The Royal Ordnance Factory
Bridgend South Wales
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A Personal Story by Vera Philips

Before the war Vera Phillips worked in the Co-op in Bridgend; she was a bright and intelligent girl and this gave her an advantage over her contemporaries. She earned 11 shillings a week as a cash desk assistant; this she considered to be a good wage at the time as girls in service only earned 5 shillings per week.

In 1941 Vera started work in the Bridgend ROF and because of her work experience she was selected to work in the accounts branch in the main administration office where the Police headquarters is located today.

Working conditions were reasonable in some ways as normal clothes were worn, and there were relaxed security checks in the Admin Office (although there were police on duty as you went in), and unlike her contemporaries inside the works, she worked a nominal 5 day week.

Her working days started at 9am in the mornings but she finished at different times on each day. Monday, and Thursdays she finished at 8.0 p.m., on Tuesdays it was 7.0 p.m. whilst Wednesdays and Fridays it was early finishing at 5.0 p.m., in all she worked 48 hours per week.

For Vera this was a difficult time for she grew up in a religious family, and although she had worked in a shop before starting at the ROF she was not prepared for the nature of work in industry.

She spent five long years working in the ROF and hated every minute of it. Working in the accounts department was impersonal, and not at all friendly, it was staffed by many from privileged backgrounds; these included some girls whose parents were in senior positions in the Woolwich Arsenal. The staff were from all walks of life, Vera recalls quite a few uniformed service personnel from the Army and Navy, besides the civilian employees, and although most of the staff were young women there was a greater percentage of men employed in admin than in the factory.

On Mondays and Thursdays after a long day’s work Vera would only get home at 9.0 p.m. after a long bus journey. In the summer she could take a short cut to her home through the fields.

But in winter it took over an hour to walk through the lanes to her home overlooking the town of Maesteg. She remembers one occasion on a dark night walking through the lanes when her mackintosh coat made an unfamiliar sound rubbing on her Wellingtons, this frightened her so much that she passed out when she got home.

In fact it was the late nights through dimly lit streets and black lanes that prompted Vera to apply for the Wrens. When her father found out he vetoed the idea, as he would have no daughter of his joining the Wrens, so it was the Arsenal that won!

The Office where Vera worked in Admin was on the top floor of the building it contained many sections with hundreds working in this part of the building.

Vera was responsible for booking in and out various consignments of raw materials and ammunition, some of which went to the Army, the Navy, and Air Force stores. Other consignments went to other Ordnance factories in Wales and England for finishing.

Each day there were hundreds of lorries and railway wagons arriving and leaving. In- coming goods included shell cases and TNT for the various bombs, whilst others brought in the likes of toiletries and food for the workers. Outgoing transport shipped bombs for the Army and Navy with large quantities of artillery shells, 3” mortars and detonators.

Often Vera would see these same trucks on her occasional shopping trips into Cardiff, she would recognise the number plates and tell her mother what she had seen.

All was not bad in admin; at least they had the morning tea trolley lady to look forward to, bringing the tea urn with cakes and biscuits.

Within the Admin block there were several canteens, these were segregated between workers, clerical workers, supervisory, and senior management, these last three were all collar and tie canteens. Each canteen had their own chef and cooks, although there was a difference - with the senior managers enjoying the best with waitress service. In fact the food was generally speaking pretty good in the canteens, Vera recalled that the accounts canteen chef worked at the Carlton hotel in Cardiff before the war and remembers him saying that the ROF kitchens were far cleaner than those in the Carlton.

On her long days Vera would get her main meal at work which had to be paid for out of her own money. Vera earned £1-10s – 0d (30 shillings) per week which was nearly three times the amount she had received whilst working in the Co-op before joining the Arsenal.

This at least gave Vera the chance of buying clothing coupons from families that didn’t use their allocation, so with her money she could buy herself some new clothes. She remembers one woman selling her children’s coupons to buy Bass or Worthington beer in her father’s public house.

Vera would see buses coming into the bus station near the admin block in the morning, often 12 to 15 would arrive from the Rhondda at the same time. The management tried to get as many as possible to come by train to reduce the transport bottleneck’s at shift change over. Vera too had her own bus pass that provided free return bus trips to and from Maesteg and work.

With all the thousands of people transported to and from the Arsenal each day accidents were rare. In the five years that Vera worked at the ROF she was only able to recall one incident where a Bus had gone over an embankment in the winding road at the Shwt bridge between Maesteg and Bridgend, in this accident one person was killed and several were injured.

Work in Admin did entail overtime working that often included factory visits for pay duty; this was late on Thursday nights. Vera didn’t know what to expect on her first occasion, she remembers that she felt so ill with the fear of being bombed. The pay packets were transported in large wooden boxes to each canteen where the pay envelopes would be handed over to the workers during their meal breaks. At least there was some sort of compensation for her trials as she had the following day off work, although, even though late transport was provided she often arrived home well after midnight.

However, Vera needn’t have worried about being bombed as not one German bomb was ever dropped on the Arsenal during the war. Vera like many of her contemporaries believed that the very thick mist that sometimes enveloped the ROF could have been the reason why the Germans couldn’t find the factories.

She remembers seeing on these pay visits the girls from “Cordite” with Yellow faces and hands stained from the Cordite powder, and hearing of accidents that occurred in the mortar bomb and detonator sections, over the years a few were killed some she remembers were from Maesteg.

Vera stayed on after war and assisted in clearing up the accounts until she was made redundant in mid 1946.

Her experience in the accounts department at the ROF stood her well and she had no problem finding employment as Vera joined the Bridgend branch of the Inland Revenue immediately following her redundancy.

After the war Vera married, and as Mrs Vera Edwards, she eventually settled in Brackla overlooking the old Waterton factory where she once worked.

Her recollections put a different view on ROF life from those who worked within the factory, but her dedication was none the less. Her contribution was just as important as that of her factory colleagues, for without good admin the Arsenal would have been far less effective in helping the prosecution of the war.

Joe Ludlow
Brackla
Bridgend

8 July 2023

 

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