Gabrielle ‘ Bobby’ West

BBC History Magazine - - Wwi Eyewitness Accounts -

Gabrielle West, known as ‘Bobby’, was born the daugh­ter of a vicar in 1890. In 1916 she trained as a po­lice­woman and by Jan­uary 1917 was work­ing at a mu­ni­tions fac­tory close to the Welsh min­ing vil­lage of Pem­brey in Car­marthen­shire. The fac­tory is built on the Bur­rows sand­hills, the most des­o­late spot in this world. Where the most dan­ger­ous work is done the sheds are ac­tu­ally inside the hills. The hill is scooped out in the mid­dle and is en­tered by this small tun­nel through the mound. In this way the sheds are quite in­vis­i­ble from out­side. This part of the fac­tory doesn’t look like a fac­tory at all, more like a gigantic rab­bit war­ren than any­thing else. In these very dan­ger­ous sheds only five or six work­ers are al­lowed in at a time and if an extra per­son wants to go in, one of those inside must come out. These are the ‘siev­ing sheds’ where pow­der in­tended for mak­ing cordite and bal­lis­tite is put through a metal sieve.

The girls here are very rough – so are the con­di­tions. The lan­guage is some­times too ter­ri­ble. But they are also very im­pres­sion­able: quite friendly one minute, shriek­ing with rage and al­most ready to tear one to pieces the next.

The previous team of po­lice­women had made them­selves thor­oughly un­pop­u­lar with the mu­ni­tions work­ers who re­joiced in abus­ing them.

One of our du­ties is to get girls out of their din­ing halls and back to their sheds at the proper times. When Buckie and I and the three con­sta­bles first at­tempted this they hooted and booed at us and, when we tried to in­sist, they all went on strike and an­nounced that they would down the first con­sta­ble who came near them. Buckie and I marched boldly amongst

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