Role of Women

The First World War had a dramatic effect on the lives of British women. The scale of the conflict, the number of men called on to fight and the huge casualty rate, led women to take on many traditionally male roles. In July 1914 there were 3.2 million women in the British workforce; by January 1918 this had risen to 5 million.

Access to new employment opportunities and the level of responsibility afforded to women, gave them practical skills, economic freedom and a sense of personal independence that they had never had before.

Some of the changes were short-lived - many women were expected to give up their jobs and return to the traditional role of wife and mother once the war was over. However their practical support for the war effort led to a change in attitudes, which also resulted in lasting benefits. They were granted the right to vote in 1918 and were able to stand as M.Ps, there was improved access to education and different types of employment.

The women of Merton played a vital wartime role, leading recruitment drives, nursing, fundraising and taking on farming and industrial jobs, including munitions work. For more information, click on the links below:

The Suffragettes

Transport Work


For more details, see the Health and Welfare and Volunteer Aid Detachment sections.



Suppliers of gunpowder to the Crown since the seventeenth century, Pains Fireworks moved to Mitcham in 1872. The firm manufactured high quality fireworks for coronations and celebratory events all over the world. During the Great War, Pain's employed over 1000 workers, many of them local women, making Very lights, flares and munitions for the military.