By Trish Clinton
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War effort exhibition tells half of a powerful story

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Issue 2367
Women workers in a wartime factory
Women workers in a wartime factory

Coventry kept its hands busy and its head held high under the heavy bombing of the Blitz—as the city’s tourist attractions profusely and proudly reiterate.

So it’s no surprise that its Transport Museum is running an exhibition about the planes, tanks and armoured cars that Coventry produced. It also explores at length the role of women as workers.

It tells the story of the thousands who were suddenly brought into factories when the second National Service Act obligated all women between 20 and 30—later 50—to work.

But it glosses over the hardships of the situation. A whole cabinet is devoted to “women’s items” such as face powder and evening gloves. But there are only a few words on how women were uprooted and forced to move across Britain.

We see a vague replica of their makeshift hostels, but no word on how each dorm housed 14 people. 

When talking up the government’s new childcare facilities, the exhibition doesn’t say that supply was limited and wartime allowances could be taken away as soon as given.

The only comment on workers’ organisation accuses “some male workers and trade unions” of resisting the employment of women.

This conveniently misses out one of the first serious wartime disputes, about engineer apprentices, which included women workers’ from the Coventry munitions works alongside male workers.

This exhibition is charming in a casual way, and fairly child friendly. Vintage romanticism is in, so it should prove to be very popular.

But don’t take it at its word. I doubt any real woman worker from the time would recognise the scenes recreated here—and I very much doubt that’s an accident.

War Effort
Coventry Transport Museum
Free entry, until January 2014

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