The Llanelly National Shell and Rectification Factories

Over the last 200 years the town of Llanelli has answered the call to the nation's defence. Whether it be for cannon & shot from Raby's Furnaces for the Napoleonic War, shells from the Wern Iron Works for the Crimean War or indeed, the supply of explosives from the local ordnance factories for the two World Wars. Also, the people of Llanelli have answered the 'call of the bugle' and provided volunteers for all the armed forces.One year after the outbreak of the First World War there was a drastic shortage of artillery shells. The situation was caused by the high rate of fire and use of ammunition which was exacerbated by an underestimation of the time that the war would drag on. This became known as the 'Shell Scandal' of 1915. The national and local press were calling for 'more shells'!

In response to this crisis the government set up a Ministry of Munitions to oversee the manufacture of shells and other war materials. At its head was the famous Lloyd George who was appointed to the office of Minister of Munitions in May 1915. The Ministry was to coordinate the businessmen of the country in the use of supplies materials and factories for the war effort.

Locally, a team of Llanelli Engineers and Industrialists met on 12th September 1915, when Mr Richard Beaumont Thomas offered the use of the Burry Extension Works at Machynys for the manufacture of 'Six Inch' shells. Two days later the Ministry accepted and approved of the scheme. The Board of management consisted of; R Beaumont Thomas (Chairman), Daniel Williams (Vice Chair), A. J. Burn, W. E. Clement, & W. J. Rees. [1]

Work was carried out at a pace, for it was reported in the Llanelly Guardian on 16 September of 1915, the news of a 'New Shell Factory' for the town. Preliminary modification work was carried out by the Volunteer Training Corps under the supervision of Company Commander, Martin John. This work involved clearing the factory for the installation of machine tools and lathes etc. [2]

Some structural conversion work was carried out to the buildings at Machynys by Benjamin Howell's & Son, but this was not without its casualties, for on 1st November 1915, 42 year old mason's labourer John Richards of Long Row, Llanelli was killed and three others were injured when a section of scaffolding collapsed along with a number of heavy concrete blocks. The men had been enlarging the windows of the factory, probably to allow more light for the type of work that it was to carry out. [3]

By October 17th 1915 the first six inch shell forging had passed through the 'ripping' operation and on the 5th February 1916 the Llanelly Star reported that Llanelli's "First Shell" had been produced! This shell was presented to the Mayor of Llanelli and in turn to Parc Howard Museum where it remains to this day.

The mass amount of men joining the armed forces caused a drastic shortage of labour for the nation's industries, so much that women were recruited to work in the factories. The town of Llanelli did not escape this scarcity and so, many Llanelli girls and women found their way into the industrial world for their very first time. In its height of production there were over 968 women and 323 men working in the Llanelly Shell Factory at Machynys.

One of these women was Lillian Marker from Lakefield Road, Llanelli. She can be seen in the photograph that was taken outside the Llanelly Shell Factory at the Burry Extension Works in April, 1916. Munition workers like Lillian were presented with lapel badges bearing the inscription "War Munitions Volunteer". Her badge number was 83214. The wages paid to the women at the factory in 1915 was 20 Shillings (£1.00) for a 48 hour week. By October 1918, this had risen to 41 Shillings (£ 2.05) for a 48 hour week. The work at the Shell Factory was hard with long hours.

In January 1916 a letter published in the Llanelli Star "DOUBTFUL, Munitions Worker"

Would you favour me with room for an appeal for a six day working week in the shell works, or at least for optional Sunday labour. It seems that hundreds of girls will be employed, and surely conditions of work should be as attractive as possible. Very few like the idea of never having a day off. Most girls have housework to do at home, some sufficient for a decent days work. To do this and also work day after day at shell making and with broken periods of sleep at the week ends must affect the workers' health. The output of shells depends as much on the efficiency of the worker as on number of hours worked. Many girls unused to such strain, will be ill at frequent periods, and most others will suffer from overwork. A clear Sunday off would make all the difference in the world. Until now it has been necessary to give shop assistants "half day" off as well as a clear Sunday. Surely it is fitter that a shell worker should have a day's rest on Sunday than spend her time on a 6am to 2 pm shift, or worse still, sleeping a brief spell between a double Sunday shift of 10pm to 6 pm and 2pm to 10 pm! The war will not be won one day sooner by the sacrifice of Sunday rest and shattered health.
Coincidently in the same edition, the newspaper reported that Lloyd George had suggested that 'all Sunday labour should be abolished'. [4]

In its entire operation, the Llanelly Shell Factory produced a total of 1,199,832 "six inch" and "18 pounder" shells. But this was only half of the story, because at the end of the Great War the factory was involved in the breaking down and the dismantling of unused shells. By 21st November 1919, 1,688,610 shells had been recycled. The efficiency of the Llanelly Shell Factory was so good that the sister plant in Baccup was instructed to send representatives to Llanelli with a view to adopting its methods.

Employees at the factory were encouraged to run garden allotments and in the winter months helping with the war effort, they organised dances to raise funds for prisoners of war, hospitals and other charities. They were also involved in entertaining wounded soldiers who were recovering in the local hospitals and convalescent homes. [1]

After the war the shell factory was wound down, all its equipment was sold off, the then manager Mr. Harold R. Morgan, in closing his report stated [1]

to mention any particular service rendered, would be rather an invidious task, as it must be obvious to all concerned that everybody without exception, connected with both factories, gave of their very best efforts, thereby bringing about that necessary cohesion, which alone commands success
The Great War was not just restricted to the Western Front in Europe. Miles away across the other side of the world on the Southern Tanzanian coastline, lies the Swahili town of Lindi, which in 1917 it was the scene of heavy fighting, as allied troops tried to wrestle control of what was then an important German Stronghold in East Africa. In support of land troops, the Royal Navy Ship, HMS Minerva had bombarded the Lukuledi River Valley, with the assistance of a spotter aircraft and on board was Able Bodied Seaman, John Davies from Pembrey Road Llanelly. He was from a Llanelly seafaring family, his grandfather had been a bosun on the old sailing ships before being drowned in the Bay of Biscay 1877.

After Training at HMS Vivid in Devonport, AB John Davies joined the ship in 1916 and served on her until 1919. HMS Minerva was an 'Eclipse' class cruiser that had been built at Chatham Dockyard in 1895 and her armoury consisted of what were mainly 6 inch guns. Having survived the Gallipoli Landings of 1915 and the threat from U-Boats the ship eventually returned to Queenstown, Ireland where it was broken for Scrap in 1920. After the war AB John Davies, married Lilian Marker who herself had been assisting the war effort as she had been the munition worker at The Llanelly Shell Factory Machynys. It could be said according to the old adage that "Lilian was making the shells and John was firing them!"

Notes and Citations
We acknowledge the Staff at the Llanelli Reference Library for their assistance and for their permission to use photographs from the Local Collection.
[1] Llanelli library Local Collection LC383
[2] Llanelly & County Guardian 16 Sept 1915
-:- South Wales Press 29 Sept 1915 'Open Secrets'
[3] South Wales Press 1st Dec 1915 'Collapse of Scaffold'
[4] Llanelli Star 8 Jan 1916