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Remembered Today:

Chillwell National Shell Filling Factory No 6


ianjonesncl

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Staged through Chillwell, near Nottingham,  en route to and from Salisbury Plain on a number of occasions with out realising it's contribution to the war effort during World War One. It was a vital part of the artillery ammuntion production for the Western Front and the location of the the worst accidental munitions explosion of the Great War in Britain.

Chillwell was the location of National Filling Factory No 6.

Information Source: Historic England Research Records National Filling Factory Number 6 Chilwell

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Chillwell National Filling Factory No 6

National Filling Factory No 6, had two main functions, the manufacture of amatol and the filling of explosives. As well as producing artillery ammuntion, it also filled naval mines and aerial bombs. 

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Chillwell National Filling Factory Shells

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Chillwell National Filling Factory Naval Mines

The location was selected as it was central on the rail links between the shell manufacturers in the north and the embarkation ports in the south.

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There was also an available labourforce of female workers that had been laid off from the Nottingham lace makers on the outbreak of war. It's construction and subsequent operation was managed by Lord Chetwynd.

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Chillwell National Filling Factory Female Workers

The Factory's shell store covered nearly 9 acres holding up to 600,000 filled shells and 100,000 empty shells.

King George V visits National Filling Factory No 6 Chillwell

King George V visits National Filling Factory No 6, Chillwell

From its opening in 1915 through to the end of hostilities the factory prepared 19,325,959 shells.

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Viscount Chetwynd with senior production staff sign listing shell numbers produced WW1

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A film restored by the Imperial War Museum provides a fascinating insight into the operation of the factory. It is believed to have been filmed in 1916 or 1917. 

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DAILY LIFE IN NATIONAL SHELL FILLING FACTORY No.6 AT CHILWELL DURING THE FIRST WORLD WAR

Source: IWM 1223

  • Opens with male workers with rows of 60 pounder shells.  The workers are cleaning, marking and moving the shells. Chalk marks on the shell cases are visible, presumably to indicate shell type.
  • "Dignity and impudence - Fifteen inch shell and 60 pounder shells arriving in store to be marked" - Two very different sized shells on the factory floor.
  • Shell cases arrive by wagon and are unloaded by female workers wearing overalls.
  • "Marking tables" - Female workers mark the shells using stencils and paint to designate the shell type and format, ready for filling. The painted shell cases are then lined up in rows.
  • "Empty shells on left leaving store for filling shops: filled shells returning on right" - Shells are moved by trolley using a pulley system, one ramp going up, one ramp going down. Shells are lifted by crane onto wagons.
  • "Loaded shells entering store from filling shops" – Shells arrive in the store on the wagons.
  • "Filling and finishing shells" – Shells are filled, not all the workers are wearing masks at this point. Filled shells are moved by wagon.
  • "Preparing plugs for closing shells" – Female workers with a male supervisor prepare plugs for sealing the filled shells, dusting and oiling the plugs ready for a fuse to be inserted.
  • "Putting slings on smaller sized shells" – Filled shells are placed into wooden slings and moved by crane. Larger shells are rolled across the floor ready for packing. In some of the wider shots of the shell store the sheer size of the factory is quite evident. The cranes are operated by female workers, and it was in this role that the first women at the factory were employed.
  • "Loading a convoy of shells for our army at the front" – Shells are loaded by crane into railway trucks.
  • "Sheeting the convoy railway trucks" – The trucks are covered by tarpaulin ready for the journey.
  • "Girls leaving travelling cranes at close of work" – The female crane operators climb down from their cranes at the end of their shift.
  • "Operatives washing after work" – Male workers are seen washing their hands after their shift, the sheer range of ages of the workers is quite evident here. Film ends abruptly with no end titles.

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Information Source: The Chilwell catastrophe: Fatal explosion on the home front – The Historic England Blog (heritagecalling.com)

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On 1 July 1918, at 7.10pm, a catastrophic explosion tore through the National Shell Filling Factory at Chilwell, Nottinghamshire.

The blast killed 134 workers and injured 250 – the biggest loss of life from a single accidental explosion during the First World War.

Eight tons of TNT had detonated without warning, flattening large parts of the plant and damaging properties within a three mile area. The colossal blast was heard 30 miles away.

 

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Chillwell National Filling Factory after the explosion

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Chillwell National Filling Factory after the explosion

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Chillwell National Filling Factory after the explosion

Rapid action by the Works Manager, Arthur Bristowe – who tipped burning TNT from conveyor belt trays – prevented a further 15 tons of TNT being detonated by the spreading fires. In under half an hour the fires were under control and emergency services from across the region were arriving. Despite the workers’ extreme shock and the terrible destruction, repairs were swiftly carried out overnight enabling some of the next morning’s      day-shift to start work again.

Of the 134 dead, 25 were women. Only 32 of the fatalities could be positively identified. The victims were buried in a series of mass graves at the parish church, a short distance from the factory complex. 

 

Edited by ianjonesncl

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