NATIONAL SHELL FILLING FACTORY, CHILWELL, NOTTINGHAMSHIRE
Created as a result of the Shell Crisis of 1915, the National Filling Factory No. 6 during World War One filled high explosives into some 19 million shells. However, on the 1 July, 1918 eight tons of TNT exploded causing the death of 134 people of whom only 32 could be positively identified, and a further 250 were injured. Of those who not be identified were buried in a mass grave in the grounds of St. Mary’s Church in the nearby village of Attenborough.
The factory returned to work for the war effort the next day, and within one month of the disaster reportedly achieved its highest weekly production. Winston Churchill, then Minister of Munitions, sent a telegram saying:
"Please accept my sincere sympathy with you all in the misfortune that has overtaken your fine Factory and in the loss of valuable lives, those who have perished have died at their stations on the field of duty and those who have lost their dear ones should fortify themselves with this thought, the courage and spirit shown by all concerned both men and women command our admiration, and the decision to which you have all come to carry on without a break is worthy of the spirit which animates our soldiers in the field. I trust the injured are receiving every care."
A telegram was also sent from Buckingham Palace, on behalf of the King.
In a speech reported in The Times, on 9 July 1918, Mr F. G. Kellaway, MP, Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Munitions speculated that, as the French had apparently given an honour to the Citadel of Verdun, perhaps the factory should be awarded the Victoria Cross.Whilst this award does not appear to have been made, the site was subsequently known as "The V.C. Factory". The works manager, Lieutenant Arthur Hilary Bristowe, was subsequently awarded the Edward Medal on 21 January 1919 for his heroism following the explosion. (When the Edward Medal was discontinued in 1971, living recipients of the award were invited to return the medal, and were issued with the George Cross in exchange.)
Scotland Yard was called in to investigate. Lord Chetwynd is alleged to have told them he was convinced it was sabotage and to have gone as far as naming the culprit. However, the more likely explanation is lax safety standards as the workforce competed to meet increasingly challenging production targets, coupled with the instability of the TNT compound on an unseasonably warm day.
At the time it was only reported in the wartime newspapers as -
On 16 November 1918 the works band, founded by Lord Chetwynd, himself playing cornet, played in the quadrangle of Buckingham Palace. They then marched to Downing Street and played outside No 10 and were congratulated by David Lloyd George, the prime minister, and they then played a further selection of items outside the Ministry of Munitions.
A memorial to those who had died in all explosions at the site was unveiled by the Duke of Portland on 13 March 1919. It takes the form of a small obelisk above a massive pyramidal base. There is an inscribed stone, with a curiously statistical approach to commemorating the factory's achievements as well as the dead.
Erected to the memory of those men and women who lost their lives by explosions at the National Shell Filling Factory Chilwell 1916 -
Principal historical facts of the factory
First sod turned 13th September 1915
First shell filled 8th January 1916
Number of shells filled within one year of cutting the first sod 1,260,000
Total shells filled 19,359,000 representing 50.8% of the total output of high-
Total tonnage of explosive used 121,360 tons
Total weight of filled shell 1,100,000 tons
On the fiftieth anniversary of the explosion, the memorial was restored and plaques were added with the following text:
To the glory of God and in memory of those who gave their lives in two World Wars
At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them their name liveth for evermore
Unveiled on 30th of June 1968 by MT James Boyden MP Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for the Army on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the explosion at Chilwell the V.C. Factory in recognition of the bravery and fortitude of the employees
At the end of the war, in 1919, the site became a Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC) storage depot. It is now the location of Chetwynd Barracks. The memorial became a listed building in 1988.