On 1 July 1918, a massive explosion ripped through the National Shell Filling Factory in Chilwell, Nottinghamshire. The factory had been opened on 8 January 1916 as a response to the 1915 shell crisis, and by September 1916 had produced a million shells for the British Army. Its 7000-strong workforce consisted mainly of women who became known as “canary girls” because the chemicals they were exposed to made their skin and hair turn a yellow-orange hue. The explosion destroyed a substantial part of the factory, killed 134 people and wounded a further 250. Miraculously, the factory opened as usual the next morning and of its uninjured employees just 12 failed to turn up for work. Such display of heroism caused Frederick Kellaway, Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Munitions during the war, to suggest that the factory should be awarded a Victoria Cross. The award was never made but the site was from then on known as the “VC Factory”. In the course of its existence, the factory filled some 19 million shells, or approximately 60% of those used during the First World War. The cause of the accident was never identified but probably resulted from a cocktail of sloppy safety standards, tough production targets, instability of the raw materials used and exceptionally hot weather which characterized the month.
Monday 1 July
Worked at Ione’s things in the morning, & then lay out in the garden, as it was lovely & hot. Muz wrote letters, Tom lay down as she was Jimmying1, & Ione was too. After lunch Muz & I took the dogs & went & sat in Horn’s hay field, & read all afternoon. Then I went with the post on my bike, & went to get eggs, & then sat in the garden, Muz sat out too for a bit. Went to bed at about ten, & Muz sat out in the garden in her dressingown [sic], as it was lovely & warm.
National Filling Factory
Tuesday 2 July
Ione & Tom stayed in bed all day. I mended nearly all morning. A chrysalis came out, it was a white butterfly. After lunch Muz & I went off to get eggs, & then she & the dogs stayed in the Thrush field, & I went on on my bike to Mrs Bayliss & got some eggs, & then on to Mrs Baker & got more & got some black currants from a house near her, then came back for Muz, & got some different kinds of black caterpillars. The we walked home. Four of the caterpillars had turned into chrysalises this morning, & three more this afternoon, all black caterpillars. Then went for a walk with Muz up the lane.
Wednesday 3 July
Did the moths etc & then wrote letters, Muz made some shortbread & then wrote letters. Then she & I took the dogs to the Thrush field, & sat there till lunch time. Afterwards I lay down for a bit, & read & finished reading “Lil” & then wrote letters, & Mus wrote too. Afterwards Muz & I walked to Mrs Wastie’s to get eggs, & some currants. Muz worked at the mat with Heppie after dinner. Tom was in bed till lunch time, & Ione stayed in bed all day.
Thursday 4 July
Ione heard from Tim, that he can’t get back to be married in September, & says he won’t get leave till Dec: or Jan: I sewed at Ione’s things some of the morning, & then wrote. After lunch Muz & I took the dogs down to the cowslip field, & we sat there till tea time. I went to the post. Ione & Tom stayed in bed late this morning, & then they both wrote letters. After tea Muz, Heppie & I worked at the mats, till dinner time. It was awfully hot all day.
Line up for Lemonade!
Friday 5 July
We drove in to Malvern in the morning, & Mrs Reynolds came with us. Heppie stayed here & worked at the mat. We drove home by the dressmakers, & called for our things, & didn’t get back for lunch till nearly four! Then I did some sewing, & after tea Muz & I went for a walk, & looked for a room for Ione, as Mrs Reynold’s [sic] girl is coming back. It was nice & warm all day. Went to bed at about 9-30. Tom met Redvers & Geoffrey Colson in the town this morning.
Saturday 6 July
I worked at Ione’s things in the morning, & finished a pink nightie, then I sewed at my own chemise, & got it finished. After lunch Heppie cut out breeches for me, & I sewed at them. Ione wrote letters, & Muz wrote in the morning, & she & Heppie worked at the mats in the afternoon. Muz & I went to the post, & it was dreadfully hot. Ione sewed in the afternoon. I had a bath, & went to bed at about 9-30. Muz & Heppie sat out in the garden & worked at the mat.
Sunday 7 July
Tom & I went for the post, on our bikes. Tom & Ione went to church, & Muz, Heppie & I worked at the mats, & cut a lot of wool. I worked at my breeches nearly all day. Took the dogs for a walk in the afternoon, & Ione worked in the afternoon.