WW1 Commemoration: Munitions work was a very dangerous business

WW1 Commeration: Munitions work was a very dangerous business

WW1 Commeration: Munitions work was a very dangerous business

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A MAJOR contributor to the national effort during the First World War was the Gloucester National Shell Filling Factory based at Quedgeley.

It was an important link in a chain of 16 gun ammunition filling factories, five trench warfare filling factories and three chemical shell filling factories established throughout Britain from the summer of 1915.

More than 17 million shells and cartridges were filled at the factory until operations ceased in November 1918. Later the site was to form part of RAF Quedgeley.

Before the First World War, the whole of the Army's gun ammunition requirements and about 50 percent of the Navy's needs were supplied by the shell filling factories of the Royal Laboratory, Woolwich. The remaining naval shell was supplied by the outlying factories at Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth.

The relatively small number of trade or non-Government factories then in existence were engaged in fuse andother minor filling work.

Following Britain's entry into the war in August 1914 both the Royal Laboratory and the trade firms greatly expanded their operations but the huge increase in demand for shells soon led to a serious shortage. The 'munition scandal' as it became known led to the formation of a Ministry of Munitions on June 9, 191,5 under the leadership of the Rt. Hon. David Lloyd George, MP, to organise and control industry on a war footing.

The Ministry was composed mainly of eminent businessmen and it immediately proceeded to organise la network of national factories to produce war materials of every description.

The factory at Quedgeley was divided into danger and non-danger areas.

Finished ammunition was stored pending shipment in magazines a short distance from the workshops.

Comparatively high wages were deemed to be necessary to attract sufficient labour and women workers,known as the Canary Girls, registered at the labour exchanges for munition work at Quedgeley with enthusiasm having previously been employed as domestic servants (the largest source of women workers), dressmakers, dairy-maids, factory and shop workers.

The first 70 women taken on were trained at Woolwich and the remainder on the shop floor, performing all the shell, cartridge and fuse work. Male labour accounted for about 20 percent of the workforce and consisted of young men under 18 and men too old or unfit for military service and also discharged or wounded soldiers. The men were mainly employed on maintenance work and trolley work on the narrow gauge railway.

Production commenced in early March 1916 and by June, 2,420 workers (2,113 women and 307 men) were on the factory's books and working.

Numbers steadily increased to 3,916 in September before falling to 3,212 in December when a fear of TNT poisoning was at its height.

An appeal in the local newspapers for women munition workers in 1917 brought a recovery in numbers and continual expansion which peaked at 6,364 in March but again fell away to 4,459 in October only to recover again to 4,664 in January 1918 and by the following October the workers numbered 6,227 (5,070 women, 1,157 men).

It was originally anticipated that there would be a large influx of women workers from far afield - a hostel was specially provided for the but the vast majority of workers came every day from their own homes.

Employees engaged in the danger area were issued with special flannel overalls coloured to indicate their work area in khaki grey, blue, brown and black. White indicated a TNT worker.

The women's suit consisted of a cap, coat and trousers without turnups or pockets.

Over 10 million rounds of ammunition would eventually leave the factory Between 1916 and 1918.

Given the thousands of tons of explosives it is remarkable that nothing more than minor accidents occurred.

On the declaration of peace on November 11, 1918 all workers took three days holiday on full pay and during the following two weeks they were engaged in stock taking and thoroughly cleaning the factory.

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