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ROYAL ORDNANCE FACTORY, GLASCOED

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The factory was built over the Wernhir farmhouses, Lower Wernhir, Middle (or Little) Wernhir and Upper Wernhir and opened in 1940.


The loss of Upper Wernhir inspired Sir Cyril Fox and Lord Raglan to write their seminal work, “Houses of Monmouthshire” in 1951, which included detailed analysis of a number of old houses, including Beech Farm, Upper Wernhir, and other Glascoed houses. I plan to read a copy one of these days!


CONTEXT

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Coordinates: 51.708899°N 2.942838°W


ROF Glascoed (today BAE Systems Munitions Glascoed) was initially a UK government-owned, Royal Ordnance Factory (ROF). It was designed as one of 20 munitions filling factories. It was planned as a Permanent ROF with the intention that, unlike some other similar facilities, it would remain open for production after the end of World War II. After privatisation of the Royal Ordnance Factories in the 1980s it became part of Royal Ordnance plc and later a production unit of BAE Systems. It was served by the Great Western Railway's Coleford, Monmouth, Usk and Pontypool Railway from its opening in April 1940 until 1993.[1]


Early history


In the late 1930s leading up to the outbreak of war in 1939, the British government developed a strategy to disperse armaments and munitions production away from major cities and the southeast part of England which were felt to be especially vulnerable to bombing from the air. As a result the Ministry of Supply built a number of Royal Ordnance Factories and satellite factories.


A munitions-filling factory was sited at Glascoed in a valley between Pontypool and Usk in Monmouthshire. The site was chosen for its seclusion and sheltered topography surrounded by hills and its damp micro-climate was suited for the handling of explosives. Mostly agricultural land was acquired by compulsory purchase. In addition, the large workforce needed would benefit a region of the UK hit by particularly heavy unemployment in the 1930s Great Depression.


The new factory was designed at The Royal Arsenal, Woolwich (Woolwich Arsenal), based on its long experience in munitions production. Safety considerations were paramount. The design, style and spacing of individual production buildings meant that they were separated by wide open spaces as well as approx 20 feet (6 m) high grassed embankments and extremely thick reinforced concrete walls and overbridges, called traverses. The purpose of these earthworks was to deflect any explosion skyward rather than outward to any adjacent buildings or structures.


The site was built with extensive underground magazines, comprehensive lightning protection and individual buildings linked by paths, roads and railways.


Building work on the 1,000 acre (4 km²) site started in February 1938, with the Ministry of Works acting as Agents; and was undertaken by a construction company from Cardiff. The factory was officially opened in April 1940 and full production was achieved in 1941-1942.


Memoirs of working at the ROF Glascoed 1939-1945

By Gwyn Tucker nee Taylor


I was born and raised in Pontypool, new Newport in South Wales. My father worked in the colliery and I was one of 12 children, I was the fifth eldest.


In early 1939 when I was 15 years old I was working as a waitress in a cafe in Crane Street Pontypool, one day two distinguished looking men came in for a meal. At the end of the meal they thanked me for looking after them so well, gave me a tip that was bigger than my weekly wage of 7s 6d (32p) and asked me if I would like to go and work for them on a new factory that was being built. They asked to see my parents at the Winning Horse Public House where they were staying that evening. They told my parents what the job involved and what the pay and conditions were. The salary was more than my father was earning in the mines. (In about 1943 my father was invalided out of the mines, and he came to work in the canteens). I commenced working at the ROF Glascoed which then was farm land commandeered by the government to build an ROF factory. I was employed initially by Carters a large catering firm. It was broken up in to several sections and on each section a large wooden canteen was erected which was serviced by one girl and a tea-boy. We served the men who were building the factory, many of them were Irish and some were local miners with tea sandwiches, cakes, chocolates, cigarettes etc. I worked there for about 2 years until the factory was completed and handed over to the government. I was then reemployed by the Government and worked there until I got married and moved to London in 1945. ROF Glascoed was one of the main places in Britain for manufacturing bombs, depth chargers, etc


The Factory had about 6 sections and each had a canteen but by this time they were brick buildings fully equipped but serviced with supplies from the main canteen which was outside the danger area. In 1941 I commenced work on section 1 which was the TNT section. Each morning we got our trolleys ready and wearing special clothing, because we were going on to the "cleanways" (these were so called because they were the danger areas and subject to strict rules and regulations) we served everyone working in the TNT sheds with a glass of milk and a bun. It was compulsory for them to have the milk as it put a lining on their stomachs as they were working with TNT.

Anyone working on the cleanway had a locker in a long room where they changed into whatever protective clothing they wore for their particular job and special leather shoes that had no metal lace ends before crossing over to the cleanway. Despite all the precautions there were one or two incidents where people, knowing the dangers, acted irresponsibly. One woman kept a hair pin in her hair which fell out in a TNT shed causing an explosion. She suffered badly and two young men lost their legs. I used to travel with the two lads, it was very sad. I think they had been sent down from Woolwich to work at Glascoed. There were other incidents but luckily very few.


All the supplies for the lunches etc. would have by then been delivered by vans to each canteen and when we got back we cleared our trolleys, had our lunch and then prepared for everyone coming in for their lunch. Everyone was allowed half an hour for lunch and could smoke 2 cigarettes that they could purchase in the canteen. We then cleared up and set up for the afternoon shift. Day shift finished at 3.30pm and then we went to the main canteen for a cup of tea or coffee before going home. When we left the danger area we could be called in for search but the most important search was when you went into the danger area at the start of the shift as you had to declare yourself all clear. The police on the gates called people in at random for search and it was a criminal offence subject to imprisonment if you had broken any of the rules which were:

* No jewellery of any kind (married women could wear their wedding ring but it had to be bandaged up)

* No hair pins or metal hair adornments

* No cigarettes, matches or lighters

or anything that could ignite or cause an explosion.


One morning we were sitting in the canteen after doing our morning round with milk etc., we had all got very wet in spite of wearing oilskins as the weather was absolutely dreadful and the clouds were so low that it was like night. When we sat down to have our break sirens went there were two different sirens one was an alert that there was enemy aircraft about the second one was to warn you that danger was imminent and you had to drop everything and go to the shelter to get there you had to run up the clearways. The siren had gone when we first sat down and it had been so long that we had almost forgotten about it until suddenly the danger siren sounded. Another girl and I ran round to get the till which we had intended taking with us and the supervisor who promptly fainted. We had to get her under the arms and drag her through the canteen to the shelter. People were running along the clearways and. A plane was machine gunning us as we went. Fortunately no one was hurt but one man died of a heart attack.

The factory was surrounded by the Royal Artillery and Anti aircraft guns which fired at the plane as soon as it showed itself. And they were responsible for shooting it down. The pilot was dead when they got to the plane.

Afterwards we found bullet holes in the walls of the canteen. It was a lone plane that had been hanging around in the clouds for people to come out of the worksheds - so obviously he was well informed as it was lunchtime. He dropped 3 landmines two fell in the woods at the perimeter of the factory and one fell on Section 2 which was yards away from where we were and went right through a TNT smelting shed. Luckily none of the 3 went off and the army were able to detonate them but it was always thought that the people who put them together never wanted them to explode as they were not put together properly - that was the assumption that was made. The factory was immediately evacuated and the only people who stayed behind, including me, were people who were in the special squad in case of air raids who had been specially trained. I was sent 2 days later in a staff car to take a message to Pontypool, the nearest town, and we had to drive a detour round towards Abergavenny because the plane was still lying across the road at a place called Little Mill.


(Another report of this incident, can be found on Dennis Simons’ page - he was ploughing his fields at Hill Farm at the time of the attack).


When we arrived in Pontypool there were crowds everywhere waiting for news as a lot of people were not sure if their husbands were OK as no word was let out of the factory to anyone. The letter I took to the police station to hand over to the superintendent was to inform them that in fact no one was killed and everyone was safe. It was a wonderful feeling to know that I had put a lot of minds at rest.

I worked in the main canteen at weekends but after that episode I was transferred to there permanently. I was give a nice letter of thanks and two weeks extra wages. My mother showed the letter to everyone but somehow it got lost.


The opening of the factory, whilst for a terrible reason, bought a better lifestyle for thousands of people who travelled from all the outlying areas. Anyone who owned a bus or coach was commandeered to bring people from all over the Valleys and from Pontypool buses and trains were brought into service. Everyone had 3 shillings (12p) a week stopped out of their wages to pay fares. This applied to everyone regardless of how far you travelled. The trains and coaches stopped just outside the main gates and on going through the gates you showed your pass. There were three shifts; mornings, nights and afternoons (in that order) and I and some few others did double-back shifts on weekends we finished day shift on Saturday, double back on Saturday night finished night shift on Sunday morning and double back on the Sunday evening. We did not have time off in lieu but we were very happy in our work and this only involved a skeleton staff and only the main canteen was open from Saturday morning to Sunday 3.15pm shift. I served on the main counters serving tea breaks, dinner breaks, etc. and it was a very busy life. We had three chefs. The head chef was French and had worked on the old Queen Mary. There were several pastry cooks and vegetable cooks who provided food for all the thousands of people who worked there.


I went from working on the counters in the canteens to be the waitress in the Executive Dining Room. Recently I was thrilled to be allowed to visit the factory and remembered everything including the building I had to walk through in special suits to experience the various gasses that could be used in a poison gas attack. This only applied to people who were in the special squad.

We had many of the top brass visiting from the various Armed forces and government departments to inspect the factories and the outputs of the bombs etc that were being supplied for the forces. They all ate in the Executive Dining room where I was the waitress. On a recent visit I had coffee at the same table in the same dining room and I still remembered it all.


 We had our own bakery, and in early 1943 I was offered the job of manageress. The bakery employed three bakers and a head baker named Tom. The others were George, Archie and Bill. Those three doing shift work while Tom and I did 10 hour day shifts. I later alternated one week days and one week nights and did double back shifts. I was responsible for ordering all the goods from the store and, one weekend with Tom and Archie we had to make a mixture of everything we produced in the bakery, making an accurate measurement of all the ingredients we used and what the output was for each mixture. For instance I remember a batch of doughnut mix produced 365 doughnuts. We made several types of cakes, doughnuts and rolls. I had to keep a very strict account of all the raw goods that were used along with the output and amounts supplied to each canteen. I had to balance raw goods against output and costing and my columns of figures had to add up or there would have been an inquiry (although this did not stop us on very rare occasions putting a double helping of jam in a doughnut as a treat!)

My mother often woke me up because I was shouting out figures in my sleep. There were no calculators etc. to help - everything was done with a pencil and in your head!

We were self sufficient in all catering. All the raw goods were delivered to us under tight security because we were responsible to the Minister of Foods Mr Strachey.


We had our own hospital just behind the main canteen where any injuries were dealt with before being transferred to hospital in the town. I still remember a lovely nurse who worked there who always called me “Topsy”. The Royal Artillery Light Anti Aircraft Regiment was stationed down the lane outside the factory and around the perimeter. They were allowed to come into the main canteen when afternoon shift had departed and night shift gone off to their respective jobs. We would prepare the meals for the first shift of maintenance who would come in for their meal around 2am. When we were on night shift we were allowed to go out on our break and have a dance with the boys some nights.

My late husband was stationed there but we met in Pontypool the first time when I was off work with a very badly scalded arm which I got one day while I was taking trays out of the ovens with a peel (a big stick that you used to pull the trays out) and someone had been over zealous with greasing the trays and the fat spilled over me.

Our then manageress Mrs Hilton who was the mother-in-law of the Superintendent of the factory was a strict disciplinarian who often came up behind me and gave me a slap in the back and say “get that back up, walk tall”. She was a lovely lady, like a mother figure. When I returned to work she said a very nice soldier had been asking after me and made sure we met up again. That was Bill who became my husband. His Regiment was sent off to Burma after we had only been courting for  3 or 4 months. Captain Brookes who was Chief of the Fire Brigade who lived in a house with his wife and two children on the road leading to the factory which had been especially built for key personnel got to know Bill and his friends Cliff and Winkle Bailey and he threw a party for us on the last night before they went off to Leeds en-route to Burma, although we did not know where they were going then. Wink, so called because he was of short stature, was unfortunately killed in Mandalay, Captain Brookes insisted that he should be off fighting for our country despite the fact that he had been sent from Wigan to do a vital job they let him go eventually in early 1945 and he ended up in Germany. The very day that peace was declared in Germany he fell down a flight of stairs and died.


Quite a few people from Woolwich Arsenal in London were sent down to work at the ROF and most lived in digs in and around Pontypool. My boss (Mr Offloe) approached me one day and said a girl named Ena Bingham and her brother and sister were coming to Pontypool and Ena was being given a job in the canteen. He asked me to take her under my wing as they had had a very bad time being in a shelter that was hit where quite a few people died, including their mother, and so they had no one. Ena had had a lot of shrapnel removed from her body and face but there was still some in her face and neck that was too dangerous to remove. But every now and again a bit would prick the surface. I used to visit her in Pontypool Hospital when these bits were being removed. They went back to London after the war and we lost touch but I am going to try and trace her if she is still alive.


Coming up to each Christmas we had a special dispensation to purchase rum, brandy and sherry from the Beaufort Arms in Glascoed. Tom, Bill and I would then work in the bakery Saturday night through to Sunday making mincemeat and Christmas puddings ready for the Christmas dinners. It was hard work, especially stirring the mincemeat. But the skeleton staff who were working all came in to have a stir and make a wish. I guess we all wished for the same thing but it was very festive and good fun. Then the next two days were given over to making mince pies on the bakery.


While working on Section 1 a regular visitor was a Mr Vickery who I believe was quite rich and did voluntary work making sure that any staff who had problems could be helped. He was completely bald but he would find hairs growing on top of his head now and again. He asked me one day if I would pluck them out and I agreed! He came along with a round magnifying glass and tweezers and went into a small dining room by the kitchen and I pulled the hairs out while he examined his pate in his mirror. My colleagues got a lot of amusement from this, they would peep through the hatch and try to make me laugh, but I didn’t mind, he was a pleasant man who was like a father-figure to everyone. That became a weekly chore. I think I had an infinity with him because my father lost a lot of his hair as a result of an accident in the colliery and was very self-conscious of his baldness.


The women who worked on the Shellite, Cordite or TNT sections had to take a lot of stick from neighbours who did not know any better, as the front of their hair that was showing outside the felt-round caps they wore would turn green, red or yellow from the various explosives. They were accused of dying their hair and in those days only women of a certain reputation did that! The local papers issued a statement on this so that people knew the cause.


Some of us started wearing slacks to work in the winter because it was so cold and it was met with hostility from people as women did not wear trousers in those days and I and another girl were summoned to the Home Office Block in the Factory where all complaints were dealt with. Luckily I was wearing a very smart pair my dad had got them made to measure for me at his tailors. We did not have a Trade Union but I was a shop steward taking anyone’s complaints to the Home Office to sort out and I managed to get my point across about the cold, especially for women who came from over the Valleys, plus not being able to get stockings to keep our legs warm, so we won the day. I don’t recall much bad feeling we were all working for a common cause and all had brothers, boyfriends, husbands etc fighting and everyone worked with a will.


The news that the war had ended met with huge rejoicing, I was taking a bath at midnight when my oldest brother banged on the door to tell me that the war was ended. I very quickly dressed and we all went down to our local pub who opened the doors - the police came in took all our names for drinking after hours but nothing came of that - then we heard that the Palais dance hall had opened its doors and everyone flocked there and then back to our homes where everyone lit bonfires and for the first time since the war broke out the lights came on. I had to go into work the next morning as I was on the special squad (we had to go in regardless!) and so I missed a lot of the celebrations in the streets the next day. However we had a wonderful time celebrating at the Factory - lots of people lost their jobs in the following weeks - I was kept on and would have probably worked there until retirement if I had not moved away. The celebrations culminated in a huge and very impressive firework display when we were allowed to bring our families into the factory. This was held outside the main canteen and administration block and everyone was then given refreshments.


I stayed on but one day in late September I was told that there was a telephone call - an unusual event as we were not allowed private calls - it was my father to tell me that Bill had landed at Southampton - I fell head over tip in my hurry to tell my boss who immediately sent me home in a staff car but I was too late to meet him at Southampton so went to London where we met under the clock at Paddington Station. We returned to Pontypool where we were married on 2nd November 1945. We then moved to London and my time at Glascoed came to an end.


 


A SECOND SHORTER STORY OF ROF GLASCOED IN WARTIME


By Evelyn Handy


During the war I worked at “the dump” - Glascoed Munitions Factory. I remember one day as we were queuing by the clocking machine waiting to clock out for lunch and suddenly a plane flew over, shooting at us with machine gunfire - we were terrified and were told to lay on the floor. I could clearly see the pilot in the aeroplane - it was that close! There was an awful commotion and one girl fainted and had to go to hospital. We heard later that the plane was shot down at Chepstow.

Later in the year I worked as a Matron’s maid in London and I used to listen to the bombs going off at night.


Both stories used by kind permission of WW2 People’s War


'WW2 People's War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at  www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar



STORY ONE


Contributed by     gwyn taylor

Article ID:        A2910412

Contributed on:    11 August 2004


 


STORY TWO


Contributed by     Evelyn Handy, Talywain, South Wales

Article ID:        A2465417

Contributed on:    26 March 2004

BAe Systems Glascoed - disused main entrance. This was the original main entrance to the BAe Land Systems site at Glascoed. The building on the right-hand side was the gatehouse. Although there is a gate and barrier there is actually no sign saying 'No Entry' or 'MOD Property Keep Out'.. The site is not MOD property but is covered by the explosives act and is therefore apparently protected by armed police.

© Copyright Nicholas Mutton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence