|'The Explosives Factory Aintree 1914-18' by Arthur Henry Knighton-Hammond
Image Courtesy of Peter Norris; reproduced with permission of the Knighton-Hammond Family.
Although World War I created a strong demand for dyestuffs, which could no longer be imported from Germany, the requirement for explosives was even
more critical. The Ministry of Munitions quickly established a network of 30 National Explosives Factories and National Filling Factories. The explosives
factories produced TNT by nitration of toluene, derived from coal tar. Since toluene was also needed for dyestuffs and was in short supply, Lord Moulton
promoted the use of Amatol, a high explosive consisting of an 80:20 mixture of ammonium nitrate and TNT. He overruled some Army Generals who
preferred other explosives. The U. S. Army also adopted Amatol in October 1917 as a bursting charge for high explosive shells. Amatol was safer to handle
The National Filling Factories filled shells and cartridges with explosives shipped in by railroad.
The Aintree factory, depicted in the watercolour above by noted painter Arthur Henry Knighton-Hammond, was known as the No. 2A National Filling Factory
(Ordnance Map coordinates SJ 35 98). It was built slightly west of the No. 2 National Filling Factory which had been established on a greenfield site at
Bland Park Farm, Sefton (Ordnance Map coordinates SJ 36 98). The government had obtained the right to take over private property with the passage of
the Defence of the Realm Acts on August 8, 1914, just four days after the declaration of war.
The idea for this factory originated in Lloyd George’s visit to Liverpool in June 1915, on the basis that the railway and shipping facilities, the proximity to the
industrial centers producing empty shells, and the large quantities of empty shells entering the port from the U.S. The area selected was close to Aintree
Station, mainly comprising 175 acres of Bland Park Farm. It was close to the marshalling sidings of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway and also the
terminus of the Liverpool Corp Tramway. Construction began in October 1915 and production began at the end of January 1916. The total finished
ammunition was 5.4 million 18-pounder HE (High Explosive), 6.9 million 18-pounder shrapnel, 39k 18-pounder incendiary, 386k 60 pounder HE, 26k 60-
pounder shrapnel, 96k 4.5 HE, 26 4.5 shrapnel, 126 5-in HE, 4.2 million 6-in How HE, 125 8-in HE for a total of 17 million shells of various kinds. A total of
24,000 tons of amatol and 1,000 tons of smoke mixture was made; 180 million exploder bags, 2.5 million exploder containers and 2 million smoke bags were
filled. A total of 16.5 million cartridges and 9.6 million primers was filled; 3.4 million fuses and gaines were assembled, along with 292k 106-fuses. (Ref. 4)
Labor came from Liverpool, Wallasey, Ormskirk, and other places on the Lancashire and Liverpool Electric Railway. In March 1917, out of 10,837 workers,
10,340 were women and 497 were men. On 23 July 1918, three lives were lost owing to the explosion of a 6-in shell. In August 1918 there were 8,599
The manufacturing at Aintree likely involved dry mixing the explosive raw materials. The hygroscopic ammonium nitrate was first dried and then milled in a
multi-story building modelled on flour mills where the ingredients were raised to the upper floors and allowed to fall by gravity. This is probably the tower
building depicted in the above painting. The TNT was ground and sieved in a separate building. The two components were combined in a mixing house.
The Amatol was conveyed to press houses where the workers filled shells, which were compacted with hydraulic pressure. The filled shells were moved to
a storage shed and shipped out by railcar.
Since men were needed on the battlefield, up to 90 percent of the workers in the National Factories were women as depicted in the artwork below:
Women had demanded the 'right to serve' but labour unions were worried about 'dilution' which would let semi-skilled workers take jobs previously classed
as skilled. Legislation eliminated this obstacle by making it clear that the work was temporary.
The TNT in Amatol is toxic and can be absorbed through the skin, causing irritation and bright yellow staining. This led to the nickname 'canaries' for the
women workers. At the Woolwich Arsenal, about 100 workers died from this hazard until respirators, protective grease and uniforms were required.
Filling shells with explosives was inherently dangerous. Three explosions at the Barnbow factory in Leeds killed 40 workers, most of whom were women.
Almost all of the National Explosive and Filling Factories closed at the end of WW I. The Aintree site is in use today as an Industrial Estate.
|Patriotic British Posters on Munitions Industry and Working Women in WW I.
Photos: Library of Congress. Click to Enlarge
1) William J. Reader, Imperial Chemical Industries: A History: The Forerunners, 1870-1926 Vol. 1, Oxford University Press, 1970
2) Peter Norris, Arthur Henry Knighton-Hammond, Lutterworth Press, Cambridge, 1994
3) Wayne D. Cocroft, Dangerous Energy, English Heritage, Swindon, UK, 2000
4) The History of the Ministry of Munitions, Vol. VIII, Pt. II, p169; abstracted by Simon Jones, at the link:
http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=130629&pid=1241169&st=0&#entry1241169, accessed August 16, 2009
|Amatol Explosives Factory
Aintree, United Kingdom
|Cunard Shell Works, Birkenhead, Merseyside in 1917. Worker checking
dimensions of munition shells before shipment to Aintree for filling.
Photo by Harry Lemere; reproduced by permission of English Heritage. NMR.
Click to Enlarge
|World War I Patriotic British Postcard "The
Munition Girl" by Artist L. Ravenhill
Women in Canteen in WW I Munitions Factory. Photo: Library of Congress
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|Amatol Explosives Factory Aintree, United Kingdom
By Robert J. Baptista, Updated August 16, 2009