The Rosie the Riveter Movement

Creating projects that pull America together

The First Time Britain Thanked American Women

Remarks to the “rosies”, West Virginia State University

November 20, 2010,

By Major Annabelle C. Janes, UK Exchange Officer Sent by the British Embassy

“Give Thanks to Our Rosies!”, Institute, WV at invitation from Thanks! Plain and Simple, Inc.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Firstly may I take this opportunity to say what a huge privilege and great pleasure it is to be here today to thank the Rosie the Riveters on behalf of my home nation, the United Kingdom.

When I started thinking about what I wanted to say, as an intelligence officer in the British Army, I was struck immediately of how your stories and your experiences resonate with those who served in the intelligence world during WW2 in the UK - and in particular I thought of the men and women who worked at Bletchley Park cracking enemy communications and signals and, most famously, the ENIGMA machine. I recall seeing a television programme about some of the women who worked there. Out of duty and deference to their highly sensitive mission and simple modesty, they kept their secret for 60 years without expectation of reward or praise. But I know from the interviews I saw how proud they were and that when they told their stories, their happiness to speak on their roles was so palpable in their words and demeanor. This tv programme commemorated the end of World War 2 and the role that cracking the ENIGMA code played and I remember some of the women being shy even then of highlighting their vital role. When I was asked to attend this ceremony today, the Bletchley Park story struck me as a parallel story of those who served the frontline from their home nations but for whom their roles are not so obvious or in the headlines.

Your story and this initiative also chimes closely with me as an officer in the Army. I work in the military intelligence corps and most recently was posted to Chicksands in Bedfordshire in the heart of England, training young soldiers and officers in the basics of intelligence and security. This location is famous for its links to Bletchley Park in, as well as its previous existence as a US Air Force base during the cold war. I have always been fascinated by the work of Bletchley Park, perhaps it is one of the reasons why I joined the Intelligence Corps!

Whilst training my soldiers and officers, I often used the hard work and quiet sacrifice behind the scenes of those Bletchley Park veterans as an example of the reality of life in the Army and more particularly, in the supporting arms, as we call them. Rather than being at the ‘sharp end’ receiving all the glory, much of the key work and support comes from the intelligencers, the logisticians, the engineers and so on, who have a less glamorous and much quieter profile.

Perhaps it is this low profile that stops people telling their story? Perhaps they feel they are not worthy of the spotlight. I am not sure which, but it is absolutely clear that the stories must be told and – as today – thanks and gratitude are duly passed.

The United Kingdom has a special thanks to pass to you. Unlike the Belgians and others, we were fortunate in not being invaded or annexed during the war. As such, we were able to execute our war effort from our home territory, albeit under the dreadful threat of air attack, such as those days of the Blitz, and potential invasion and severing of our vital supply lines. Even though we had the leadership of Winston Churchill and the serendipity of the English Channel between us and continental Europe, it is widely agreed that without the United States’ intervention we would have been teetering on the edge of defeat in 1942 and certainly would have suffered a much longer and more deadly conflict with untold consequences for Europe. Indeed, according to Professor Richard Overy in his book ‘Why the Allies Won’, Hitler's foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, in his prison Cell at Nuremburg, wrote a brief memoir in the course of which he explored the reasons for Germany's defeat. He picked out three factors that he thought were critical: the unexpected 'power of resistance' of the Red Army; the vast supply of American armaments; and the success of Allied air power.

I highlight this to point out those 3 key factors. As we all know, the third factor, air power, played a major part in preventing the UK’s defeat. It is widely accepted that Hitler fully intended to invade the UK, although his enthusiasm did wane over the course of the war. In July 1940 he issued Directive Number 16. It read, 'As England, in spite of the hopelessness of her military position, has so far shown herself unwilling to come to any compromise, I have decided to begin to prepare for, and if necessary to carry out, an invasion of England and if necessary the island will be occupied.'

Hitler quickly recognised the risks attached to this plan and as he started to back away from thoughts of invasion, but the battle for dominance of the skies over England and the English Channel - reached a new peak of fury. The ability of the Allied air forces to maintain their dominance played a part in diminishing the possibility of invasion. Most importantly, however, in June 1941 Hitler distracted himself and invaded the Soviet Union instead.

But let us return to the second of von Ribbentrop’s factors in the defeat of Germany: the vast supply of American armaments. There you have it. Without the armaments and machinery produced by you, we would not have been able to hold out as we did.

To emphasise this, I go back to Professor Avery: he highlights how victory over Germany was not pre-ordained, as is so often suggested, once the British Empire was joined by the USSR and the USA in 1941. The Allies had to mobilise and utilise their large resources effectively on the battlefield and in the air. This outcome could not be taken for granted.

British forces were close to defeat everywhere in 1942. The American economy was a peacetime economy and was not fully prepared for the colossal demands of total war.

The reliance on American aid indicates just how much the Allied war effort owed to the exceptional material and logistical strength of the United States.

The ability of the American economy to convert to the mass production of weapons and war equipment is usually taken for granted. Yet the transition from peace to war was so rapid and effective that the USA was able to make up for the lag in building up effectively trained armed forces by exerting a massive material superiority, particular in building up of a massive air power, and clearly this rested on the ability of the US to turn its factories and those working in them to produce the required material.

So, like Lt Col Dierckx, I too highlight the key part the Rosie The Riveters played for Great Britain and Europe during the war. And it is for this that I, on behalf of my nation, wish to thank you officially.

Thank you!

I want also to share with you some stories from the UK to highlight the parallel role women were playing in the war there. To return to the Blitz and the Battle of Britain, my grandmother was a midwife during the Blitz in London. She told me how she used to dash through the empty streets of London in the pitch black as the air attack sirens wailed, delivering babies and given nursing care to whoever needed it. She said once she left a building after attending a young mother to be and after only a few short minutes walking away from the building, the house was destroyed by a bomb with its occupants inside it, including the young pregnant mother. My thoughts at this are of despair and lost hope – I just can’t imagine delivering babies during a World War under constant threat and on poor rations, and seeing such horrendous death and destruction. I think I would have lost heart or even given up! But knowing my grandmother as I do, she continued to contribute and remain steadfast, recognizing the role she had to play as critical to the overall war effort. She also said that she was expected to venture outside of the bunkers, even when the soldiers were told to hunker down! The air raid wardens used to get angry with her when she put her small torch on so she could read the names of the street signs! As with the Rosies, it took time for her story and others like to become more widely known. There is now a fantastic memorial in London by the Thames, close the Ministry of Defence. It is a huge bronze sculpture depicting scenes from the Blitz, in honour of the civilian heroes like my grandmother.

Great Britain also had its so-called “Land Girls”, or the Womens Land Army (WLA), who worked on British Farms to keep our agricultural supplies topped up. They endured gruelling work for low pay and – to cap it all – no official recognition for 60 years! They are often referred to as the “Forgotton Army”.

At the beginning of the war, 70 per cent of our food was imported. By 1943, that figure was reversed, in no small measure due to the Land Army. There was resentment from farmers about taking their jobs away, but as the war grew darker and France fell, people recognised how vital they were.

At its peak in 1943, 83,000 people served in the WLA. During its lifetime, from 1939 to 1950, it involved 250,000 women. A lady called Mrs Procter volunteered, aged 18, in 1939 and has some interesting things to say that I think match some of the Rosies’ stories. “I had trained to be a children’s nurse” said Mrs Proctor, “but I saw a glamorous poster of a girl with golden hair, corn under her arm, so I thought: ‘I’ll have a bit of that.’” Of course, it was nothing like that. It was cleaning pig muck and picking maggots off sheep! For all their hard work and heroism, the WLA was the only part of the Forces to receive no gratuity after the war. Only in 2007 after decades of campaigning, were land girls officially recognised by the government with a badge and certificate. Ladies, you are not alone in your efforts to be rightfully thanked and remembered! With that I come to the role of those who fight for ensuring that the stories survives and simple thanks are passed: I would to specifically mention the laudable efforts of Anne Montague and her team. I have been extremely heartened as a women and an Army Officer, to read the Rosies stories. Of course I knew about the Rosie the Riveters before I spoke with Anne, every school child in the UK learns about them, but I did not appreciate the wonderful details of the individual stories – of wearing steel capped boots in case you dropped your drill, or the long hours riveting by hand.

I hope that Thanks! Plain and Simple’s efforts enable a much wider and deeper exposure to the stories of the West Virginia Rosies and Rosies across the United States and internationally. This is so important not only to highlight your contribution but also to ensure that every story is safeguarded for future generations and all the important details of your history are not forgotten.

Finally, I am so honoured to be here today to meet with the Rosies and represent my country in thanking them and all Rosies for their contribution to a war effort, without which Great Britain would have undoubtedly been in terrible peril, as well as the rest of Europe and beyond. As with the ladies of Bletchley Park, the female agents who worked for the resistance in Europe or the Land Girls, the role of women is also becoming more recognized and I am heartened to see that the memory of the Rosies is being perpetuated by such a superb organization as ‘Thanks! Plain and Simple’. Not only was your role important to the war effort, but also to changing the perception of women in the workplace. Colonel Dierckx spoke so eloquently on this last year, but I wanted to reiterate it once again. We women are still fighting for our rightful place in some parts of society, I can’t imagine the prejudices that you had to overcome! But as with the Land Girls in England, I am sure that the realization quickly came how important you were but also how capable you were too.

To add to this, we in the UK hold on strongly to our special relationship with the United States. Not only do we cherish and share the same freedoms, we have been the strongest of Allies throughout the past century and even today, alongside our NATO Allies, we are fighting side by side with your Armed Forces and civilians in the war in Afghanistan. For this reason, I am especially proud to be able to be here today, not only to thank the Rosies, but also to be the representative of that special relationship between the US and the UK, through both the good times and the darkest hours.

I hope that I have shown how significant the Rosies’ contribution was to the UK’s and Europe’s defence against tyranny, subjugation and adversity, as well as enhancing the role of women in society. In the defence of freedom, these are not simple words, but the heartfelt sentiment of a grateful nation that shares your values and hopes. I hope that you take my words here today to your hearts and are assured that the United Kingdom is so extremely grateful for your critical role in defending our freedom.

Thank you very much.

Launching the International Rosie the Riveter Movement

Some ways you can participate are to help with: