British Women at War - WWII

With thousands of men away serving in the armed forces, British women took on a variety of jobs during the Second World War. They also played a vital role on the home front, running households and fighting a daily battle of rationing, recycling, reusing, and cultivating food in allotments and gardens.

From 1941, women were called up for war work, in roles such as as mechanics, engineers, munitions workers, air raid wardens, bus and fire engine drivers.

At first, only single women, aged 20-30 were called up, but by mid-1943, almost 90 per cent of single women and 80 per cent of married women were working in factories, on the land or in the armed forces.

There were over 640,000 women in the armed forces, including The Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS), the Women;s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), plus many more who flew unarmed aircraft, drove ambulances, served as nurses and worked behind enemy lines in the European resistance in the Special Operations Executive.

The most notable member of the ATS during the Second World War was the then Princess Elizabeth. She trained as a driver and mechanic and reached the rank of Junior Commander. Winston Churchill’s youngest daughter, Mary Churchill (later Lady Soames) also served as a member of the ATS.

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