Trib­ute to the for­got­ten army

Black Country Bugle - - YOUR LETTERS - By JOHN WORK­MAN

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

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