Teachers' notes

Curriculum links:

KS3 History: The First World War
KS4 History: The First World War

Aims of resource: 

To inform pupils of the work done by female munitions workers in WW1, the dangers they faced and the legacy of their achievements.

Learning objectives:

Knowledge of the work done by women in munitions factories during WW1
Understanding of the issues faced by munitions workers, from dangers to prejudice
Skills to analyse the significance of women’s war work and how it fitted into the wider events of WW1

Discussion ideas:

  • What sort of reasons do you think women had for choosing munitions work, rather than one of the other services?
  • What benefits might there have been for them? 
  • Do you feel working in a munitions factory was worth the risks associated with it?
  • Would you have wanted to work in a munitions factory? Why/why not?
  • Why do you think most of the women were paid less than male workers?
  • How do you think the munitions workers felt when they lost their jobs to make way for ex-soldiers?
  • Metal objects were banned from factories and women kept their hair covered in caps. What other safety measures do you think might have been taken or are used in modern factories today?
  • Why did the government stop newspapers from reporting stories of accidents?
  • How do you think the relatives of those killed in factory accidents felt about the stories being concealed during wartime?
  • Are there any jobs that you think women can’t or don’t do today?

Activity ideas:

Downloadable PDF worksheets are available (see Downloads below) exploring the roles women played at the Barnbow Factory and the individual stories of munitions workers there.
  • Research the story of a WW1 munitions factory: Find out more about a munitions factory within your own county, or perhaps one where you know a relative worked in WW1.
    - Search online for images of the factory
    - Look up what sort of documents and images are held in local archives.
    - Find out the following information: 
  1. How many people worked there?
  2. What did the factory make and how was that product used in the war?
  3. When did the factory open and close?
  4. Where there any accidents at the factory and if so, what happened?
  5. What sort of documents or images related to the factory might be in local archives?
  6. Are there any memorials to the factory?
  7. What is the site (land or building) used for today?

    Students could then use their research to design a poster about the factory, including the information they have uncovered. 
  • Munitionette in the hot seat: Starting with the teacher's example, different members of the class answer questions from the perspective of a female munitions worker in WW1. This could be varied to include male munitions workers and their responses to women working alongside them, or other members of the community, for instance a soldier whose wife is working in a factory.

  • Compare different primary sources: Look up British recruitment posters aiming to convince women to work in munitions factories (like those on the National Archives page linked to below). Compare the presentation of a munitions workers’ role with real photographs of women workers (use the links below, eg. The Guardian photo gallery).
    - How do the posters differ from the real images?
    - How effective do you think the posters are as recruitment devices?
    - Choose one or two images and describe how the women look and the type of work they are doing.
    - Considering what you know about munitions work, what do you think the posters leave out/conceal?
    - Which presentation of munitions work is more accurate?

View other relevant resources on My Learning or scroll down for a list of links and resources on this topic. 

Roll of honour listing the names of those killed in the explosion at the Barnbow Factory on 5th December 1916
Photograph showing women taking part in a fire practice at the Barnbow Munitions Factory in Leeds