Books of Addiscombe
Addiscombe   Home   Heritage   Year 2006 Index   Feedback  

Were you a woman at work in World War Two ?

While passing under Waterloo Bridge during a cruise down the River Thames, the likelihood is that the famous arch will be described by riverboat pilots as the "Ladies" Bridge'. The moniker bestowed on the bridge by the navigators of London's great river is down to an acute manpower crisis on the home front. Just two years into the Second World War Ernest Bevin, minister of labour and national service, called upon the nation's women to help build, assemble and farm.

Now Concrete History, a group of historians and filmmakers, is trying to track down anyone who answered that call in order to record the remarkable stories of women's achievements during the war.

In 1941 Mr Bevin called on women to help in the war effort and introduced compulsory registration of women aged 19-40 for employment. As a result thousands flocked into heavy industry work and were employed in shipbuilding, engineering, aircraft manufacture and munitions.

However, it is less well known that by the middle of 1945 an estimated 24,000 women had entered the construction industry to work 'on the tools'. Labouring, painting, bricklaying, carpentry and driving cranes were all par for the course in order to carry out the essential work of building new factories and associated housing for workers in places remote from the threat of bombs. But the crucial labour work was not simply confined to rural areas. The centre of London played host to many major building projects, including the huge task of rebuilding Waterloo Bridge between 1939 and 1945.

Concrete History would like to speak with those who either worked on the bridge or on other construction projects along the Thames. They are also keen to hear from any of the many women whose war contribution was in construction as well as from those who lived nearby and saw the women at work.

Relatives and friends of the workers are also urged to come forward. Jo Wiser, producer of Concrete History, explained: "We have funding from the lottery to make a film and do workshops but would love some more exposure to reach out to the women who did this work and their family or friends in order to document this important piece of history before it is too late."

If you think you have a memory of construction work carried out by women during World War Two, however big or small, call Concrete History on 0207 771 9596 or email

Picture bottom right - Mrs P Dixon working as a carpenter on a construction site in Croydon. Concrete History is keen to hear from her, her family or anyone who knows anything about this particular job.

Last modified: 14th January 2013 - Copyright Canning and Clyde Residents Association
Content and Images may also be subject to copyright of other persons or organisations.