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 You must seek permission prior to publication of any of our images.

The Great War Centenary 1917 - Exhibition

Boomtown - From Front Line to White Lund

Who worked at NFF No. 13?

Munitions workers were recruited from all over. Direct approaches to Lancaster Corporation, in April 1915, meant 80 employees were ‘released’ from council duties to work for Vickers.

Although the staff records were destroyed in the fires of October 1917, individual stories and statements often show where staff came from. Many were from Lancashire –including Accrington, Barrowford, Blackburn, Burnley, Clitheroe, Nelson, Ribchester, Southport, and Stockport. Some came from further a field. We know of women from Newcastle, Kendal, Windermere, Lincolnshire and - it seems - quite a number came from Ireland (especially around Belfast).

In some munitions works women outnumbered men on the workforce. At White Lund it seems to have been a roughly equal split. By 1st October 1917 there were around 4,000 members of staff split between day and night shifts.

To minimise the risk of anything igniting the explosives, staff had to change into standard uniforms. Isabella Clarke, from Belfast, described the rubber shoes (or pumps) they had to wear and even how fears of linen buttons set over tin discs were seen as a risk that might create a spark.

The laundry for the workers' uniforms
Every provision is made to guard against accident and fire.  Not only are the buildings isolated, but the workers and apparatus for carrying out some of the processes are separated by cubicles.  In all cases, too, the workers are supplied with overalls which are fire-resisting.  These overalls are frequently washed, and after being dried are steeped in a fire resisting solution.  This is a view of the laundry and through it passes twice weekly 3000 overalls.

Many women talked about changing at the factory but the photos of Market Square and the Electric Buses, alongside the piece in the Visitor newspaper’s Mustard & Cress column, in 1916, suggest that women wore their uniforms with pride even outside of the works:
‘Do the women war workers think more of wearing the conspicuous uniform than of doing the work itself?’

Munitions workers faced many dangers at work, from industrial accidents to risks from the chemicals they were handling. Some women, talking about their time in other munitions works, mentioned being given milk to drink daily. It was believed that milk might neutralise the risks of TNT damage to the liver. At White Lund, Isabella Clarke talked of regular drinks of cocoa before and after her shift. She thought it was to combat health risks of the job. Even so, Letitia Henderson, died of TNT poisoning from the White Lund works on 14th April 1917.

Change Houses

Change Houses were where workers changed from outside clothes into uniforms. Change Houses had lockers where people left food etc. but smoking materials, would have been left outside the main gates. Once you had brought even a match onto the site you were guilty of breaking Defence of the Realm Act regulations.

In the change houses was normally a red board, once crossed you were in a designated clean area and had to wear special shoes and uniforms without buttons, from which a spark could be generated.

Gardens & Canteens

Alongside the main industrial works an area of the site was used to grow kitchen garden produce. At times munitions workers swapped shell filling for gardening. This may have been if they were showing early signs of TNT poisoning to take them off the production lines.

Contemporary illustration of a Munition Works Canteen

We believe the produce was used in the works’ canteen that was much praised for the high quality of its food and fair prices. Having a main canteen like this meant there was no need to leave the site at meal breaks. Some workers brought their own food to work and ate in their Change Houses. On the night of the explosions we believe most of the staff were in the canteen or in various Change Houses and this, undoubtedly, saved many lives.

Child care was also seen as another way of encouraging women into munitions work. Stoke Newington, in London, claimed to have set up the first municipal crèche for children of munitions workers. The Ministry of Munitions supported these with 75% of both the set up costs and rentals along with subsidising the children’s places.

Contemporary Illustration of a Munition Works Creche

In Lancaster the Maternity and Child Welfare Sub-Committee met with Miss Leach, Welfare Supervisor for the Ministry of Munitions on 14th June 1917. She proposed such a crèche for the local munitions workers, limited to 20 children. Although the sub-committee agreed to discuss the matter with the Sanitary Committee it is not known if this was ever realised. Women often made their own, informal childcare arrangements with friends and neighbours


© Images are copyright, Trustees of the King's Own Royal Regiment Museum.
 You must seek permission prior to publication of any of our images.

Only a proportion of our collections are on display at anyone time.  Certain items are on loan for display in other institutions.  An appointment is required to consult any of our collections which are held in store.

© 2017 Trustees of the King's Own Royal Regiment Museum