Women in the Workforce in WWII

Who were the women who helped keep London moving during World War Two? What jobs did they do? And what response did they receive? Using original archival material from Transport for London's collection we will bring you a glimpse of their world

A crew of female volunteer firefighters at a firefighting efficiency competition (1943)TfL Corporate Archives

In October 1939 over 7000 male London Passenger Transport Board (LPTB) staff had enlisted into the armed services, putting huge pressure on the remaining workforce. Recruitment campaigns were quickly set up to find women to fill some of those vacancies

Miss Mabel Edna Notley, conductor, features on recruitment campaign poster (1941-05)TfL Corporate Archives

Recruitment

London needed female bus and tram conductors. The campaign asked for women between 21 and 35 but some of the first women to answer the call were those who had served in WWI

Article about Dot Wright the first woman to issue tickets at Walham Green Station (1946-1)TfL Corporate Archives

The first female recruits to begin work in May 1940 were station ticket clerks. Doris L Wright, recalled how little training and preparation was provided, describing herself as, ‘perfectly green [as] this was before the days of the Training School.’

Articles introducing the first 53 recruits to take to the road as bus conductors since 1919 (1940-07-24)TfL Corporate Archives

2 months later, on 24th July 1940, the first 53 female conductors since the end of WWI started work on London's buses and trams. They'd had 8 days training - 3 in the classroom and 5 aboard a bus

Report on a BBC programme about women's conductor's training broadcast to North America (1941-11)TfL Corporate Archives

Thousands of women passed through LPTB's training school, sitting through lectures, learning practical skills like how to use a ticket punch, and the importance of concise communication. In November 1941, the school and its pupils featured in a BBC broadcast to North America

Part of an Analysis by Grade of Women Employed in London Transport (1943-01)TfL Corporate Archives

The diversity of these roles is illustrated by statistics compiled in 1943. This report shows only a small number of women employed, in place of men, in miscellaneous railway jobs

Whereas the increase in the number of women employed on buses, tram and trolleybuses was in the thousands

Women learn to be booking clerks and railway porters (1945-11)TfL Corporate Archives

The school provided instruction for other occupations opened to the growing female workforce

Article on female underground train cleaners, 1941-03, From the collection of: TfL Corporate Archives
,
Article about women working as bill posters, 1941-12, From the collection of: TfL Corporate Archives
Show lessRead more

Women took on roles as depot inspectors, booking clerks, railway porters, sign writers, clock winders, engineers, track cleaners, plate layers, labourers and much more

Article about Mrs Dorothy McKenzie, the first female Driver (1941-05)TfL Corporate Archives

Dorothy McKenzie

Dorothy McKenzie became LPTB’s first driver, when on 9 April 1941 she started her job on the roads of Kent delivering bus timetables

Article about the first women to drive buses in London (1944-07)TfL Corporate Archives

1942 saw the first female bus drivers, although they weren't permitted to carry passengers

Article by Miss Ethel Mannin about the variety of roles undertake by Women at London Transport (1941-10)TfL Corporate Archives

The efforts and work of the women was lauded both at home and overseas. Interviews were taken, film footage was made, and foreign journalists wrote home in praise

Ethel Mannin, Journalist

“She saw women operating great steam hammers in the fierce heat of a smithy, she saw others de-greasing engine parts and, as a result, their arms sunk in thick grease up to the elbow.”

British Pathe Documentary about the Fluffies (1944-06-15)TfL Corporate Archives

Cleaning the tracks and tunnels

The nightly activities of the female track cleaning teams, known as the Fluffers or “Fluffies”, was so intriguing that a number of films were made. This one is from 1944 (2mins 25s)

Fluffer's brush used for cleaning work on the underground (1933 - 1947) by London Passenger Transport BoardLondon Transport Museum

Their job continues to fascinate people and In 2019 the current track cleaning team at Lille Bridge Depot were interviewed, and it seems the tools for the job aren't so different to 1944 

Night maintenance: a team of fluffers at work in a tunnel (December 1955) by Dr Heinz ZinramLondon Transport Museum

2019-03-07 Track Cleaning Team - overview
00:00

Modern Fluffing

This clip is from an interview with the modern track cleaning teams who do the same job as the "fluffers" featured in this story

By the end of the war there were over 16,500 women working in roles traditionally filled by men. 11,250 of the 18,000 bus and tram conductors, 950 of the 1,150 porters, 400 of the 1,100 booking clerks were women. Almost 3,000 were employed in the engineering departments.

Article about women's involvement in sports and recreation clubs (1941-06)TfL Corporate Archives

 

The volume of female staff had an impact on culture and working practices. 20 female welfare officers were appointed, and 'special' accommodation for women, including 75 rest rooms and 123 changing rooms, was provided

Aticle about new winter bus conductors' uniform (1941-12)TfL Corporate Archives

Women joined the company’s sports and social clubs, they were successful in getting a new trouser winter uniform designed, and there were childcare initiatives to release more women from domestic responsibilities to assist with war work  

Transport Nursery Scheme set up to look after 40 children (1943-06)TfL Corporate Archives

  

  

A farewell to her London Passenger Transport Board job from Norah Jacques, Booking Clerk (1945-09)TfL Corporate Archives

At the end of the War, the contribution of our female workforce was recognised, but as with the end of WWI there was an expectation that women would return to the domestic sphere and release jobs for returning husbands, fathers, brothers and sons

Photograph of a woman welder producing intricate small parts (1945-01)TfL Corporate Archives

The women who, without any experience of the Board’s work, left their normal occupations or, in so many cases, their homes to join the Board’s staff, made a major contribution to victory

Did you know? Women were largely responsible for building the parts for some of the Halifax Bombers? Learn more in our Did You Know We Built Planes? story.

Credits: Story

Story compiled by TfL using information in records at the Transport for London Corporate Archives. The Corporate Archives seeks to preserve and make accessible records, not to interpret them. A wider range of material is available for physical consultation.

Permission is granted to reproduce for personal and educational use only.

This story has been enhanced using a film from the British Pathe collection and images from the London Transport Museum. All enquiries regarding this material should be made directly to those organisations.   

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
A Journey Through Time
Embark on a quirky commute through TfL's history
View theme
Google apps