Tribute to the forgotten army
THERE was so much happening during the opening months of the First World War, but the ordinary chap in the street would have known little or nothing about it.
Heresay, rumour and gossip had yet to be colloborated by solid facts. But a crisis that began to unravel in 1915 would change everyone’s perception of the Great War. What became known as the “Shell Crisis” was caused by an underestimation of the number of shells needed at the front line, and the stock pile being used quickly outstripped the quantities being produced by the domestic shell making factories. These munition factories were still producing prewar quantities and only men were employed to get the work done. By November 1914 the British Army began to feel the effects of these shortages, but luckily the shortening of daylight and worsening weather as winter approached provided a window of opportunity to deal with the crisis. Because of the shortage of shells the Liberal government of the day was accused of incompetence, putting Prime Minister Herbert Asquith under pressure. In June 1915 a new department, the Ministry of Munitions, was established and David Lloyd George relinquished his role as Chancellor of the Exchequer to take on the job as Minister of Munitions. His acceptance of the job came as a result of his strong assessment that a large proportion of the nation’s war strategy was not working. Major changes in the existing methods of munition and equipment manufacture were urgently needed which inevitably involved long established traditional systems of management at shopfloor level being replaced with more modern efficient procedures.
Lloyd George was an experienced negotiator and over his years in politics had developed a rapport with the unions and as a result had won the acclaim of both workers and members of the business community. As far as he was concerned national unity was the greatest priority and party politics during wartime were totally irrelevant, and he felt passionately that the destiny of the war would be determined by the success or failure of his revolutionary ministry.
To accomplish this objective all war production had to be placed under public control, and a very contentious Munitions of War Act began to infringe of people’s daily lives. Authority to bring in changes was available under DORA (Defence of the Realm Act) and this provided the necessary powers to take whatever action was required. Part of the responsibility for implementing these new laws fell to William Beveridge. But all was not plain sailing as there was suspicion that wartime conditions were being used to undermine traditional methods of collective bargaining, working hours, wages and free movement of labour, threatening certain employment conditions that had been agreed upon over many decades.
Lloyd George stuck to his principles and with public opinion urging an increase in shell production new munition factories began to be built across the country for the mass production of shells. The construction of these factories inevitably took time and in order to ensure there wasn’t a prolonged delay in the increase of shell production the government turned to railway companies to manufacture materials of war.
Meanwhile in Dudley a site at Waddams Pool had
The shop floor of the National Projectile Factory, Waddams
Black Country women helping with the w
Munitions factories at the start of WW1 where only men can be seen working
Munitions Minister David Lloyd George, who became Prime Minister suceeding Herbert Asquith