Workers at the plant remembered the overtime paid during the Boer War, and no doubt a few looked forward to bulging pay packets in August 1914. But this would prove to be an entirely new form of war; more shells would be fired in one early Western Front battle alone than were used in the entire Boer War. By 1915 the Royal Laboratory had moved to seven day working, three shifts a day. Workers were exhausted - a 96 hour week was more normal than not. New sheds and stores were set up on Plumstead marshes, previously the burying ground for thousands of dead convicts in unmarked burial pits, and firing ranges, but it was not enough. The army in France ran out of shells for the guns.
The failure of government wiped out Asquith's Liberal government and cost the party 236 seats, including those of most of his cabinet. The Party never recovered.
A new Ministry of Munitions quickly set up filling factories across the country, in isolated places, timber huts and sheds thrown up in weeks. Shell-case and fuse making was contracted-out to industry, and girls earned £5 a week pouring molten explosive into the shell cases. It was enough. But the Liberal Party was destroyed for ever.
The anger felt in 1915 against the Liberals by a public unforgiving of their betrayal of our front-line troops - men from almost every family in the country - cannot have been dissimilar to the anger felt today at the Tories. No doubt Asquith imagined his party would take a temporary hit and all would be well afterwards. Clearly he was mistaken.
|A naval gun under manufacture in the RGF|