More war work

Large numbers of women were employed in industry, agriculture and other areas of employment that had previously only been available to men. The three armed services, all of which had employed women in medical roles from the beginning of the war, began enlisting women for employment in non-combatant units in 1941. More than 65,000 women enlisted in the three services between 1941 and 1945 with others joining the Australian Women's Land Army and voluntary organisations.

The increased entry of women into war work had a significant impact on Australian society. Although many of them were encouraged to leave their wartime jobs in 1945-46 when the men returned, employment levels for women remained far higher than before 1939. Despite their new, if somewhat limited, opportunities, women were employed at much lower salaries than their male counterparts. Those who worked in industry were paid far less and there was little thought given to the workers' health and safety. Some of the women were called up ('manpowered') to work in essential wartime industries and others worked voluntarily.

Many of those who weren't able to participate in the paid labour force joined voluntary organisations such as the Australian Comforts Fund (ACF), the Australian Red Cross, the Country Women's Association (CWA) or just joined other members of their community contributing in some way towards the war effort. Comfort parcels were sent to the men both at the front, in hospitals and in POW camps in Europe and south-east Asia. Parcels contained essential items for morale and wellbeing such as food, tobacco, soap books, clothing and socks. Some volunteer organisations provided meals, accommodation and entertainment for men on leave or members visited servicemen in hospitals. Others formed local groups and met together to knit, sew, pack comfort parcels or anything else that would help the war.

Children and teenagers were also expected to do 'their bit' and many of them were 'recruited' for school holiday farm work. They were also involved in the collection of recyclable goods like rubber, paper and metal.

Tips for managing women – a document compiled for male supervisors during WW2

'Eleven tips on getting more efficiency out of women employees'

There's no longer any question whether transit companies should hire women for jobs formerly held by men. The draft and manpower shortage has settled that point. The important things now are to select the most efficient women available and how to use them to the best advantage. Here are eleven helpful tips on the subject from western Properties:

1. Pick young married women. They usually have more of a sense of responsibility than their unmarried sisters, they're less likely to be flirtatious, they need the work or they wouldn't be doing it, they still have the pep and interest to work hard and to deal with the public efficiently.

2. When you have to use older women, try to get ones who have worked outside the home at some time in their lives. Older women who have never contacted the public have a hard time adapting themselves and are inclined to be cantankerous and fussy. It's always well to impress upon older women the importance of friendliness and courtesy.

3. General experience indicates that "husky" girls – those who are just a little on the heavy side – are more even tempered and efficient than their underweight sisters.

4. Retain a physician to give each woman you hire a special physical examination – one covering female conditions. This step not only protects the property against the possibilities of lawsuit, but reveals whether the employee-to-be has any female weaknesses which would make her mentally or physically unfit for the job.

5. Stress at the outset the importance of time – the fact that a minute or two lost here and there makes serious inroads on schedules. Until this point is gotten across, service is likely to be slowed up.

6. Give the female employee a definite day-long schedule of duties so that they'll keep busy without bothering the management for instructions every few minutes. Numerous properties say that women make excellent workers when they have their jobs cut out for them, but lack initiative in finding work themselves.

7. Whenever possible, let the inside employee change from one job to another at some time during the day. Women are inclined to be less nervous and happier with change.

8. Give every girl an adequate number of rest periods during the day. You have to make some allowance for feminine psychology. A girl has more confidence and is more efficient if she can keep her hair tidied, apply fresh lipstick and wash her hands several times a day.

9. Be tactful when issuing instructions or in making criticisms. Women are often sensitive; they can't shrug off harsh words the way men do. Never ridicule a woman – it breaks her spirit and cuts her efficiency.

10. Be reasonably considerate about using strong language around women. Even though a girl's husband or father may swear vociferously, she'll grow to dislike a place of business where she hears too much of this.

11. Get enough size variety in operator's uniforms so that each girl can have a proper fit. This point can't be stressed too much in keeping women happy.

[An excerpt from Mass Transportation magazine, July 1943]

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this document reflect some of the contemporary views of the period.


Last updated: 11 February 2019

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2019), More war work, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 2 October 2022, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/wars-and-missions/world-war-ii-1939-1945/resources/all-australian-homefront-1939-1945/living-war/more-war-work
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