Sandra Gold-Wood – “The Canary Girls”

At our meeting on Thursday, 14th April, Sandra Gold-Wood gave a very interesting presentation on ‘The Canary Girls’. This was the name given to the women munitions workers because exposure to the chemicals involved caused their skin and hair to be coloured yellow. Sandra is campaigning to raise funds for a memorial to the women at the National Memorial Arboretum.
Sandra began by recounting how, from the beginning of World War I when many from the male labour force had gone into the armed forces and, when there was a great shortage of ammunition, women were recruited as munitions workers.
From 1915 onwards many factories were built across England and over one million women were employed. At Gretna women made cordite explosive from nitrocellulose and nitroglycerine producing 800 tons per week.
The cordite was sent to shell filling factories. Workers at the Rotherwas, Hereford factory filled shells with the cordite. Many women suffered illnesses like jaundice, loss of fingers and death from explosions in these factories.
An explosion in 1918 at the Silvertown TNT explosive factory in the East end of London, killed 73 people, injured 400 and completely destroyed the factory and much of the surrounding area.
When war was declared against Germany on 3rd September 1939, once again women workers were needed in the factories including munitions workers. The Rotherwas factory had been kept in operation and a new factory was built at Aycliffe in County Durham.
Sandra said that a Trust had been setup and were applying for charitable status. They had an architect trustee who had produced a design for the memorial and two sculptors who wished to be involved.
President Anthony thanked Sandra for her presentation and wished her well in securing the memorial.