Chilwell ammunition factory disaster memorial plans

Image copyright St Mary's Church Attenborough
Image caption The new cross will echo an earlier wooden memorial

A new memorial to the victims of one of the worst home front disasters of World War One is being planned.

On 1 July 1918 a huge explosion tore through Chilwell ammunition factory, near Nottingham, killing 139 people.

Most bodies could not be identified and this, along with the demands of the war, meant they went into a mass grave.

Now a local group has teamed up with Royal Engineers to replace a lost wooden cross with a metal one in time for the tragedy's centenary.

Image copyright IWM

Large factories were set up in 1915 and 1916 to feed the guns of the Western Front and were mainly staffed with women, as men were at the front.

The Chilwell depot was one of the largest, employing about 6,000 people and producing 1,260,000 shells in its first year.

But a tired workforce, pressure to meet high targets and hot weather probably led to a mistake which caused an estimated eight tonnes of TNT to explode.

Windows were broken a mile away and a column of smoke was visible across much of the county.

Image copyright IWM

One eyewitness later described, "Men, women and young people burnt, practically all their clothing burnt, torn and dishevelled. Their faces black and charred, some bleeding with limbs torn off, eyes and hair literally gone".

Despite this all but 12 of the surviving workers were back at the machines the following day. A month later, Chilwell claimed to have set a new production record.

But the graves in St Marys Church, Attenborough, have now become weathered and the original marker is long gone.

Gill Linton-Smith, from the church's explosion group, said: "It is sad because those people gave their lives working for the First World War effort.

"And really there is little to mark it or give them the commemoration they deserve."

Plans for two raised areas and a 2m high metal cross have been drawn up in partnership with the Royal Engineers, whose depot occupies the site of the factory.

They have been submitted to Broxtowe Borough Council.

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