This excellent book is the latest offering in the University of Wales Presss splendid series Studies in Welsh History. This press has recently entered a notable period of reinvigoration, during which a wealth of new historical studies have been published. This flurry of activity must surely place it at the forefront of academic presses.
The Second World War continues to dominate in the historiography of modern Britain. Several television programmes, newspapers and magazine articles continue to be devoted to 'our finest hour' so much so that (especially when England play Germany at football) it appears to be an unhealthy obsession. But this thoroughly researched book is a welcome addition to the historiography of modern Wales. Dr Mari A Williams not only researches and recovers the lost world of her forgotten army, she also manages to place that army in its proper economic, social and historical context.
The extent of the forgotten army is extensive, stretching from Newport to Bridgend to Marchwiel and Rhyd-y-Mwyn in North Wales. In the Bridgend munitions works alone, at its peak, over 35,000 women found employment. By 1935, 55 per cent of all Welsh war workers were female the highest percentage of any area in Britain. In suburb and fascinating detail, enlivened by many interesting anecdotes, Dr Mari A. Williams outlines the social impact of these changes on the people of south Wales.
Despite the fact that the new employment opportunities provided a welcome relief from the years of distress and depression of the 1930s, not everyone was happy to acknowledge, let alone accept, the changes. Many refused to admit, despite overwhelming evidence, that women could be more than 'mams and maids'. The political process continued to shut out women and ignored their concerns. A paternalistic society refused to accept the reality of the situation that, in several families, women, often younger daughters, previously regarded as liabilities in a colliery society, were now the wage earners. But moralists expressed concern at the dangers of females entering the munitions factories, not in regard to their safety, but to the moral fabric of society.
The great strength of this book is the way in which personal testimony is used to examine, and challenge, the general experiences of society. One often had considerable sympathy for the plight of the ladies in the legions of Dr Williamss forgotten army. Blodwen Lloyd is one of several of these unsung heroines. After a gruelling eight-hour shift in the factory, she returned home to innumerable backbreaking chores helping her collier brother and sick sister, which kept her occupied until one in the morning. At five, she dragged herself from her barely warmed bed, and returned to the factory. In her own tired, worn out words she noted: 'Everything depends on me'.
This fascinating book explains how the war, an event that is traditionally regarded as the preserve of macho posturing and male heroism, also offered opportunities for the advancement and liberation of women. Despite contemporary insistence that these were special, temporary measures for desperate times, things had changed terribly and utterly, and would never be the same again.
It is possible to use this review for promotional purposes, but the following acknowledgement should be included: A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.
Gellir defnyddior adolygiad hwn at bwrpas hybu, ond gofynnir i chi gynnwys y gydnabyddiaeth ganlynol: Adolygiad oddi ar www.gwales.com, trwy ganiatâd Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru.