Friday, January 27, 2012

Hayes Women Munition Workers WW1

( Hayes HMV factory producing munitions during WW1)
Hayes Women Munition Workers 1915
(Sandy Nordby grandmother)

During World War One the new factories in Hayes were turned over to the War effort, thousands of young women were recruited to take the places of the men now conscripted into the Army.
These young women workers came from across Britain in search of relatively well paid jobs in the munition factories of Hayes, the largest of which was the National Filling Factory No: 7. this was situated on 14 acres of land in 400 buildings (sheds) at least 75 feet apart established on a site South of Hayes station (Nestles Avenue) and employed 10,000 women and 3,000 men.

It is therefore possible that the number of Women employed in Hayes on War work at the height of WW1 could be as high as 15-20,000.

At the His Masters Voice factory, Hayes th
e new 120,000 pound gramophone manufacture factory, had just started assembly work when War was declared and as global sales slumped, so HMV had little option but to obtain munitions work. As a direct result employment at the Hayes HMV factory increased four fold and by wars end. a total of 6 million pounds worth of business had been generated.

Munitions work was extremely dangerous and the women worked long hours. The TNT in the munitions turned the women's skin yellow and they bec
ome commonly known as ' canaries'. I It has been estimated that around 400 women died from overexposure to TNT during World War One, but this is likely to be a significant underestimate.

While organisations like the Red Cross and the YWCA/YMCA attempted to provide rest, refreshments. and restaurant facilities it was left to th
e unions to fight for better safety and pay in the factories.

Below is a picture of Italian opera star Luisa Tetrazzini entertaining the munition workers at HMV Hayes factory during their lunchtime, the Young women workers in the picture look no older than late teens. (click on the picture to enlarge)


"We are the Hayes Munition girls
Working night and day
Wearing the roses off our cheeks
For very little pay
Some people call us lazy
But were next to the boys on the sea
If it was'nt for the munitions girls
Where would the Empire be ?"

Many of the women in Hayes joined Mary MacArthur's National Federation of Women Workers union

The local Hayes branch of the National Federation of Women Workers (probably covered Hayes and Southall) and the the Secretary was Mrs Hollings of 21 Leonard Road, Southall and a Miss Nutcher were the local organiser during the war.

Later a Miss F. G.Lingard, 9 Nield Road, Hayes, Middlesex became Secretary of Hayes National Federation of Women

The union had a good membership in the Hayes women munition factories

It was claimed that by 1915 the union had 350 of the 600 women workers employed in the Hayes factories, (including amongst Belgium women refugees working in the factories) with representatives in nearly every factory.

In 1915 the Hayes branch of the National Federation of Women Workers organised a delegation to demand an increase of six pence per hour as presently they only received three and half pence while men received seven pence per hour.

In June 1915 over 200 women workers attended a meting organised by the union and addressed by NFWW organiser Nutcher and Miss Pethick Lawerence spoke stating that "Hayes was full of vigour".

It was reported that the ASE were helping in trying to secure equal pay for women in Hayes, however James Andrew Seddon (MP for Newton-Makerfield) had stated that he was astonished learn of the low wages of some of the girls in the Hayes factories, but he was glad to learn that thanks to the trade union action a number of special improvements had been secured.

Miss Pethick Lawerence stated at the same meeting that "When they saw how all the Labour party in Hayes were there to help them (NFWW) ...and that...."No district had a stronger Labour party than that in Hayes".


Uxbridge County Court dealt with the claims on behalf of two munition workers in local factories
Daisy Hitchings of 16 Pickett Street, Balham (loss of finger)
Daughter of Mary Ann E Bosher of Melbourne Cottages, Alma Road, Windsor - Killed in an accident at the Munitions factory 3rd January 1917

The early Hayes and Southall Labour Parties (especially Mrs Chard of Southall) played a key role in trying to secure decent lodgings for the women who flocked to Hayes and Southall at the Governments request. it was also the local Labour Parties that established a vigilance committee to fight unfair rent and food rises.

Some men at the front were shocked that not only had they been replaced by women workers but they sometimes had secured better pay than they had and alleged that some were paid more than them as solders at the front.

What is known is that without the work of thousands of Hayes women munition workers the Allies would not have won the War, then again you could argue the weapons Hayes produced during WW1 probably killed hundreds of thousands of young German men

Note The WW1 song 'It's a long way to Tipperary' was first produced by The Gramophone Company HMV (probably at the Hayes plant) originally in 1913. A song made famous by the Connaught Rangers in France in the early days of the War. (see Hayes Peoples History posting on the Connaught Rangers).

So not only did Hayes produce the munitions to fire at the enemy, it also produced the soldiers song that they sang on the way to war.
Councillor J.C. Drenon
The Uxbridge Advertiser 23rd July 1915

The patriotism of many so called patriots starts and ends with their pockets,
it was the same with the coal owners, who grow fat out
of the country's needs,
and risk the country's safety rather than
give the colliers a living wage.
It is the same with the some property owners,
when it comes to compelling them to spen
d money
on their broken down dirty dilapidated houses,
their wails and screeches reach unto the heavens!
But they will do anything rather than their lawful duty"


"We are the Hayes Munition girls
Working night and day
Wearing the roses off our cheeks
For very little pay
Some people call us lazy
But were next to the boys on the sea
If it was'nt for the munitions girls
Where would the Empire be ?"

See also Mike Collier's excellent article