NIWM Copper Frieze – Sections F & G
The lower half of the McKendry frieze (sections F – K) reflects the home front in Northern Ireland during the Second World War. Today we are looking at sections F and G which focus on Northern Ireland’s agricultural role, the role of women and the rebuilding of Belfast after the air raids.
Reflecting on the part of the frieze showing farm workers with sheaves of corn, McKendry states ‘This is all farmland, this farmer is working with crops, providing food’. Northern Ireland’s wartime agricultural contribution was significant, with most farmers responding to the compulsory tillage orders required by the government. During the war, famers were expected to till (plough and raise crops) one third of their land. Even the lawns at Queens University and Stormont were ploughed up, as shown in this footage from British Pathé: https://www.britishpathe.com/…/d…/query/basil+brooke+tractor. The number of tractors in Northern Ireland rose from 550 in 1939 to 7,000 in 1944. Arable farming rose by 60%, and flax production increased six-fold to supply linen for the war effort. Farms in Northern Ireland provided 20% of the eggs required by the UK population. McKendry explains that the people and processes shown in this section of the frieze are more chaotic as they are facing different directions and making different things, ‘but they’re all working hard at it and they’re working together… there’s a togetherness there’.
James also presents one of the many roles of women in the war by depicting a woman working on a loom. McKendry explained ‘women started coming into the factories and this is an example of that, she is working in the linen industry.’ Northern Irish women played a key role producing textiles such as parachutes, ropes, and uniforms, perhaps most notably in Londonderry where 90% of the shirts required for the war effort were made. Women also worked in factories producing shells and ammunition such as Mackies and the Falls Foundry (Combe Barbour and Combe) in Belfast.
Section G represents the rebuilding of Belfast after the air raids of April and May 1941. A man and woman can be seen, and in the background, there is a bombed building. James explains that ‘they are rebuilding together’ and that this woman is symbolic of the many who worked with organisations such as the Civil Defence, the Red Cross, and the Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS) who saved, treated, fed and re-clothed thousands of people after the air raids. This female figure also plays tribute to the many women who served in the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS), the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), and the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF). These women had varied roles across Northern Ireland as cooks, nurses, drivers, mechanics, and wardens. We have been able to interview some of these incredible women through our ongoing oral history project The War and Me.
These busy sections of the frieze are bound with that sense of togetherness which is evident in so many stories from the time.