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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

The Fire

The Fire

The exact analysis of the White Lund disaster is hard to tie down. Investigations started soon afterwards with statements taken from many workers and firemen. Reports were written based on the evidence of eye witnesses and participants. However, some details do not match each other.

Working under pressure it is not surprising that precise times were not recorded. Without modern routes of communication it is, perhaps, inevitable that workers and local residents would have felt panic, feared the worst and fled wherever they thought would be safest.

We know a fire started in Unit 6C. On the ground floor workers were filling 6" shells with powdered explosives (stemming) and, on the upper floor, they were melting Amatol to fill 12 inch shells. It is believed the fire started in the Melt Room on the upper floor.

Unit fitter, Fred Harrison was on duty that evening with his labourer/ assistant Firth Dole. They had eaten before the other staff and were checking the bogies (shell transport vehicles) were fully operational before staff returned from their dinner break. Fred Harrison went off to the 6A stores and Firth Dole shortly went to find him:

‘Dole’s words were, “Come Fred at once I can smell fire, I am sure there is something burning.” I do not know where Dole and [Fireman] Peck went to, but I came along the runway connecting A, B and C of No 6 and No7 Units. I went to 6C and saw that the melted filling upstairs and down was in flames.’

At the inquest of William Topping one witness, Richard Taylor, said what he saw:
‘...reminded him of a sunset across the Bay – it was like a lump of fire.’

Although great efforts were made to contain the fire, all the witnesses tell of how quickly it grew out of control. Soon afterwards shells started exploding.

Explosions did happen in other Filling Factories across the country. In Leeds (National Filling Factory Number 1 at Barnbow) there were three separate explosions in December 1916, March 1917 and March 1918. The first of these was by far their worst with 35 women and girls tragically killed. The deaths of the ‘Barnbow lasses’ was hushed up as part of the country’s news blackout of sensitive information.

It is believed that the timing of the fire at White Lund saved the lives of so many of its workers. They were mostly away from their workshops on their supper break. Minor injuries were noted in reports but these were sustained escaping from the site or, with some of the nursing staff, in staying and caring for others.

On 1st October the brave actions to stem the fire - and reduce the risks of even more shells exploding - were taken largely by staff at the works and the local fire brigade. We believe all the deaths were sustained in the first hours of the disaster.

With fires raging fiercely, Fire Brigades from other towns and cities came to assist. Most arrived on site on 2nd October. They worked tirelessly for the next 2 days. Ambulance crews also joined the operation.

We have given a breakdown of events to give a picture of the three days that shook the area: The Time Line

How the incident was reported in the Lancaster Guardian of 4th October 1917.  Very little was said until the war was over a full article then appeared in January 1919 when the strict regulations of the Defence of the Realm Act were reduced.


© 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