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.

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.

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)
Was this page helpful?