Women of Steel: The Feisty Factory Sisters Who Helped Win the War

Written by Michelle Rawlins
Review by Edward James

If you are looking for an exemplary piece of oral history, here it is.  Women of Steel is based on interviews with twenty women (or their families) who worked in the Sheffield steel works in WW2, and is told almost entirely in their own strong Yorkshire words.  The project arose from a campaign organised by the local newspaper which raised the money for a commemorative statue unveiled in Sheffield in 2016.

The pre-war steel industry in Sheffield was an all-male activity, although women had been employed briefly in WW1.  None of the women interviewed for the present book had previous industrial experience; some were school leavers, others domestic servants, shop workers or housewives.  Some volunteered, others were directed under the Direction of Labour regulations, all found the noise, heat, heavy machinery and long hours a challenge and all of them looked back on the experience in old age as the happiest time in their lives – the money, the camaraderie, the sense of purpose and the masculine attention.

I found the section on the readjustment to ‘normal’ life particularly interesting, especially the impact of wartime separations on family life.