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First World War: Filling Factories, Explosives and Poison Gas

Filling factories assembled the metal and explosive components of various types of munitions - high explosives and cartridges, trench warfare supplies, and poison gas.

From the summer of 1915 the country’s ammunition filling capacity was greatly expanded by the creation of new National Filling Factories. The first was commissioned at Hereford, now listed, as are the earthwork remains of the Banbury factory in Oxfordshire.

The discharge of poison gas by the Germans in April 1915 marked a new and ghastly phase of industrialised warfare. British poison gas production was centred on the dyestuffs industry mainly located in the north-west of England.  Initially at the Front, the British released gas from cylinders, but concentrated bombardment from shells was more effective. Experiments into poison gas shell filling were undertaken at Woolwich and a purpose-built factory was created at Greenford, West London. Other obsolete filling facilities were converted to gas filling.

Aerial view of National Filling Factory (Chemical) at Chittering
National Filling Factory, Chittening, Avonmouth. Work on this factory began in November 1917 and it opened in the following June filling artillery shells with mustard gas. (EPW019262)
National Filling Factory, Banbury
Hidden within bushes to the side of the M40 is the site of the National Filling Factory at Banbury, Oxfordshire, originally built to fill shells with high explosive and by 1918 converted to produce poison gas. It is protected as a scheduled monument. (NMR 27884/036)
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