While young lads left their families and homes to go into combat for their country, the women left behind were making their own contributions to the war effort.
Olive Crowther, nee Rhodes, has fond memories of her experience as an Avro Girl working at what was then Yeadon Airport, now home to Leeds-Bradford International Airport.
Olive, who recently celebrated her 90th birthday with a family party at her home near Shipley, recalls leaving the mill where she had started working at 14 in her home city of Bradford to go to the Aerodrome after receiving a letter from the Government.
Earning £9 per week, Olive’s role involved following a planned diagram to connect the wires on the navigator panels in the cockpits of aeroplanes such as the famous Lancaster, a four-engined Second World War heavy bomber designed and built by Avro for the Royal Air Force.
The ‘Lanc’ as it was affectionately known, became the most famous and most successful of the Second World War night bombers.
“It was very exciting,” says Olive, recalling her experience.
Working from 7am until 7pm, Olive recalls they had a long break in the morning, a dinner break and a tea break. They were long days but there was a wonderful camaraderie, as Olive recalls.
“I remember this song...” says Olive, breaking into a verse. “We are the Avro Girls helping to win the war, helping out the boys who are fighting for their King and country. We are helping out the boys, we work 12 hours a day Sundays as well. We will never fail you boys. Here’s to the Avro Girls, three cheers for the Avro Girls”
According to Olive’s daughter, Joanne, working at Avro led to her mum becoming quite handy around her home. “She was always very good at changing plugs and she always used to say, ‘it is what I used to do in the war,” smiles Joanne.
Joanne’s role in external relations and marketing in the School of Engineering and Informatics at Bradford University involves promoting women in engineering.
Sylvia Holt, Connie Mellor and Irene, were among Olive’s Avro colleagues. All were Yorkshire girls, Sylvia coming from Leeds and Connie from Huddersfield, along with Irene.
Gerald Myers spent his formative years growing up close to the Avro factory in Yeadon. His fascination with the workplace which played an integral part in the war effort, and having a cousin and two uncles who worked there, prompted Gerald to put pen to paper.
His book, Mother Worked At Avro, took Gerald, a former manufacturer’s agent in the textile trade, a decade to write and was published in 1995.
“It was a generic title to cover many of the people I interviewed who said, ‘my mother worked at Avro.’ I interviewed 250 people,” says Gerald, who gave countless talks about the factory after the book’s publication, raising money for the Allied Air Forces Memorial at York Air Museum in the process.
Gerald was six when the factory was built in Yeadon, where he and his family lived at the time. He recalls 10,000 people coming to live in Yeadon. Many were billeted to work in aircraft production. “Yeadon had a population of 10,000 and a good third were away on active service,” says Gerald.
Yet Yeadon’s population escalated with incomers boosting the town’s population to 17,000 and contributing, in a way, to the sizeable town it is today.
Gerald recalls there would be 150 buses transporting Avro’s workforce, 60 per cent of which were women, who were working 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
His cousin, Nancy Blezard, was involved in riveting Lancaster Bomber doors.
“They were trained as they went on. You learned A before you went on to B and B before you went on to C. It was all critically worked out. The whole thing was planned. You went to the stores for what you required and that is what you got. You got that and nothing else,” explains Gerald.
The factory, which exists today, was fascinating too, as Gerald recalls. Covering a sprawling expanse of one million and a half square metres, it is now separated into businesses forming part of an industrial estate.
Avro was thought to be subterranean, the nature of its creation giving that impression. “It was built low and camouflaged. From the air it looked like a field with imitation bushes, trees and animals,” says Gerald.
During the war, 5,000 aircraft were built at Avro. The majority were Avro Ansons which, according to Gerald, were vital to the war effort as they were used for flying training. They also built 695 Lancaster Bombers.
“And I must stress this, none of the Lancasters which took part in the Dambusters raid on May 16, 1943, were built at Yeadon, all were built in Manchester,” says Gerald.
He adds: “We had a VC, Bill Reid, who earned it flying in a Yeadon-built Lancaster.”
Avro left a lasting legacy, and keen to commemorate the wartime achievements of what was a largely conscripted workforce, Gerald pressed for a plaque which was unveiled in the domestic concourse at Leeds-Bradford Airport in 2002 for the thousands of people who worked there.
“You couldn’t live in Yeadon, Rawdon or Guiseley at the time without knowing about Avro,” says Gerald.
Many of the estates around Westfield in Yeadon and Nunroyd in Guiseley were developed to accommodate Avro workers. Around 5,000 were billeted out to live with local families, forming ever-lasting friendships.
“It had a lasting effect on an awful lot of people,” says Gerald.
l If you were an Avro Girl or know somebody who was, or you worked at the Avro factory at Yeadon, call (01274) 705263 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.