Queens of Machines: Special exhibition commemorates work of women during First World War

The work of women during the First World War is being commemorated in a special "Queens of the Machines" exhibition, which coincides with celebrations to mark the 100th anniversary of women getting the vote.

From munitionettes to tram conductresses, visitors to Beamish Museum can discover the contribution women made to the war effort, during the event, which runs from February 10 to 18.

The role of women changed dramatically during the First World War, with an estimated two million women replacing men in the workforce between 1914 and 1918.

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Sian Fox, community events Officer at Beamish, said: “Queens of the Machines, Women at War is going to be a brilliant event, we’re really excited to be sharing these stories.

“It’s important in this centenary year of the Representation of the People Act, which gave some women the right to vote, to commemorate women’s achievements during the First World War.

“You can learn about the different roles women played and how the war affected the people at home.

“There will be so much to see and do for visitors of all ages, we hope you can join us this February Half Term.”

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During Queens of Machines, visitors can discover the story of the women in munitions factories, including Rachel Parsons and the Parsons factory in Newcastle.

During the war, Rachel’s father, Charles Parsons, the inventor of the steam turbine engine, made her a director of the firm, to recruit and train the new female workers, and she joined the Ministry of Munitions.

In 1919, Rachel, along with her mother, Katharine, founded the Women’s Engineering Society, becoming its first president.

Visitors can also make their own model turbines in a recreated factory, welcome a soldier home from war at Rowley Station at 2pm each day, enjoy entertainment at the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) event, make flags, write postcards to The Front, take part in drills, hear from local experts, see First World War exhibitions and discover why the shelves are looking bare in the Co-op.

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Beamish has been working with community groups and schools to explore the roles of North East women during the First World War.

Wessington U3A Memorials Project, Heaton History Group, Women’s Health in South Tyneside (WHiST) and North East War Memorials Project are among those taking part in the event.

Women’s roles during the war included working in the munitions industry, tram and bus conductors, firefighters, postal workers, police officers, footballers, railway workers and fundraising.

Women joined organisations including the VAD, Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, Women’s Legion, Territorial Force Nursing Service, Women’s Hospital Corps, Women’s Volunteer Reserve, Women’s Auxiliary Force and Women’s Land Army.

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Sian added: “Before the First World War it tended to be only unmarried women who would work, with the vast majority working as domestic servants.

“During the war, women moved from domestic service into war work – it’s estimated that two million women replaced men in the workforce between 1914 to 1918.

“There were advantages to war work, compared to housework or domestic service, notably the companionship of other women and the decent rate of pay, although they were paid less than the men for the same work.”

Beamish is open from 10am to 4pm (last admission 3pm) and unlimited passes, which are valid for 12 months, can be used during February half term and all daytime events.

Visit www.beamish.org.uk for more information.