Employment of Women in the Manufacture of Cannon and Small Arms in 1942

Small Arms Ammunition Factory
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Youths under military age give up their weekends to train in the park for future service with the RAF. Across the grass, soldiers and workers take an hour or two off. They can relax with a free mind because others are always on the alert.

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No petrol to waste means holidays at home, and this summer all the fun of the fair brought right into the heart of London. Everyone is growing food wherever they can. Exhibition allotments show beginners how to get the most out of their plots, and food is grown in all sorts of unexpected places. On a roof garden high above the city streets, vegetables grow amongst the flowers.

Men of the national fire service make good use of a battered basement. Allotments and pig clubs ease the food situation, and rationing ensures that everyone gets a fair share, no matter where they shop. Communal feeding is wartime economy. British restaurants and canteens have been established all over London. This was once a college.

Now, lunches are served here daily. Labour is voluntary, the meals are supplied at cost, and all types of Londoners take advantage of the service.

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Meal time in war time is also recreation time. Inside the National Gallery, world famous musicians give luncheon concerts of classical music whilst, on the steps and lawn outside, office workers eat their midday meal.

Does your stomach sag? Women mobilised into war work lock up their homes and hand over their children to communal nurseries, while they go off to do their jobs. In Downing Street, the efforts of the people are coordinated into terms of world strategy at the house of the Prime Minister. Here the statesmen and the service chiefs of the United Kingdom meet in the cabinet room to set their seal on the covenants which pledge them to the common cause. Dusk falls over London. With darkness comes the blackout.

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Gone for the present are the bright lights of Leicester Square and Piccadilly. But behind the blackout is warmth and companionship. Theatres ring to the old songs, while the night shifts are taking over in the factories. The machines must never stop.

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And all the time, the defenders are on guard. In basements and cellars, the Civil Defence Forces settle down to all night duty. And, as his turn comes round, every able-bodied Londoner stays after work for fire watch. He is the ordinary citizen. There were thus many good reasons for delays—at least some delays—in building.

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Yet even if building had been done as expeditiously as in —18 , the waiting period would still have been too long for many of the urgent wartime needs. When in the hurried. Existing buildings—sometimes odd buildings on odd sites—had to be taken over without much delay. In December , when B. Similarly, in the closing years of the war when the supply departments had to cope with a vast collection of new and urgent demands, additional capacity had to be found where factories were already in existence.

New building was therefore bound to play a much smaller part in the deployment of war industry than it apparently did in the United States.

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The need for economising in building time does not however explain everything. It partly explains why many large firms carried out a great deal of their work in small factories. It will not by itself account for the wholesale employment of existing firms, middling, small and diminutive.

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What led to their employment was the conjunction of existing buildings with the other scarce factor—management. As a result of their experience in the early years of rearmament and war, officials in the supply departments had come to attach an ever-greater importance to management. The better-managed firms were singled out and loaded with contracts to the point of overloading. The wartime story of a famous electrical firm and of its rapidly expanding responsibilities in war production is essentially one of a government department—in this case M.

Among the contractors of the Ministry of Supply there were quite a number of firms with managers whom the Ministry rated so high that they were invariably entrusted with difficult and urgent contracts. There was an engineering firm in the North which before the war produced a small car in rather small quantities, but which was now expected to tackle on difficult munitions job after another; or a well-established firm in the Eastern Countries which before the war specialised in making large-scale equipment for the food industry, but which was now expected to lead the way in a variety of engineering jobs, mostly in the making of gun components and carriages; or a great motor firm in the Home Counties, and yet another firm of electrical manufacturers in the Midlands, both of which turned into veritable arsenals, making everything from tanks to components of small-calibre guns.

Indeed, on more than one occasion the existence of a manager of proved quality was sufficient to attract munitions contracts, however remote might be the field of the manager's pre-war activities. A famous firm of chocolate manufacturers in the Midlands was asked to undertake the manufacture of aeroplane parts and components for rockets at its home factory and to manage a new factory for 'jerricans' in London; a Scottish transport corporation was asked to make parts of aircraft.

But nothing illustrates better the crucial importance of management than the wartime career of certain well-known promoters of football pools. They became a large unit of war production manufacturing not only parachutes and balloons, but also machining parts of aircraft, ammunition and gun carriages.

What to some extent commended the firm to the officials was its experience in employing large numbers of young women and its extensive premises. But what qualified it most was the reputation of its directors for efficiency and drive.

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It was because managerial enterprise was so scarce that the supply departments in the later years of the war were so anxious to employ more or less all the competent entrepreneurs there were, and to do so in their own firms. Hence also the remarkable picture of British production with its countless small workshops operating as part of the munitions industry. Some of them were nothing more than local garages, but each garage proprietor brought with him his building and his enterprise.

It was the building and the entrepreneur that were required in the later stages of the war when time for new building was denied and the supply of managers was very limited. The atomised structure of British war industry is closely related to its second feature, its unspecialised character. British war industry was more unspecialised in more senses than one. It was not, and could not be, concentrated in armament firms, i.

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There was also the great armament firm of Vickers-Armstrongs; there was also B. Despite the serious deterioration in shipbuilding capacity many of the shipyards which had previously specialised in naval construction were still available. In aircraft production most of the larger aircraft firms had before the war catered mainly for the Air Ministry and had the necessary experience of tendering and designing to Air Ministry specifications. Yet even with the aircraft and naval shipbuilding firms included, the size and scope of the armament industry was very small, and there is no need to explain at length why it was no greater.

The specialised armament industry reached the highest point of its development during the great naval armament race before the First World War, and it was bound to slump in the inter-war period when naval construction all over the world greatly declined and the demand for munitions sank very low. The slump in the armament industry led to the winding-up of some firms and the drastic curtailment of others.

At the same time the part which armament firms might be called upon to play in a future war had come to be questioned. The experience of —18 war appeared to prove that in time of war munitions could and should be made by the unspecialised industry of the country.

Reporting in the McKinnon Committee drew the moral the 'the basis of armament supply is now so broad that specialising in the future on the part of a limited number of firms will probably not be necessary for the safety of the country'. In planning future mobilisation they assumed as a matter of course that the British armament industry would be insufficient to cope with the problem of war supply in its entirety and that the bulk of the orders would have to fall on 'general' industry and, more especially, on its engineering, electrical and chemical branches.

British war production was also 'unspecialised' in another sense of the term, that of equipment. At the peak of war production, and to some extent even in the earlier stages of expansion, the use of unspecialised plant and machinery was widespread—more so than it might have been had Britain possessed the time and the resources to build her munitions industry anew.