War Industry during the First World War

British aircraft component made during the First World War by women employees of the Phoenix Dynamo Manufacturing Co Ltd. in Bradford, West Yorkshire; New factories sprung up across Britain and Europe as each combatant sought to out-produce each other to feed their armies with the weapons, equipment and supplies. Producing equipment for allies was also a burden combatants like Britain had to shoulder.

British aircraft component made during the First World War by women employees of the Phoenix Dynamo Manufacturing Co Ltd. in Bradford, West Yorkshire

vehicles, aircraft and ships

New factories sprung up across Britain and Europe as each combatant sought to out-produce each other to feed their armies with the weapons, equipment and supplies. Producing equipment for allies was also a burden combatants like Britain had to shoulder.

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As the scale and the duration of the First World War escalated, the priority for every combatant nation was to ensure that their armed forces had sufficient weaponry, supplies and equipment.

In Britain, the newly-created Ministry of Munitions...

As the scale and the duration of the First World War escalated, the priority for every combatant nation was to ensure that their armed forces had sufficient weaponry, supplies and equipment.

In Britain, the newly-created Ministry of Munitions assumed authority over all elements of war production, from appropriating raw materials to building new factories. Among the Central Powers, the military generally took control of industry. With so many men in the armed forces, women were increasingly called upon to 'serve' in the factories. But despite the widespread support for the war and improvement in wages experienced by many workers, discontent over pay and conditions caused industrial unrest.

The effectiveness of the escalation in war production was immense is illustrated by the quantities of material manufactured: Britain alone produced nearly four million rifles, a quarter of a million machine guns, 52,000 aeroplanes, 25,000 artillery pieces and over 170 million rounds of artillery shells by the end of the war.

Every combatant army on the fighting fronts was dependent on its civilian army in the factories on the home front to sustain it in the pursuit of victory.

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  • Female workers at a munitions factory

    photographs

    Female workers at a munitions factory; Female workers at the National Filling Factory at Chilwell, Nottinghamshire, in July 1917. This factory was one of hundreds of Ministry of Munitions-controlled factories established during the war years. Hundreds of thousands of shells were filled with TNT here. The dangers of this kind of war work were starkly revealed when a massive explosion killed over 130 people at the Chilwell factory.
  • A Shell Forge at a National Projectile Factory, by Anna Airy

    art

    A Shell Forge at a National Projectile Factory, by Anna Airy; A Shell Forge at a National Projectile Factory, Hackney Marshes, London, 1918, by Anna Airy. The artist Anna Airy was one of the first women to be officially commissioned to paint war pictures. She later recalled that when working on this painting she had '...never felt such heat! The floor got "black hot". I burnt a pair of shoes right off my feet! You have to paint these red-hot shells so very fast because of the colour changing…’.
  • Poster appealing for war workers

    posters

    Poster appealing for war workers; Poster appealing for war workers and showing the different ways in which people could contribute to the war effort. Working in war industry was considered every bit as vital as waging war on the fighting fronts. Those on the front line were totally reliant on the mass-produced munitions, equipment and supplies made back home. Some industries, like coal, were considered so important that their workers were not allowed to leave to join the forces.
  • 'On War Service' lapel badge

    uniforms and insignia

    'On War Service' lapel badge; 'On War Service' lapel badge marked 'War Munition Volunteer'. These badges were issued by the British government and private firms. By wearing one, workers were easily identified as being engaged in essential war work. Those who were not 'doing their bit' on the home front were treated with hostility, given the mass support for the war.
  • Factory worker Helen Mullins

    sound

    Factory worker Helen Mullins; In this audio clip, Helen Mullins recalls working at Pemberton Billings aircraft factory in Southampton during the First World War