From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Munitionettes machining shell cases in the New Gun Factory, Woolwich Arsenal, London

Munitionettes were British women employed in munitions factories during the time of the First World War.


Early in the war, the United Kingdom's munitions industry found itself having difficulty producing the amount of weapons and ammunition needed by the country's armed forces. In response to the crisis, known as the Shell Crisis of 1915, the British government passed the Munitions of War Act 1915 to increase government oversight and regulation of the industry. The newly created Ministry of Munitions regulated wages, hours and employment conditions in munitions factories. It also forced the factories to admit more women as employees, because so many of the nation's men were engaged in fighting in the war and male labour was in short supply. By June 1917, roughly 80% of the weaponry and ammunition used by the British army during World War I was being made by munitionettes. [1]

Health issues[edit]

Munitionettes worked with hazardous chemicals on a daily basis without adequate protection. Many women worked with trinitrotoluene (TNT), and prolonged exposure to the nitric acid that turned the women's skin a yellow colour. The women whose skin was turned yellow were popularly called canary girls. Prolonged exposure to the chemicals also created serious health risks for the munitionettes. Exposure over a long period of time to chemicals such as TNT can cause severe harm to the immune system. People exposed to TNT can experience liver failure, anemia, and spleen enlargement; TNT can even affect women’s fertility. Some side effects commonly included breast and lower region enlargement.[citation needed]

Factory explosions[edit]

Another ever-present hazard of the munitionettes' work was the risk of explosion. On several occasions the explosives the women were working with ignited, injuring or killing the workers. Explosions at British munitions factories during World War I included the 1917 Silvertown explosion, in which 73 people were killed and over 400 injured, and a 1918 explosion at the National Shell Filling Factory, Chilwell, which killed over 130 workers.[2]


  • Pat Barker's award-winning novel Regeneration includes a group of munitionettes, who provide the reader a survey of their experience during the war.
  • To keep morale high among these new women workers, sports were encouraged. The Munitionettes' Cup [3] was a famous competition in north east England in 1917–18 held between women's football teams from various munitions and other factories. The matches attracted thousands of spectators and the leading players, such as Bella Raey, became famous.


  1. ^ John Simkin. "Munitionettes". Spartacus Educational. Retrieved 15 January 2013.
  2. ^ Brown, Jonathan (3 July 2014). "When corpses fell from the Nottinghamshire sky in WWI". The Independent. Retrieved 19 June 2018.
  3. ^ Brennan, Patrick. "Blyth Spartans Ladies FC". Retrieved 11 September 2014.
  • Cook, Bernard. Women and War: a Historical Encyclopedia from Antiquity to the Present, Volume 1: ABC-CLIO, 2006. Print.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]