I drive on, overshadowed by these figures. "Per annum!" The little common words haunt the ear intolerably. Surely before one more year is over, this horror under which we live will be lifted from Europe! Britain, a victorious Britain, will be at peace, and women’s hands will have something else to do than making high-explosive shell. But, meanwhile, there is no other way. The country’s call has gone out, clear and stern, and her daughters are coming in their thousands to meet it, from loom and house and shop.
A little later, in a great board-room, I find the Munitions Committee gathered. Its function, of course, is to help the new Ministry in organising the war work of the town. In the case of the larger firms, the committee has been chiefly busy in trying to replace labour withdrawn by the war. It has been getting skilled men back from the trenches, and advising the Ministry as to the “badging” of munition workers. It has itself, through its command of certain scientific workshops, been manufacturing gauges and testing materials.
It has turned the electroplate workshops of the town on to making steel helmets, and in general has been “working in” the smaller engineering concerns so as to make them feed the larger ones. This process here, as everywhere, is a very educating one. The shops employed on bicycle and ordinary motor work have, as a rule, little idea of the extreme accuracy required in munition work. The idea of working to the thousandth of an inch seems to them absurd; but they have to learn to work to the ten-thousandth, and beyond! The war will leave behind it greatly raised standards of work in England!—that every one agrees.
And I carry away with me as a last remembrance of this great town and its activities two recollections—one of a university man doing some highly skilled work on a particularly fine gauge: “If you ask me what I have been doing for the last few weeks, I can only tell you that I have been working like a nigger and have done nothing! Patience!—that’s all there is to say.” And another of a “transformed” shop of moderate size, where an active and able man, after giving up the whole of his ordinary business, has thrown himself into the provision, within his powers, of the most pressing war needs, as he came across them.
In July last year, for instance, munitions work in many quarters was actually held up for want of gauges. Mr. D. made something like 10,000, to the great assistance of certain new Government shops. Then the Government asked for a particular kind of gun. Mr. D. undertook 1,000, and has already delivered 400. Tools for shell-making are everywhere wanted in the rush of the huge demand. Mr. D. has been making them diligently. This is just one example among hundreds of how a great industry is adapting itself to the fiery needs of war.