After the fuse factory we pass through the high-explosive factory, where 250 girls are at work in a number of isolated wooden sheds filling 18-pounder shell with high explosive. The brass cartridge-case is being filled with cordite, bundles of what look like thin brown sticks, and the shell itself, including its central gaine or tube, with the various deadly explosives we have seen prepared in the “danger buildings.” The shell is fitted into the cartridge-case, the primer and the fuse screwed on. It is now ready to be fired.
I stand and look at boxes of shells, packed, and about to go straight to the front. A train is waiting close by to take them the first stage on their journey. I little thought then that I should see these boxes, or their fellows, next, on the endless ranks of ammunition lorries behind the fighting lines in France, and that within a fortnight I should myself stand by and see one of those shells fired from a British gun, little more than a mile from Neuve Chapelle.
But here are the women and girls trooping out to dinner. A sweet-faced Superintendent comes to talk to me. “They are not as strong as the men,” she says, pointing to the long lines of girls, “but what they lack in strength they make up in patriotic spirit.” I speak to two educated women, who turn out to be High School mistresses from a town that has been several times visited by Zeppelins. “We just felt we must come and help to kill Germans,” they say quietly. “All we mind is getting up at five-thirty every morning. Oh, no! it is not too tiring.”
Afterwards?—I remember one long procession of stately shops, with their high windows, their floors crowded with machines, their roofs lined with cranes, the flame of the forges, and the smoke of the fizzling steel lighting up the dark groups of men, the huge howitzer shells, red-hot, swinging in mid-air, and the same shells, tamed and gleaming, on the great lathes that rough and bore and finish them. Here are shell for the Queen Elizabeth guns!—the biggest shell made. This shop had been put up by good luck just as the war began. Its output of steel has increased from 80 tons a week to 1,040.
Then another huge fuse shop, quite new, where 1,400 girls in one shift are at work—said to be the largest fuse shop known. And on the following morning, an endless spectacle of war work—gun-carriages, naval turrets, torpedo tubes, armed railway carriages, small Hotchkiss guns for merchant ships, tool-making shops, gauge shops—and so on for ever. In the tool-making shops the output has risen from 44,000 to 3,000,000 a year!
And meanwhile I have not seen anything, and shall not have time to see anything of the famous shipyards of the firm. But with regard to them, all that it is necessary to remember is that before the war they were capable of berthing twenty ships at once, from the largest battleship downward; and we have Mr. Balfour’s word for it as to what has happened, since the war, in the naval shipyards of this country. “We have added a million tons to the Navy—and we have doubled its personnel.”