Just a fortnight into World War II, Merseyside and the nation heard the news that the government was drafting at least one million women into war work.
They would replace men called up for armed service in unskilled occupations ranging from bus conductors to processed food operatives – as well as doing vital work in munitions factories.
The women were sorely needed. From September 1940 to the end of 1941, the armed forces and Civil Defence units planned to increase their numbers by no less than 1.75 million men and 84,000 women.
Over the same period, the munitions industries needed to recruit a further 1.5 million people. Single women in the 19-24 age group were quickly called up to fill the shortfall.
A set of inspirational images from the Liverpool Echo archive shows how these women went to war on Merseyside from 1939 to 1945.
They ran mobile canteens, learned how to fire anti-aircraft guns, trained as firefighters, and laboured long hours in factories and workshops.
They became motor mechanics, pilots and ambulance drivers to aid the war effort as well as occupying critical public service roles.
In March 1941, Minister of Labour Ernest Bevin took things a stage further by introducing the Essential Work Order. This required all women aged from 18 to 50 to register for work in one of two categories – ‘mobile’ or ‘immobile’.
Women in the ‘immobile’ category could basically stay put in their homes. They would not be forced to do war work although they were welcome to volunteer.
These were women who were married or pregnant or had children under the age of 14 living with them.
The ‘mobile’ category included single and married women with no dependents. They could be ordered to work anywhere in the country.
In December 1941, the National Service Act allowed for the conscription of all single or widowed women aged from 19 to 30. They were given the options of working in industry, on the land or joining one of the women’s branches of the armed services.
The scheme was quickly extended to include women from the age of 18 to 51 as the conflict gathered pace.
On Merseyside, women dispensed much-needed sustenance and cheer in mobile canteens through the Liverpool Blitz from August 1940 up to May 1941 and beyond.
Around 4,000 people were killed on Merseyside during the bombing raids as the Luftwaffe targeted Liverpool as a vital strategic gateway to the Atlantic.
A powerful image from March 1941 shows a civil defence exercise in emergency food distribution at what is now Aintree University Hospital in Fazakerley.
Servicemen look on while cups of tea are handed out. One of the women being helped holds a doll to symbolise a mother and baby.
Later, in July 1942, the Liverpool Gas Company proudly unveiled the latest in mobile canteens. It was even equipped with loud speakers to tell residents how to save fuel.
The canteen toured Broadway, Norris Green, Freshfield and Speke dispensing refreshments as our photo illustrates.
A happy bunch of women bus conductors are pictured walking down a Liverpool street in July 1940, complete with pristine new uniforms, caps, badges and bags.
They were training to work for Liverpool Corporation Passenger Transport. It looks like their proud instructor is standing behind them.
Training of a different kind took place at Liverpool City Police Air Raid Precautions (ARP) School at the height of the Blitz in January 1941.
Women fire-fighters were taught how to use hose-reels and stirrup pumps to extinguish blazes started by bombs dropped on the city.
Members of the North West Liverpool Girls’ Training Corps learned all about anti-aircraft guns when they visited an ‘Ack-Ack’ site operated by women in September 1942.
The familiar term ‘Ack Ack’ came from the abbreviation of ‘anti-aircraft artillery’. The 3.7 inch calibre guns were huge affairs, taking 11 people to operate.
Rather than firing shells, servicewomen are busy producing cardboard cartons for the war effort in our image of a Royal Ordnance factory in the North West in November 1942.
Pictured are Private M. Webster and Private Elsie Bolton, both from Liverpool. The machine they’re operating was capable of producing 12,000 boxes a day.
Finally, an inspirational image shows four of the 600 Polish women who escaped from their occupied homeland to join the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF).
They’re striding down a Merseyside street in April 1944, smiling and saluting the photographer. Many of the Polish WAAFs hoped to be reunited with husbands or fathers already serving in this country.
*More fascinating wartime images of Merseyside feature in Clive Hardy’s latest hardback book, The Home Front – Britain 1939-45.
It’s now on the sale at the special price of £14.99 plus UK postage and packing.
Just go to inostalgia.co.uk/shop to order your book or call the order hotline on 01928 503777.