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Female electrician discusses overcoming the gender gap in WW2

Created: 20/07/2017

Wartime cartoon of Rosie the Riveter

Image Credit: Michal Hadassah

All too often, practical professions such as plumbing, carpentry and decorating are still viewed as ‘male’ jobs. If you are among those who feel frustrated by these stereotypes, however, spare a thought for the many women who, in the Second World War, were required to become successful in fields which were then almost entirely dominated by men.

Now, one lady who was at the sharp end of manual labour in the 1940s has spoken out about the huge obstacles she had to overcome when she decided to become a wartime electrician on the banks of the river Clyde in Glasgow.

Netta Harvey, who is now 94, spoke to the Daily Record about how she chose being a ‘sparky’ over the two other options she was given – welding or joining the Women’s Land Army – when she turned 18 and had to take up national service.

Swearing and catcalls

View of shipyard from the River Clyde

Image Credit: Paisley Scotland

After three months of training at her local technical college, Netta was put to work at the shipyard for construction company Harland and Wolff. Interestingly, it was not the job itself which she found most difficult – it was the behaviour of her mostly male co-workers.

“I was a young girl”, Netta said, “Suddenly there was swearing all around. I had never sworn in my life. I found it a wee bit hard.” Nor was bad language the only issue, as Netta goes on to explain: “The men used to torment us…We would be going down the ladders, way down to the bowels of the ship, and they’d be whistling after us. I was platinum blonde when I was young. I got to the stage when I started darkening my hair because they were always whistling after me.”

Nevertheless, Netta grew to enjoy her role and was disappointed when she, along with her two female colleagues at the shipyard, were not offered any future work when the war ended. However, the pensioner still believes that more young women should be looking to become electricians, or embark on any of the other jobs often provided by general handyman services firms. She commented: ‘I would recommend it to any girl, it was very interesting…why not?”

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