Thursday, 22 June 2017

Miss Violet Sedgwick just 21 years old and busy in a munitions factory ......... stories behind the book nu 16

An occasional series on the stories behind the new book on Manchester and the Great War*

Miss Violet Sedgwick, 1918
Now Miss Violet celebrated her 21st birthday on January 8 1918 and later the following month posed for this photograph at Gales Studios which had branches across the country from Glasgow to Manchester, Leeds to Sheffield and down as far as Bristol and Portsmouth.

I can’t be exactly clear that this is Miss Violet but her name appears on the back with the date of her birthday and the day the picture was taken along with her address.

I do know that she went on to marry William L Thompson in 1920 and she died in 1959.

It is just possible that when the picture was taken she was engaged to William and it may also be likely that she is wearing his regimental badge on her coat which was what wives and sweethearts did during the Great War.

I can’t quite make out the details of the badge but William was in the Pioneer Corps of the Royal Engineers and worked on the roads and quarries.

So maybe it is not too fanciful to suppose that back in the February of 1918 this very posed picture was meant for him.

Two from the munitions factory, date unknown
And I am guessing that she was a munitions worker mainly because the picture came with a batch from my friend David Harrop all of which were of munition girls and all from roughly the same period of the war.

Munition work was both hard and dangerous with the ever present threat from explosions and the real danger of being poisoned by the chemicals in the cordite and TNT.

So much so that women working with munitions ran the risk of discoloured hair and skin and were recommended seaside breaks to clear their systems.

In 1914 the Government had assumed that they would need to employ 10,000-15,000 women in factories which were to be ready in three months, but by the June of 1915 the number enrolled for munition work actually stood at 78,946.**

But despite the dangers and the very real need for women workers their pay was well below that of men engaged in similar work.

In March 1916 the Secretary of the Woman’s Interests Committee revealed that the average weekly wage in Manchester for an adult women working on munitions was under 14s which was third of what a man was paid. ***

That's the stuff to give 'm, date unknown
Not that this deterred women from working in the factories and many faced the dangers with a mix of bravado and stoicism as their contribution to winning the war.

So iit is fitting to pause and remember the work done by munition workers in factories across the country from Trafford Park down to the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich and pretty much everywhere in between.

Pictures; Miss Violet Sedgwick, 1918,  two munition workers, date unknown and picture postcard  from the collection of David Harrop 

*A new book on Manchester and the Great War, was published in Febrary, 2017

** Supply of Armament Labour , the Official History of the Ministry of Munitions Vol 1 Industrial Mobilisation, Naval and Military Press & the Imperial War Museum, 2009, Page 17

*** Correspondence, Manchester Guardian, January 21, 1916

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