International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. A day for worldwide groups to come together to celebrate women’s achievements or rally for women’s equality. To celebrate International Women’s Day we are going to take a look back at the vital work and achievements of our very own ‘Aycliffe Angels‘ during World War II.
The Aycliffe Angels
During the period from 1941 -1945, the Royal Ordnance Factory 59 (ROF59) in Newton Aycliffe employed 17,000 people to make munitions to support the war effort. These were mostly women, and they became known as the Aycliffe Angels.
Lord Haw-Haw (William Joyce) coined the name Aycliffe Angel during one of his propaganda broadcasts on pirate radio. He claimed that ‘the little angels of Aycliffe will never get away with it and made a promise that the Luftwaffe would attack the factory. Mentioning the Angels on his broadcast highlighted how vital their work was and how concerned the Nazis were about their contribution to the war. Thankfully Lord Haw-Haw never carried out the threats, and none of the infiltration attempts from Nazi spies succeeded.
Many of the women travelled in from all over County Durham, an arduous journey on often unreliable transport – starting at 4:30 am for the day shift, and going home in the early hours for the night shift. Often only having a weekend off every three weeks. More than half the ROF workforce were married with young children, but there was no nursery or crèche at Aycliffe like some government factories. Their husbands were away at war, they were left running the home alone whilst working shifts, finding childcare and feeding their families on rations (Credit J D Clare).
Despite knowing the factory’s history and what the workers did, we do not know a great deal about these ‘Angels’. The factory was kept highly secure and secretive because of the importance of the work carried out there; jeopardising the factory’s secrecy could have had huge implications on the war.
Life at ROF59
We know that the work was hazardous, and the factory had several accidents, one of which tragically killed eight women. There was a high level of camaraderie between the workers due to the intense environment in which they were working. Friendships made here lasted a lifetime, and some of the workers even met their future husbands through friendships forged at ROF59!
The workers never knew what time they would get back to their families at the end of their shift; this was because the time of the train home was changed each day to ensure that the workers were safe from their train being bombed by the Luftwaffe.
It’s fair to say the ‘Aycliffe Angels’ were truly inspirational women.
Do you have any stories about the Aycliffe Angels?
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image credit Northern Echo