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Westwood Works 1903-2003

Westwood Works in World War 2

Women at War

WW1 Poster WW2 Poster

During both World Wars, many ladies worked in the factory whilst their men folk were away fighting for their country. The photograph of the WP&P factory in WW1, together with many of the illustrations in Sir Ivor Baker's book which he produced at the end of WW2 (see above), amply demonstrate the crucial part which women played in keeping the wheels of industry turning as welders, crane drivers and machinists, etc.

Pre-war, the number of employees was about 2,500 on a two-shift system. During WW2, the factory worked right round the clock but still needed a further 750 employees. Of these, most were women.

War work had its lighter moments; indeed, some ladies we have spoken to smile even now when looking back. Sometimes minor embarrassments arose as females entered what until then had been a male dominated environment. Mrs W. Harrold was employed as a cranedriver on the high crane above I J Bay in the Fitting Shop. Unfortunately, the ladder to the crane was sited just inside the entrance to the men's toilet - which was at that time positioned between the Machine Shop and the Fitting Shop. The Maintenance men hastily erected a small ladder to enable her to get onto the toilet roof to access the crane ladder higher up. Later, this ladder was moved to the other end of the Fitting Shop, outside the entrance to the General Stores."

Jim Deboo (then working in the Machine Shop) writes "A special reference must be made to the women who adjusted so quickly and efficiently to exacting work and long hours when compared with the shop and office work, nursing and dentistry from which they came. Their contribution was vital"

Queenie Gavin was a welder in the Plate Shop, pictured here with fellow welders Muriel ?, Kathleen ?, Joan ?, and Barbara ?. We understand that Tony Scarr's mother was also a welder in the Plate Shop.

Jim Deboo recalls that the women crane drivers were excellent - one especially named Ronnie. She worked in the heavy horizontal boring bay and could climb the steel ladder up to her cab faster than anyone else!

Alan Dann remembers Kath Morris, a rivet hotter in the Plate Shop and Ron Knight's wife who was a turret lathe operator in the Machine Shop. The "rivet hotter" heated rivets in a coke furnace until they started to spark, then used tongs to toss them into a bucket from which the "holder upper" placed them in holes for gun carriages for example, to be rivetted over.

Bert Slater worked with Mrs Garbutt and two other ladies in the Fitting Shop making recuperators for 25 Pounders. He also remembers Mary Cook working on a turret lathe

Miriam Fletcher (nee Rice), who began work at Westwood in 1934 recalls that at the beginning of the War:

"A notice appeared asking for operators for war work on the shopfloor. I applied, was accepted and signed on again on Monday morning as a payroll employee as opposed to salaried staff.

After a meeting, I was sent to one of the big engine lathes at the bottom of the steps leading to the Machine Shop. My foreman for 2 weeks of days was Jack Baxter followed by his son for two weeks of nights. Mr. Whiteman was my setter-up. I liked the work very much, most of my friends ended up on the turrets under Maurice Seago in Mr. Farmery's bay. Some of the work was commercial repairs but mostly we made parts for two pounders, Bofors, A.A. and 25 pounder guns.

It was through the latter that I met my husband. He was Bill Fletcher who came from Scunthorpe when he was made redundant from David Brown's in 1935. He was foreman of the Recuperator Bay, his opposite number being Russell Bullard. Towards the end of the war some men were returning, so most of the women were finished and the factory was getting back to normal."

We have been successful in identifying a number of the ladies who worked at Westwood during WW2. but it is suspected that this represents only a small percentage of the total:

Mrs Garbutt Fitting Shop Mary Waszak ??
Queenie Gavin Welder Mrs Watson Cutter Shop
Sybil Glaysher Fitting Shop Lil White Cranedriver
Edith Glithero (nee Walters) Machine Shop Iris Woodhouse Machinist
Celia Goodman Turret Operator Doris Woods Cutter Shop
Phylis Goodman Welder Kathleen Wright Cranedriver
Kathleen Hall Rivet Hotter Kathleen Welder
Miss Harris Cranedriver Barbara Welder
Mrs (Wally) Harrold Cranedriver Ronnie Cranedriver
Barbara Hyland Recuperator Bay Rose Inspection?
Ann Ingram Rivet Hotter Joan Inspection?
Vera Ellen King Lathe Operator Kathleen Inspection?
Mrs Knight Turret Operator Jean Inspection?
Dorothy Larman Turret Operator Jessie Steele Inspection?
Margaret Porteous Turret Operator    

We would love to hear from, or about, any other ladies who worked at Westwood during the War.

There must be many more stories about life in a man's world during the War. We would be very grateful to hear from anyone who may be able to add to the above memories.

Anne Smith informs us - "My Mum, Margaret Porteous, was a Turret Operator during WW2 and met my father at the works. His name was Leonard Blythe and he was a Turret Setter, before, during and after the war. I think he was also a Warden".

Mary Wilson worked at Westwood during WW2 but not for Baker Perkins. Together with 5-6 other girls, Mary worked for the Ministry of Supply, correlating orders for armaments under N.H. Harry who had joined Baker Perkins with the acquisition of the laundry machinery business, Aublet Harry, in 1924. (See also History of Baker Perkins in the Laundry Business).

It had been foreseen that obtaining materials in wartime conditions would be a significant problem and another employee of Aublet Harry, D.Y.B. Tanqueray, who had been made a director of Baker Perkins in 1935, was put in charge of a new Materials Control Department at Westwood and proved a brilliant success, so much so that the Ministry of Supply asked for his services and he was appointed Deputy Director of Weapon Production. He had that department running so smoothly by the end of 1943 that he was allowed to return to Peterborough. Unfortunately, His strength had been undermined and he died shortly afterwards.

On a much lighter note, Mary Wilson's husband, Jack, was with the RAF in Africa, on Sunderland flying boats. He remembers that Mr Harry liked feeding garden birds but couldn't get coconuts. Jack had access to an unlimited supply and would buy them in Africa, shave them, write Mr Harry's address on the shell, affix a stamp and they were always delivered (or so he says)!

Nora (Pearson) Sharpe left school at 14 to start work in Baker Perkins' machine shop office. Four years later, at the start of WW2, she found herself working on a lathe - "Doing my bit for the country". Despite the difficulties at the time, Nora has fond memories of her time at Baker Perkins and recalls working in the inspection room with Rose, Joan, Kath, Jean Bob and Jess.Her experiences goaded her to write a poem which appeared in the local newspaper:

We worked at night, we worked all day,
We had no time to stop and play.
Loved ones were fighting in the war,
When Hitler and Lord Haw Haw
Were doing their best to wear us down.
But did we fret and wear a frown,
Not on your life, we were a happy crowd
And of the guns we made, we were very proud.
The girls all left when peace finally came,
We all got married and changed our name
The years have simply flown away
It would be nice to meet one day.


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