Thread Mills, The History of Paisley's Thread Mills, World War II

World War II

The Second World War brought new changes to the thread industry in Paisley. In order to assist with the war effort, thread production became a reserved industry.  The government deemed thread to be of high importance, especially as it was used in a whole range of products including uniforms, tents, even sandbags. This led to changes in the way people worked at the mills too. One of the most enduring memories of those who lived through the Second World War was the night time ‘blackouts’. Given the bombing raids that were carried out by the German air force, it was deemed essential that no lights were on display at night, in order to make it more difficult for planes to find their targets. The thread mills at Anchor and Ferguslie would have been important targets for German bombers, and people who worked in the mills at this time remember the strict rules that were put in place to prevent them from being bombed. All windows were blacked out by special blinds, and watchmen would keep a close eye on this practice at both sites in order to maintain the cover of darkness. Any chink of light could be disastrous. And the fact that the mills were operating at night was itself a relative novelty. Given the importance of thread production, it had been decided that the mills would be in operation day and night. This meant that a new nightshift was put in place at the mills. New shift patterns were not the only change. Given the need for 24 hour production, and the fact that many young men were being conscripted for the war effort, the role of women became even more important. The war provided an opportunity for women. While the female workforce has always been dominant in the thread mills, it had been customary for women to leave their job after marriage, although this was not always the case. With war, these cultural restrictions were relaxed, while the women themselves saw this as not only an opportunity for income, but also a means of directly assisting in the war effort. The end of the war in 1945 brought great relief to the people of Paisley and a sense of pride at their efforts in supplying the troops. It also meant that the opportunities that women experienced during the war were once again restricted.  Elisabeth Gardiner worked in the mills at this time, and she remembers that the returning men needed jobs: “well when the men come home, they come home from the war, they had to get jobs, and then all the women who had worked through that war had, they had to go.”Another respondent, Emily Brown, worked as a ‘tenter’ in the Anchor site during the war.  She vividly remembers her experiences as a nightshift worker in the mill, the sense of freedom that she enjoyed, and also the tiring nature of the work. Sometimes, she was tired because she and the other girls had been dancing in the evening before they went to work! Most of all, she recollected the close bonds and camaraderie that she felt with her fellow workers. On the night that Victory in Europe was announced, Emily remembers her foreman informing all of the workers of the news:

“On V.E. night, that was, Victory over Europe, we were still working. And the foreman had got a message, that that was that part of the war, great celebration. We were working, so we had to do were shift, but, some of us come over to the Mile End, and an old lady shone her torch out her kitchen window, and we come over to the Mile End, and we disappeared to the town hall, and it was an accordion player, you called them, ‘Will Star’, playing the accordion, and we had, a good dance. And then we decided we’d go back to the mill, whereas the foreman was wringing his hands in agony, ‘where were we?’ “

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Strathclyde Oral History Centre

Working with heritage professionals from the Scottish Oral History Centre, University of Strathclyde, the Paisley People’s Archive is creating an accessible and user-friendly oral history archive of Paisley's rich industrial past.
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