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Aycliffe Munitions Factory by Sheila Chambers (nee Noble)

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 Sheila Chambers reminisced about her work at the Munitions Factory. This is her story, as told to a project volunteer:

Working at Aycliffe Munitions Factory, Sheila was one of the women in Group 1 which was known as the ‘Suicide Squad’, handling detonators and magazines. There were many accidents.

The conditions and nature of the work meant that there was always a fine layer of yellow dust comprised of combustible material (T.N.T.) floating in the air, coating everything including the women. For safety’s sake it was important to keep the T.N.T. damp, even a dropped component could cause a spark that could ignite the dust. The women became known as the ‘Yellow Canaries’. Sheila seemed to have avoided most of the staining by following her mothers advice; cleaning her face and neck with a saucer of milk on her arrival home each day. Her mother also made meat pies for her to take to work. The canteen staff would heat them up for her.

An incident still vivid in Sheila’s memory is of an early morning shift. She was making her way to the railway station, walking through the dark, eerie silence, no lights allowed, it was black out, she had not gone far, (she lived in Hanover Street, close to the Cenotaph and old Army Barracks) when out of the damp mist came a large silhouette of a man, she was terrified, as he was carrying a rifle. As he came closer she realised it was a Soldier, he explained he was on guard duty from the barracks and that she was all right.

Other memories of her time at Aycliffe, 1942-1945, are of the friends she made, Vera Jones, Doris Mason, Kathy and Mary (she has forgotten their surnames) and Twinkle (she never did know her surname), but remembers her with affection.

After the war Sheila had several jobs, but best of all she enjoyed her time working in the NAAFI at Catterick serving the men and their wives stationed there.

She married in 1951 (her husband an ex Commando) and moved to Melksham in Wiltshire. 

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