On October 17th Tim Churchill came to talk to the Thursday Group about the ‘Munition Ladies’ who worked in the National Filling Factory at White Lund, a 400 acre site in Morecambe where 64.4% of the 4,621 employees were women, during WW1.
Working conditions were very hard and dangerous as employees worked 12 hour shifts and the women’s job was to fill the shells , made by the men in a nearby factory, with TNT. The TNT reacted with the melanin in the skin causing a yellow pigmentation to stain the skin and eyes leading to the nickname ‘Canary Girls’, several women dying from this TNT poisoning. Other dangers were the possibility of fire and explosion which occurred regularly in similar factories throughout the country.
For this reason stringent safety rules were in place and high fines given to transgressors
There was a Medical Centre with a Doctor and Nurse on duty at all times, also Firemen
There was a building set aside for the women to change into special work clothes but no gloves, breathing masks or head coverings
On October 1st 1917 a fire started at the White Lund Factory which, when it reached the areas containing the stores of TNT and all the half filled shells, set off enormous explosions which lasted 4½ hours. Windows were blown out of the houses nearest to the site and shells could be seen, as well as heard, hurtling for miles around. The fires lasted for several days and the site was never reopened. The fact that only 10 people, all men and mainly firemen, were killed was owing to the fact that most of the employees were in the Canteen having their evening supper whereas similar disasters in other Munitions Factories had very much higher death rates.
This was an absorbing talk with so much to take in.