worthing history
 

© FREDDIE FEEST 2012

 
Women sign up for war
 
       
 
TODAY, equal rights for men and women is enshrined in law and firmly established in custom. In 1940 things were very different. If a woman could ever get the same job as a man, she was never paid as much – even though we were in the middle of World War Two and manpower was rapidly diminishing.    
The war turned out to be a catalyst for many changes between the sexes, but imagine what the gossips and scandalmongers made of what happened in Worthing in 1941 when some Worthing women were so eager to take-up a war job that they volunteered without telling their husbands!
     The immediate response was a rush of irate husbands to the Women’s Labour Exchange at Christ Church hall  (yes, even the Labour Exchanges were separated on a sex basis in those days) to demand that something be done to stop their wives going away.
     They were faced by an official who explained that as their wives had volunteered, it was a matter they must discuss between themselves and make a decision, adding: “If the woman wishes to change her mind we are always ready to make allowances.” Few did. Several hundred Worthing women who volunteered for war service that year showed a preference to serve as nurses. Their next preference was to join the WAAFs (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force).
      “Joining the Army (ATS) has not been so favoured,” reported a Labour Exchange official at the time. “I think they prefer the blue uniform of the Air Force and find the khaki of the ATS rather drab.”
 If, today, that remark might be considered flippant or condescending – if not downright offensive – I must add that a woman made it.