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WW1 at Black Country Living Museum

Lilian Hodgkiss, Munionette

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Munitions Worker

Aged 18 in 1914

In 1904, Lilian with her mother and siblings, moved into the Toll House, Littleworth Gate, Woodsetton. The Toll House  has now been relocated, brick by brick to Black Country Living Museum.

Lilian was a munitions worker at the National Projectile Factory, Hall Street, Dudley during the war (the factory opened in August 1915).

 

 

Lilian's family during WW1

Lilian's Mother, Ann (1853-1927) moved to the Toll House with Lilian, Lilian’s sister Julia (1891-) and two brothers, William (1888-1912) and John (known as Jack), (1893-1943) after losing their mine worker father in 1904.

Lilian’s older brother, Thomas James (1880-unknown), a miner, joined up in 1915, aged 36 but was discharged on medical grounds within three months of enlisting (under a military regulation category, “not likely to become an efficient soldier”).

Lilian’s brother, William was killed prior to the war working on the railways in 1912. Her brother John (Jack) continued to work as a miner during the war.

Lilian’s daughter recalls a family story that Lilian's sister, Julia was at the Picture House in Tipton in 1916 when the town suffered a Zeppelin raid.

The National Projectile Factory, Dudley

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[image copyright:The Francis Frith Collection]

 

The National Projectile Factory was a purpose built factory authorised by the Ministry of Munitions in August 1915. Construction of the buildings was completed by May 1916. Land was purchased from Messrs. Harper and Bean, (the Bean car manufacturers).The factory was managed by George Bean, Chairman of A. Harper, Sons & Bean who had their own munitions factory but could not themselves produce enough munitions to meet demand.

The factory originally employed around four thousand workers - many were women (munitionettes) and children. This huge influx of people into the region caused serious housing problems. Eventually, land was found by the Town Council at Brewery Fields to build houses on for the workers. They were later destroyed in the 1930s as they had become too dangerous to live in.

From September 1916, the factory started to produce 6 inch, 18lb and 60lb shrapnel shells, progressing to the manufacture of 6 inch chemical shells in 1917. In late 1916, the government appealed for more women to join the workforce and offered free training in aspects of munitions manufacture. The hours varied and 53 hours a week was about average but the pay was generally good. The work could be sometimes dangerous dealing with chemicals and high explosives. Gun repair was also undertaken in 1917.

Eventually, production of chemical shells overtook production of shrapnel shells. Shrapnel shell production was also further hampered by a steel shortage in 1918 causing production to change from shells to aero engines in March 1918. However, the National Projectile Factory continued to make shells until the end of 1918. By the early 1930s however, the factory outlived its usefulness and the land was sold. Part of the building however, is still standing in Hall Street, Dudley.

Women Munitions Workers, Dudley

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[image copyright: Imperial War Museum]

 

In the letters and diaries of the munitions workers.....Patriotism and a sense of duty were an unembarrassing part of social behaviour. ‘Doing one’s bit’ is the phrase which appears time and again in the reminiscences, coupled with an implied desire not to let down the men at the front – after all, every terraced street, every village had men away at the war. And....receiving wages and being recognised as useful citizens were a great comfort.” [Corsets to Camouflage – Women and War, Kate Adie, Hodder & Stoughton (2003)]

'The women proved to be no less industrious than their male counterparts and at the height of the war the factory was producing 6,000 six inch high explosives and 15,000 sixty pounder shrapnel shells every week.' Dudley's Bean Works, Black Country Bugle

The work was very dangerous and women were handling heavy machinery, hazardous chemicals and lifting heavy materials. Accidents were frequent. Dudley Guest Hospital records show that board meetings refer to issues arising with the factory sending so many cases to the hospital out of hours including summoning off duty doctors. The factory owner defended his employees, demanding they see an out of hours doctor as they could not go home and return to the hospital the next day, they had too far a distance to travel to reach home. 

The Guest Hospital weekly Board meeting minutes, April 28 1916, reveals that a supporting 'letter was received from the National Projectile Factory stating that arising out of the Secretary’s visit to the works, a meeting of the employees had been held with the object of forming a fund to aid the local hospitals,etc. A scheme for weekly contributions was adopted and a committee elected by the workers was formed to control and administer the fund. There was every prospect that the fund would be considerate.'

 

Research provided with thanks to The Black Country History Society 

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