the exhaust of a Spitfire as it starts its engine. Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images. August 2015. Courtesy of the Guardian.

spitfires to malta

 

SPITFIRES FOR MALTA. 19 TO 23 MARCH 1942, ON BOARD HMS EAGLE. HMS EAGLE IN COMPANY WITH ‘FORCE H’ TAKING SPITFIRES FROM GIBRALTAR TO MALTA FOR THE DEFENCE OF THE ISLAND. THE AIRCRAFT WERE FLOWN OFF HMS EAGLE AFTER BEING TAKEN HALF WAY ON BOARD THE CARRIER. (A 9580) Securing Spitfires on the flight deck of HMS EAGLE. On the port side of deck are more planes ready for their flight to Malta. In the background is the island of HMS EAGLE. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205143392

 

SPITFIRES FOR MALTA. 19 TO 23 MARCH 1942, ON BOARD HMS EAGLE. HMS EAGLE IN COMPANY WITH ‘FORCE H’ TAKING SPITFIRES FROM GIBRALTAR TO MALTA FOR THE DEFENCE OF THE ISLAND. THE AIRCRAFT WERE FLOWN OFF HMS EAGLE AFTER BEING TAKEN HALF WAY ON BOARD THE CARRIER. (A 9586) One of the Spitfires taking off on its way to Malta. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205143396

 

SPITFIRES FOR MALTA. 19 TO 23 MARCH 1942, ON BOARD HMS EAGLE. HMS EAGLE IN COMPANY WITH ‘FORCE H’ TAKING SPITFIRES FROM GIBRALTAR TO MALTA FOR THE DEFENCE OF THE ISLAND. THE AIRCRAFT WERE FLOWN OFF HMS EAGLE AFTER BEING TAKEN HALF WAY ON BOARD THE CARRIER. (A 9584) Spitfires on the deck of HMS EAGLE on their way to their flying off destination. In the background can be seen HMS ARGUS and the cruiser HMS HERMIONE. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205143395

 

BRITISH AIRCRAFT CARRIERS CONVEY SPITFIRES PART WAY TO MALTA. 7 MARCH 1942, ON BOARD THE CRUISER HMS HERMIONE, AT SEA IN THE MEDITERRANEAN. FLYING SPITFIRES OFF THE CARRIER HMS EAGLE, THE FIRST TIME SPITFIRES HAD BEEN FLOWN OFF. (A 7953) The aircraft carrier HMS ARGUS which acted as fighter escort, with HMS EAGLE (centre) and the battleship HMS MALAYA (right distance) prior to flying off to Malta of the Spitfires. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205141947

 

BRITISH AIRCRAFT CARRIERS CONVEY SPITFIRES PART WAY TO MALTA. 7 MARCH 1942, ON BOARD THE CRUISER HMS HERMIONE, AT SEA IN THE MEDITERRANEAN. FLYING SPITFIRES OFF THE CARRIER HMS EAGLE, THE FIRST TIME SPITFIRES HAD BEEN FLOWN OFF. (A 7954) The aircraft carrier HMS ARGUS which acted as fighter escort, with HMS EAGLE (centre) and the battleship HMS MALAYA (right distance) prior to flying off to Malta of the Spitfires. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205141948

 

BRITISH AIRCRAFT CARRIERS CONVEY SPITFIRES PART WAY TO MALTA. 7 MARCH 1942, ON BOARD THE CRUISER HMS HERMIONE, AT SEA IN THE MEDITERRANEAN. FLYING SPITFIRES OFF THE CARRIER HMS EAGLE, THE FIRST TIME SPITFIRES HAD BEEN FLOWN OFF. (A 7956) Left to right: HMS ARGUS, EAGLE and MALAYA seen under the guns of HMS HERMIONE. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205141950

 

ROYAL AIR FORCE: OPERATIONS IN MALTA, GIBRALTAR AND THE MEDITERRANEAN, 1940-1945. (CM 3215) Ground crew of No. 249 Squadron RAF take a break from maintaining their Supermarine Spitfire Mark VCs at Ta Kali, Malta, to observe the activity on the airfield. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205208952

 

Arrive in Malta at last. If the Spitfire pilots didn’t keep an eagle eye on their fuel mixture and fly in such a way as to conserve fuel they coulnd’t make it to Malta from their flying off point and over the years a number of them crashed into the Med never to be heard from again.

British Women at War

By 1943, almost half the workforce in great Britain was comprised of women. ^

While often deployed on what was known as “women’s work,” the behind the scenes work of the women of Great Britain underpinned the massive war effort of the nation. As Churchill wrote to President Roosevelt in late 1940, “Mr. President, we are fighting for our lives.” As indeed they were.

In fact, they fought to save Western civilization, which they did.

In World War Two, the demand for industrial workers and personnel for auxiliary service in the military became so great that women were subjected to conscription into industry and the forces for the first time in modern Western history.

WOMEN ON THE HOME FRONT 1939 – 1945 (H 26470) The Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS): At an ATS School of Cookery auxiliaries are seen undergoing training on outdoor stoves. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205193274

 

THE WOMEN’S AUXILIARY AIR FORCE, 1939-1945. (CH 6748) WAAF cooks show the morning’s batch of cakes, scones and pies for personnel at an RAF station. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210232

 

THE WOMEN’S AUXILIARY AIR FORCE, 1939-1945. (CH 200) A member of the WAAF peeling potatoes in the kitchens at RAF Debden, Essex. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205208435

 

THE WOMEN’S AUXILIARY AIR FORCE, 1939-1945. (CH 214) WAAF teleprinter-operators at work in the Communications Centre at RAF Debden, Essex. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205208437

 

While women had been drawn into the workforce in World War One, the numbers and percentages were smaller. * In World War Two, the demand for industrial workers and women in auxiliary service for the military became such that women were subjected to conscription into industry and the forces. While not supposed to be in combat situations, many WAAF communications operatives often worked in fighter control stations at different airfields and were subjected to regular bombing and strafing by German planes.

As might be expected, although surprising to many men, women carried on amidst the raids and if several were killed, they helped dig them out of the rubble and went back to their posts.

THE WOMEN’S AUXILIARY AIR FORCE, 1939-1945. (CH 215) WAAF telephone-operators at work in the manual branch exchange at RAF Debden, Essex. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205208438

The work was not glamorous. Women had to go to a shortened version of basic training and spent hours in “square bashing” or learning to march in formation and perform parade ground drills. Pay was low. Hours were long. Barracks were often uncomfortable and usually very cold due to the shortage of coal.

 

^”Wartime: Britain 1939–1945″ by Juliet Gardiner

*While women had worked in World War One, the percentage of the female population who worked because of the war itself was not nearly what it became in WW Two. Overall, the number of women who went to work in some capacity because of World War One was less than 1.5 million. Higher figures are often quoted but these are the total numbers of women in the workforce. Usually ignored or forgotten, millions of working class women worked because they had to and were working long before the war.