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Women in the Workforce in WWII

Object Type: Folder
In Folder: WWII Showcase

Date of Document

The efforts and work of the women was lauded both at home and overseas. Interviews were taken, film footage was made, and foreign journalists wrote home in praise.

Women In The Workforce

Fluffing is the name given to teams who remove grease and attached particles from the line to remove potential fire risk. The nightly activities of the female track cleaning teams known as the Fluffers or “Fluffies” proved so intriguing that several films were made including one by British Pathe in 1944.

At the end of the War, the contribution of our female workforce was recognised, but as with the end of WWI there was an expectation that women would return to the domestic sphere and release jobs for returning husbands, fathers, brothers and sons.

“The women who, without any experience of the Board’s work, left their normal occupations or, in so many cases, their homes to join the Board’s staff, made a major contribution to victory.”

By the end of the war there were over 16,500 women working in roles traditionally filled by men. 11,250 of the 18,000 bus and tram conductors, 950 of the 1,150 porters, 400 of the 1,100 booking clerks were women. Almost 3,000 were employed in the engineering departments.

Two months later on the 24 July 1940, the first 53 female conductors since the end of WWI started work on London's buses and trams. They had received 8 days training, 3 in the classroom and 5 aboard a bus. This article introduces us to some of the new recruits including Alice Jenkins aged 26 who was formerly a "pick-me-up packer up in a drug factory."

Thousands of women passed through LPTB's training school, sitting through lectures, learning practical skills like how to use a ticket punch, and the importance of concise communication. In November 1941, the school and its pupils featured in a BBC broadcast to North America.

Women joined the company’s sports and social clubs, and they were even successful in getting a new trouser winter uniform designed.

London needed female bus and tram conductors. The campaign asked for women between 21 and 35 but some of the first women to answer the call were those who had served in WWI.

The training school provided instruction for other occupations opened to the growing female workforce.

Women took on roles as depot inspectors, booking clerks, railway porters, sign writers, clock winders, engineers, track cleaners, plate layers, labourers and much more.

Women in the Workforce 2

The first female recruits to begin work in May 1940 were station ticket clerks.

In October 1939 over 7000 male London Passenger Transport Board (LPTB) staff had enlisted into the armed services, putting huge pressure on the remaining workforce. Recruitment campaigns were quickly set up to find women to fill some of those vacancies.

There were also childcare initiatives to release more women from domestic responsibilities so as to assist with war work.

Their job continues to fascinate and in 2019 the Corporate Archives team conducted an interview with the modern track cleaning team. It revealed that many elements of the job and the tools they use remain the same as their war time predecessors.

The staff magazine gives the title of “first female ticket clerk on the underground” to Miss Ellen Irvin who began her duties at Sloane Square on 31 May 1940.

The volume of female staff had an impact on culture and working practices. 20 female welfare officers were appointed, and 'special' accommodation for women, including 75 rest rooms and 123 changing rooms, was provided.

The diversity of roles taken on by women is illustrated by statistics compiled in 1943. This report shows only a small number of women employed, in place of men, in miscellaneous railway jobs. Whereas the increase in the number of women employed on buses, tram and trolleybuses is in the thousands.

1942 saw the first female bus drivers, although they were not permitted to carry passengers they drove buses to breakdowns or between garages.

Dorothy McKenzie became LPTB’s first driver when, on 9 April 1941, she started her job on the roads of Kent delivering bus timetables and repairing damaged frames. She was formerly an ambulance driver for the ARP.

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