Industry in War-time

The war economy transformed the working life of the nation. For almost every able man and woman who was not involved in active military service, there were public duties to perform in transportation, factories, at ports and on the land. The production of war-related aircraft, ships, armaments and defences was of paramount importance. The film Spitfire Components from 1941 presents men and women workers at a factory at Newbury who were engaged in the making of components for the RAF’s Supermarine Spitfire. Almost 20, 000 of these famous fighters were manufactured from 1938 to 1945. The raid on the Spitfire factory near Southampton in September 1940 during the Battle of Britain led to its manufacture being dispersed across the country to over sixty sites. This ensured that the production of Spitfires would continue during the war. This film is of one of these sites.

Relocation because of aerial bombardment also provides the context for the film of the Adderwell Works at Frome (1944). This company that was devoted to making of armaments had moved from Portsmouth in 1941 because of the bombing experienced by the city. These films have a very sharp and particular focus unlike Port of Destiny (1946) which was made immediately after the war and offers an intriguing history of the Southampton Docks from the 1920s to 1946. It chronicles their pre-war enlargement, air raid damage, D-Day preparations and immediate post-war reconstruction. It provides an important visual record of the Port and its war years.

Away from the ports and factories, life on the land was also changed by the war. It brought not only food shortages but also, given the many involved directly in the armed forces and the industries related to the war effort (such as the production of Spitfires), a serious shortage of agricultural labour. This was addressed by such initiatives as the establishment of the Women’s Land Army and the creation of Land Clubs. Start a Land Club (1942) introduces the latter. Its emphasis is on the need for men, women and children to give their labour to neighbouring farms throughout the year, especially during the harvesting of fruit and vegetables. Sheriff Hutton Agricultural and Rural Scenes (1944) offers a war-time view of a farming community in Yorkshire. Its unique feature is the presence of German Prisoners of War at work in the fields.

These films of industry during the war years document some of the many ways in which the lives of individuals and communities were changed by the war. This was especially true for women who were introduced to new occupations and responsibilities that were very different from traditional lives spent within the family home. For many of these same women, the end of the war marked their return to this domesticity.

The life of women during the Second World War is explored more fully in the Women's Role theme section on this site.