Never Forget

Our anonymous blogger reflects on the sacrifices made by those working in industry furing the Second World War

There was a programme a while back about women involved in the aircraft industry during the Second World War. One woman in particular had been a welder, and I’d guess in her late teens at the time in question. Along with many others she’d found herself in an alien world doing a technical job under difficult circumstances.

With an air of regret that still obviously cut deep, even after 70 odd years, she related how her hair had caught fire because of a stray spark one day and how after that she would constantly weep in fear behind her mask whilst carrying out her duties.

That is until, inevitably, she had to give it up. I got the distinct impression that she was ashamed of what she saw as her weakness, her failure to contribute as others did. In reality, clearly, she had pushed herself beyond endurance and to the point of breakdown. Courage is not an absence of fear; it is being afraid and yet still continuing. For this I thought of her during the two minutes silence on Remembrance Day.

In September 1940 the Supermarine factory was bombed twice. Being the home of Britain’s most capable fighter at the time and on the South coast, the employees must have known that it was a primary target. Despite the factory being destroyed the main machine tools were serviceable and subsequently dispersed out to workshops, bus depots and garages. A local web of production sites was established and new Spitfires were being delivered again after a pause of only a few weeks.

This was the result of unwavering determination and fierce commitment. For the staff to have achieved this when the air raids had killed 140 of their colleagues is deeply admirable. For this I thought of the workers at Supermarine, those who had fallen and those who had survived, during the two minutes silence on Remembrance Day.

Chilwell, near Nottingham, was the site of a large shell filling factory set up in 1915. The industrialisation of munitions manufacture created a unique set of problems. The predominantly female workforce were called “canary girls” as exposure to the chemicals turned their skin yellow.

Worse was to come though in July 1918. For reasons yet to be fully explained an explosion ripped the factory apart leaving 134 dead with another 250 injured. The blast was heard 20 miles away such was its ferocity. Yet the workers returned the next day and then beat their production record within a month. Systematically poisoned, blown up and then to not only continue but push harder.  For this I thought of Chilwell’s workers during the two minutes silence on Remembrance Day.

It is right and proper that on November 11th we primarily mourn those fallen in battle, and display our pride in the veterans of the armed services. However I think we should also look to our own – we have a duty to make sure that they too are never forgotten.