Memorial Campaign for the Canary Girls

Women factory workers

Here at WES we often talk about the First World War as the catalyst for women working in engineering and foundation of the Society. Paving the way for today's engineers, the names of Lady Katharine Parsons, Dame Caroline Haslett, and Verena Holmes, are finding their way into the history books and are celebrated in building names and memorial plaques. 

However there are still many women who played their part in engineering history and risked their lives to help keep the country safe that are not yet celebrated. One such group were the Canary Girls, who are being recognised in a campaign to try and raise funds for a memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum. 

During the First World War, with the majority of men away fighting, millions of women were "called to arms" in industry. This was repeated again in the Second World War. Many women worked in hazardous munitions factories, the largest of these was HM Factory Gretna in Scotland, where 12,000 women worked.  Munitions work involved mixing explosives, and filling shells and bullets.  The shells were filled with a combination of trinitrotoluene (TNT) and cordite which was mixed by hand, and became known as "The Devil's Porridge".  Not only did both chemicals have the effect of causing ill health and turning the skin and hair yellow but there was the risk of injury or death due to explosions.  The women that worked in these conditions became known as Canary Girls.  

In the UK, there is no memorial recognising the contribution and sacrifice that these women made during both World Wars.  One woman, Sandra Gold-Wood is trying to change this and raise funds for a memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, the UK's year-round Centre for Remembrance.  To find out more about the campaign watch this video.