[from 'Our Girls' 1916]
IF you wish to take a scenic view of women's work for the war, I ask you to stand with me at mid-day on London Bridge, the spot from which Macaulay's New Zealander is to contemplate the silent ruins of the Empire-city. Nothing on earth could be less like that than the scene before you. The surging mass of tumultuous traffic seems to be concerned almost entirely with the business of the war. Here is a woman in khaki, driving a motor lorry that is full of cotton bales for cordite. Here is a wagon full of large tins of cartridge cylinders and small ones of fuses. Here is a covered cart full of rolls of cloth, and another full of uniforms packed in bales. And here is a slip of a girl, on the front-board of a two-horse van, whistling her way through the heaving throng, with a ton or two of leather skins behind her which she is taking from the tanneries of Bermondsey to the railway station for Northampton, to be made into boots for soldiers.
On the river below the tide of war traffic is no less urgent. Barges, barges, barges, some tugged, some going by motor power, some under their own sail, coming down stream from the direction of the Houses of Parliament to where the grey walls of the Tower stand four-square against the eastern sky, some of them laden with milk and meat, others with planks to be made into shell-boxes near Dagenham Dock, and others with pit props for the trenches-bringing lacerating visions of denuded valleys, where blue bells were nodding under the shade of sycamores only a little while ago.
Or, better still, let us stand on West minster Bridge at midnight, where to Wordsworth's eye one early morning a century ago the " very houses seemed asleep, And all that mighty heart was lying still." The mighty heart is going with a bounding throb now, and I am by no means sure that the night-long activities of these red years of war do not make a yet more moving picture. Millions of women must be asleep in London by this time, but hundreds of thousands are at work-down there to the south-east, over the burrowings of the Borough, and through the interminable ways of the New and Old Kent Roads to Greenwich and Plumstead and Erith ; round to the south-west over Lambeth and Wands worth to Richmond and Farnham; up to the north-west over the scrambling reaches of Willesden to Amersham, and over the heights of Hampstead and High gate to the towns and villages along the Great North road, where a blazing Zeppelin fell the other day, and De Quincey's stage coach awakened the midnight echoes of 1815 with the triumphant bugle-blasts that were the first tidings of the victory of Waterloo. Standing on this central spot it is easy to imagine one can hear the hammering on thousands of anvils, and the hum and whirr of hundreds of thousands of lathes, at which women are working in the broad circle of greater London and the country round about.
It is a tremendous picture of war work such as the world has never before seen equalled in magnitude, and common justice requires that we should say that it is due in the first instance to the public spirit of the Captains of Industry (Generals of the King, as surely as any on the field, some leading their tens of thousands, others their twenties and thirties) who have submerged their private businesses in this malign but necessary business of the war as absolutely as the temple of Philae is submerged by the overwhelming waters of the Nile. Certain of them are said to be making fortunes. I know nothing about that. But I do know they are working for the nation as they never worked for themselves-going up to their factories by the workmen's train in the morning, snatching a hasty lunch on the edges of their desks, and rarely returning home until the night-shift has got under way at seven or eight o'clock. Nor can it be said that in encouraging Aaron's rod to swallow up all other rods they are preparing a lucrative future for their private enterprises. The fine inscription to Chatham on the monument in the Guild hall says he " made commerce flourish through war." But a few years were sufficient to change the country's view of that kind of prosperity, and none of us know what is to happen to the munition firms after the war is over.
The great and determining fact, how ever, of the war industry is the employment of women in it. There has been nothing like that in the history of the world, since the days when the bare footed and white-robed Northern women, as the ancient writers tell us, led their hosts on the long march to Italy " to dare with their men in war." We could see that the throb of the old heroic blood was in our women still when, a year and a. half ago, thirty thousand of them walked in procession through London, to ask to be allowed to do war-work-women of every class, the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated, the gently-born and the heavily-burdened, the woman with the delicate, spiritual face, and the woman with the face hardened by toil. They are in the factories now, five hundred thousand of them all over the country, a vast army of female soldiers, who stand for British womanhood.
But what took them there ? If they had gone into the Red Cross, or into the commissariat or clothing departments (woman's ancient domain) they would have seemed to take life's straightest road. But there is a natural antagonism between woman and war, and it is difficult to think of her as a maker of weapons of death. Battle is in the blood of man, and perhaps it is natural that he should settle his disputes with his fellow-man by the barbaric expedient of seeing which of them can kill most men. Although not naturally more inhuman than woman, he is capable of beating his drums and his kettle-drums over a battlefield covered with ten thousand dead, if only they are the enemy's dead. But woman is the life-giver, not the life-destroyer, and in her heart of hearts ten thousand slain, whether friend or foe, are ten thousand mothers' sons, each of them a man born of a woman and suckled at her breast. What, then, brings women into the munition factories ?
To find an answer to that question I must ask you to spend an hour with me in the office of a lady-superintendent when she is taking on hands. Here they come to " sign on," a various and talkative queue. Rose and Alice, and Annie and Mabel, the young woman who has left a home of comfort and luxury, the daughter of the mechanic, the girl out of domestic service, and perhaps the girl out of the slums. What are their names.?
Where do they live ? Are they married ?
If so, have they any children ? And why do they want to work at munitions? The first to reach the superintendent's table is a Girton girl with a grave face who thinks it her duty to her country to work in the factories. The next is a laughing young chit, whose patriotism, being more substantial, takes the form of her " fella " who has gone to the front, so she thinks she would like " to be doin' a bit o' what 'e does." The next is a young bride, who was married last week to a soldier on leave, and wishes to "keep 'er mind from worritin'." The next is a mother of two children, who says she cannot live and pay rent on her separation allowance. And the next is a woman with a mouth like a sear, who has lost her husband in the war, and " wants a chance to pay them back a bit."
We talk of the British Tommy and his unconquerable light-heartedness, as if he were a peculiar type, but the Cockney girl is Tommy's own sister, with the same humour, and the same tameless blood in her. Here she comes sailing into the superintendent's office, Tommy's sister, one of her many varieties, wearing a hat as big as a fish-basket, and with her pretty face painted red as the sun with rouge. Then follows a scene. " Helloa, what do you want ? " " Work, miss." " You couldn't work." " Couldn't I ? Just you try me, miss," and up goes the chin, with a curl of the saucy mouth. There is silence for a moment, and then the superintendent says, " Now that I look at you I don't think you would be a bad looking girl if you hadn't such a dirty face." " What ? Dirty fice ? Me ? "
" Yes, all that red stuff. And then that hat! "
" Is it as bad as all that, miss ? "
" Awful! Go and take it off and have a wash, and then perhaps we can do some thing."
Tommy's sister in the munition factories, like Tommy in the trenches, lives in the last moment, now joking, teasing, laughing and wriggling, and then fuming and flaming and weeping over her troubles as if the world were coming to an end. The lady-superintendent at one of the factories has contracted a habit of giving pocket-handkerchiefs to the girls who come to her with tears dripping down their noses. She has given away so many that her empty handkerchief-case is a source of amusement to her friends. It is also a cause of hilarity to the female workers. As often as a girl, who has gone off in a fury to "tell her strite," comes back to the canteen with a composed countenance, she is greeted with " Got a wipe ? " And then there are screams of laughter.
Tommy's sister usually brings a small leather bag into the factory, and if she allowed you to look into it you would probably find a penny novelette, or perhaps a lurid sevenpenny novel, a prodigious quantity of sweets, a tiny hand mirror and a powder-puff. The Cockney girl has often very beautiful hair, generally of a dark brown colour, with a glint of gold in it, and it goes grievously against her grain that to protect it from the clutches of pulleys and belts it has to be hidden under her cap. When the lady superintendent is in sight up it goes, every hair of it, and her face is as bare as a nun's; but the moment the superin tendent has turned her back down it comes in an instant, and her kiss-curls are twid dling over her temples.
Tommy's sister is proud of her leather bag, which is certainly a presentable possession which in its spruce freshness would put to shame at least fifty per cent. of the brief bags to be seen in the neighbourhood of the Temple. One of Tommy's little sisters (eleven years of age), having earned five shillings for her first week's work, was asked what she was going to do with her wages. "Buy a tashy case (attaché) like muvver's and Cissy's," she said.
Tommy's sister is just as courageous as Tommy himself, but when she gets her finger squeezed or cut in her lathe she likes her chum to sympathize with her and carry her off to the factory infirmary -often a fresh, sweet place, presided over by trained nurses, who dress slight wounds all day long and provide easy chairs and rest rooms for girls who are faint from charcoal fumes or sick from sniffs of some greenish compound. And though Alice and Annie and Rose are usually brave enough on the nights of air-raids, they sometimes have bouts of hysteria which have to be put down with an iron hand. One such operation was delight fully ludicrous. A forewoman at a great factory, having received notice of the coming of Zeppelins, removed her girls to the wash-room, where some of them began to cry. " Stop that," she cried, but the hysterical girls would not or could not stop. So she picked them up, one by one, and put them to sit in the wash basins that lined two sides of the room, and then called in a number of the men to look at them. The lights were switched on for a moment ; the weeping ones were seen leaning their backs against the walls and dangling their legs above the floor ; there was a general peal of laughter ; and then the girls were lifted down and the hysteria was gone.
Tommy's sister rather likes the air raid nights, however, because she is some times allowed to go out into the dark to look for the Zeppelins, and the men usually help her to find them. One lady superintendent was lately much exercised about the measure and the manner of the sympathy which on such occasions was proper to be expressed. " You know something about human nature, so tell me," she said, "one arm about a girl's waist, I don't see much harm in that, but when it comes to two. . . . What do you think ? "
Tommy's sister loves to bring her photographs to the factory-pictures of " Muvver " and " Dad " and of course " my fella at the front." She loves to get letters from the trenches, too, and is not above handing them round for general reading. " The weather is bad this month, and it will be a hard winter, but the summer is coming, and then this beastly scrap will be over, and I'll be home with my darling Annie." (" Darling Annie ! He do 'ave a sauce, don't he ? ") " We are living in a German gun-emplacement, and Fritz is shelling it with 8-inch stuff all day long, something silly. But never mind, old girl ! If a bullet or a shell has your name and number on it, you're a gone coon, it will be sure to hit you and put you out of worry ; but if it hasn't it won't, which just shows the army is a game of fate." (" Fite ? He don't know nothing, do he ? ")
But handing round her love-letters occasionally is the utmost limit of the sharing propensities of Tommy's sister, where her sweethearts are concerned. She can hardly ever be got to bring her boy in training to the clubs for recreation which the admirable Welfare Department of the Ministry of Munitions have established outside some of the factories. A lady-supervisor at such a club said recently to a group of munition girls, " I do believe your young men are all cross-eyed and bandy-legged, you are so afraid of letting them be seen. Mabel, why don't you bring yours ? " " Me bring my fella here ? " said Mabel. " Not me! I'd lose him." Gorgeous tribute to the superior attractions of her girl comrades! Or was it a scorching satire on the fickleness of men ?
Tommy's sister has sometimes, it must be confessed, got a heart like Hetty Sorrel's, as bright as a cherry and as hard as its stone. One day the lady-superin tendent of a great factory, having just parted from her brother on his departure for France, and feeling tender and sympathetic, chanced on a love-sick Australian boy at the gate of her factory. " Would you please tell Rose So-and-so I'm under orders to leave to-night, and ask her to come out to see me?" he said. The superintendent promised to do so, and finding Rose So-and-so told her there was
a young soldier waiting for her at the gate, and as there were only two hours left of the shift she might have them off to spend with him. Away went the girl in high glee, but seeing her emerge from the dressing-room a few minutes afterwards, the superintendent was surprised to observe a Canadian (not an Australian) badge on the lapel of her coat, and so waited for an explanation of the mystery. It came like a smack in the face from a wet clout on a clothes-line. Up sailed the girl until she came within sight of the woebegone figure at the gate, and then she stopped suddenly and said, " What ? Me lose two hours for that ? Not much! " And turning about she went bouncing back to her workshop.
Under the provisions of the Munitions Act a female munition worker may not pass from factory to factory without a proper discharge from her employer, saying that the change is necessary or desirable in the girl's interest. The only condition of the discharge that is generally agreeable to the employer is the medical condition. But Tommy's sister, having other reasons for desiring a change, some times does her best (when she is not troubled with too much conscience) to drive her coach and horses through the law. In one of the big factories there was, until recently, a young woman, with innocent eyes and a sloppy face, who, thinking she was not earning enough at munitions, had made up her mind to find other occupation. So she came to the office one morning with a most doleful face, and a pennyworth of crêpe pinned on to her hat, saying her mother had died during the night, leaving her with three young sisters, one of them a baby, and therefore she must ask for her discharge. " But what are you going to do ? " asked the superintendent. " I'm going to put Aggic and Ellen into a' orphanage," she said; " and then I'll have to stay at home to nurse the byby." As this did not sound plausible, a welfare supervisor was sent to the girl's home to inquire, and then it was found that the girl's mother was as well as ever she had been, Aggie and Ellen were going to school, and the baby did not exist.
But Tommy's sister is generally a girl with a heart of gold. When a comrade has bad news from the base hospitals, she whispers to her next neighbour, over the thud and rattle of the lathes, " Aggie's a-worryin' about 'er 'usband, he's wounded, pore thing." And when the telegram comes from the War Office saying Aggie's husband is dead, her chums make a collection to buy flowers to comfort her. It frequently happens that the munition girl is the sole support of her family, an invalid mother and perhaps two or three young children, and not rarely, when on the day-shift, she cleans up the house before starting out for the factory at six o'clock in the morning, and when on the night-shift, she gets up too frequently at three in the afternoon (equivalent to three in the morning) to do the shopping for the following day.
Tommy's sister is often a war-bride, having been married the day before her soldier was called up, and she frequently tells her chums in the canteen that when her " 'Arry comes back she won't be 'arf glad, not me!" But sometimes she is single and thinks it her duty to marry. One day lately in a North London factory a girl asked for a frugal hour off to get married in, and promised faithfully to return as soon as the ceremony was over. She returned all right, and she had been married too, but as her " fella had gone back on her," she had had to find another man in the meantime. " I said I was going to get married, and I couldn't disappoint the girls; could I?" she said.
Tommy's sister is vastly proud of her badge, the pretty, triangular brass ornament she wears on her coat. It is only given to her if she is working in a national or controlled factory (a grave mistake, it ought to be given to all women doing war work everywhere) and after a period of probation. In order to get safely over the period of probation she sometimes resorts to expedients that are equally humorous and pathetic. It is generally a condition of the greater factories that a girl shall not live at a greater distance from her work than she can travel in an hour. Knowing this, a quite astonishing proportion of the girls who apply at the Arsenal declare that they live in Woolwich. But at the end of two months, when they have proved their worth, and know they will not be dismissed, and have to go through a strict examination before receiving their badges, the number of " removals " they confess to would have been enough to employ all the pantechnicons in the district.
Tommy's sister (when she is a married woman) loves few things more than a good story, and hates nothing so much as the angular-looking maiden lady of uncertain age, with thin lips and a mouth like a slit, who lies in wait for her at the gate of her factory ; or calls on her at her home with the object of lecturing her on the imprudence of her early marriage, or perhaps the improvidence of having too many children. When she can indulge both passions at once, her time of rest after meals in the canteen is a period of rollicking joy. One of the most popular of the probably fabulous stories in some of the factories at the period of my tour was of a lady of something-and forty, aflame with patriotic fire, sweeping up in the street to a young munition foreman who was not wearing his badge, with the withering question, " Why aren't you carrying a white feather, sir ? " Whereupon the young foreman quickly replied, " And why aren't you carrying a war-baby, ma'am? "
Tommy's sister is as honest as the sun in big things, but in little ones she sometimes has her besetting weaknesses, and in the matter of boots and hats she is not always to be trusted. The munition factories, particularly the filling factories, where both boots and hats have to be changed, present peculiar temptations, and the dressing-rooms are always " a-askin' 'em to tyke things." One day lately a stormy party of girls swept into the office of a lady-superintendent to ask her to decide which of two claimants a certain hat belonged to. It was one of those little silk hats with a bow behind that are much worn by working girls at present. There were thousands like it in the factory. One of the girls produced a bill to prove that she had bought and paid for the hat. The other pointed to a piece of tape which she had sewn inside of it. The judgment of Solomon might have failed to say which was the rightful owner. After some deliberation, the superintendent gave her verdict in favour of the girl with the bill, and to a tumult of talk the girls went away. But the end was not yet. Going home in her little motor car a few minutes later the judge overtook the rival claimants and their relative sympathizers, walking on opposite sides of the thoroughfare, but now the lady of the tape was sailing along with the hat on her head, while the lady of the bill, with her hair hanging loose and disordered, was shouting across the street.
Tommy's sister in her factory has the battlefield not far away and often knows by very near approach the whole tragedy of war. There is a young woman in one of the great factories whose husband was a gunner in the Royal Field Artillery. Being very fond of her he used to send her a postcard every day. It was not always easy to do so, but he managed it by carrying his cards about with him, and in moments of lull behind the trenches, in the open gaps of shell craters or even resting in the mud of the roads, he would overscore the lines that did not apply, leaving the line saying he was well, and the other saying he would write soon, and then signing " Dick " at the bottom.
Every day the young wife had received her husband's cards, and even when the big push began there had rarely been more than a day's lapse in their delivery. But suddenly the cards ceased to arrive, and then came a telegram from the War Office saying that Gunner So-and-so, of such and-such a brigade of the R.F.A., had been killed in action.
It was a paralysing shock. Death in war, especially in a war like this, a war of shells, has a stupefying effect for which life has perhaps no parallel-being yet more stunning than death in Eastern countries, where you may dine with a friend one day and follow his funeral on the next. But there was just one ray of hope in this case. The number of the brigade was wrong. The War Office was appealed to and it found there were two gunners of the same name and initials in the R.F.A. The War Office would inquire, but the inquiry would take time, and the young wife must be patient. She tried to be, still cherishing another expectation. The postcards would begin to come again. There had been trouble in the Channel, and perhaps that had stopped them. But the days passed-three, four, five, six and nothing came to her. It was paralysing, this blank silence. To know that her husband was dead, and that they had buried him-that would have been so human, so comforting. But this dead stopping, this silence, it was like being plunged to the bottom of the sea, with all sound and hearing gone.
Then on the seventh day came great news from the War Office. There had been a mistake. Gunner So-and-so had suffered no casualty. It had been the other soldier of the same name who had been killed in action!
When they brought the telegram to the young woman in the workshop, and she had read it, she first flung her arms about her chum at the next lathe, and then went down on her knees in "the street " to thank God for being so good to her. All the girls gathered round and cried with her, and then they laughed, and then they laughed and cried at the same time and were very merry.
But then came war's worst tragedy its bitter, wretched, heartless, devilish cruelty. During the days of waiting some of the girls had discovered that the other Gunner So-and-so was the son of a woman who was working in the same shop and she was a widow. And now, with creep ing fear, they left the scene of the young wife's happiness and went over to where the old mother was working. They found her with her seamed face ashen, her parted lips quivering, and her glassy eyes with a barrage of unshed tears behind them. She, too, had had a telegram, and she was still holding it in her trem bling fingers. . . . O God, what demon invented war-what demon out of the depths of hell ?
The war has been full of surprises, and not more startling have been the surprises of the battlefield than the dramatic and even melodramatic incidents at home, which are fast putting a period to the tall talk of the people who say such things " do not happen." In one of the smaller London factories, where the female workers are relatively few (some three or four hundred), and therefore know all about each other's affairs, there is a story that seems well worth telling. It is of a girl named Lily Something, commonly called Lil. She was a delicate, fair haired little thing, only eighteen years of age, and before the war she had been, I think, a junior teacher in a neighbouring Council School. Lil's sweetheart had been William Somebody, commonly called Will, twenty years of age, a bookbinder in the factory (a bindery in pre-war days), and not quite out of his time. They had not meant to be married for a year or two, but the Military Service Act came, calling up unmarried men, so Will had joined up, been put into training for a short period, and then ordered to the front. A day or two before going Will had persuaded Lil that they ought to be married, and after he was gone, Lil, to keep herself from worrying, had applied for work at his factory, where they were now making the paper containers which, being charged with the explosives, are put into the shells.
The girls liked Lil, who was a little educated lady among them, though she gave herself no airs, and Lil liked the girls, partly because they had all known Will. Months passed, and Lil, being about to become a mother, was not turned off, as too often happens, but put to the light work of gauging and examining. At last she had to leave and a group of the girls took her home to the house of her mother, with whom she lived. The baby was born; it was a boy; and during the first days there was great happiness in Lil's home, and collections in the shop to buy bunches of flowers for her. But then came a thunderbolt-a message from the War Office that Private Will was " missing," probably dead. Nobody dare tell Lil ; she had had a bad time and was weak and it would kill her. And there she was, with her pretty pink and white face on the pillow, smiling like sunshine, and talking about Will and the baby. How he would love it ! And wasn't it like him? The living picture! As soon as ever the doctor would let her sit up she would write Will such a letter!
Lil's mother found it as much as she could bear to listen and be silent, and when the girls came in twos and threes (nobody dare trust herself alone) to see the baby, they soon had to find an excuse for running out of the room, lest they should blubber in the little mother's happy face. Thus a fortnight passed, and by that time Lil had conceived a great and wonderful scheme-to have her baby photographed by a photographer, whose studio was in the next street, so that she might post it to Will and give him a delightful surprise. Only she must take baby herself, and have it photographed in her lap, and for this purpose, as mother, having lodgers, could not leave the house, one of the girls must please go with her.
It was growing tragical in the factory.
Lil would have to be told some day, but it would be cruel to tell her yet. At last one of the girls agreed to go with Lil to the photographer's-a big, soft-hearted thing, Mabel, called " Mybel," working on the night-shift. On the day appointed she got up early in the afternoon and went round to Lil's house. It was like going to a funeral. There was the little mother in the back parlour, up and dressed, and baby was dressed too, and everything was arranged with the photographer, and after the photograph had been taken and printed (it was to be finished off in half an hour) and posted with the letter, they were to come back to tea. It was heart breaking.
But at that very moment there came a knock at the outside door. Lil's mother went to open it, and Private Will himself came marching through the lobby into the room !
When " Mybel," amid gusts of tears, told the story in the factory that night, the girls laughed and cried like children.
" Lil allus seemed to know 'e was alive and well, and when 'e came in sudden like it was a bit of orl right, I tell ye. And if ye'd seen 'er going down the street to the photographer's, 'oldin' on to Will's arm, and 'im carryin' the byby, she wasn't lookin' 'alf glad, was she ? "
Tommy's sister is " a proper kiddy," as Tommy himself would say, but it would not be right to put too much on her. We have to remember her sex and its perils, and her youth and its dangers. That is why the Ministry of Munitions have established a Welfare Department, whereof the object is to humanize the work of the women while they are in the factories, and to guard and guide their lives outside. Great numbers of girls come up from the country to work in the vast Arsenal at Woolwich, and hostels for their ac commodation have been opened in various parts of London. It must be admitted that Tommy's sister is not always " partial " to hostels, preferring the homeliest room that is her own in a labourer's cottage to the best-appointed apartment in an institution. Something may yet be done towards giving the girls themselves the management of these hostels and thus stripping the institutions of their institutionalism, but meantime they are doing good work.
Better still is the propaganda work of the scientific committees which, under the direction of the Ministry, are showing employers how selfish and shallow is the old doctrine that you have discharged your duty to your work-girls when you have paid their wages. On going through the munition factories I have found no thought more insistent than this-here are three thousand beautiful machines; the owner walking by my side is immensely proud of them ; the shining things are throbbing with a steady rhythmic hum that is music in his ears, and, naturally enough, he takes every possible care of them; yet there, standing by the side of one machine, is another machine of immeasurably greater beauty and complexity, capable of a millionfold more variety of usefulness that slight, seventeen-year-old girl who is working it. Shall he not take every care of this machine also ? Only Tommy's sister, but a bit of the human machinery that is the greatest wealth of the world.
Tommy's sister has her faults, of course she has ; God made her, as Mrs. Poyser says, to match her men, but she is wonderful, and war-work has done her good. Wholesome food, regular hours, healthy workshops, animated company, human discipline, and above all, the sense of being somebody of importance in the world, doing something of consequence, have made a better woman of her. In the long march of the centuries we see two general views of woman's relation to labour ; one that she should be the drudge, doing without reward or recognition all the meaner and lower forms of work; the other that she should be the parasite, doing no work at all, being kept from its supposed dangers for the protection of her maternal functions, or perhaps the preservation of her sexual attractions. Both are wrong, and both damnable, the one turning woman into the squaw, the other into the houri. Work, if it is right in kind and degree, is good for woman, and in this war the daughters of Britain seem to have found themselves. If, instead of five hundred thousand, there were a million of them at work in the factories, the British race would be the better for the next hundred years. Their work has increased their physical attractiveness, and it is not likely to lessen their fecundity. Doing a national service of immense importance has infused such a spirit of self-respect into British women as we have never known before. Earning substantial wages, and being free to marry or not to marry, as they please, has dealt a death-blow to that hoary old wickedness (prostitution in its various forms) which is based on the poverty of the woman and the wealth of the man. Let the German woman, in obedience to her imperial order, which imposes unbroken child-bearing upon her that the State may survive, be brought to bed not of a son but a Hun. The daughters of Britain are free women, worthy of the men they are fighting for. And when our soldiers come back, with their flags torn but triumphant, they can line up and salute them.
But when all is said, and we take a last survey of what we have seen in the vast munition factories of the London area, there remains the grim and perplexing paradox that women, being what they are, should be working there at all. We know what took them into the machine shops-the shortage of shells towards the end of the first year. But when we think of the "long procession" of horrors the war has produced, how the thousand industrial activities, which in times of peace are so dear to women because they make for our comfort and happiness, have been turned from their true channels into this black business of making shells, shells, and yet more shells; how thousands of millions of money have already been spent in the forging of barbaric forces which have only been blown into the air, leaving nothing behind but the wreckage of the homes which women have made beautiful; how the dear and precious lives, which women have produced in labour and fear, have been destroyed in the same devilish carnival; how women all over our own country are weeping the long nights through the scorching tears that will never be dried, for the sons they bore, the husbands who lay in their bosoms; and again, when we think that half the wealth we have been compelled to waste in this war, if it could have been spent in the enterprises of peace, in fighting down ignorance and disease, would have made our islands for the next hundred years just such a paradise as good women dream about, where no poor widow lies down uncomforted, and no orphan goes to bed hungry, and the cry of women and children is never heard-when we think of all this we ask ourselves, with quivering hearts, why we have ever allowed woman to take any part in this hellish if inevitable business, she, the giver of life, to be set to the making of the weapons of death!
Yet who shall say but that the uncon querable impulse of woman's sex which says " Thou shalt not kill " may be operating even here? Perhaps it was the greatest of all thoughts to bring woman into the war. No one with eyes to see and ears to hear, and a heart to feel, can go through the great munition factories without realizing that there is always thrilling through them a mysterious call to the battlefields, and that a kind of invisible hand-clasp is constantly being made between the women at the lathes and the men in the trenches. This mysterious call is the spirit of our race, the spirit that keeps it alive, telling our women, who are bearing within them the future of our nation, that our men are being destroyed out there in France their husbands who are, their husbands who are to be-and therefore they must kill if they would not be killed, or much worse than killed-left mateless and love less and barren.
That is why no woman wants a regicide peace,* much as she hates the war, and prays God to end it.
Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2018