Bomb Girls by Jacky Hyams examines the important, yet often forgotten work of the female munitions factory workers in the UK during WWII. Hyams provides historical context and research as a foundation before the book moves into real accounts from women who worked in the factories. Hyams interviewed several women who worked in munitions during WWII and have since been honored for their “invisible” service. By invisible, I mean these women were not enlisted (I was surprised to find that many viewed enlisted women as taboo,) nor did they wear uniforms. They couldn’t speak about what they did, nor did they fully know or understand the context of the machine in which they were a small cog. Many of the women Hyams spoke to explained their desire to have the same treatment as the men in uniform. And rightly so, as munitions work was very dangerous.
Imagine women in their late teens and early 20s (some older,) working with highly dangerous chemicals and machinery, without fully knowing the extent in which their life may hang in the balance. Imagine the friends they may have lost due to an accidental explosion, or the long-lasting health effects of the chemicals they worked with in the factories. Reading Bomb Girls, I couldn’t help but imagine myself and my female family members and friends in their circumstances. How would we get along? We would have to just get along, as all of the women Hyams spoke to very much adhered to the English “keep calm and carry on” slogan. They knew the work was dangerous, but took solace in the fact that they were helping their boys overseas, as well as helping their families financially (one young girl made more than her own father!) With modern regulations, it can be hard for us to imagine doing such work with little to no protective gear. While many of the women acknowledged their trepidation of the war, much of it seemed far off for them in the more remote areas of the UK. Some of the larger factories faced bombing threats, but many survived undetected.
The consensus among the women Hyams spoke to seemed to be that although they sacrificed much with the war on, they recalled their time as “Bomb Girls” fondly. Not only was it a time of great friendship and camaraderie, but it was also a time of new found independence–social and financial–for these young girls. And as we know, women workers during the war paved the way for more women coming into the workforce in subsequent years.
Bomb Girls is no doubt a book I will recommend to my girlfriends and female family members, as I believe we can all find something to relate to in their stories.