Tyne and Wear HER(13373): Birtley, National Projectile Factory/Royal Ordnance Factory - Details
Birtley, National Projectile Factory/Royal Ordnance Factory
Armament Manufacturing Site
At the beginning of the First World War Britain had insufficient ammunition to match that of the German army. The Government of National Unity built National Projectile Factories with private firms all over the country. There was a shortage of people to work in them however as able-bodied men were fighting on the frontline. Belgium was regarded as the foremost European country for the manufacture of armaments and so Belgian armaments workers and refugees were brought from the front to work in British factories. In 1915 several hundred Belgian workers came to two factories built by Armstrong Whitworth in Birtley to make shells and cartridge cases. The Birtley factory made empty shells which were filled with explosives at a sister site in South Wales. The number of workers soon grew to around 3000. A plan of 1916 shows railway sidings to the North Eastern Railway (HER 12965) and several buildings including machine shops for shells, a cartridge case shop, main store, canteen etc. These buildings still stand, along with several built in the Second World War (includes a medical surgery, boiler house, electricity substation, gatehouse with loop hole). There are air raid shelters beneath the canteen. Day-to-day control of the factory was managed by M. Hubert Debauche, Director-General of an iron and steel manufacturing firm, Societe des Forges, Usines et Fonderies de Gilly near Charleroi in Belgium. Gateshead Library has a large collection of photographs of the factory, machinery and personnel.
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