TENS of thousands of women worked on the shipyards during both wars, keeping a vital industry afloat in the country’s darkest hours - but their stories are not well known.

Sometimes they surface – like Janet Harvey, brought into John Brown’s in Clydebank during the Second World War and finally recognised 70 years later with an honorary engineering degree from Glasgow Caledonian University; or Jeanie Riley, who became a munitions worker in the engineering shops at Fairfield, and whose story was told during Fairfield Heritage Centre’s World War One exhibition.

“It can be hard to find records about individuals, although there is fantastic set of photos of World War One women workers, with names, from McKie and Baxter Ltd, marine engineers, in our collections,” explains Nerys Tunnicliffe, of Glasgow City Archives.

“The hiring of women to help with the war effort was not entirely welcomed with some disputes over the ‘dilution’ of labour.”

Janet Harvey, who helped to build some of the biggest battleships constructed on Clydeside during the Second World War, was one of the thousands of women brought into the workforce to help the war effort in 1940, in roles that would previously have been filled by men.

She started working as an electrician at John Brown’s shipyard in Clydebank when she was 18. When she was awarded her honorary degree at the age of 96 in 2018, Janet told the Glasgow Times it still annoyed her that she, and other female workers, did not receive the recognition they deserved.

Glasgow Times:

“We were tossed aside like old rags at the end of the war,” she said. “They just pushed us out. We never even got a thank you note to say ‘you did a good job’.”

Fairfield’s World War One exhibition in 2016 revealed the story of Jeanie Riley, who became a munitions worker in the engineering shops at Fairfield, the Clyde’s biggest yard, responsible for luxurious ocean liners, steamers and warships.

READ MORE: The Glasgow-born Hollywood star forever remembered for THAT beach scene...

It was dangerous and difficult work, and Jeanie’s letters to her husband James, a Private in the Scottish Rifles, show how excited – and sometimes fearful - she was in her new job.

Glasgow Times:

“Dear Jamie, I am still sticking in at my work - I will be an engineer before long,” she wrote. “There are 25 more women coming in on Monday and we were told that the amount of work we do in three weeks would have taken the men three years, and Jamie, the men are quite mad at us.

“We all got our photo taken at the launch a week on Saturday and then we saw the ship getting launched and it was lovely. I never saw the like of it before.

“The woman I went up for in the morning, her name is Murphy…well, she lost her finger in the work tonight. She saw it lying on her machine, they tried to tell her it was not off but she would not take it in …if I am offered a machine I will refuse it, for I see enough.”

Glasgow Times:

While libraries remain closed, Nerys and her colleagues, Lynsey Green, senior archivist Irene O’Brien, Barbara Neilson and Michael Gallagher – have launched Ask the Archivist which gives people the chance to ask questions about a range of topics based on the city collections. More details are available on the Glasgow City Archives Facebook page.

Glasgow City Archives holds an extensive collection of shipyard photos, beautifully drawn ship plans and records but sadly, as Nerys points out, not too many personnel records.

READ MORE: 'Vintage' Chuck Berry rocked city dance hall to its foundations

“This is a very popular question, but sadly there are relatively few,” she says. “The exceptions include apprenticeship certificates from Fairfields dating from 1913 to 1949, a wages book dating from 1921 to 1924 and salary lists from Barclay, Curle and Co Ltd.

“We also hold occasional photographs of staff, although usually only the department name is given.”

The collection includes the archive of The Clyde Shipbuilder’s Association which was formed in 1866. “It was originally the Shipbuilding and Engineering Companies Association, and had 24 subscribing firms,” says Nerys.

“Its main function was to represent the employers in negotiations with trades unions, so it has a lot of details about disputes.”

One of Nerys’s favourites is a photograph of the Livadia, built in 1880 by John Elder and Co’s Fairfield yard for the Russian Tsar Alexander II.

“It was built with luxurious interiors and an unusual design, based on a turbot fish, for extra stabilisation as the tsar was rumoured to suffer from sea sickness,” she says.

“Unfortunately, the tsar was assassinated in 1881 before he ever got to sail on it.”

She adds: “Although, as the quirky design actually made the ship extremely unstable it’s probably just as well he never did….”