THE First World War gave women new opportunities in employment. For many, it was an opportunity to join the workforce which they were previously denied.

Women everywhere were wearing uniforms in a variety of roles, from delivering post to serving in the Land Army. By the end of war more than 900,000 women were working in munitions factories, often risking their lives and health.

After the heavy losses on the Somme in summer 1916, many men in military administrative posts were transferred to combat roles and were replaced by members of Queen Mary's Auxiliary Army Corps. Thousands of women took on a range of roles, working in bakeries, ordnance, motor transport depots and gardeners in military cemeteries.

Women joining the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VADs) were trained by the Red Cross and worked as nurses in the UK from the outbreak of the war. After April, 1915, as casualties increased and the need for more hospitals grew, VADs also worked in military hospitals on the Western Front. Some lost their lives, exposed to disease and enemy attack. Air raids were a constant threat in France and, in May, 1918 seven women were killed in one raid.

Pre-war-trained nurses of the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Nursing Service (QAIMNS) served in France, Belgium, Greece, and Iraq. By the end of the war 10,400 women had served with QAIMNS, working in military hospitals and dressing stations near the front lines. A total of 141 nurses are known to have died.

Bradford WW1 Group has been telling stories of women in the war in an exhibition at the city's Mechanics Institute. The women include Agnes Scatterty, Commandant of Spencer Street Hospital, Keighley, awarded the MBE in June, 1918; Frances Mitchell of Keighley, who died while serving with QMAAC at a PoW Camp; Minnie Edmondson from Shipley, a nurse with the Voluntary Aid Detachment; and Annie walker of Eccleshill, a mother-of-five who delivered post during the war.

After the war three quarters of women gave up their wartime jobs to the returning men. For women who had entered employment for the first time, the end of the war meant going back to domesticity.

On Sunday Bradford writer and actress Irene Lofthouse will pay tribute to four Yorkshirewomen in her show, Words, Women and War: Forgotten Female Voices of the Great War.

Bradford-born Alberta Vickridge of the Voluntary Aid Detachment was a nurse, poet, printer, publisher, a friend of Agatha Christie and JB Priestley, but little-known in her own city.

"I first came across Alberta in a secondhand book of WW1 female poetry called Scars Upon Their Heart," says Irene. "I wondered why I didn’t know about Alberta, being a Bradford lass myself, and a writer, storyteller, playwright and actor who brings ‘hidden histories and secret stories’ of Bradford and women back to life.

"So began my search about her, leading to her archive at Brotherton Library, her links to JB Priestley, and her friendship with Dorothy Ratcliffe. I began to wonder about other forgotten females."

Leeds-based Dorothy Una Ratcliffe was a poet, publisher, singer, socialite, youngest mayoress of Leeds in 1913, Pals fundraiser, Yorkshire dialect and Romany lore expert. She was the daughter-in-law of Edward Brotherton, the man responsible for founding the Brotherton Library.

Betty Stevenson, of Harrogate, was a teenage fundraiser for Belgian refugees and a YMCA volunteer driver of wounded soldiers in Paris and Etaples. She is commemorated on Harrogate's cenotaph - one of the few women who are.

York woman Flora Sandes, a volunteer nurse who became a frontline fighter with the Serbian army for seven years, still celebrated in Serbia and Greece, but hardly known in her own country.

"Through more research, I discovered Betty's biography and Flora's memoirs via on online library at Toronto University," says Irene. "Being middle-class, their experiences in WW1 was beyond anything they had previously known; discovering what life was like for the working-class, doing jobs that really opened their eyes, nursing wounded soldiers, fighting on the front line, dodging bombs in Paris - all very different from their upbringing. I felt their contributions should be more widely known."

While these four women were carrying out war work, some women in Bradford were campaigning to stop the war and conscription. Esther Sandiford from Windhill and Fanny Muir from Shipley were the main movers in the Bradford Women's Humanity League, which began in 1916, later becoming one of the 70 Women's Peace Crusade groups across the country.

Fanny was jailed after speaking out in Shipley Market Place. "These working women protested at the senseless slaughter, casualties, conscription, at food shortages and the impact of these locally and nationally," says Irene, who has written Protesters for Peace, based on research by Finola Doogan at Bradford Peace Museum, and Dr Brenda Thompson, Peter Nias and Eve Haskins from Bradford Local Studies.

* Words, Women and War: Forgotten Voices of the Great War is performed by Irene today at The Lodge, Undercliffe Cemetery, 3pm-4pm.