So far, however, I have described the expansion or adaptation of firms already existing. But the country is now being covered with another and new type of workshop—the National Shell factories—which are founded, financed, and run by the Ministry of Munitions. The English Government is now by far the greatest engineering employer in the world.
Let me take an illustration from a Yorkshire town—a town where this Government engineering is rapidly absorbing everything but the textile factories. A young and most competent Engineer officer is the Government head of the factory. The work was begun last July, by the help of borrowed lathes, in a building which had been used for painting railway-carriages; its first shell was completed last August. The staff last June was 1. It is now about 200, and the employees nearly 2,500.
A month after the first factory was opened, the Government asked for another—for larger shell. It was begun in August, and was in work in a few weeks. In September a still larger factory—for still larger shells—(how these demands illustrate the course of the war!—how they are themselves illustrated by the history of Verdun!) was seen to be necessary. It was begun in September, and is now running. Almost all the machines used in the factory have been made in the town itself, and about 100 small firms, making shell parts—fuses primers, gaines, etc.—have been grouped round the main firm, and are every day sending in their work to the factory to be tested, put together, and delivered.
No factory made a better impression upon me than this one. The large, airy building with its cheerful lighting; the girls in their dark-blue caps and overalls, their long and comely lines reminding one of some processional effect in a Florentine picture; the high proportion of good looks, even of delicate beauty, among them; the upper galleries with their tables piled with glittering brasswork, amid which move the quick, trained hands of the women—if one could have forgotten for a moment the meaning of it all, one might have applied to it Carlyle’s description of a great school, as “a temple of industrious peace.”
Some day, perhaps, this “new industry”—as our ancestors talked of a “new learning”—this swift, astonishing development of industrial faculty among our people, especially among our women, will bear other and rich fruit for England under a cleared sky. It is impossible that it should pass by without effect, profound effect upon our national life. But at present it has one meaning and one only—war!