Shirley Reading

Photo:Shirley Nankivell aged 20 in 1945

Shirley Nankivell aged 20 in 1945

Photo:Shirley Nankivell in Seattle, WA in 1944

Shirley Nankivell in Seattle, WA in 1944

Photo:Shirley Nankivell (right) with friend, Evelyn, 1945 in Washington D.C.

Shirley Nankivell (right) with friend, Evelyn, 1945 in Washington D.C.

From shell inspector to riveter to typist for military intelligence

Chris Reading Gray (Daugther of Shirley)

Shirley Reading (nee Nankivell) recalls her experience of working in a shell factory in Wisconsin and later for Boeing Aircraft:

'In 1943 as an 18 year old, I worked in a shell manufacturing factory in La Crosse, Wisconsin. I was a “shell inspector” on the line. Whenever a box of shells became emptied, the person would yell out “shells!” this would give them a full box of shells while the line kept moving. For several nights after working there, I would wake up in the middle of the night yelling “shells!" I worked at the shell manufacturing factory for 3-4 months.

In January of 1944 I saw an ad in the paper to work for Boeing Aircraft. They would pay your way out to Seattle. I interviewed for the job in La Crosse and was hired. I traveled by train to Settle Washington and once there lived in a small room in an all women’s dormitory. Every morning I would take a bus to work and worked 7am-3pm. My job was to rivet the wall behind the pilot’s seat for B-17’s. A term “Rosie the riveter” became known for those who worked as riveters for planes. Workers were only allowed to go into the one door that they were assigned to. They were not allowed to go into any other part of the factory or see the finished product. Security was very tight to prevent sabotage. Everything on the west coast was especially tight. Payday was given in a form of a check that you cashed at a booth as you walked out of the gate. My paycheck did not last the entire pay period, so I also worked evenings during the supper hour for supper at “The Wharf”. We had to carry heavy metal platters laden with heavy plates to carry all the food. One day, Bob Hope came to entertain all of us workers at the plant. He set up out on the pavement where several finished planes were. I was able to sneak out and got into a B-17 plane and climbed into the pilot’s seat. I always wanted to be able to see the finished project from the inside!

Later we worked on B-29’s. These rivets were called “icebox rivets”. They were frozen rivets that were a very hard to drill in. I got a rash on the inside of my arm from the rivet shavings which was common among riveters so decided to quit. I worked at the plant for about 7 months.

I went into training to be a welder on the side of ships. I wore a helmet and learned to make an arc among other things. I decided I didn’t care for that job so quit while still in training. I took a train back to La Crosse, Wisconsin. After boarding I found out it was troop train. I was the only woman and the only civilian on the whole train! The conductor acted quite nasty as he thought I was there to entertain the troops so watched me carefully to see where I slept. The experience was very uncomfortable.

In January of 1945 they were advertising for government workers in Washington, DC I went downtown La Crosse and took the test. I did well and was hired. My way was paid to Washington DC I got a room to live in and went into training for typing at faster speeds. On “graduation day” they handed out work assignments. They kept calling everyone else up and I worried that maybe I hadn’t done as well as I thought I had. Then they finally called my name. I was to work at “G-2 Military Intelligence” in the message center. I had made second highest on the test! For over a month, I had to come to work each day and just sit there while my background was thoroughly investigated. Finally clearance was given. Every week I worked a different shift. In April 1945, I went to work the 3-11 shift and was “locked in”. We even had to be escorted to the bathroom to prevent any leaks as we waited for the President to announce to the general public that the war was over! When the announcement finally came by the President, we were able to go and join the crowds in celebration. I was married in September, but I continued to work there until November when I found out I was pregnant with my first child.'


This page was added by CHRIS GRAY on 31/08/2014.