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First World War: Wartime Industries

At the beginning of the war the disruption to trade initially led to workers being laid off and a downturn in trade. This shortfall was gradually filled as the government began to place orders for equipment to kit out the new armies. Goods required included the obvious munitions of war, guns, ammunition and explosives. But, the volunteers also required uniforms, boots, accommodation huts, beds and bedding, canteen equipment and utensils.

A workshop in the Belgian Munition Works, also known as the Pelabon Works, Richmond-on-Thames, showing workers using lathes to machine artillery shells. September 1918. (BL24380/009)
A workshop in the Belgian Munition Works, also known as the Pelabon Works, Richmond-on-Thames, showing workers using lathes to machine artillery shells. September 1918. (BL24380/009)

In addition to the traditional weapons of war new innovations in warfare spurred on the development and manufacture of new technologies, such as airships, aeroplanes, and wireless communications. On land there was greater demand for mechanised road transport and narrow gauge railway equipment. Virtually, every major town in the country had its own engineering works, many providing the local farming community with steam traction engines and associated machinery. This wealth of practical engineering expertise was able to quickly respond to the new demands of trench warfare. Willfred Stokes, formerly of Ransome and Napier, Ipswich developed a new type of mortar. In Banbury, Sammuelson & Co Ltd, were able to perfect a mustard gas filling machine for the local munitions works.

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Wartime Industries

Please click on the gallery images to enlarge.

  • Workers packing tents at Waring & Gillow's, London
  • TT Nethercoat, Burnham-on-Crouch, Essex. Workers probably making canvas water buckets for the army
  • Cadby Hall food factory, Hammersmith, London, September 1918. Workers at Cadby Hall, owned by the then fledgling J. Lyons company, producing Christmas puddings for the troops
  • Maple and Co’s works. In Victorian and Edwardian Britain Maple and Co were amongst the most prestigious cabinet-makers and furniture retailers, with large premises on Tottenham Court Road. In this unidentified factory, workers are shown making tents.
  • Turkish Leaf Room at the Teofani Cigarette Factory, Brixton, London, 1916. During the war, tobacco production increased to supply rations to the troops.
  • Teofani Cigarette Factory, Brixton, London, 1916. Women workers packing cigarettes for supply to the forces