Olive was born on the 29th August 1899 in Harrogate. The 1911 census shows Olive living at home with parents George and Miriam, and baby brother George (aged 1). Other than she would gain employment at Barnbow Munitions Factory little is known of her life.
Barnbow Munitions Factory, at Crossgates Leeds, was one of the new purpose built munitions factories to meet the demand for shells and ammunition. The factory was operational by December 1915, so it would have probably been around that time or shortly after that Olive started work there. It was a huge complex and at peak output was employing about 16,000 workers. The local train station was extended and would bring in workers from the surrounding towns and villages. It even had a farm producing 300 gallons of milk per day, with employees receiving a free daily milk ration.
Munitions work was dangerous. Barnbow ran 3 shifts a day and involved hard manual work involving the use of heavy machinery. Most of the workforce was women and young girls, attracted by the high wages on offer. Conditions at the factory were very hot, the raw materials toxic which would turn their skin and hair yellow in a short time. This led to the nickname ‘The Barnbow Canaries’. The uniforms offered inadequate protection against the dust which could prove deadly if settling in the lungs, even though masks were provided.
Olive worked in Room 42, as one of about 170 workers, where the fully loaded shells were brought to have a fuse fitted and the cap tightened by machine. At 10.27 pm, shortly after the evening shift began on Tuesday 5th December 1916, a violent explosion occurred. Thirty five women and girls were killed outright, including Olive. Many were maimed.
The incident was heavily censored and the full details were not published until 1925. However, it highlights the dangers that women had to endure in supporting the war effort.
The site of the factory was given Heritage Protection status in honour of the women who gave their lives.
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Gilbert Davison Pitt Eykyn was born at the France Lynch parsonage in Gloucestershire on the 22nd August 1881. He was baptised on the 29th September 1881. He was the only son of the late Reverend Pitt Eykyn. His father at the time of his death was Chaplain at Parel Bombay. Gilbert married Emily Constance on the 28th November 1902 and a son, Duncan Arthur, was born on the 11th August. The 1911 census shows that Duncan was born Poona in India. At some point after the family returned to England they moved to Northallerton in North Yorkshire. Gilbert was a career soldier. He was also a gifted linguist, having passed Army exams in Russian, French and Hindustani. He received his first commission with the 3rd Loyal North Lancashire Regiment in 1899. He then joined the 4th Manchester Battalion in May 1901 and was promoted to Lieutenant on the 24th December 1901. He joined the Royal Scots on the 4th February 1905 attaining the rank of Captain on the 26th June 1913. On the 13th February 1913 he was appointed adjutant to the 4th Battalion Yorkshire Regiment in Northallerton. During his military career he had served in India and saw action in the 2nd Boer War (1899-1902). Gilbert was with the 4th Battalion Yorkshire Regiment when they arrived in France just prior to the 2nd Ypres offensive. He was killed leading his men in the storming of St Julien on the 24th April 1915. He was 34 years old. Gilbert has…
Judith Farrah told us about her great-grandfather James Allen, who’s joinery business contributed to the war effort on the Home Front. “James Allen was born in 1855 in Newbiggin, Richmond. He was originally called James Thistlethwaite but changed his name to Allen, which was his stepfathers name. He apprenticed with William Raworth, learning to be a joiner, and married his daughter Matilda. By 1901 he had set up his own joinery business known as James Allen & Son Ltd and worked on the Kursaal (later known as The Royal Hall) in Harrogate.” During the First World War, James did not join the armed forces but used his joinery business to create boxes for munitions. Static trench warfare required huge numbers of shells; the First World War became a war of production. Hundreds of manufacturing companies, including James’, were commandeered for munitions production. As men were sent to the trenches, women moved into the factories. Some factories’ workforce was almost entirely female, and this was true for James’ business.
Si Wheeler submitted the story of his great grandfather, Dixon Overfield, but it’s also a great example of the impact of war on all those connected to the soldier who served. “Dixon was married to Margaret and they had a daughter Madge, born in 1915. Dixon enlisted in Filey in September 1916. He originally joined the Royal Field Artillery but soon got transferred to the 6th Battalion, the Yorkshire Regiment. He was sent to France and saw action at Arras, before being moved to Belgium. Dixon survived this fight, but twelve days later he too was killed in action at the Battle of Poelcappelle on the 9th of October 1917 when a shell burst just above himself and several comrades. Their bodies were never recovered. Dixon is remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial. Dixon’s wife died in 1924, leaving my grandmother, Madge, aged 9, an orphan. Raised by two aunts, then entering service at 13, Madge was taken under the wing of her housekeeper boss, Lizzie Andrew and became part of her extended family. Aged 18, Madge moved to London to train as a nurse, working through the Blitz and marrying a Dunkirk evacuee soldier, my granddad, Harry Wheeler. Harry didn’t mind where they settled to start married life, so they moved to Swanland in East Yorkshire, where Lizzie lived. My parents live there to this day.”