Transcript

Diary of a VAD cook
at a munitions factory canteen
IWM 77/156/1


Mar 21st    
Gave Miss B fearful shocks by marching in on her yesterday, the committee having decided that Farnboro couldn't do without me, & wrote to put me off. Anyway I never got their letter. So Miss B. went up to London & told them that I was very annoyed at being put off in this way & wouldn't go back to Farnboro', so I begin work as night hand at Woolwich tonight 24 hours out of bed!
Mar 22nd.
Wed. My first night duty. Quite enjoyed it though I felt very sleepy. Boys come in & out all the time to b[u]y buns, tea, lemonade etc & at 11.30 a big batch of girls come to dinner. It is much more exciting than at Farnborough. Then there are a few men who come to dinner, & tea for the girls at 3.30am, tea for the boys at 4am, 5.30am more boys & some men, so that we only have quiet between 12.30 - 3. when we scrub the tables & have our own meal. We take from £4 to £5 every night. As nearly all of it comes in coppers it is pretty strenuous. The girls are very rough, regular cockneys but mostly amiable if not rubbed the wrong way. If they are it is Billingsgate gone mad. The only thing then is to give it them hot & they generally shut up after a bit. A good many come from the danger buildings. When they arrive at their work they have to take out all hairpins, & must not wear metal buttons or hooks & eyes. They have to take off their own shoes on one side of the shift room, & jump over a barrier onto what is called the clean side in their stockinged feet. There they put on danger shoes which are soft & have no treads. Their work is filling cartridges for bombs
Mar 30th.
Woolwich is one huge slum, & in fact there are slums all the way between here & London which is 1 1/2 hours by tram. But bits of it are rather entertaining for all that. Beresford square outside the main gate is alway[s] full of stalls & barrows, fruit, vegetables, fish, tripe, winkles, flowers, knives & tools, live stock & all the various wares one sees at Petticoat Lane. There are also street jugglers & palmists. All along the road to the arsenal are queer little shops including several whose trade is to take care of pipes & baccy while the owners are inside the arsenal at work. There are five gates to the arsenal each about 1 1/2 miles beyond the other. We go by tram from our digs to the third gate, after this we have 25 minutes sharp walking through the arsenal to reach our canteen. The road is called as a rule the 'Long Straight'. Imagine Oxford Street with no lights, no pavements & no islands & intersected by railway lines every short distance. It is in addition a sea of liquid mud. You leap out of the way of a motor lorry & land in front of a tram. You scuttle away from this & run into a navvy whose language becomes blue. The canteen is close to the firing pits so that by day the noise is deafening, cups leap off the shelves and every now & then the windows break. But I am spared this at night. The workmen who work in the further parts of the factory go to work on the weirdest little trams with wee little engines & trucks like Irish jaunting cars. When 4 or 5 trucks are strung together it is most comic to see a long row of men each with his red handkerchief on his knees sitting side by side like a long row of swallows on a telegraph wire, or more like old hens on a perch.

July 22nd.
Today I was shown over the factory as a great favour. First I saw cordite made into charges. Each charge consists of 5 or 6 little bagsful & a core. Each little bag is shaped like a lifebelt. [drawing on right] The quantity of cordite it contains has to be weighed to a pins head. Even the silk it is sewn up with is weighed. Each bag contains a different weight, & the five or 6 are then threaded on the core. The core is made of a bundle of cordite like a faggot. The whole charge is then packed in a box with a detonator.
[drawing on the right]

Then I was shown the lyddite works. This is a bright canary yellow powder (picric acid) & comes to the factory in wooden tubs. It is then sifted. The house, (windows, doors, floor & walls) is bright yellow, & so are the faces & hands of all the workers. As soon as you go in the powder in the air makes you sneeze & splutter & gives you a horrid bitter taste at the back of the throat. After sifting the acid is put in cans, & stood in tanks where it is boiled until it melts into a clear fluid like vinegar. Then it is poured into the shell case. But a mould is put in before it has time to solidify. This mould when drawn out leaves a space down the middle of the shell. Before it is drawn out beeswax is poured in, & then several cardboard washers put in. [drawing below] Then the mould is replaced by a candle shaped exploder of TNT or some other very high explosive is put in.

      After this the freeze cap is screwed in, & then two screws have to be put in to hold it firm. The holes for these screws must not be drilled straight into the detonator. If they do the thing explodes. A + is put as a warning, just...

Mould. cardboard washers. beeswax. lyddite.



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