On the face of it the Second World War represented a more significant and formative phase for British women than the Great War. They entered it as citizens of their country for the first time, and as such could expect to be called upon to play a more equal part in the war effort than previously. Also the experience of the First World War meant that a number of the policies relevant to women were adopted more quickly or applied more extensively: rationing, the provision of milk and school meals, the establishment of day nurseries and the emergency hospital service. More importantly the political momentum behind such social measures ensured that they were largely sustained after the war. Finally, the military circumstances prevailing during 1939–45 were rather different. For much of the period the British effort was comparatively slight in quantitative terms as a consequence of Germany’s dramatic successes and the reluctance of the allies to engage them again on the European mainland. As a result the conflict turned quickly into a ‘People’s War’ which put women in the front line. Amongst the 130,000 civilians killed during the blitz there were no fewer than 63,000 women. Moreover, in industry Britain broke new ground as the first power to conscript its women for the war effort, a feat that neither Nazi Germany nor Stalinist Russia managed to emulate. About twice as many women were mobilised for industry and the services as in the First World War.
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