Film ID: YFA 2287 Video of YFA 2287 Munitions factory 1940s MUNITIONS FACTORY 1940s Visitor TabsDescription During the Second World War, women were called upon to aid in the war effort. This film contains unique footage of women workers in a munitions factory during World War II and highlights the industrial process of making the 84 Pounder Shell. Titles: ‘C.F. Wilson & Co, (1932) Limited, 166, Constitution Street, Aberdeen, Present: [Photography by L.S. Gorrie, Dundee]’ ‘Showing Method of Handling and Machining Operations on 84 Pounder Shell’ Intertitle: ‘Unloading Forgings and Stacking in Raw Material Store’ A couple of women, wearing overalls, steel toe-capped boots and heavy duty gloves, unload empty forging cases from a truck, rolling the cases along the ground with the help of their feet. A small crane is used to lift the forgings up in groups of three. Intertitle: ‘Transferring Forgings From Raw Material Store to Factory’ A woman, wearing a skirt and high-heel boots, works the small crane to pick up three forgings. A woman sits in the crane control box and lowers the hook. Intertitle: ‘Cutting Off to Length and Base Thickness From Bottom of Cavity’ A woman wearing overalls and goggles cuts a forging down to size using a fixed blowtorch. Intertitle: ‘Centring Forging In Alignment With Finished Forged Cavity’ Forgings come off a conveyor belt where a woman seals their ends using a blowtorch. A forging is raised and lowered by a crane onto a spinning device where a hole is drilled in the bottom. Intertitle: ‘Rough Turning and Shaping The Body of Forging’ Forgings/shells get lowered into two kinds of lathe – one labelled GACTCRY and one GARRATT. These rotate them at high speed, shaping them into munitions shells. Intertitle: ‘Conveyor Collecting Swarf and Loading’ There is a close-up of a conveyor belt, and a couple of women unload metal shavings onto the conveyer belt. The metal shavings end up being shovelled by a man onto a horse-drawn cart. Intertitle: ‘Forging Heated and Nose-End Pressed To Form Fuse Hole’ A woman loads and unloads shells from a furnace using only her bare hands and a rag. The shells, having had one end placed for a short while into a furnace, are then placed, with white-hot ends, onto a conveyer belt and get pressed by machinery. Intertitle: ‘Boring Fuse Hole and Blending the Cavity after Heading’ A near-completed shell gets loaded into a lathe and is both bored and ‘squeezed’. Intertitle: ‘Finish Turning Body of Shell’ A near-completed shell is loaded into a machine and rotated at extreme speed. Coolant is poured over whilst this happens. Afterwards, the width is measured. Intertitle: ‘Weighing and Stamping Shell at Intermediate Inspection’ A couple of shells are weighed and stamped. Intertitle: ‘Recessing Base of Shell for Base Plates’ A shell is loaded into a lathe and has its base ‘smoothed’ mechanically. Coolant is poured over again whilst this happens. Intertitle: ‘Groving & Waving for Copper Driving Band’ A shell is loaded into another lathe and a groove is made at one end ready for a copper-driving band (coolant is used again). Intertitle: ‘Riveting Base Plates into Shell’ A woman knocks a metal cap into one end of a shell, and it is then placed into a machine which rivets it in. Two shells, one before and one after the process, are then seen together. Intertitle: ‘Pressing the Driving Copper Band on the Shell’ A woman places a copper band on a shell, banging it on firm with a hammer, before placing it into a machine which squeezes the band on solid. Again, there is a comparison of a before and after shell. Intertitle: ‘Facing Base after Riveting and Adjusting Streamline’ A shell is placed into a lathe where the woman operator turns the end to a rounded finish. This is first done automatically. Then it is measured, and the woman makes some fine adjustments by hand and re-measures it. It is then further turned in another lathe. Again, a comparison of a before and after shell. Intertitle: ‘Cleaning and Varnishing the Cavity and Stove Drying’ A woman cleans and polishes the inside of a shell using hydraulic tools. They are inspected before being passed on to the next stage. The finished shells are shown hanging up. The lining on the inside of a cut section of a shell is also shown. Intertitle: ‘Thread Milling Fuse Hole, Washing out Cavity and Gauging’ A shell is placed into a machine/lathe, worked by a woman, where liquid is pumped into one end at high pressure. A woman then seems to polish the lid on one end of the shell on a turning machine. Again, a comparison of a before and after shell, and cap is screwed on at the same end. Intertitle: ‘Coning Finish turning Chamfer on Fusing Hole’ A woman operator turns a shell on a lathe. Again, a comparison of a before and after shell. Intertitle: ‘Turning the Copper Band to Form’ A woman turns a shell in a lathe cutting off a fine layer to make a smooth finish. This is then measured before another shell takes its place. Again, a shell comparison of before and after. Intertitle: ‘Weighing, Gauging and General Inspection’ The shells are turned on a machine (gauging), with a shell ‘wobbling’ as it turns at high speed. Then some minor adjustments are made before being weighed and placed onto a vertical conveyer belt. At the next stage, they are placed into a machine to be smoothed off. They are placed back onto the conveyer belt for the penultimate stage of being hand polished and coated. Then a young man screws a cap onto the end before the shells are loaded into metal containers. A large stockpile of finished shells is in a store. The King, Edward VIII, and Elizabeth the Queen Consort, are briefly seen at the works, and there is a glimpse of a crowd waving and cheering. Intertitle: ‘Their Majesties Leaving the Main Office’ King, Edward VIII, and Elizabeth leave the factory and get into a waiting car. A group of people are left standing by the exit. A room with machinery (boilers?) is shown, followed by men and women workers leaving the factory at the end of their shift. Context As the title credits show, this film was made by an engineering company, C.F. Wilson & Co., based in Aberdeen. It is a film demonstrating the work being done to aid the prosecution of the war. It is one of a number of films deposited with the YFA by Armley Mills Industrial Museum in Leeds. There is no other information on the film, but given its approximate date and content, it was most probably prompted by the Government’s policy of the time to publicise and promote any work being done for the war effort. The dedication of the workforce acting as an encouragement and inspiration. Although not made in Yorkshire, the film shows the kind of work being done in several large munitions works in the area: munitions production had taken over a great deal of engineering capacity. A major interest of the film lies in showing women doing traditional male jobs at each stage in the production process. In 1940 it was estimated that in order to supply all the forces another 1.5 million munitions workers would need to be added to the existing 3.5 million. Women were to make up half of these, with men predominating in managerial positions. In Yorkshire many munitions factories were converted from jute works, to which they usually returned after the war ended. There are a number of examples of engineering works in the Leeds area being converted to munitions production during the war, such as Greenwood and Batley, the machine tool company, and Fairbairn, Lawson, Combe, Barbour Ltd (see Richard Moss, References). The workers employed in these works earned from 65/- (shillings, old money) to £5 per week; significantly more than they would earn working in Jute (see Morelli and Tomlinson in References). A typical munitions factory in Dundee would employ some 7,000 workers. In the ITV series The Way We Were, Connie Davison, born in 1922, relates how she worked at George Cohens at Stanningley, near Leeds, as an inspector checking the weight of the shells. Connie relates how she, and other girls in her departments, wore turbans, whilst the girls on the machines needed to have hats with air holes in. Because of acute skill shortages in the run up to the Second World War British engineering companies had to break down existing production processes into smaller constituent parts. This allowed the employment of persons trained over narrower ranges of skills and helped to create an exponential growth of female jobs, from 10.5% of total engineering employment in 1939 to 35.2% by 1943. Women were officially classified into those doing men’s work and those doing women’s work. The production of munitions completely depended upon the work of women, so much so that this was a principle reason why women were barred from active combat. This transfer of women into traditional male occupations wasn’t, of course, new. The same happened during World War One, when women working in munitions factories were called “munitionettes” or “Tommy’s sister.” For example, the munitions factory at Barnbow in Leeds employed two thousand local women out of a total workforce of three thousand during the First World War. Coincidently (or maybe not), this factory closed in 1932, the same year that Wilson’s opened. The BBC WW2 People’s War Archive of wartime memories has many recollections of those working in munitions factories. The work was hard – especially working shifts – and dangerous: one woman, recollecting her time working in a munitions factory, recounts how many workers became ill with jaundice and other problems because of their contact with TNT. However, many also remember the time as being exciting, and having a great sense of camaraderie (see the BBC website in References). The wartime labour policy of deskilling in manufacturing work helped to decrease pay inequality between men and women in the munitions industries. However, as at the end of the First World War, the gains that women made in pay, and in working in traditional male employment areas, were sharply eroded. The trade unions, which increased in strength during the war owing to their greater bargaining power, were not only complicit in this process, but actively fought in many cases to take back gains made by women. Even today, for many traditional male occupations, equality in the division of labour between the genders is far from what it was during the war. It is difficult to find exact numbers of those killed, poisoned or maimed in munitions work: either in accidents – sometimes in explosions – or through air raids as the Luftwaffe tried to disrupt production. Certainly there were very many, and at the time of writing (June 2009) there is a campaign to get the Ministry of Defence to introduce an award for those who worked in munitions factories. References Carlo Morelli and Jim Tomlinson, ‘Women and Work after the Second World War: A Case Study of the Jute Industry, Circa 1945–1954’, Twentieth Century British History, 2008; 19: pp 61-82. Robert A. Hart, ‘Women doing men’s work and women doing women’s work: Female work and pay in British wartime engineering’, Explorations in Economic History, Issue 44, No. 1, January 2007, pp. 114-130. Ian Gazeley,‘The Levelling of pay in Britain during the Second World War’, European Review Of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, 10:2003, pp 175-204. Richard Moss, VE Day 60 Years: Leeds - A Manufacturing City During Wartime, 2005. This can be found online at the 24 hour museum BBC WW2 People’s War Archive Further Information Gail Braybon and Penny Summerfield, Out of the Cage: Women’s Experiences in Two World Wars, Pandora, London, 1987.