Elizabethville – Birtley’s Belgiums

A film shown at a BridgesNorthEast event in April 2014 @Hartlepool Maritime Experience about The Belgians of Birtley – the story of Munitions Production in WW1 download HERE

The story starts in the early stages of World War I, when Britain at last realised that its armaments were no match in either effectiveness or numbers for those being put to horribly efficient use by a fully modernised German Army. Indeed, so bad were things as far as ammunition was concerned that the Commander in Chief of the British Army, Lord French, had apparently had to order at least some of the big guns at the front to fire no more than ten shells per day, in order to conserve ammunition! When the news of this, the great Shell Scandal, was leaked, in March 1915, the Asquith government had no option but to resign immediately.

The new Government of National Unity at once appointed David LLoyd George as their new Minister of Munitions, and his department set about building munitions factories all over the country, including one next to the little village of Birtley in County Durham, just south of Newcastle upon Tyne, commissioning Armstrong-Whitworth of Tyneside to construct and run it, along with a neighbouring cartridge factory. One large problem arose, however – finding people to work in them, seeing that most British munitions workers were by now at the front, while most of the female workforce was already in employment in other factories.





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