Women At War: Lili & Rosie

It’s June, 1944 and homesick soldiers all over the world listen to the German love song Lili Marlene. If Hitler had been content to make love and not war he might have conquered the world after all, for this song melted soldiers hearts. The tune was written during WWI by a school teacher from Hamburg who had been conscripted into the Imperial German Army. In 1939 a Swedish singer, Lale Andersen, made a record of it but only sold about 700 copies. A German lieutenant working at Radio Belgrade in 1941 found a copy and played it for lack of other recordings. Its popularity grew quickly among Africa Korps and British Eighth Army troops. As Eighth Army members assumed posts in Asia and the Pacific they took the song with them. LIFE reports that the song was, “Shelved in the U.S. because a music war committee thought it would hurt soldier morale.” U.S. troops quickly adopted it in Italy and England. A cartoon by Bill Mauldin in Stars and Stripes shows two soldiers in a foxhole, one playing a harmonica, while the other comments, “The krauts ain’t following ya’ too good on Lili Marlene tonight, Joe. Think somethin’ happened to their tenor?” Even Frau Emmy Goring, wife of Nazi bigwig, sings it. We see her above belting it out at Berlin’s Kroll Opera House.

As men went off to war in WWII women took on male-dominated trades in the aircraft plants, shipyards and other factories making the tools of war. LIFE commissioned painter Edna Reindel to show on canvas these women in action. Note that the woman in each picture is identified along with a brief description of her previous occupation. Many women were truly patriotic and decided to work in the belief that the faster they made planes and guns and ships, the sooner their loved ones would hurry home. And many also came because they could suddenly make much more money. A popular song in 1942, Rosie the Riveter, became a cultural icon representing women who worked in factories during the war. The number of working American women increased from 12 million in 1940 to 20 million in 1944. The majority of these working women actually filled non-factory positions in all sectors of the economy. African American women made the greatest advance during the war years as social barriers began to break down. After the war returning veterans replaced many  women in war jobs and they assumed traditional roles of housewives and mothers. But the long range significance of the changes brought about by the war provided the foundation for the contemporary role of women in business and industry.

~John W. Poynton    @JWPoynton

I add the rest of the story about many of the remarkable people featured in LIFE magazine that helps bridge the gap between then and now.


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