H.M. King George V's visit to the National Shell-Filling Factory (Chilwell Depot), 15 December 1916
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At the start of World War I and in the haste of war preparations, Lloyd George gave Lord Chetwynd (who was injured and unfit for service) carte blanch to find a suitable site for a munitions factory. Essential criteria for the site was that it must have good transport access, a nearby population, and must be surrounded by hills in the case of accident. Chilwell fitted perfectly; there were local towns, fields between Chilwell and Long Eaton, a railway in Attenborough and hills around. Chetwynd commandeered the land and work commenced on site. Lord Chetwynd moved on site and as there was no machinery specifically for the work, he commandeered macinery from bakeries, flour mills, and cosmetics firms which were used until munitions machines were produced. A railway line was put in and thousands of people recruited. Within 18 months ammunition was being produced at the National Shell Filling Factory at an amazing rate. Chilwell housed the biggest stores in Europe, and many of the floors were, of neccessity, reinforced. Many women and girls were employed, as in many other industries at this time. Due to the chemicals and fumes present, some girl's skin turned yellow and they were nicknamed the 'Chilwell Canaries.' The National Shell Filling Factory provided it's staff with social activities; it had a band, a ladies tug of war team, and ladies football team. Air raids from Zepplins were a concern and so precautions were taken; at the sound of policemen's warning whistles, lights were turned out and people had to run out and shelter behind a hedge! There were at least two raids but no serious damage was done. On 1st July 1918 Chilwell was going through a heatwave--it was hot and sunny, and inside the factory, work was continuing around the clock, as it had been for weeks; 12-hour shifts were usual. The day shift had finished and the night shift was just starting at 6pm and people were walking home when there was a huge explosion which sounded like a bomb going off. It is the worst disaster with explosives that this country has ever seen. 134 people were killed and hundreds were injured. The cause of the blast has since been the subject of much speculation. Many bodies were not found, and a mass grave was dug at Attenborough Church. Within one month of the disaster, the factory was back on line and achieved its highest weeekly production. The explosion made national headlines and the tabloids demanded that the King recognise the factory. It was duly accorded the V.C. medal and was known as the 'V.C. Factory.' The factory closed at the end of World War I. In 1919 the staff assembled on the sports field for the closing ceremonies which marked the end of an era. After WW1 Chilwell Depot was developed as a base, stores and barracks for the Army and is today (though somewhat reduced in size) called The 'Chetwynd' Army Barracks in honour of Lord Chetwynd.