GREATWAR-L Archives

Archiver > GREATWAR > 2002-06 > 1024135802


From: "Julian Wilson" <>
Subject: [WW1] Munitions Factory Explosion
Date: Sat, 15 Jun 2002 11:10:02 +0100
References: <003001c21449$d52476a0$4c587ad5@f2f9r6>


Dear Mr. Watts, (and interested ladies & Gentlemen of the List)
"Big explosions" are something of a hobby of mine, and this sounds to me
very like the 1918 disaster at the National Shell Filling factory, in which
over 100 people were killed.

Herewith a download of a later report about the incident, in which the
Author compares "explosive disasters" worldwide. I've only snipped out ( it
saves me rewriting it myself) the Chilwell bit for you all - the whole
article is very long------

When the Great War came about, Britain and the Empire were not ready for
war; and David Lloyd-George [the Prime Minister]gave Lord Chetwynd (who was
injured, and 'unfit for active military service') 'carte blanche' to find a
suitable site for a munitions factory. It had to satisfy three criteria--it
must have good transport access, a nearby population, and must be surrounded
by hills in the case of accident. Chilwell fitted perfectly--there were
local towns, fields between Chilwell and Long Eaton, a railway in
Attenborough and hills around. Chetwynd commandeered the land, and work
commenced on site.

Lord Chetwynd moved on-site, and - as there was no machinery specifically
for the work, - he commandeered machinery from bakeries, flour mills, and
cosmetics firms all over the country, - which were used until specific
machines were produced. A spur connection to the nearest railway main line
was hastily constructed, and thousands of workers recruited. Within 18
months ammunition was being produced at the National Shell Filling Factory
at an amazing rate.

Chilwell housed the biggest ammunition stores in Europe, and many of the
floors were, of necessity, reinforced.
Many women and girls were employed. They had a uniform, and were considered
to be 'doing their bit.' Due to the chemicals and fumes present, some
women's skins turned yellow, and they were locally nicknamed the 'Chilwell
Canaries.'

Air raids from Zeppelins were a concern, and so crude precautions were
taken--policemen had whistles, lights were turned out, and people had to
run out and shelter behind a *hedge* - as if that frail barrier would have
given any protection ! There were at least two raids, but no serious damage
was done.

On 1st July 1918 Chilwell was going through a heatwave--it was hot and
sunny, and inside the factory, work was continuing around the clock, as it
had been for weeks--12-hour shifts were usual. Shift had finished and the
night shift was just starting at 6pm and people were walking home when there
was a huge explosion which sounded like a munitions dump going off. It was
said to have been the worst disaster with explosives that this country has
ever seen. 134 people were killed and hundreds were injured. Many bodies
were not found, and a mass grave was dug at Attenborough Church.

Within one month of the disaster, the factory was back on line and achieved
its highest weekly production. The explosion was in the headlines and the
tabloids demanded that the King recognise the factory.

Chilwell closed at the end of the Great War.

For those interested in a "big explosions" thread, - the biggest non-nuclear
artificial (as in man-made) explosion in History is generally accepted to
have been the post WW2 destruction of the Heligoland U-Boat pens, docks, and
fortifications - when 6,700 tons of ex-German munitions were detonated. The
BBC did a live-commentary on the event, and it was also filmed for Pathe
News - from RN vessels some miles offshore.

Cordially,
Julian



This thread: