Category Archives: World War I

Women in Engineering

A generation of men fighting for their country, left a large gap in the British workforce and economy. Over a million British women stepped up to the challenge and took the chance to support their country by signing up for work in munitions factories, TNT manufacturing, or a civil service post.

Hunslet Engine Co , Stuart Turner and Co  and William Beardmore and Co were a few out of hundreds of companies  listed on Grace’s Guide, that took on women workers during the Great War, to relieve manufacturing and production demands.

Below is a gallery of photographs showing ‘Girl Workers in a William Beardmore and Co Munitions Factory’  from The Engineer journal September 3rd 1915. Read more in the editorial titled “The Employment of Women in Engineering Workshops” – September 03rd 1915, p 228.

"...Sir William Beardmore has looked far ahead and has treated the subject in a broad and statesmanlike manner. He has, in conjunction with his able staff, provided not only for the splendid output which the women workers are producing, but also for the creature comforts of his women workers, grasping the fact that enthusiasm, happiness and health are essential as a combination. These three together, made possible by the generous attitude of the firm, have largely helped toward the excellent results, of which Messrs. Beardmore may well be proud"

"The Employment of Women in Engineering Workshops" - September 03rd 1915, Editorial Article, p 228. 

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The sudden change in the woman’s role from a gentle domestic post in the home to occupations in the  loud, dirty and often dangerous factories and workplaces, stirred a mixture of worry and sense of caution with some , but with others, high spirits and positivity with a focus on winning the war. The founding of The Women’s Engineering Society in 1919 is just one example of an outcome founded from the effects of war and perhaps started to demonstrate the relaxing attitudes towards women’s capabilities in a male dominant industry.

“…It needs but the proper organisation to make the employment of women in engineering workshops during the stress of war demands a complete success, and it means the solution of the problem that faces us. In ordinary times such a change would not be contemplated, but these are not ordinary times, and, to put it bluntly, in order to end the war speedily women must be employed.”

“The Employment of Women in Engineering Workshops” - August 20th 1915, Editorial Article, p 181.

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“The Employment of Women on Munitions of War”, p 123

…it must be admitted on every side that taking it all round the dilution of skilled labour by women workers has been an unqualified success. The women have proved themselves wonderfully apt pupils, and though there are naturally variations in their mental as well as their physical capacities, yet the outputs which have been attained have been, on the average astonishingly good – much better, in fact, than even the staunchest supporters if the employment of women had ventured to predict.

“Women in Workshops”, p 133.

…”The dilution of labour in a very real sense is winning the war, and the more fully this fact is appreciated the greater will be our output and the sooner the end will come. Even now there are many employers who look askance at women workers. They cannot break away from old feelings and old traditions. They think women must be a nuisance in the shop and that their output will be low and the number of “wasters” high. That view must be broken down…”

Abstracts from Editorials in The Engineer Journal February 11th 1916.

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“The manner in which women have adopted themselves to the needs of the nation will never be forgotten. In the lighter shell shops, and even in those turning out quite heavy projectiles, they have worked, and are continuing to do so, as if it were their natural occupation.”

“Women Workers” – January 5th, 1917, Editorial Article, p 4.

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Rachel Parsons – A woman ahead of her time

Rachel Mary Parsons was an extraordinary woman, born ahead of her time into an illustrious family. She had a remarkable impact on women’s rights in the engineering world,  founding societies and well-known in the highest of social circles for her glittering parties and grand houses in London and Suffolk. Sadly, wartime sorrow and estrangement haunted her life until she met her tragic end.

She inherited the talents of her father, Charles Algernon Parsons, and shared his interest in the world of engineering, accompanying him aboard the Turbinia during trials and sailing with him aboard the Mauretania in 1909.  She was the first woman to read Mechanical Sciences at Cambridge University in 1910.

During the hardships of World War I, women were called to work in the munitions factories, replacing the men fighting on the front line. Taking on the role of director of the family’s Parsons Marine Steam Turbine Company, Rachel trained thousands of women assembling aeroplane components and making searchlight equipment to scan the skies for aircraft. As the supply of war materials became more and more urgent, Rachel trained more and more women to excel at intricate, physically demanding and highly important tasks, from installing electrical wiring on battleships, to working hydraulic presses.

See our previous blog on Women in Engineering

Parsons Women Labourers during WWI (ref: Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums)

Rachel had no intention of following the conventional path expected of a young lady. Inspired by her experiences and determined to prove her worth she, with the help of her mother, founded the Women’s Engineering Society and became its first president. She was a keen member of the Royal Institute of Great Britain, and in 1922 joined the London County Council standing as a candidate for the Conservatives the year after during a time when only two female MPs were in office.

Later life hampered her political ambitions and faded her career aspirations. She found renewed lifestyle and enjoyed her parent’s inheritance, throwing grand parties and attending horse races.

She eventually moved to Newmarket and bought a stud farm in the surrounding Suffolk countryside.

It was here she met a brutal end when she was struck down and murdered by a stable worker and ex-employee of hers. He escaped the death penalty when he was found guilty of man-slaughter in the face of unendurable provocation.

Her story, though with a terribly tragic end, tells one of a lady’s determination to succeed and prove herself in times of great challenge.

Read more about Rachel Parsons here:


Remembering The First World War

Armistice Day 11/11/2014

This day we pay our respects to the millions of people that lost their lives during the First World War.

“At five o’clock in the morning of November 11th the terms of an armistice were signed; at eleven o’clock of the same morning The Great War ended, for the armistice is peace in all but name. The country gave itself up to rejoicings which continued through the week. The four years’ war was over; the four years’ world – that new world that had lived for war – was at an end; a new era had begun…” 

From the Editorial ‘Peace’ in The Engineer Journal 1918/12/08, p 477.
Remembering The First World WarImage sourced from The Illustrated London News of 26th July 1919.

The First World War was different from any other war in previous human history. Starting as a conflict between a few countries in Europe, the repercussions were eventually felt on a worldwide scale and 28 nations from every continent were in conflict like never before. Armoured vehicles had been developed to cope with and enhance trench warfare. U-boats took to battle in the oceans and military aircraft were adapted to support ground operations and strategic bombing.

The Engineer holds many news articles and editorials about The First World War for engineering researchers and historians alike. We have recently sifted through the four years and three months between 1914 and 1918 and indexed the events, military reports and case studies for each journal.

The Engineer 1914-1918

See the Journals of 1914 – (Jan-Jun) (Jul-Dec)
See the Journals of 1915 – (Jan-Jun) (Jul-Dec)
See the Journals of 1916 – (Jan-Jun) (Jul-Dec)
See the Journals of 1917 – (Jan-Jun) (Jul-Dec)
See the Journals of 1918 – (Jan-Jun) (Jul-Dec)

See also our blog on Women in Engineering – and how women played a new role to help with the war efforts.