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Aycliffe Munitions Factory by Nancy Noble (nee Borthwick)

In 2005 Hartlepool's Museum and Library Services worked together on a project called 'Their Past, Your Future', which commemorated the part played by local people in the Second World War. As part of the project Nancy Noble reminisced about her work at the Munitions Factory. This is her story, as told to a project volunteer:

Nancy began her working life when she was 18 at Aycliffe Munitions Factory (R.O.F).

An early bus picked up passengers at stops from Wingate to the Hartlepools; Nancy was picked up from Hartley Crescent in West View. On arrival at the factory shoes, outer clothing and jewellery were removed and placed in lockers. White suits, turbans and shoes were provided and before beginning the shift the women were inspected for safety purposes.

Nancy’s Group 5 worked at a long bench. The women rattled rifle shells to ensure they were empty, the empty shells dropped through on to a tray and were filled with cordite and sealed with shellac. This procedure ensured empty shells were not sealed. Because of the constant handling of the chemicals the woman became coated with a dusting of yellow and were known as the Yellow Canaries.

Because of the working conditions, long hours spent in underground huts (the only windows being in the canteen) and the handling of the cordite and shellac Nancy broke out in abscesses and was hospitalised for a year, returning to work when her health improved. At all times she remembers the happy spirit among the women, singing along to Workers Playtime and proud to be part of the war effort, making life long friends.

Nancy was married at Holy Trinity Church, Hartlepool in 1944. Kind neighbours contributed their rations towards a 3-tiered cake and in the age-old tradition Nancy borrowed from a friend a beautiful beaded wedding dress made in France. There was a reception held in the Co-op Hall and on the stage Ronnie Robson provided the music.

Nancy’s husband was exempt from war service, working at Richardson & Westgarths, and was part of the Heugh Battery Homeguard. 

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