The Women
of the Great War

Many women served on the front lines as nurses and ambulance drivers, but what about women who fought for their country on the Home Front?

Posted by Emma McCready on June 25th, 2015

It is hard to believe that women were involved in World War 1 at all. It is even harder to believe that, without women, the war would not have gone the way it did. Of course, many women served on the front lines as nurses and ambulance drivers, but what about women who fought for their country on the Home Front?

In the week leading up to the Battle of the Somme, an extensive military bombardment was launched by the British and French allied forces. Over 1,700,000 shells were fired over the 7-day period. The objective was two-fold: firstly, to kill German forces and subject them to a shell-shocked chaos, and secondly to destroy the German barbed wire. It is said that the blasts could even be heard 300 miles away in Britain. This is just one example that shows how important artillery was to the British Army. However, how Britain had this many shells available to them could be questioned, and the answer lies with British women.

Following the Shell Crisis of 1915, the British Army was in desperate need of increased shell production. Setting up factories was not a problem, but with the majority of British men enrolled in the army, they needed a new workforce. David Lloyd George, who was appointed as head of the Ministry of Munitions, suggested women should take on the role. Many women, known as Munitionettes, jumped at the opportunity, for many reasons. Some felt it was their duty to serve for their country, some took on jobs to replace their husbands, and textile workers moved into the munitions industry for better working hours and pay. Over the course of the war, they proved invaluable, and an appropriate workforce during the crisis.

Women among the shells - Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum Woman pictured making shell cases, January 1915 - Photo courtesy of Getty Images

There were also 5 national shell factories set up around Ireland, particularly in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Waterford. This is lesser known among Irish people, but thousands of Irish women did in fact work in munitions. Perhaps the most famous Irish munitions factory was located in Parkgate Street, Dublin. It provided employment for many Irish women during the war. However, in 1921, it was severely damaged in a fire. The site is now occupied by “Hickey’s Fabrics”, and very little of the factory remains.

Scene from inside the National Shell factory located at Parkgate Street, Dublin. The wall reads "The man in the trenches wants shells - Irish shell"

It is clear that women played a huge role in the war, both directly and indirectly. It can be argued that, without women, the war might have lasted much longer and could’ve had a different outcome.

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