WITH thousands of men volunteering or, after 1916, conscripted to fight for King and country, the job of keeping the home fires burning as well as the wheels of industry turning, fell to women.

Not that there was anything new in this. Young girls and women had worked in mines, factories and mills for decades; but in the absence of a major European or world war between 1815 and 1914, usually they worked in the proximity of men.

As the war claimed more men, more lives, the demands on women became all the greater. They worked in munitions factories. In Bradford up to 86 companies were engaged in manufacturing parts for tanks, aircraft and munitions. Women workers became known as 'munitionettes'.

They produced around 80 per cent of the weapons and shells used by the British Army and often risked their lives handling contaminating substances without adequate protection. Many who were exposed to sulpher developed a yellow tinge to their skin, earning them the colloquial name 'Canaries'.

The portrait painter Flora Lion was given access to paint factory scenes in Leeds and Bradford during the war. One of the paintings shows women workers in a canteen, chatting at tables or wearily queuing for sustenance. Another picture shows the interior of a munitions factory where women in beige coloured overalls and cloth bonnets are making artillery shells.

Women also drove trams. In July 1915 Mr C J Spencer general manager of Bradford Tramways, outlined his reservations about women working as conductor son trams. But that September, Huddersfield went ahead and employed women as tram conductors. But by July 1916, Mr Spencer gave in. Women worked on trams and Mr Spencer went off to join the Navy.

Women also kept the wheels of the railways going. By September 1914, nearly 100,00 railwaymen had answered the call to fight against the Kaiser, leaving many tasks for women to perform.

The National Railway Museum in York said that in 1914 the number of women in railway workshops totalled just 43. By 1918 there were 2,547. Women porters carried luggage, fetched coal and lit fires; they announced and despatched trains; dealt with livestock; moored and shackled ferries; loaded and carried parcels; cleaned locomotives and coupled coaches to engines.

They were paid two-thirds less than their male railway workers. This pay differential led to a demand for railway unions to admit women members. But it didn't happen until the end of World War 2 in 1945.

There were a plethora of volunteer groups offering comfort and support, from Lady Lugard's War Refugees Committee in London, which helped 30,000 refugees find work through local labour exchanges, to The Lady Mayoress's War Guild in Bradford, presided over by Mrs G H Robinson, which was organised on a municipal ward basis and therefore reached into every Bradford street.

The Guild helped the Soldiers' Dependants' Committee, the Serbian war Relief Fund, Mine Sweepers and the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) in France.

One of the YMCA volunteers from Bradford, whose untiring efforts to help the troops on the Western Front won her the MBE, was suffragette Jessie Millar Wilson - known fondly to the troops as Aunt J.

The YMCA equipped and ran some 4,000 canteens behind the trenches on the Western Front.More than half of the 1,000 YMCA volunteers in France were women. Aunt J, who intended to stay for six months, ended up staying for six years.