100 Years Ago: Britain’s Deadliest Explosion

Women_at_work_during_the_First_World_War-_Munitions_Production,_Chilwell,_Nottinghamshire,_England,_UK,_c_1917_Q30011A Around 21 August, 1917

The factory in August of 1917.

On the 1st of July, 1918, the deadliest explosion in British history occurred near Chilwell in Nottinghamshire, England.

The disaster happened at National Filling Factory No. 6, a First World War munitions factory that had been in operation since 1915. The factory was known for its “Canary girls“: women shell makers.

Female munitions workers guide 6 inch howitzer shells being lowered to the floor at the Chilwell ammunition factory in Nottinghamshire, UK. July 1917.

“Canary Girls”

On the day of the disaster eight tons of TNT blew up, killing 134 people and injuring 250 others, however newspapers at the time reported a much lower death toll.

The site of the factory is now home to Chetwynd Barracks.

The Canary Girls

The so-called “Canary girls” were British women who worked through the First World War to make trinitrotoluene (TNT) shells. The nickname was given to them as repeated exposure to the substances they used turned their skin the colour of a canary.

Hundreds of the women became ill from the conditions they worked in, with one hundred fatalities reported.

The image below is of women in Nottinghamshire in July, 1917.

Female munitions workers guide 6 inch howitzer shells being lowered to the floor at the Chilwell ammunition factory in Nottinghamshire, UK. July 1917.