Loftus was born in Llanhilleth in South Wales and in 1940 she and her sisters were assigned to work at the Royal Ordnance Factory in Newport. She proved herself to be exceptionally skilful in operating a lathe and was chosen to work on the breech-ring component of the 40-millimetre Bofors anti-aircraft gun.
This was a technically challenging task that was usually carried out by men with eight or nine years experience in the engineering shop. Such was Ruby’s rapid progress that a deputation from Woolwich Arsenal was sent to see her skills for themselves.
She was immortalised by Dame Laura Knight in the painting ‘Ruby Loftus screwing a Breech-ring’ (above) which was commissioned by the Ministry of Information in 1943.
The painting was voted Picture of the Year and the South Wales Argus described the scene: ‘A shy girl with brown eyes and her hair in a victory roll.’
Loftus returned to work and later in 1943 married a lance-corporal in the 11th Hussars. After the war, the government offered to sponsor her on a college engineering course which she refused. Instead, she and her husband emigrated to British Columbia in Canada.
She last visited the UK in 1962 when she met Dame Laura Knight again to see her painting hanging in the Imperial War Museum in London. She suffered from multiple sclerosis for many years and died in 2004.
Below is a wartime newsreel showing Ruby Loftus and Dame Laura Knight and the painting at the Royal Academy.