Thursday, 18 August 2011

Article - First Women of Steel (Sheffield)

well done for supporting the campaign for a statue to the Women of Steel, who made an often forgotten contribution to the war effort between 1939 and 1945. However, campaigners should not forget the hundreds of women steelworkers who worked during World War One in conditions that were certainly far worse.

My grandmother, Phyllis White from Rawmarsh, was one of them.

As a teenager between 1916 and 1918, she travelled to Templeborough day after day to make shell casings. The work was hard and the air often filled with sulphurous fumes that affected the women’s lungs and coloured their skin yellow. They were sometimes known as ‘the canary girls’.

She rarely talked about those days but I suspect the emphysema that finally killed her was a legacy of that time.

If Sheffield erects a statue which exclusively recognises the women steelworkers of World War Two, it will, in my view, be an everlasting insult to the memory of the female workers of World War One.

Just because that generation is long gone doesn’t mean this city should overlook their vital contribution to the Allies’ victory in 1918.

In 2010, I corresponded with Andrew Skelton, the city’s Public Art Officer, on this matter. In reply, he said: “You are right to point out that women made a significant contribution to manufacture in Sheffield in both World Wars and you are justifiably proud of your grandmother’s contribution. As we envisage it the statue will commemorate both generations and the wider contribution of women to the war effort during both wars.”

And yet as the erection of the Women of Steel statue draws closer, it seems we remain in danger of cruelly ignoring the women steelworkers of World War One.

Neil Theasby, S11

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