Woman of Steel returns to Sheffield factory floor

Woman of Steel Kathleen Roberts visits Special Steels in Sheffield.
Woman of Steel Kathleen Roberts visits Special Steels in Sheffield.
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The hammers are earsplittingly loud and Sheffield steel is still exported around the world – much as it was more than 65 years ago when Kathleen Roberts last stepped inside a steelworks.

The great grandmother was one of hundreds of Sheffield women who took on ‘men’s work’s during World War II as their husbands, dads and sons were sent to the frontline, only to be unceremoniously fired as the men returned home and never returned.

Yesterday, the 91-year-old was invited to tour a Sheffield steelworks with Coun Julie Dore, Sheffield Council leader. The tour of Special Steels in Attercliffe was part of The Star’s campaign to raise enough money for a Women of Steel statue in Sheffield city centre.

Kathleen said: “The last time I was in a steelworks was 1945 – that is a long time ago but a lot of things have not changed. They are still using the machinery I worked on during the war and some of that was from World War I, so they certainly built them to last. That is pretty wonderful.

“It was very interesting and they seem to make all manner of things. They are busier now than they have been for ages. You get the impression the steel industry has had it in Sheffield and things are bad, but they are doing well.

“They have got competition such as China, but our steel is still wanted all over the world. That was lovely to hear and came as a nice surprise.”

One thing that has changed dramatically over the decades is health and safety for workers.

“We had to wear a hard hat and special glasses just to go around on a tour,” Kathleen said. “When I was working the only time you wore a hard hat was when the sirens went – and even then we had to keep working.

“There is a lot of safety things now. We never used to think about things like that and that is why there were such dreadful accidents.”

But Kathleen says she will never forget the dirty and noisy conditions the women had to put up with during the war and her trip brought back many memories.

She said: “They took us into a workshop where there was a hammer and that took me back. There used to be a huge hammer on the other side of the workshop where I worked and all I used to hear when I was doing my 12-hour shifts was that hammer banging away.

“It was much cleaner than during the war and there wasn’t anything lying around in the aisles. Everything is automated now and it is not physical like it was in my days. There was one department and we didn’t see a single man operating anything but it was going ahead– it is amazing really.”

Coun Dore said: “It was great to accompany Kathleen on the tour of Special Steel Group. It was so interesting to see how the industry has changed over the years since Kathleen’s time.

“Lets face it, if it wasn’t for Kathleen and the rest of the Women of Steel we wouldn’t be in a position to go on visits like this.

“We have ambitious plans to pay our city’s Women of Steel the respect and honour that they deserve with a permanent memorial in their honour. The Women of Steel deserve our upmost respect and we are determined to award them the honour that they so truly deserve.

“Their valiant efforts were a crucial part of the contribution Sheffield’s industry made to the war effort in both world wars. We have been working with the Women of Steel to make a permanent memorial a reality. This is a project that is important to the whole city and we want everyone to get involved.”

n Visit http://www.justgiving.com/womenofsteel to make a donation to the Women of Steel statue fund.