The Royal Ordnance Factory
Bridgend South Wales
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Jennie Davies a Personal Story

This is a personal account of a typical young women’s experience of war work in the Bridgend ROF also known locally as the Bridgend Arsenal between 1940 and 1943.

Jennie Davies was born on the 12 of November 1920 the second daughter of a Rhondda miner, she was one of five children comprising of two boys and three girls that lived in the Rhondda Valley.

Before joining the Bridgend Royal Ordnance Factory Jennie worked in the NAAFI at Stormy Down Army Camp, the camp was located approximately four miles to the West of the Waterton ROF site.

In 1940 at the age of 20 she decided to apply for a job at the new Royal Ordnance Factory in Bridgend, she had heard from her friends that the money was good and that the cost of travelling to and from work was paid for by the ROF.

Jennie was assigned to the Cordite operation in the “Primer’s Section” as an inspector for INO, she had no choice in this position, and it was her assigned job for the duration of her stay at the Arsenal. In this role she was responsible for stitching the finished linen cordite bags, senior ROF employees from Waltham Abbey and the Woolwich Arsenal trained her.

Jennie worked a rotating three-shift system of mornings, afternoons, and nights; she worked seven days of the week with no holidays, her normal working week was 45 hours, and she remembers that each shift was designated a colour Red, Blue, and Green; her shift was the Blue one

Pay was generally speaking good with some women earning more than their husbands were. Jennie’s job paid over £3-00 per week, which was an exceptional wage for a woman at that time.

Her shift team consisted of stitcher’s, fillers, inspectors, overseers, with an area foreman.

Morning shift started at 7.00 am prompt, so it was early rising to get washed, dressed, then breakfast as well as make her own sandwiches for lunch before leaving home to catch the bus into the Bridgend Arsenal.

The journey from the Rhondda to Bridgend usually took about one hour by a workers bus, but she had to show her works pass before being allowed on board.

Entry to the works was via a long tunnel at the end of this were barriers that were policed by the women and male security officers, everyone was checked for contraband such as cigarettes and matches. Quite a number were found even amongst the womenfolk, occasionally cigarettes and matches were found stuffed into their hair curlers. Other forms of contraband included jewellery, and alcohol.

Exiting the tunnel the workers boarded special single story busses with wooden slatted seats, theses bussed 40 or more workers at a time to their individual sections around the works.

Jennie’s section was located in the Western end of the Waterton site approximately where the Sony factory is located today. The Cordite building was a largish hanger shaped building, which had outer and inner doors at either end. The sides of the building were protected against blast by a black stone covering. The inner doors were made of big thick material, these doors were only opened when the outer ones were closed and vice versa.

Everything seemed to be made of wood or rubber, the floor and workbench coverings were covered in rubber-backed linoleum, and the tools, benches, trestles etc were all made of wood.

Although the lighting was good in this building no heating was provided so in wintertime warm garments had to be worn under the shop coats, Galoshes were worn at all times.

The Cordite and filling bag materials were brought in on electrically powered low-level rubber wheeled trolleys called “Dillies by the “Dillie Men”

On long benches work passed between operations from one stage to another, there were Cordite stitching and bagging sections followed by the “Chief Inspector of Ammunition” (C.I.A.) this was the shop that made the Cordite charges for fitting into the shells.

Other operations that were carried out in this area were gunpowder filled slotted tubes, shell filling and igniters.

Her work entailed inspection of stitching up (binding) of various sizes of Cordite bags. It was easy work and was clean unlike some of the other operations that stained the skin and hair of the workers yellow, Jennie remembers that they were often called the Canaries because of their yellow appearance.

Extra-special attention was paid to the stitching on the Cordite linen bags; if the stitches were of the wrong size or shape the bag was rejected. Each batch was recorded and clearly identified with the inspector’s own personal stamp.

Failed work was returned for rework to the relevant section, whilst work that passed was stamped with “LOT” numbers plus the inspectors stamp and then removed to the storage area’s on Dillies this time through the rear pair of doors.

At mid-morning there was a 15 minute break for a cup of tea in the canteen, then back to work until lunch, this time for a half hour break in the canteen.

There were many canteens on the site serving thousands of workers, the food was good and reasonably priced, although many like Jennie brought their own sandwiches. Often the workers would be shown films of the war effort, with films showing the conveys being bombed, and sometimes they were shown films of the German aircraft being shot down. Other’s showing the despatch of munitions from the Arsenal and “ The Pathe' War News” were sometimes shown. Sometimes there were variety acts put on by ENSA.

During the working day music while you work was played in her workshop, but the radio programs were often interrupted with announcements.

Practice air raid sirens were conducted each month with different sirens for practice, and full alerts; and if the latter sounded workers would go straight to shelters.

Air raid shelters were provided outside each building, and these accommodated a dozen or so individuals. On air raid alerts the workers would go to the nearest shelter.

First aiders were included in each group, including the Cordite section, they would deal with minor accidents, with site nurses and doctors dealing with the major accidents.

Jennie made many friends at work and travelled to work with some of these, her best friend lived in the next street in Trealaw in the Rhondda.

Most of the women in her section were between 21 and 25 although there were some older women in their mid to late 50’s were working in the Arsenal.

There were a number of men employed in the Arsenal at this time, these were generally speaking older men in their 40’s, or key workers, or those unfit for military service. Some women were very bitter towards these men not doing in military service, many saying that they should be in the army.

Pay-day was on Friday, and wage envelopes with their wages were delivered by hand and paid in the canteen, the wage packets itemised the number of hours worked and deductions such as income tax, and health insurance. Keeping your pay package safe was a problem as there was always the risk of it being stolen, neck bags were issued to keep the metal coins in to reduce the risk of sparks.

Jennie finished work at the end of 1943 to get married and became a full-time housewife.

What must be remembered is the contribution that Jennie and her many of her contemporaries made to the war effort, for the Bridgend R.O.F always met its target and was the leading producer of shells, mortars, and Fuzes during the war.

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Joe Ludlow
Bridgend

July 2003

 

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