Britain’s Pioneer Woman Welder Remembers

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Edith Kent just turned 100 this past year.  Her fondest memories?
Those of being a woman welder in the Plymouth shipyards, where she was the first female to be paid a man’s wage.

Edith Kent, wartime welder and the first woman to receive equal pay, turns 100

Being 4ft 11in paid off for Edith Kent.

edith1Her diminutive stature meant that she could crawl inside torpedo tubes — and helped her to become the first woman in Britain to earn the same wage as her male colleagues while working as a welder during the Second World War.

This week Mrs Kent celebrated her 100th birthday with a tea dance at a hotel with 50 family and friends, including her sister Minna, 105.

Mrs Kent began working at Devonport dockyard in Plymouth in 1941 but was so good that she received wage parity in 1943 — which was unheard of at the time.

edith2Starting on five pounds and six shillings (£5 6s) a week as a skilled female worker, she was soon given a rise to £6 6s. A male manual worker in 1943 would have been on a weekly wage of only £5 8s 6d.

Mrs Kent, who still lives near the dockyard, said she was extremely proud of her signal achievement but she was embarrassed at the time.
She said: “I got the job because my brothers worked at the dockyard and they thought I would be good at it. I was the first woman to work as a welder there. It made me a bit uncomfortable that I was the first woman to earn the same as the men — and in some cases I was earning more than them. All the men I worked with were marvellous and they didn’t seem to mind me earning the same.
“None of them ever dared say it, but I think they knew I was worth as much as them, if not more,” she said. Mrs Kent took time off to have her only child, Jean, in 1942 and then went back to work — leaving the baby with one of her sisters. She worked at the dockyard until 1945 when the male workers returned from war and she left to work as a barmaid.
Mrs Kent’s daughter, Jean, 66, said: “My mother has lived a remarkable life. After I was born she went straight back to work. She was a pioneer of girl power.”

Mrs Kent, who still lives near the dockyard, said she was extremely proud of her signal achievement but she was embarrassed at the time.

She said: “I got the job because my brothers worked at the dockyard and they thought I would be good at it. I was the first woman to work as a welder there.

It made me a bit uncomfortable that I was the first woman to earn the same as the men — and in some cases I was earning more than them. All the men I worked with were marvellous and they didn’t seem to mind me earning the same.

“None of them ever dared say it, but I think they knew I was worth as much as them, if not more,” she said.

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