Kathleen Roberts is the only surviving Woman of Steel.
She was part of a strong team of women who fought for the recognition of female steelworkers during the war.
Now age 97, she recalled the grit she needed throughout her time rolling steel at Brown Bayleys in World War Two to The Star.
This grit is now inspiring women across the city to nominate stand-out females for the Women of Sheffield’s Kathleen Roberts Award.
Kathleen said: “Grit to me is the sheer determination to get a job done.
“I think you had to have grit during the war, it was such hard work and the hours were long and there was no rest bite.
“The first few days I worked in the steel works I went home and cried. My mother said, ‘right, you’re not going again, that’s it’.
“My mother didn’t understand at that point that I had to go because I was called up, like going into the forces.
“You had to go and you had to go wherever you were sent.”
The Women of Steel made munitions that contributed huge amounts to the war effort despite little help from their male counter-parts.
Kathleen, who lives in Jordanthorpe, said: “The men would not show us anything. We couldn’t understand. It wasn’t as if they were going to lose their jobs.”
The women had to make their own way in the male-based industry, unbeknown to them they were not getting paid as much as the men.
“The girls would not have worked if they knew we had equal pay now. I worked twelve-hour night and day shifts,” she added.
“We found out when we were given our notice that the men doing the same job were getting paid more.
“We were very angry but there was nothing we could do about it.
“The trade union couldn’t do anything, the government was in charge and that was it.”
All of the women were removed from work when the war was over and their contribution was left largely unacknowledged.
Years on from her days in steel, Kathleen made an all-important phone call to The Star after seeing some of the land girls had met the Queen on television.
She said: “At that time they were awarding lots of people for what they had done during the war- nurses, ambulances drivers, all sorts of people.
“And I thought, well what about what we have done.
“The lads wouldn’t have had their tanks or guns if it hadn’t been for us at the steel works.”
“I sat for ages and I cried because I thought, if I tell this story, people are going to laugh at me. It was so long ago they are not going to want to talk about it.”
However this telephone call set off a campaign that raised £170,000 to build a statue in the city centre, that now stands proudly outside Sheffield City Hall.
Kathleen said: “We started off well but but then the recession started. The people of Sheffield still gave what they could, though. We never, ever felt like giving up. The very thought that we were getting close to getting the money cheered us on.”
In June 2016, Kathleen was joined by 140 Women of Steel and their families to see their hard work pay off when they finally unveiled the statue.
A special medal was also struck by the city’s Assay Office to commemorate their role.
Kathleen spoke of the strength in numbers she experienced throughout her life and the need for women to stand with each other in 2019.
She said: Women were more caring in those days, we all really cared for one another. I think it is sad and I would love to see young people look out for one another.
“Women should get more involved in things. It’s not a man’s world like it used to be because women can do what men can do, and very often they do a better job of it.”
Kathleen is hoping to be at The Star’s Women of Sheffield Awards on March 7, the day before International Women’s Day to present her award to an amazing Sheffield lady.
We need the people of Sheffield to nominate the stand-out women in their lives for the Kathleen Roberts Award for grit. We’re looking for individuals who are achievement oriented and have a real sense of endurance.
The award is sponsored by Future Wealth Life Management, whose MD Jill Thomas launched a Chamber Hall of Fame during her year as President of the Sheffield Chamber.
One of the first inductees to the Hall of Fame was the women of steel,
To nominate somebody for Women of Sheffield, please send her name, category nominated for and why she deserves to win, to email@example.com. Deadline for nominations is Monday, February 4.
The Women of Sheffield awards are sponsored by MK Public Relations, Grad Consult, Ray Wragg, Future Wealth Life Management, Vine Hotels and Sheffield Girls High School.