This book details the history of the Royal Ordnance Factory, commencing with a look at the Rotherwas Estate on part of whose land the factory was built, through to its closure and use as a military supply depot as it slowly gave way to general industrial use.
The reasons behind the choice of Rotherwas as a site are explored, and then the rapid building programme is detailed which provided an operational factory within a few months. The changing – and improving – conditions of work during the First World War are set out, even though the nature and effects of TNT poisoning were not understood. Rotherwas was used to charge gas shells late in the war, and despite Britain signing the Geneva Protocol in 1925 which outlawed the use of chemical weapons, the author suggests that there is evidence that Rotherwas was upgraded in the inter war years to be able to continue to manufacture gas weapons. It makes one wonder what International Weapons Inspectors would have made of this if there was a certain reversal of roles in recent years.
With the rearmament programme that was started well before the Second World War, further work was carried out at Rotherwas, which soon became a major munitions factory once again. Details of the types of munitions made, the nature of the workforce and its recruitment, accommodation that was provided, attitudes to the women workers and much besides is all covered. Also recounted are the series of explosions that occurred at the factory, from relatively small mishaps in 1940 and 1941, the well known bombing raid in 1942, to the major explosion in May 1944 – the biggest at any munitions factory in Britain in the Second World War.
The use and development of the site since the end of the war is set out, and finally a description, part photographic, shows how much of the First World War and subsequent buildings remain, some of them amazing feats of engineering for their time.
John Edmonds grew up in Birmingham during the war but left the city in 1947 to work in the fields of agriculture and horticulture in Worcestershire and Herefordshire. Industrial archaeology, however, has always been an interest and periods of academic study on the subject led to two years of research into the Rotherwas site.
Paperback | 128 pages | 171 x 242 mm | 2004
Over 60 b&w illustrations, mainly photographs