Remembering the Home Front 100 Years On
As part of the First World War centenary commemorations, we pay tribute to men, women and children who played a key role on the home front 100 years ago. From farms to factories, and training grounds to hospitals, thousands of places throughout the UK were used to support the war effort. It is the aim of the Home Front Legacy project to record these sites. In this guest blog post, Charlotte Czyzyk (Imperial War Museums) looks at the history of HM Explosives Factory in Langwith, Derbyshire and uncovers a touching personal story of one of the workers.
His Majesty’s Explosive Factory, Langwith
When war broke out in August 1914, many factories were converted or created to produce the essential materials needed to fight the war. A 27 acre factory was built next to Langwith Colliery near Mansfield in Derbyshire (now Nottinghamshire). It produced a chemical called ammonium perchlorate, which was mainly used for sea mines and was thus a key part of Britain’s defence against German submarines. Over 800 people worked at Langwith, and they were sworn to secrecy regarding their important war work. Jobs in munitions factories such as this were dangerous – they carried the risk of illness because of the chemicals used, as well as accidents and explosions.
A fire at Langwith on 20 November 1917 killed three workers, and it is believed to have been caused by a worker carrying matches in their pocket. Just a few months later, an explosion at the site led to the deaths of three young women. We will now look at the story of one of them – Dorothy Prince Brown.
Dorothy Prince Brown
By using Imperial War Museums’ Lives of the First World War, we are able to build up Life Story profiles for millions of people like Dorothy who contributed to the British war effort, both at home and overseas. Dorothy was born in Mansfield in 1901 to coal miner Albert Brown and his wife Annie. Dorothy was the eldest child in a large family, and in 1911 the Browns lived in Bolsover, Derbyshire. During the war Dorothy was employed at HM Explosive Factory in Langwith, and unfortunately was working there when an explosion occurred on 20 March 1918.
Dorothy was just 17 years old when she died alongside two fellow workers, Elsie May Garratt and Ethel Gorrill (all pictured above). The three young women were buried with fully military honours in Shirebrook Cemetery, and their families received financial compensation from Mansfield County Court. But as a memorial silk dedicated to Dorothy shows, money could never replace Albert and Annie’s “dearly beloved daughter” who had died for “God, King and Country” at such a young age. They also donated a portrait of Dorothy in her uniform to the newly-established Imperial War Museum, to preserve her memory.
Whilst the explosion was reported in local newspapers at the time, censorship meant that the Langwith factory was not named and the precise cause of the accident was not established. Today, the factory no longer exists and the site is used as a coal tip. The Home Front Legacy project helps to ensure that the history of the place will not be forgotten, and by adding details to Lives of the First World War, we pay tribute to workers like Dorothy who made such an important contribution and sacrifice one hundred years ago.
Linking Your Records
You can link records from Lives of the First World to your Home Front Legacy site record; this is a great way of linking personal stories to a site.
Information relating to a person can be recorded under the ‘Associated People’ section of the recording app. Simply provide the individual’s name, occupation information in the information boxes provided. A link to the online Lives of the First World War record can be placed within the ‘Other info.’ box. Be sure to leave out the ‘https://’ at the beginning of the link, as this may cause an error while uploading your record.
Additional information regarding associated people can be added to existing records. Contact the Home Front Legacy team for more information