This week I am working up in Newcastle on an R and D for 'The Munitionettes', a show by Fun in the Oven. The Munitionettes were the women that worked in the munitions factories in the first world war, often also referred to as the 'Canary girls'. Their skin turned yellow from constant contact with dangerous substances such as cordite.
July 22nd 1916 Today I was shown over the factory as a great favour. First I saw cordite made into charges. Each charge consists of five or six little bagsful and a core. Each little bag is shaped like a lifebelt. The quantity of cordite it contains has to be weighed to a pin’s head. Even the silk it is sewn up with is weighed. Each bag contains a different weight and the five or six are then threaded on the core. The core is made of a bundle of cordite like a faggot. The whole charge is then packed in a box with a detonator. Then I was shown the lyddite works. This is a bright canary yellow powder (picric acid) and comes to the factory in wooden tubs. It is then sifted. The house (windows, doors, floor and walls) is bright yellow, and so are the faces & hands of all the workers. As soon as you go in the powder in the air makes you sneeze and splutter and gives you a horrid bitter taste at the back of the throat. After sifting, the acid is put in cans and stood in tanks where it is boiled until it melts into a clear fluid like vinegar. Then it is poured into the shell case. But a mould is put in before it has time to solidify. This mould when drawn out leaves a space down the middle of the shell. Before it is drawn out beeswax is poured in, & then several cardboard washers put in. Then the mould is replaced by a candle shaped exploder of TNT or some other very high explosive is put in. After this the freeze cap is screwed in and then two screws have to be put in to hold it firm. The holes for these screws must not be drilled straight into the detonator. If they do the thing explodes
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