On a cold February day in 1944, one from a group of women filling tank fuses with toxic, highly explosive, chemicals was killed.

A fuse had exploded taking her life as well as the woman behind her.  The entire tray of explosives they were carefully filling detonated, causing further injuries and damage so extensive the factory roof blew off and the walls swayed in the breeze.

This account from the Daily Telegraph nicknamed the women working in these munitions factories, ‘Canary Girls’ because coal miners used to use canaries to test the air quality for dangerous gases in the underground mines.

It’s shocking to think that the lives of nearly 1,000,000 women living in Britain were asked to risk so much in dangerous working condition!  They handled trinitrotoluene, a compound more commonly called TNT, filling shell casings and landmines with this yellow dynamite.

This is just one of the ways brave women contributed to the war effort in their country, sacrificing their health in the name of peace and justice.

Like the women in yesterday’s article who dawned womanalls and got to work assembling M1 rifles at the Springfield Armory in Massachusetts, they worked in the name of peace.

Without the efforts of all of these women, the Second World War might have been lost and Europe would look very different today.  Yet, how do we measure the cost that they paid for working in such dangerous conditions?  Maybe their risks leveled the playing field knowing men were fighting on the front line for their lives.  Why shouldn’t women lay their lives too?

Of course, the answer is they did.  War did more than get the women in Springfield out of their homes and into the workplace.  It liberated the world and demonstrated their commitment to lend a hand and put their country first.

The idea of any man or woman risking their lives for peace – whether it’s working with toxic TNT or fighting in hand to hand combat – is always difficult to comprehend.  And of course, today’s wars are especially disconcerting.  America’s war on terror in the U.S. will reach an estimated $6 trillion in spending by the end of 2020.

According to the Military Times, next year’s spending for the ‘war on terror’ in America will top $6 trillion by 2020.  This figure includes increases in Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs as well as new military equipment and personnel.

Quite frankly it’s hard to justify this vast sum of money and unsustainable spending. None of it takes into account the human costs – from loss of life to displaced citizens and devastated infrastructures.

It’s clear we need to prevent terrorism and preserve the values we hold dear; words like freedom and democracy aren’t free.  That’s said, it’s hard to compare the costs of yesterday’s wars with today’s.  The rules of engagement have changed, and countries are fighting across borders.  Even the weapons have changed as cyberwar becomes an increasing threat and the rules of engagement mean not always recognizing who the attackers are.

What is clear however is the need to preserve the history of war.   Educating future generations means never forgetting the true cost of war.  To this end, we’ve curated a few interesting photos from Springfield Armory’s historical records, thanks to Lynda Cohen Loigman.  One of the settings in her newly released novel, The Wartime Sisters, is the Armory campus.

The campus was enormous and looked like a giant park along Federal Street with beautiful iron gates out front.  The first few pictures are from the Armory campus during social events – a lunchtime music performance and an end of the war victory dance.  The remainder are a nod to the Women Ordinance Workers (WOW) who worked in a variety of jobs from munitions to maintenance to help with the war effort.

The bright posters made by Adolph Treidler hang in the Rockwell Center for Visual Studies.  They were used to encourage women to join the war effort as part of a government propaganda campaign.

See you tomorrow, when we’ll meet Lynda Cohen Loigman and her latest novel, The Wartime Sisters.

Rose McInerney

Author Rose McInerney

Rose combines her love of all things artfully-designed to connect women to a shared community of learning and a richer, more fulfilled self. As a passionate storyteller, published writer, and international traveler, Rose believes women can build a better world through powerful storytelling.

More posts by Rose McInerney

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