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Remembering the Woman Machinists of World War 2

Jul 2, 2013   //   by Bob Warfield   //   Blog, Cool  //  9 Comments

Woman Machinists of World War 2

Most of you will have seen that we like to use photographs of female machinists from World War 2 like the one above on our product pages.  I chose these photos because they are evocative of the “can-do” mentality that we Americans have always had and that is particularly strong among those who make things for a living.  Nothing says “can-do” quite like the spirit of these photos.  Those were dark days in the world, but we faced down the Evil and triumphed, albeit at a cost of many lives.  Bob Marley put it well when he said, “Better to die fighting for freedom then be a prisoner all the days of your life.”

I have a special treat this Fourth of July, 2013.  I recently received a letter from one of the women in the photo series.  She is 91, living in Mesquite, Texas, and she and her family had seen the photos on our web site.  They brought back a lot of memories which she was kind enough to share.  Here is the letter she sent to me:

 

To Whom it may concern,

I am Grace Brown, born Grace Ann Janota, Nov 29, 1921.  Between the years 1942 and 1945 I worked as a machinist for Consolidated Aircraft of Fort Worth, Texas.  The company made B-17 bombers.

When the war started in Dec 1941 I was working at the University of Texas Tea Room.  Shortly after the war started, the tea room was converted into a mess hall for the Naval Academy.  I was without a job and pondered on what to do.  The government was offering classes for girls who wanted to help in the war effort.  There were a few to become a pilot and fly transport planes.  Well, I was too chicken for that so I chose machinist.  The school was in Waco, Texas; it was with the N.Y.A.  We got room and board and ten dollars a month, plus we were furnished uniforms to wear to class.  Our classes were eight hours a day and we were there about six months, then hired by Consolidated Aircraft to work in the machine shop.

There were other machines but I was hired to operate a turret lathe.  I made various parts for the B-17′s.  They were according to specifications and had to be very precise, using calipers.  There were other types of machines in the shop, but only about three turret lathes.  The only men were the supervisors; older men who didn’t qualify for the draft.  As time went on I took a job as an inspector of the machined parts, but that was boring so I took a course in engineering and learned how to design cams for the automatic screw machine.   I got the job of designing cams and setting up the machines and did this until the war was coming to an end and we girls were sent home.

This I might add:  after working at the plant for a while, a union tried to interveen and suggested we join the union, go on strike for higher pay.  Most of the girls declined, including me, so the union lost.

I don’t know how you acquired my picture to place in your ad.  It was just a series of incidences that lead my grandson to recognize it as I was twenty one when it was taken and I am now ninety one.

This must be a little boring to you, but I don’t do e-mail.

Sincerly,

Grace Brown

 

Grace, let me assure you, I don’t find it boring at all.  I am fascinated by the time and by your experiences and I hope our readers are too and will comment on it.  We owe a debt of gratitude to Grace and most all of her generation.  Let’s remember them this Fourth of July.

 

PS  The photos are from a series done by the government back in the day to use in promoting folks to help out the war effort.  There are a number of them out there.  I don’t have a good link to give you to see them, but they all have a very similar look and lighting to the one above.  Here are a few more:

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9 Comments

  • I would like to thank Grace and her work. My Dad was a B-17 tail gunner, He may have flown with parts Grace made. He made it home despite losing three planes. Thanks Grace!

  • Bob, PLEASE publish many more of those photos and stories!

    Without those fabulous ladies like Grace and all her other sisters who gave so much to the war effort, those tens of thousands of B-17′s, B-24s P-47′, P-51′s, P&W Radials, Wright Radials and the many tens of millions of tons of precision parts could NOT HAVE BEEN PRODUCED! Those ladies were, in the overall scheme of the war effort, every bit as important as those brave men, who actually flew the missions against very daunting odds, in those same B-17′s and every other Warbird! Without the incredible devotion to the tasks at hand, our valiant frontline warriors could not have done a thing to win the war. I remember reading an article in, I think, an English engineering magazine of the time, that clearly stated, that every frontline and support soldier needed somewhere around 14 people in industry and all those many and varied civilian jobs, maybe ten thousand miles away, to supply and support him!

    It is very sad to reflect on how little thanks that has ever been given publicly to the millions of dedicated and skilled workers, who toiled under very difficult circumstances, producing those Machines of Freedom. Yes, so many paid the price, in those machines, but that brings home the horrible reality of war.

    At least, when you publish those wonderful photos of those ladies doing everything they can, you are paying a great tribute to the effort and contributions thay made towards conquering the tyranny and evils of two very formidable opponents. Remember, that England also had similar people, and often under devastatingt bombing attacks; and in Australia, our industry also had vast numbers of females, toiling on farms, becoming motor vehicle mechanics and truck drivers, and machinists in our factories also. They made a real contribution to the ultimate hard won victories of that era. It must never be forgotten! We are here today, sort of free and able to follow our own dreams and desires. Thank you Grace for helping that to happen. God bless them all.

  • Wow.. amazing story. Living in Japan with my fellow prior military ex-pats.. all into machining. Keep up the great work.

  • Wow! What a treat. The photos themselves are also stunning artistically. The lighting, composition, and colors are arresting. They really pull you into that moment.

  • Thanks. Grandma recognized Buela from second photo of new ones added. Going to try reaching her for her story too.

    • Janis, I’d love to hear from her. Thank you for writing!

  • I saw this the other day and thought of Bob’s photos on his cookbook site and wanted to share them with everybody. This was the beginning of women’s independence in the work place. It is always nice to good period photos of yesteryear.
    http://news.yahoo.com/photos/wwii-women-and-the-war-effort-1372793962-slideshow/

  • Travis, Thanks!! What a story. Grandma Grace can sure make good desserts right along with the B-17.

  • What a treat! I’ve always admired those photos and wondered about the untold stories they depicted. Grandma Grace, I assure you there is nothing boring about your story and find it intriguing. Thank you for taking the time to write it and for all your hard work.

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