Women in workforce during WWII

A DigitalNZ Story by Zokoroa

Women working at 'men's' work during WWII in the homefront and overseas was a turning point in social equality.

Women, WWII, War World War 2, World War Two, occupations, work, jobs, equality, equal pay, land girls, homefront, military, army, navy, air force

During World War II women worked at 'men's' work to free up over 200,000 men to serve in the armed forces. They were encouraged to "do their bit" for the war effort - from manufacturing uniforms, equipment and weaponry; to working in factories and on farms, trams and the railways. They also served in the Air Force, Army and Navy in Europe and the Pacific. Whereas in September 1939 the female labour force was estimated at 180,000, by December 1943 there were 228,000 women employed at the homefront and 8000 in the armed forces.  (See NZETC: No easy victory)

WAR years: SOCIAL TURNING POINT

New occupations for women:

The war years were a social turning point for women in the work force. There were opportunities for new forms of employment traditionally carried out by men. Prior to the war, women's occupations included shop assistants, clerical work, nursing, school teaching and "domestic work". With the outbreak of war, they were also needed to carry out work in the farming, manufacturing, engineering, weaponry and transport industries; and serve in the military. 

Woman welding

Alexander Turnbull Library

MARRIED WOMEN WORKING:

On becoming married, women had tended to leave the workforce. With the increasing demand for female labour to fill job vacancies left by servicemen, changes took place in traditional attitudes to the family and domestic life. Initially married women were exempted from being required to work, but by the end of 1943 they were required to register. Only mothers with children under the age of 16 were exempt unless they had access to childcare. Between 1936 and 1945, the proportion of married women in paid employment rose from 8.5 to 17.2 percent.  (See NZETC: No easy victory)  

Married and single women joined the Women's War Service Auxiliary Transport volunteers, Trentham Camp.

Women's War Service Auxiliary Transport volunteers, Trentham Camp.

Upper Hutt City Library

beginnings of equal pay:

Women were invariably paid less than men. In October 1942 minimum weekly rates were fixed at £5 10s for men and £2 17s 6d for women. However, the question of equal working conditions was raised in some occupations, leading women to become actively involved in employee organisations.  For example, in 1942 the New Zealand National Tramways Union won equal pay for women who had been appointed as tram conductors following a shortage of men.  (See NZHistory)

Tram conductors

From 1942 women were employed as tram conductors and the employers wanted to pay lower wages than men.

FIRST WOMEN TRAM CONDUCTORS IN DUNEDIN

Auckland Libraries

1st union to win equal pay

The New Zealand National Tramways Union (formed in 1939) argued for and won equal pay for equal work in 1942.

Women tram conductors, taking tickets

Alexander Turnbull Library

Woman tram driver placing trolley pole on wire

Woman tram driver placing the tram pole on the wire

Alexander Turnbull Library

Homefront 

VoluNteer Workers:

The Women’s War Service Auxiliary (WWSA) was established in August 1940 to co-ordinate NZ women volunteering for work. Its main function was to co-ordinate nationally the activities of women’s organisations and to work in collaboration with the Department of National Service. 

Women's War Service Auxiliary (WWSA)

Established in August 1940 to co-ordinate activities carried out by women for the war effort.

badge, membership

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

Duties included: Signallers, Transport, Canteen, Ambulance, Clerical, Camouflage net-making & Anti-aircraft handling.

Register of Duties, W.W.S.A., Mataura Branch

Mataura Museum

The Auxiliary fielded enquiries and kept a register to organise volunteer groups.

THE WOMEN'S PART: INQUIRIES REGARDING AUXILIARY SERVICE

Auckland Libraries

Women factory workers transported by bus to work.

[A bus load of women factory workers]

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

'MAN-POWERED' workers: Jan 1942-June 1946:

In January 1942, the Government passed the Industrial Man-power Regulations whereby men and women could be directed where they were needed in essential industries and occupations. Men and women were required to register at the local Man-power Office, which was a branch of the National Service Department. By the end of March 1944, 147,000 women were registered for employment. The Government continued to 'manpower" people into jobs until June 1946. (See NZHistory).  

Industrial Man-power Regulations, 1942

Men and women were required to register at the local Man-power Office of the National Service Dept.

Measures of man-power control in New Zealand

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

147,000 women registered in essential industries by end of March 1944

Included: munitions, power supply, shipping, food processing, sawmilling, mines, railways, clothing, footwear. hospitals

WWII munitions factory in Hamilton East

DigitalNZ

Age criteria for women to sign up (married women exempted until end 1943)

Aged 20-21 (1942); 19-21 (Feb 1943); 19-40 (1944). Exempted if had children under 16 yrs, unless had childcare.

Power presses handled by women in operations at a factory producing war materials.

Auckland Libraries

Range of HOMEFRONT occupations

There were more women employed in jobs "where previously there had been few or none, such as in the Public Service, banks, Post and Telegraph, railways, trams, engineering, canneries, farms, flax and rubber mills and driving work". In addition, women acted as "substitutes for men—on milk rounds, as hotel porters, zoo attendants, on domestic meter reading, trucking fruit and vegetables to city markets, scientific work, joinery, brick works, delivering coal, announcing trains at stations, and one even became radio officer on the Cook Strait ferry Tamahine". (See NZETC: The Home front, V2). 

Military uniforms, equipment & Weaponry:

Working on military helmets

Two unidentified women working on military helmets during World War 2

Alexander Turnbull Library

Sorting through shelves full to the brim with boots and shoes

World War II

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Loading baskets with canteen corks

Women loading baskets with canteen corks - World War II production

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Electroplating army canteen bottles

Women electroplating army canteen bottles - World War II

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Making camouflage nets

Group of Women's War Service Auxiliary making camouflage nets WW2

Dunedin Public Libraries

Girl Guides making camouflage nets

Women's war service in New Zealand

Alexander Turnbull Library

FacTories; Industrial:

 A description of working life in a clothing factories is recounted in this Otago Daily Times article "When it was all women's work (24 April 2008) 

Using drill press

Woman working a drill press

Alexander Turnbull Library

Working metal punches

Women working metal punches - World War II production

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Measuring screw gauges in the metrology room at the Dominion Physical Laboratory

Anthea Abercrombie working in the Dominion Physical Laboratory in Gracefield, Lower Hutt, Wellington

Alexander Turnbull Library

Food Production industries:

Picking peaches for Watties

Women picking peaches for Watties, Hawke's Bay

Alexander Turnbull Library

Canning peaches at Watties factory

Women canning peaches at the Wattie's factory in Hastings

Alexander Turnbull Library

Food dehydration plant in Pukekohe

Women working in a food dehydration plant in Pukekohe during World War II

Alexander Turnbull Library

Postal, railways, tramways, Ferries:

First postwomen in Upper Hutt (1944)

Post Office; first postwomen in Upper Hutt, at the back door of the Post Office.

Upper Hutt City Library

Delivering mail bags for Post and Telegraph Dpt

Women from the Post and Telegraph Department lifting mail bags - Photograph taken by Government Film Studios

Alexander Turnbull Library

Working on tramway tracks

Women working for Wellington Tramways - Photograph taken by C P S Boyer

Alexander Turnbull Library

Radio officer on the Cook Strait ferry Tamahine.

COOK STRAIT FERRY STEAMER PASSES THROUGH TORY CHANNEL, ENTRANCE TO MARLBOROUGH SOUNDS

Auckland Libraries

Hostesses, NZ Railways.

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

Transport services:

Women's War Service Auxiliary Transport Unit

Women's War Service Auxiliary Transport unit members, 1941.

Upper Hutt City Library

Auxiliary Transport uniform

uniform

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

Clerical / Office:

Office signs read: "Important. Black-out restrictions. No lights are to be switched on in Front Offices after dark."

Office and workers, during World War II

Alexander Turnbull Library

Y.W.C.A. Wartime Business Office

Y.W.C.A. Wartime Business Office, Auckland

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

Women and men working at office desks

Office interior and workers

Alexander Turnbull Library

Government Printing Office reunion 1994

120 women worked at folding machines, hand-collating telephone directories, & folding Hansard & Parliamentary bills.

Government Printing Office; World War II women's reunion.

Upper Hutt City Library

Women's Land Service:

The Women's Land Service was the largest of the women's war services in NZ during WWII -  2,711 land girls were placed on farms, and hundreds more served unofficially on family farms, totalling 2,963 different farms (see Te Papa).  

Sheepfarming

Moving sheep

Land girls moving sheep, Mangaorapa, Hawke's Bay

Alexander Turnbull Library

Shearing a sheep

[Portrait of woman shearing a sheep]

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

Handling shorn wool

[Four women in paddock holding piles of sheared wool]

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

Breakfasting on sheep farm

Land girls having breakfast, Mangaorapa, Hawke's Bay

Alexander Turnbull Library

Haymaking team

Women working on Farm During World War II, Palmerston North

Palmerston North City Library

Riding horse-drawn hay baler

[Woman riding horse drawn hay baler]

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

Linen flax

Driving tractor when working with linen flax

A female linen flax worker driving a tractor in Geraldine

Alexander Turnbull Library

Stacking linen flax

Woman stacking linen flax in Geraldine

Alexander Turnbull Library

Digging trenches

Women's war service in New Zealand

Alexander Turnbull Library

Filling sandbags

ISLINGTON WOMEN VOLUNTEERS FILLING SANDBAGS

Auckland Libraries

Vegetable gardening

Maori workers at a Services vegetable production project

Alexander Turnbull Library

Planting garden

Women planting a garden in Wellington, during World War II

Alexander Turnbull Library

Women's Service League bagging potatoes. (Each paid 1s 3d an hour for a parcel fund for servicemen overseas.)

Women's Service League bagging potatoes, Opiki

Palmerston North City Library

Grading apples

Grading apples, Nelson region

Alexander Turnbull Library

Land Service Handbook of Information

New Zealand Women’s Land Service Handbook of Information

Palmerston North City Library

Land Girls

Radio New Zealand

Memories of service: Women’s Land Service

Memories of Service 5 - Joan Butland

NZ On Screen

Land Girls

Radio New Zealand

The land girls : in a man's world, 1939-1946

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

Women's Land Service reunion held in April 1981 which marked the 35th anniversary of the disbandment of the WLS.

Women's Land Service reunion

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Red Cross & emergency services:

 New Zealand Red Cross and the Order of St John created the Joint Council to provide services during World War II.   Between 1941 and 1946, 1,139,624 food and clothing parcels were packed by volunteers and sent overseas.   The Red Cross also staffed Medical Units and provided supplies to three hospital ships -  the “Maunganui”, “Oranje” and the “Somersetshire”.    (See New Z ealand Red Cross.)

NZ Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurses at maternity home

Voluntary Aid Detachment nurses holding infants at the Alexandra Maternity Home in Wellington

Alexander Turnbull Library

Members of the Order of St John demonstrating first aid.

Members of the Order of St John demonstrating first aid

Alexander Turnbull Library

Emergency Precautions Scheme (EPS)

E P S team practicing first aid

Alexander Turnbull Library

Volunteer workers for Prisoners of War & ALLIES:

Volunteer workers at Prisoners of War Enquiry Office, Wellington.

Women packing parcels for New Zealand prisoners of war

Alexander Turnbull Library

Overseas Seamen's Gift Committee packing items for NZ merchent seamen.

Women of the Overseas Seamen's Gift Committe packing items for New Zealand merchant seamen during World War II

Alexander Turnbull Library

Polish Army League (Palmerston North)) formed to 'extend a hand of friendship' to Polish soldiers fighting for allies.

Polish Army league with gift parcels for Polish soldiers

Palmerston North City Library

Parcels packed by the Patriotic Fund.

Parcels packed by the Patriotic Fund for soldiers overseas during World War 2

Alexander Turnbull Library

Entertainers:

Schools - Teachers; dental nurses:

Teacher and pupils at Polish refugee camp

Mrs K Skwaiko watches her pupils study in the boys' classroom at a Polish refugee camp, Pahiatua

Alexander Turnbull Library

Trainee physical education instructors

Female trainee physical education instructors exercising, Hutt Valley, Wellington

Alexander Turnbull Library

Kindergarten notice at door: "Open to children of parents engaged in work of national importance".

Women and children at the Wellington Free Kindergarten

Alexander Turnbull Library

School dental nurse

School dental nurse and patient

Alexander Turnbull Library

Parenting and household:

Women exempted under 'Manpowering Regulations' if had children under 16 yrs, unless had childcare available.

[Portrait of woman holding baby]

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

Frontline - Military forces

Recruitment of women for the military service was on a voluntary basis.The first women's service to be established was New Zealand Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAFs), which was founded in January 1941. The W.W.S.A. handled the applications to enter the WAAFs and later controlled recruitment for the other two Services - the Navy WRNZS and the Army WAACs.  A small number of these women were posted to service in Europe and the Pacific. 

NZRSA Women's Section

The NZRSA was formed in 1916 & the Women's section in 1941.

badge, membership

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

Initially, these women undertook domestic or clerical jobs in the Services, working as shorthand typists, clerks, cooks and mess assistants. Gradually, they began to carry out sa range of tasks which were of a broader military nature -  signalling and artillery branches as wireless operators, range-finders, searchlight operators and in anti-aircraft batteries.  

The three most senior NZ servicewomen

Kitty Kain, superintendent WAAF; Vida Jowett, chief commander WAAC; Ruth Herrick, director WRENS.

Kitty Kain, Vida Jowett and Ruth Herrick (from left)

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

SECRET SERVICE:

WAAF - Air Force:

The Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) was formed on 16 January 1941, to enable the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) to release more men for overseas service. The women served as wireless, radar and teleprinter operators, parachute packers, equipment assistants, medical orderlies and vehicle drivers on air force bases. When the WAAF officially joined the RNZAF in 1942, the women held ranks equivalent to those of men. More than 100 achieved commissioned officer rank, mainly in encoding and decoding work and administration. (See NZHistory)  

WAAF founded in January 1941

WAAF Booklet

Archives New Zealand Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga

National Film Unit: Role of women in the Air Force (1942)

Behind Our Planes

NZ On Screen

WRENS - Women's Royal New Zealand NAVAL SERVICE:  

WAAC - Women's Auxiliary Army Corps: 

By April 1944 more than three thousand women were serving in the W.A.A.C. in New Zealand and 733 overseas, of whom some 200 were in the Pacific (See NZETC). Some served in the signalling and artillery branches as wireless operators, range-finders, searchlight operators and anti-aircraft batteries. Others were truck drivers and assisted in the canteen huts cooking, cleaning and serving servicemen.     

Women's Auxiliary Army Corps formed in Feb 1942

Women's Army Auxiliary Corps

Alexander Turnbull Library

Women's Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC) badge

badge, regimental

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

NZ nurses & Ambulance drivers:

NZ Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) workers at 2 NZ General Hospital at Kantara, Egypt

Group of NZ VADs at 2 NZ General Hospital, Egypt, World War II - Photograph taken by W Timmins

Alexander Turnbull Library

badge, nursing

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

TUIS -  NZ ForceS Club workers:

Acknowledgement of women workers

For a full list and description of war medals, see New Zealand Defence Force. For a list of recipients of the New Zealand Army Service Nursing (NZANS), see New Zealand military nursing.

Sister Marguerite King's medals

Sister Marguerite King's medals..

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Major Iris Frazer's medals

medal, campaign

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

War Medal 1939-45

Awarded across British Commonwealth to all Armed Forces for 28 days service between 3 Sept 1939 - 2 Sept 1945

medal, campaign

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

New Zealand War Service Medal

Awarded for 28 days full time or six months part-time service between 3 Sept 1939 - 2 Sept 1945

medal, campaign

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

Defence Medal

Awarded to former and current members of the New Zealand Defence Force, for qualifying service since 3 Sept 1945.

medal, campaign

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

'The 1939-1945 Star'

Usually awarded for six months (180 days) service in specified operational area.

medal, campaign

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

Pacific Star

For operational service in the Pacific between 8 Dec 1941 and 2 Sept 1945.

medal, campaign

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

Africa Star

Awarded for service in North Africa between 10 June 1940 and 12 May 1943.

medal, campaign

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

Atlantic Star

For Battle of the Atlantic - 6 months naval service, or 4 months air service, in Atlantic or UK or North Russian waters

medal, campaign

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

Burma Star

Awarded for service in the Burma campaign from 11 December 1941 to 2 September 1945.

medal, campaign

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

Italy Star

Awarded for operational service in Italy and adjacent countries between 11 June 1943 and 8 May 1945.

medal, campaign

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

Memorial Cross

Awarded to next of kin of women killed while on war or operational service, or who subsequently died of wounds.

medal, commemorative

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

Royal Red Cross 2nd Class (ARRC) awarded to Charge sister Amy Ker

medal, decoration

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

Jean Begg awarded MBE (1942), OBE (1944) & CBE (1944) for war services

In 1940 appointed Director of British YWCA’s war services & organised welfare for liberated POWs in 1945

medal, order

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

NZ Red Cross Service Medal - VAD

medal, service

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

DOCUMENTARIES & BOOKS 

War stories: Gaylene Preston documentary

Seven elderly women recall their personal experiences of World War II.

War Stories

NZ On Screen

National Film Unit promotional film, 1941

A promotional film from National Film Unit about New Zealand women's contribution to the war effort

Women at War

Archives New Zealand Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga

Illuminate: Women in war

Illuminate: Women in War - Film Projections at Auckland Museum

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

Memories of service 2: Compilation

Compilation - Memories of Service 2

NZ On Screen

Memories of service 3: Compilation

Compilation - Memories of Service 5

NZ On Screen

Memories of service 4: Compilation

Compilation - Memories of Service 4

NZ On Screen

The Years Back - 7: The Women's War

The Years Back - 7, The Women's War (Episode Seven)

NZ On Screen

New Zealand Home Front: Filmed scenes during 1943

NEW ZEALAND HOME FRONT

Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

(This DigitalNZ story was created in 2019)