Women at War

mrs. wherton, a sainsburys factory hand at blackfriars, in ats uniform, 1942.
Mrs. Wherton, a Sainsburys factory hand at Blackfriars, in ATS uniform, 1942. 38Kb.

A second recruitment drive was undertaken in the spring of 1940 when many of the remaining male employees were conscripted. To begin with reserved status (exemption from conscription) was given to managers, butchers and warehousemen over the age of thirty, as the authorities recognised that experienced managers had an important part to play in ensuring the efficient operation of the rationing regulations. Warehousemen were reserved because it was felt that their heavy work could not be done by women.

Although the government recognised that distributing food was work of national importance, as the war progressed, the needs of the armed forces took priority. In May 1941 the age at which reserved status for managers took effect was raised to 35, and finally in January 1942, reserved status was abolished altogether. Thereafter, the company could apply for the deferment of individuals' call-up only by justifying each case. This was a serious blow, because the retention of experienced male staff was regarded as essential to the maintenance of standards and the smooth running of the business.

Young single women were also subject to conscription. To begin with, it was expected that women working in the food industry would be exempt both from conscription into the services and from direction into war work. This was not the case however, and Sainsbury's faced an ongoing battle with the authorities to convince them just how much training was required to do the work of its branch employees.

Back to training. Copyright J Sainsbury plc, 2001. On to Survival.