SHEFFIELD’S “Women Of Steel”, who kept the munitions factories working to help win two world wars, have finally been honoured after a lifetime wait – with the unveiling of this bronze statue.
Medals struck at the city’s Assay Office, were also presented to the surviving women from WWII and hundreds of families of those no longer alive.
An amazing 141 of the ladies, most of them now in their 90s and a few aged over 100, were celebrating today with around 100 of them joining an estimated 2,000 people, including family, friends and the public at the unveiling ceremony in a packed Barker’s Pool, outside Sheffield City Hall.
360 PHOTO: The Women Of Steel statue is unveiled by surviving women outside Sheffield City Hall. See our 360 degree photo - CLICK HERE.
Women Of Steel Kathleen Roberts, Kit Sollitt, Ruby Gascoigne and Dorothy Slingsby, figureheads of a public appeal which raised £170,000 - launched by the council and driven by The Star newspaper - unveiled the statue on behalf of all the ladies.
Kathleen, aged 94, who sparked the campaign to get the women the recognition they had never had, said: “We can’t believe the day is here. It’s been a long time coming,. In fact we’ve waited a lifetime for this.We flogged ourselves to death during the war. Now they won’t forget us.”
During two world wars, with most of the working age men away at war, the manufacturing at steel works and factories in Sheffield and the surrounding areas was more important than ever. This was the historic time when Sheffield’s Women of Steel came into their own. Women from all over South Yorkshire, some as young as 14, were conscripted to work in steel works all over the region.
But after the war they were throw out of their jobs as the men returned and they were never publicly acknowledged, until a campaign launched a few years ago when now Star editor Nancy Fielder escorted some of them to Downing Street and then Prime Minister Gordon Brown publicly thanked them for the first time.
Now their story will live forever with the unveiling of the statue.
The ceremony took place after the Women of Steel took front row seats accompanied to war time songs and hits by local music legends who took part in fundraising concerts, the likes of Heaven 17, ABC’s Martin, Tony Christine, Jon McClure, John Parr, Martin Simpson, Fay Hield and John Tams.
Sculptor Martin Jennings, whose notable works include the famous John Betjeman sculpture in St Pancras, created the statue which shows two women, in steel factory boiler suits, one a welder and the other a riveter, linked arm in arm.
He said: “I saw an old photograph of some of the women linking arms and knew that’s what the statue should be - a sign of solidarity. I’m very pleased with it. It looks like two of the women have just stepped back outside the City Hall in 1945. I hope the women and the people of Sheffield also like it.”
Sheffield City Council, which launched the appeal, is now calling on people to link up with the statue ‘arm in arm to say thank you’ and share their photos on social network using the hashtag #womenofsteel
Folk star Ray Hearn entertained the crowd at the ceremony with his specially written song Hearts Of Steel. BBC Radio Two folk Award winners Chris While and Julie Matthews performed Drop Hammer and the event closed with a rousing performance by John Reilly of the song called Women Of Steel, which he co-wrote with Eliot Kennedy and John Parr, who all performed it at a local legends City Hall fundraiser.
The Women Of Steel song also went on sale today and is available to download at itunes.apple.com and www.amazon.co.uk
John Palmer said: “We are still raising money for additional projects that will ensure that the names and the achievements of the Women of Steel will never be forgotten.”
Coun Julie Dore, Leader of Sheffield City Council said: “First and foremost this is about saying thank you to the women of steel. The fantastic fundraising campaign that has raised the money for this statue has been an inspiration to us all, and a reminder of the grit, determination and guts of this city. I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has contributed.
“But speaking to these women, what we need to remember is the reality of what it was like for them. This was hard, back-breaking work. They felt they were just doing their bit. But it was so much more. There was a war on, they were taking care of their families, and missing their husbands and fathers. But they went to work every day in the steel works to do difficult physical labour in hot, noisy conditions that we couldn’t imagine today. They deserve our respect and our thanks. I am delighted to speak on behalf of the whole city and say thank you to Sheffield’s incredible women of steel.
“The women of steel have already inspired a generation, are still inspiring the next generation of people in Sheffield and beyond. You can show your thanks for the incredible contribution made by these women by taking a picture with the statue arm in arm to say thank you.”
Woman of Steel Alma Bottomley said: “I started working at Firth Brown Steels when I was 15, more or less straight from school. To be honest, it wasn’t very pleasant.
“We got on alright because we were all good friends, but it was hard and heavy work. It is took its toll mentally as well as physically. I was a molder and my job was to lift iron boxes off a conveyor belt and onto a machine. I was making links for the tread on tanks. I remember it was so noisy and hot.”