Women on the home front
Women on the home front
We bring no glowing accolades. For us no cheers will start. Ours is a gift worth more than gold: a proud and steadfast heart.*
The first air raid on Brighton
The first air raid on Brighton during WWII was on 15th July 1940. It was damp and drizzly morning, when at 6am a lone Dornier aircraft dropped nine bombs hitting several houses in the Kemp Town area. The roofs were blown off and interiors, furniture and remnants of peoples’ lives were exposed. Yet despite this incident, and the debris of the bomb damaged houses, people went about their daily business. This epitomised the spirit of the town, and of the country. People were determined not to be beaten. People carried on.
Danger, fear, tension and stress
This is especially true of women on the home front. Danger, fear, tension and stress were part of daily life. Women worked extremely hard, managing work and home commitments, enduring emotional turbulence, fearing for their own safety and loved ones fighting elsewhere.
Contributed to the war effort
As well as fulfilling traditional domestic roles – feeding families despite food shortages, rationing, queuing for food, and ‘making do’ – women also contributed to the war effort, ‘doing their bit’ either by working or joining one of many voluntary organisations. From 1941 many women were conscripted into war service, working in industry, civil defence, transportation, community welfare or agriculture.
Women’s defence organisations
Local women’s civil defence organisations included the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) who worked on anti-aircraft and searchlight batteries. The Corps of Women Military Police (CWMP) undertook fire fighting duties. Many women joined the Women’s Auxiliary Police Corp (WAPC), or the Brighton Women’s Home Defence League. Initially women’s roles tended to be clerical or minor – for instance WAPC’s were not allowed to make arrests. However as more men went off to fight women’s responsibilities increased.
Helped feed the nation
The Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS) provided community support and welfare locally. The Red Cross organised parcels for troops and prisoners of war. The Women’s Land Army (‘land girls’) worked on Sussex farms and parks in the town were temporarily turned into farmland to increase crop production to feed the nation.
The Navy, Army and Air Force Institute
The NAAFI and WVS ran canteens and provided mobile emergency catering at bombsites. Along the coast women in the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) initially stayed in port, but were eventually taught engineering skills and given more important duties.
Very few received official recognition
Women played important roles during the war but very few received official recognition afterwards. Many found it hard, or were unwilling, to return to their pre-war domestic lives, having attained responsibility and respect in their new roles. Women in Brighton and Hove were no exception, contributing significantly to the on-going safety and well being of the local population.
*Hilda Kaye Gibson