Stop 5: The Women of World War II monument, Whitehall

Directions

Carry on down Whitehall and in the centre of the road is a large black-coloured bronze memorial with ‘The Women of World War II’ written on the side of it. Several helmets and uniforms have been sculpted as if hanging from pegs around the outside. You do not need to cross the road to see the memorial, only stand where it is safe to do so.

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Audio guide

‘The Women of World War II’ monument

Remembering the 7 million women who contributed to the war effort by working in hundreds of vital jobs

This huge, bronze monument memorialises the women of World War II. It was unveiled in 2005 and the gold lettering on it is said to mimic the font of wartime ration books.

Around the outside, you can see 17 different sculpted uniforms and helmets. These uniforms represent hundreds of vital jobs undertaken by over 7 million women during the Second World War. However, when the war ended and the men returned to their jobs, women were forced to quietly hang up their uniforms and resign; they were expected to return to their lives before the war, often in more domestic roles.

Women’s contribution to both the First and Second World Wars have often been historically overlooked. Unlike men, most women were not on the front line, and instead worked on the land, they were called up to be mechanics, engineers, munitions workers and air raid wardens. Women drove buses and fire-engines.

However, there were over 640,000 women in the armed forces during World War II including the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS). Lilian Bader joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and trained to be an Instrument Repairer; in fact, she was one of the first women to qualify in that post. She became a Leading Aircraftwoman at RAF Shawbury and was then promoted to Acting Corporal.

Women like Georgina Masson, pictured below, joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) which was the women’s branch of the British army. Georgina, who was born in Oxford, travelled to Trinidad where she worked as a stenographer for Ford. However, she returned to Britain in 1943 to assist the war effort, and became the first black woman Officer in the ATS. Georgina can be seen holding a copy of Picture Post magazine which features her on the cover, dressed in her ATS uniform.

    Georgina Masson,    by Horace Ové,    2002,    NPG x126730,    © Horace Ové / National Portrait Gallery, London Georgina Masson, by Horace Ové, 2002

Have a close look at the memorial, can you see the ATS uniform? Which uniforms can you recognise on this memorial and which jobs might they represent?

To learn about the Second World War secret agent Noor Inayat Khan, make sure you do our Fitzrovia and Bloomsbury walking tour.

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Next Stop 6: Florence Nightingale statue, Waterloo Place > On to our next stop. She saved the lives of thousands of soldiers in the Crimean war and was the founder of modern nursing…can you guess who it is? A hint, she was known as ‘the lady with the lamp’…

< Previous Stop 4: Banqueting House, Whitehall