On the same premises, after leaving the shell shops, we passed rapidly through gun shops, where I saw again processes which had become almost familiar. “The production of howitzers,” said my guide, “is the question of the day. We are making them with great rapidity—but the trouble is to get enough machines.” The next shop, devoted to 18-pounder field-guns, was “green fields fifteen months ago,” and the one adjoining it, a fine shed about 400 feet square, for howitzer work, was started in August last, on a site “which was a bog with a burn running through it.” Soon “every foot of space will be filled with machines, and there will be 1,200 people at work here, including 400 women. In the next shop we are turning out about 4,000 shrapnel and 4,000 high-explosive shells per week. When we started women on what we thought this heavy shell, we provided men to help lift the shell in and out of the machines. The women thrust the men aside in five minutes.”
Later on, as I was passing through a series of new workshops occupied with all kinds of army work and employing large numbers of women, I stopped to speak to a Belgian woman. “Have you ever done any machine work before?” “No, Madame, never—Mais, c’est la guerre. Il faut tuer les Allemands!” It was a quiet, passionless voice. But one thought, with a shiver, of those names of eternal infamy—of Termonde, Aerschot, Dinant, Louvain.
It was with this woman’s words in my ears that I set out on my last visit—to which they were the fitting prelude. The afternoon was darkening fast. The motor sped down a river valley, sodden with rain and melting snow, and after some miles we turn into a half-made road, leading to some new buildings, and a desolate space beyond. A sentry challenges us, and we produce our permit. Then we dismount, and I look out upon a wide stretch of what three months ago was swamp, or wet plough land. Now its 250 acres are enclosed with barbed wire, and patrolled by sentries night and day. A number of small buildings, workshops, stores, etc., are rising all over it. I am looking at what is to be the great “filling” factory of the district, where 9,000 women, in addition to male workmen, will soon be employed in charging the shell coming from the new shell factories we have left behind in the darkness.
Strange and tragic scene! Strange uprising of women!