National Filling Factory No.6 – Chilwell

National Filling Factory No.6, Chilwell, c.1918

Facility Type & Function:

National Filling Factory (N.F.F.) – TNT and ammonium nitrate mixing mills plus filling of 4.5 in to 15 in shells plus naval mines and aerial bombs.

Brief History:

A secluded 208 acre site, sheltered by neighbouring hills, at Chilwell, near Nottingham, was chosen for the location for one of Britain’s largest shell filling factories, N.F.F. No.6. Its location was midway between the shell production centres in the north of England and the Channel ports.

Much of the research and development plus design for N.F.F. No.6’s was undertaken by Godfrey John Boyle, Lord Chetwynd. This included the preparation of the explosive Amatol (an 80:20 mixture of powdered ammonia nitrate and TNT) and its pressurized powder filling process into empty shells. The basis for the process ultimately selected was that used by the French munitions industry and not that previously employed at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich. Construction of the factory commenced on 15th September 1915 and it was opened in January 1916. Its operation was managed by the contracting company Holland, Hannen & Cubitts Limited on behalf of the Ministry of Munitions (M.o.M.) although Lord Chetwynd maintained a close association with the works throughout its operational life.

King George V & Lord Chetwynd with other officials on a visit to N.F.F. No.6

N.F.F. No.6 comprised two parts, the north and south works, which were separated by a road. The north works comprised the separate ammonium nitrate and TNT mills, the Amatol mixing house and works canteens. The south site housed explosives stores plus large storage sheds for both the filled and empty shells. As would be expected from its size the factory had a large workforce that in March 1917 stood at 7,452 of whom 1,730 were women.

The site’s amatol explosives preparation plant employed an innovative series of processing stages. Many of them incorporated machines adapted from the food and mineral processing industries. Multi-storey structures were built to dry and crush TNT and ammonium nitrate using machines originally used in quarrying and sugar-making, to produce a very fine flour-like powder which was then mixed and carried, while still warm from milling, by conveyor belts to pressing houses. This continuous process was more efficient that earlier milling arrangements which could only manage small batches of material at a time. Great care was also taken to remove any residual free moisture from the finished explosive and to avoid its shaking which might cause its two constituent powders to separate.

Munitionettes at work in the Shell Store, N.F.F. No.6

Throughout the Great War there several attempts by Zeppelins to bomb the site, using the course of the River Trent as a means of locating the factory. After one such unsuccessful raid, Lord Chetwynd turned it to his advantage by spreading a rumour that three German spies had been caught trying to signal the zeppelin with lights. To further embellish the pretence that the spies had been captured and summarily shot he had one of the work’s police guards stand sentry outside an empty room in the factory all day and at night he had workmen from the factory dig three graves on a nearby hillside. The graves were later observed to have been backfilled with black posts sunk at the head of each. That rumour of the spies execution was accepted as unquestioned fact and served as a deterrent warning to any would be spies or trespasser on the site.

The scene of devastation after the TNT explosion at N.F.F. No.6 on 1st July 1918

On 1st July 1918 an explosion of 8 tons of TNT occurred on the site killing 134 workers of which only 32 could be positively identified. A further 250 workers were injured. Most of the dead were buried in a mass grave in nearby Attenborough churchyard without being named. Although an inquiry was held the cause of the explosion was never identified.

The official inauguration in 2018 of the new memorial constructed above the mass graves of some of the victims of the Chilwell explosion in Attenborough churchyard

In a speech reported in “The Times” newspaper on 9 July 1918, Mr. F. G. Kellaway MP, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Munitions speculated that, as the French had apparently given an honour to the Citadel of Verdun for its services to France, perhaps the factory at Chilwell should be awarded the Victoria Cross. Whilst this award does not appear to have been made, the site was subsequently known as “The V.C. Factory”.

Reconstruction of the explosion damage to the site commenced almost immediately but was still ongoing when the Armistice was declared. Thereafter production ceased.
During its production the factory filled over 50% of the 60-pounder and 15-inch shells used by Britain during the Great War, around 19,250,000 shells. In addition, it also filled naval mines and aerial bombs.

After the war the site remained in Government hands. It was re-opened during the Second World as a Royal Ordnance Depot. It is now occupied by the Ministry of Defence. Several buildings of the original Filling Factory still survive, notably the large former Filled Shell Store.

For more on the site’s history during the Great War click on the “Gramophone” image below where a web link will taken the reader to an oral history recording about the works which is part of the BBC Radio’s “World War I at Home” Series.

Location Details:

Chilwell, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire – National Factory Area No.4

Associated Token, Check & Pass Issues:

Type I (Variation A)

Function: Identification/Works Pass (Note 1)

Material: Brass

Design: Bi-facial with a plain edge and pierced for suspension

Shape & Size: Circular,  39.2 mm

Obverse: Raised legend around raised rim border reads THE PROPERTY OF THE NATIONAL SHELL FILLING FACTORY No 6. and in the centre field CHILWELL . In the upper field incusely stamped letters GG above the number 8627 and in the lower field the number 352

Reverse:  A crown above two letters Cs entwined back to back.

Date: 1915 to 1918

Maker: Unknown

Published References:  Yarwood, J. – Military Tokens of the British Commonwealth. Page 98 – MMT022. Private Publication. 2006.


Type I (Variation B)

Function: Identification/Works Pass (Note 1 & 5)

Material: Brass

Design: Bi-facial with a plain edge and pierced for suspension

Shape & Size: Circular,  39.3 mm

Obverse: Raised legend around raised rim border reads THE PROPERTY OF THE NATIONAL SHELL FILLING FACTORY No 6. and in the centre field CHILWELL . In upper field the incusely stamped 18540

Reverse:  Incusely die stamped legend around upper edge reads THE V.C FACTORY below a crown above two letters Cs entwined back to back flanked by the incusley stamped dates 1915 and 1918 (Note 2).

Date: 1915 to 1918 (Note 2)

Maker: Unknown

Published References:  Yarwood, J. – Military Tokens of the British Commonwealth. Page 99 – MMT023. Private Publication. 2006.


Type II

Function: Identification/Works Pass (Note 1)

Material: Cupro-nickel(?) covered brass

Design: Bi-facial with a plain edge and pierced for suspension

Shape & Size: Circular,  39.2 mm

Obverse: Raised legend around raised rim border reads THE PROPERTY OF THE NATIONAL SHELL FILLING FACTORY No 6. and in the centre field CHILWELL . In the upper field incusely stamped the number 12533.

Reverse:  Incusely die stamped legend around upper edge reads THE V.C FACTORY below a crown above two letters Cs entwined back to back flanked by the incusely stamped dates 1915 and 1918 (Note 2).

Date: 1915 to 1918 (Note 2)

Maker: Unknown

Published References:  


Type III

Function: Identification/Works Pass (Note 1)

Material: White metal zinc alloy

Design: Bi-facial with a plain edge and pierced for suspension

Shape & Size: Circular,  39.2 mm

Obverse: Raised legend around raised rim border reads THE PROPERTY OF THE NATIONAL SHELL FILLING FACTORY No 6. and in the centre field CHILWELL . In the upper field incusely stamped number 9921 and in the lower field the letters CONST (Note 3).

Reverse:  Incusely stamped legend around upper edge reads THE V.C FACTORY below a crown above two letters Cs entwined back to back flanked by the incusely stamped dates 1915 and 1918 (Note 2).

Date: 1915 to 1918

Maker: Unknown

Published References:  


Type IV

Function: Identification/Works Pass (Note 1)

Material: Aluminium

Design: Bi-facial with a plain edge and pierced for suspension

Shape & Size: Circular,  39.2 mm

Obverse: Raised legend around raised rim border reads THE PROPERTY OF THE NATIONAL SHELL FILLING FACTORY No 6. and in the centre field CHILWELL . In the upper field incusely stamped number 21660 and in the lower field the letters CONST (Note 3).

Reverse:  A crown above two letter Cs entwined back to back.

Date: 1915 to 1918

Maker: Unknown

Published References:  


Type V

Function: Unknown (Note 4)

Material: Brass

Design: Uniface with a plain edge and pierced for suspension

Shape & Size: Circular,  32.9 mm

Obverse: Raised legend around top comprising two entwined letter Cs back to back followed by the initials N.S.F.F. and around the bottom CHILWELL all within raised and beaded border. The number 28 in centre field incusely stamped on a raised line of dots. Below an ornament comprising a central rosette flanked with petals.

Reverse:  Blank

Date: 1915 to 1918

Maker: Unknown

Published References:  


Notes:

  1. It appears that each worker employed at the N.F.F. No.6 was issued with two checks at the start of their employment.  One of these was the metallic type worker’s identification or works pass (i.e. as per Check Types 1 to 4 above) and the other was a similarly numbered uniface red fibre disc of 28 mm diameter. This latter was also pierced for suspension and numbered identically to the worker’s pass. Each worker was also allocated a changing room locker and locker key which was similarly numbered to their works pass. It is unclear what the red fibre disc was used for but it could have been used as a time check.
  2. The secondary  applied reverse legends found on many of the N.F.F. No.6  worker’s identification/passes must date to after  the 9th July 1918 when , Mr. F. G. Kellaway MP, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Munitions, was reported in “The Times” newspaper  that, as the French had apparently given an honour to the Citadel of Verdun for its services to France, perhaps the factory at Chilwell should be awarded the Victoria Cross. Whilst this award does not appear to have been made, the site was subsequently known as “The V.C. Factory”. The current writer speculates that this legend was applied to each pass just prior to the closure of the factory and that on termination of their employment each worker got to retain their pass as a medallion of honour for their service to the nation.
  3. To date the current writer has seen the secondary legends listed below applied to only the aluminium and zinc alloy passes. As such it may be assumed that these check types were issued only to the factory’s security staff;
    1.  CONST – Assumed to be short for constable
    2.  GUARD 
  4. This check may represent a time check or a later replacement check type to the red fibre checks referred to in Note 1 above.
  5. At the end of the working day these passes were retained by the workers and taken home with them. Each  employee of the factory was entrusted with the safe keeping of the pass throughout the length of their employment after which they would be returned to the works for possible re-issue to a new employee. Loss of such checks by the workers would typically result in them being fined before being issued with a replacement. A worker attempting to gain access to the works without a valid pass would likewise result in a fine and possibly prosecution as illustrated in the example case below which was reported in the”‘Nottingham Evening Post” on 3rd August 1918.

    THE WRONG PASS – MUNITION LABOURER’S FOOLISH CONDUCT

    For attempting to enter a munition factory with an unauthorised disc or pass, a labourer named James Dunn, aged 50, was fined 21s. at a Midland police-court today.

    Defendant, who was a discharged soldier, had lost his own pass, but instead reporting it to the management he tried to get in with another disc. The danger of such a proceeding is that discs which are lost may get into undesirable hands.

    Defendant’s further explanation was the substituted disc was given him by his wife, and that it had belonged to a lodger.


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