Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Mr Randall.)
First, let me express my thanks to Mr Speaker for allowing me the opportunity to speak this morning about some of the forgotten heroes of the two world wars.
When people look back at some of the most memorable images of the first and second world wars, perhaps thoughts come to mind of the Royal Air Force repelling the Luftwaffe in the battle of Britain, or the Royal Navy hunting for U-boats in the Atlantic; or, going further back, people might think of the slog of trench warfare in the quagmire of the Somme. The bravery of those members of our armed forces is rightly remembered and their sacrifice should—must—never be forgotten.
When Winston Churchill made his first speech as Prime Minister to the House of Commons, he spoke of his own
“blood, toil, tears and sweat”.—[Official Report, 13 May 1940; Vol. 360, c. 1502.]
He also spoke for the millions of people who would become embroiled in the second world war. Nearly 600,000 people from the British Commonwealth were killed, and between 60 million and 80 million people lost their lives worldwide. We rightly remember the scale of the catastrophe, and never more so than in the forthcoming remembrance of the start of the first world war.
However, there was a group of people, no less heroic, who worked on the home front. Historically, the contribution made by those millions of people has received a great deal less attention, despite the huge sacrifices that they made, and despite their blood, toil, tears and sweat. I am delighted that in recent years long overdue steps have been taken to remedy that injustice. Groups such as the Bevin boys and the land-girls have been formally recognised, but today I would like to bring another group to the attention of not only the House but the country. They are still to receive the full recognition that they are entitled to and have deserved for many years. I refer, of course, to the workers in the nation’s munitions factories, the majority of whom were women.
In 1914 and 1915, it became clear that the country was under-prepared to provide munitions for a major war, so the Government increased their control of munitions manufacture and made sweeping changes. Perhaps the most significant of those, with millions of the male work force on military duty, was to force the employment of more women. By the end of that war, nearly a million “munitionettes” were employed in the factories and were estimated to have been responsible for 80% of all weapons and shells used by the British Army during the first world war.
As the threat of war heightened again in the late 1930s, the Ministry of Supply constructed dozens of new Royal Ordnance factories to ensure the uninterrupted supply of munitions to our armed forces. The women of Britain were urged once again to come into the factories, and yet again, they responded in their droves. It is estimated that anywhere between 1.5 million and 2 million people—mainly women—were employed in that highly dangerous industry. Many of the women were virtually conscripted; they were asked to come into the factories, but perhaps not given too much choice in the matter.
The work was incredibly dangerous, with workers at constant threat of either an accident or enemy attack. My attention was drawn to the issue when, at one of my advice surgeries back in 2008, I had a visit from a constituent whose mother needed my help. Her son explained that his mother had been injured in an explosion during her war work at the Royal Ordnance factory in Swynnerton, just a few miles from my constituency. She had one hand blown off, and the other was severely damaged. She had spent the majority of her adult life, and brought up her children, living with the most debilitating of disabilities, sustained during her service to her country. I have also been contacted by a lady who told me about an accident suffered by her mother: a box of ammunition had fallen on her leg and crushed it. By the time her mother died at the age of 91—a good age, happily, but sadly, without any formal recognition—she was unable to walk, but she had made that sacrifice and had literally put her life on the line, as had not only thousands but millions of others.
In an excellent piece of research entitled “Women of Britain come into the factories”, Samantha Webb provided many further such stories, and I commend her on the work that she has done over many years for the Roses of Swynnerton, as the women of ROF Swynnerton have become known. Those accounts of people’s lives range from the heart-warming to the harrowing, and include tales of heroism and great tragedy.
Samantha tells, for example, the story of May Barker, who started work at Swynnerton at the age of just 16. May was severely injured by an exploding shell, which left her in hospital, swathed from head to waist in bandages. She was blinded for five weeks and remained in hospital for four months, requiring the insertion of a steel kneecap. She lost a finger, and her leg injuries forced her to walk in irons for eight years. However, despite all that, May said that the
“atmosphere of companionship overrode the danger”,
and that she was motivated by the importance of her work. Right up until her death, May campaigned for a memorial to the Roses of Swynnerton, to whom, even in those later years, she felt such a close emotional bond.
Those brave women are typical of the thousands of people who lived with severe injuries from explosions, or with illness from the exposure to chemicals that they worked with. It was said that a munitions worker could often be indentified by the colour of their skin. Many of them became known as “canaries”, because the exposure to sulphur and TNT had the effect of turning their skin yellow. Some 106 workers died as a result of such exposure during the first world war alone.
The consequences of explosions in the factories were, of course, catastrophic. Two of the worst accidents were in 1916 in Faversham, leading to 106 fatalities, and in 1918, at the national shell filling factory in Chilwell, where 134 people lost their lives. It is estimated that about 600 workers were killed during world war one, with many thousands more injured. The safety record in world war two was better, but enemy action killed many people; at the Vickers factory at Brooklands, 86 people were killed in 1940, and the largest explosion ever on UK soil killed 81 people at RAF Fauld in 1944. It is thought that about 150 workers were killed during the second world war, but once again, the impact was felt most by the thousands who lived with injury or illness for decades to come.
That it has taken so long for recognition—any recognition, and even this debate—can no doubt be attributed partly to the fact that the location of the factories and the identity of the people working in them had to be kept secret, particularly during the second world war, as factories had to be moved away from the heavily bombed south to northern England, Scotland and Wales. We can still see the social impact of that in some of those places, where populations increased hugely by the influx of workers to munitions factories. I have mentioned ROF Swynnerton a number of times this morning, and huge numbers of people came down from Scotland to work in the factories there. Many of those people stayed behind after the war, rather than returning to their homes.
The manufacture of munitions was a truly nationwide effort. As the campaign of the all-party group on recognition of munitions workers has gained pace, people from all over the world have contacted us to express their disappointment that munitions workers have not yet been recognised formally. It was the sense of companionship and camaraderie that struck me most when I had the privilege, in recent years, of attending a Remembrance day service for the Roses of Swynnerton. I heard stories of the dreadful conditions in which the women had to work, the ever-present taste of the powder they worked with, their fear of accident or attack, and the extremely long shifts.
I remember a story of a group of workers on a train travelling to a railway station near Swynnerton that did not exist—it did not appear on any map or timetable. The train sat in darkness and quiet, obviously in huge danger, because if any light had shown, enemy planes would have spotted the train, which could have led not only to the death and injury of the people on it, but to the factory being traced. I talked to the women who were on the train, who said such situations were commonplace—they just got on with it. They sat for hours in comradeship, having hushed conversations among themselves. I spoke to an elderly lady who remembered, almost as if it were yesterday, how her youth had been spent helping the war effort. I heard from women who had lost close, dear friends, and had lived with the trauma of it ever since. They ask for no great show of thanks for their work, but simply that those of us who today benefit from the freedom that they played such a large role in defending and were so crucial in securing remember and understand their contribution.
I pay tribute to all the munitions workers I have had the privilege of coming into contact with over the past few years: Olive Astley, Avis Hendley, Alice Porter, Maisie Jagger and Iris Aplin, to name but a few. I am sure that colleagues present this morning will want to mention and remember workers from their constituencies—and I am sure that those hon. Members who could not make it here today would have wanted to do so. I thank the organisations that have helped us with our campaign: ADS has been with us since the start, and First Great Western and Virgin Trains provided travel for the group of munitions workers who attended the Cenotaph ceremony in November. It is worth mentioning that November was the first time that munitions workers marched past the Cenotaph and took part in the Remembrance parade. Having been approached by the all-party group, the Royal British Legion agreed to allow munitions workers to march past. There was a very good turnout from munitions workers and their families, showing the part they played in the war.
I also thank the Imperial War museum, which is undertaking a research project into munitions workers and the role they played in the first and second world wars, and to the national memorial arboretum, which has been so positive about our plans for a permanent memorial—the campaign for which we will launch on 15 April in Parliament. Most of all, I want to give thanks to BAE Systems, and particularly to Scott Dodsworth, without whom there is no way that we could have achieved what the all-party group has achieved so far. Their commitment to the campaign has been invaluable, and I want to put on record my gratitude for their support.
I am pleased that the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon), who is responsible for the subject but could not be here today, has agreed to meet us to discuss munitions workers. His predecessor was supportive and helpful. I hope that that is an indication that the Government might be open to considering ways of recognising the munitions workers. When the Under-Secretary of State for Skills, the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock) responds, I hope that he will also welcome the work of the all-party group and, although I recognise that this is not within his normal field of responsibility, that he will take the message back to his colleagues in the Treasury, to see whether there is a way forward.
Ideally, we would like an arrangement similar to the Bevin boys’ receipt of their badges in 2007—a badge for surviving workers, perhaps. Identifying who worked in munitions and defining munitions have always been problems. Does that include somebody who worked with small arms and shells, or with airframes, tanks and similar? In the all-party group, we are clear about what we mean by munitions workers: those who worked on royal ordnance. A problem is that over many years, the records of who worked at some of the factories that were turned over to produce munitions during the war have been lost. If a person in their 80s came forward and said that they had worked at a munitions factory, but it turned out that they had not—it is questionable whether anybody in their 80s or 90s would misrepresent themselves, but it might perhaps happen—giving away a badge or two to them would probably be a small price to pay for recognising those hundreds of thousands of workers. I do not think it would be hundreds of thousands now; sadly, only tens of thousands are still alive.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. He spoke about the numbers. Does he agree that given that about 70 years have passed, we have a small window of opportunity? The number of people diminishes year on year, so we need urgent action.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. Does he agree that owing to the passage of time, relatives like me—my mother, who would have been 90 this year, was a munitions worker in the midlands—should be able to apply for whatever recognition is awarded following the campaign?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her comments. Where we draw the line has been a concern. Should the children, grandchildren or more distant relatives of a munitions worker who is no longer with us be able to get the badge? In an ideal world, I would agree with her that the children, and possibly the grandchildren, of munitions workers should be entitled to receive the badge on behalf of their loved one, who sacrificed themselves and put themselves on the line for this country. As a compromise, given the difficulties identifying people, the first step would be to recognise those who are still alive.
As far as the families are concerned, the second part of what the all-party group is asking for at the moment is being launched on 15 April: the fundraising launch for a lasting memorial at the national memorial arboretum. The memorial would form a permanent reminder, to which families—children, grandchildren and more distant relatives—could go. The Roses of Swynnerton—groups around the country referred to their munitionettes in different ways—could perhaps take a rose along to it. A memorial at the arboretum would be a good permanent reminder for families more widely, but as a first step we need the recognition for surviving munitions workers.
I assure the Minister that the issue is not party political. The campaign is an all-party one, and has support from Members across the House. We are absolutely committed to working collaboratively and, like the munitions workers, in a comradely way, with the Government. We just ask that, rather than seeking justification for why living munitions workers should be excluded from the recognition that other groups have had, the Government consider again how such recognition can be given. We also ask the Minister to agree that the danger and cost of giving a badge to someone who perhaps was not there is far outweighed by the need to recognise the ever-decreasing group of people who risked their lives day in, day out. That risk is a price worth paying.
All I really ask of the Minister is that he consider the matter with colleagues. My Front-Bench colleagues will probably hate me for trying to push for a spending commitment, but we are talking about a few thousand pounds. The fundraising push for the permanent memorial seeks to raise £100,000, and the cost of providing a medal or a badge to the surviving munitions workers is probably half that amount. The Chancellor will probably not lose too many nights’ sleep over £50,000, and any help and support, not least in publicising the fundraising drive, would be much appreciated.
In closing, I repeat my concern that if we do not make rapid progress it will be too late for the brave individuals who worked and risked—often giving up—their lives at factories such as the Royal Ordnance in Swynnerton. Those people are all now in at least their mid-80s, and with every day that passes more of them pass away without recognition. I therefore again urge the Minister and his colleagues to review their position. It is only just and proper that the Government give the Roses of Swynnerton, and everyone who was employed in the manufacture of munitions, the formal recognition they deserve. They went about ensuring, in a quiet and determined way—almost without raising an eyebrow—that this country could fight the first and second world wars. They ensured that there were bullets in the guns that our brave soldiers were firing, shells in the artillery pieces, and munitions in the aeroplanes that went up to defend us. If there had not been, all the work and effort, and the fact that the lives of our fantastic military personnel were put on the line, would have come to nothing.
These people need recognition, and they need it soon. I therefore urge the Government to put aside concerns they may have. I hope that in responding to the debate, the Minister can at least say that he will talk again to colleagues. To go away and think again would be a good first level of commitment. Let us give recognition to these people—predominantly women—who have sacrificed so much.
As wartime munitions were manufactured also in my Kettering constituency, it is my good fortune to have the privilege of chairing this debate. In a moment, I will call Mr Reckless, and then it will be Nia Griffith, Phil Wilson, Huw Irranca-Davies and Russell Brown. I will ask Mr Perkins to start his speech at no later than 10.40 am, so if you pace yourselves you will all get in.
I am particularly interested to hear of your constituency interest, Mr Hollobone, through Kettering munitions manufacture.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello). With the work he has already done through the all-party group and in securing this debate, he can take pride in putting the subject on the agenda, at least in this Parliament, and in so doing giving recognition to the munitions workers. I am pleased to bring a cross-party element to the debate by adding my voice in support of his request. As he states, any financial sum involved is de minimis compared with the scale of the contribution that the workers made to our country.
It was of course David Lloyd George who, as Minister of Munitions, so strongly put this issue on the agenda in the years around 1915. The workers had an important profile at that time, and it would be a great shame were that not to be recognised. Given what they did to win the first world war and then, in different conditions, their contribution to the winning of the second world war, it would clearly be a good thing, if it were possible, for them to get the recognition that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South seeks. Although the Minister here is not the Minister we would expect to respond to such a debate, I welcome him in terms of his ability to push discussions within Government, and to put the issue on the agenda and have it looked at with a fresh pair of eyes.
Regarding medals for groups that perhaps have not received rightful recognition, two things in particular have struck me. The response a few weeks back to the announcement of a medal for those involved in the Arctic convoys was important, and I have just had a constituency case involving a gentleman in Cliffe Woods village who served at Suez but did not get the medal of recognition he should have received. When my office pressed the issue, it appeared that there had been some confusion and his service had fallen through the cracks, so to speak, within the Ministry of Defence. We were able to provide the firm evidence that he had served in Suez, and the medal was then awarded. To the gentleman, the recognition was a source of great pride. That was one of the most rewarding pieces of constituency casework with which I have been involved.
I represent Rochester and Strood, and the Medway towns more broadly, and I am not sure whether constituents of mine would fall under the definition put forward by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South. He mentioned Faversham, however, and of course at Woolwich there was the large Royal Ordnance munitions manufacturing base, and from Rochester or Strood—Chatham station is also in my constituency—Faversham and Woolwich are both within half an hour’s travel. I have no doubt that significant numbers of constituents in my area served in munitions manufacture, and a number of them are perhaps still alive and resident there. The hon. Gentleman kindly said that there were problems with the definition. Understandably, he and his group have settled on a clear definition and I wish them well in seeking recognition for the people who fall within it, but I hope he does not mind my saying that there are other groups of people—he himself drew attention to the people who worked on airframes.
My constituency had Short Brothers, based on the Esplanade in Rochester. That is now all modern housing, with great river views, but there is great pride in the area’s industrial heritage of Short Brothers and the flying boats developed and manufactured at that site. The hon. Gentleman drew attention to the movement of factories during the war, and the vulnerability of Rochester to German bombing may have led to Short Brothers’ greater focus on its manufacturing in Northern Ireland. However, I believe that the skills base developed by those who worked on airframes in Rochester deserves recognition. Similarly, the royal dockyard in Chatham had many thousands of military workers, to whom we owe a great deal for both the first and second world wars, and indeed for many other wars going back several centuries.
To conclude, I associate myself and my constituents with the hon. Gentleman’s call that, just as those who worked and particularly served in military campaigns have been recognised with different medals and clasps, people who worked and contributed in such roles are also deserving of recognition. If, even at this late stage, the Government gave them the measure of recognition sought by the hon. Gentleman, I would very much welcome it.
I speak as a member of the all-party group on recognition of munitions workers, which aims to obtain recognition for the many thousands of such workers, mostly women, who did dirty, smelly and dangerous work in munitions factories. I endorse all the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello), who described the bravery of the women and men of the munitions factories.
I am grateful to my constituent Mr Les George, who has undertaken research into the local Royal Ordnance Factory at Pembrey in my constituency. He became interested because his mother had been a munitions worker there and narrowly escaped from explosions, the memories of which remained with her for life. Our parliamentary group has looked at some form of medal or veterans badge for munitions workers, like those for the Bevin boys or land-girls. In April, we will launch our fundraising campaign in Parliament for a permanent memorial to munitions workers in the national memorial arboretum in Staffordshire. Mr George has prepared information for display on the former site of ROF Pembrey, and we hope that the county council will support recognition of the role of local people in the munitions factory.
The research has not been easy because of the secretive nature of such factories. Pembrey has a long history of manufacturing explosives: a powder works was established on the Pembrey Burrows as far back as the 1800s, and was known as the New Explosive Company of Stowmarket. Detonators, fuses and other explosives were produced on the site, which covered an area of some 150 acres, stretching along the Pembrey coastline. The factory employed almost 80 people, including young boys and girls. As the work was highly dangerous, employees were paid by piece work that enabled them to earn between 2 shillings and sixpence and 3 shillings a day. At the time, that was comparatively good pay, so there was a local shortage of people wanting to be domestic servants.
The industry was not without its dangers. A minor explosion occurred at the Pembrey Burrows site on 11 November 1882, but fortunately no one was injured. It prompted Sir John Jenkins, my predecessor as MP for the area, to ask a parliamentary question on Thursday 16 November, because the sheds apparently held well over the legal limit of 150 tons of material authorised under the terms and conditions of the company’s explosives licence. He asked the Secretary of State:
“If he is aware of the fact that about 300 tons of dynamite is stored in one room at Bury Port…within a comparatively short distance of the shipping…and of large works where hundreds of workmen are employed…?”—[Official Report, 16 November 1882; Vol. 274, c. 1533-34.]
Sadly, the following day there was a large explosion, causing the tragic loss of life of seven young workers—three males and four females, ranging in age from just 13 to 24. The noise of the explosion was so great that it was heard as far away as Pembrokeshire.
In 1886, the New Explosive Company of Stowmarket was taken over by the Nobel Explosives Company of Glasgow, which was owned by Alfred Nobel—the same man who, when he died, left most of his wealth in trust to fund several awards, one of which we know today as the Nobel peace prize. In 1914, with war looming in Europe, the then Secretary of State ordered and approved the construction of a new plant at Pembrey, with the Government bearing the full cost. It was agreed that the Nobel Explosives Company would be retained as administrative agents of the plant and that the 750-acre site would remain Government property after the war. The Pembrey plant was one of the first of more than 200 purpose-built TNT and propellant-manufacturing factories in the UK during world war one.
As the second world war approached, work started in July 1938 to build a new factory on the Pembrey site, with the Ministry of Works acting as agents. It opened in December 1939 under the control of the Ministry of Supply, as one of several explosives Royal Ordnance Factories making TNT. Unlike other factories, ROF Pembrey also made tetryl and ammonium nitrate. Production of explosives began in December 1939 and reached its peak in 1942, producing 700 tons of TNT, 1,000 tons of ammonium nitrate and 40 tons of tetryl each week. There was a complex arrangement of buildings, spread out over the 750-acre site and set among the sand hills. The magazines were carefully housed around the plant and were well camouflaged to avoid detection in case of possible air raid or sabotage. The site was self-contained, having its own water plant and a power station for electricity. In addition, the administrative buildings, canteen, doctors’ surgery, laundry, police barracks, library and other offices were grouped together at the main site. We can see how big it was.
As my hon. Friend pointed out, these factories were under constant threat of attack. Indeed, shortly after midday on Tuesday 10 July 1940, a single German bomber plane made a sneak attack on the factory and dropped about nine bombs just inside the main entrance gates. Tragically, 10 workers were killed outright or died later of their injuries, and others were injured, some severely. Serious though the bombing was, had it been a little later the casualties would have been much greater, as many men and women would have been on their way to the canteen for their lunch break.
Production continued at a much reduced scale after the war, except for a sharp upturn in the early 1950s, during the Korean war. One of the main functions of the site after the war was to break down large quantities of superfluous or obsolete ammunition. The TNT was melted out of the shells by jets of hot water, and taken to solidify on isolated stretches of sand, where it burned off. The bright glowing flames of burning cordite lit up the night sky, and could be seen for miles around; it was quite spectacular.
Workers in the explosive process units were easily recognised in the area because, as has already been pointed out, the skin of their exposed face and hands was tainted yellow. A stream running from the Royal Ordnance Factory and joining the sea on the west side of Pembrey was reddish in colour, as it had been tinted by the TNT from the factory. That was more noticeable at low tide—it was known locally as the “red river”—and, as the water was always warmer than the sea, locals regularly enjoyed swimming there during the summer months.
The Royal Ordnance factory is now closed and there is a country park on the site, which is on a spectacular piece of coastline. Although I am delighted that munitions workers were represented at the Cenotaph last year, we very much hope that, in the national memorial arboretum, in a medal for the individuals who are still alive, and in something in Pembrey, we will have a permanent memorial to the work done by munitions workers.
It is a pleasure to be under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, to debate a subject that is important for many of our constituents, and to remember the tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people who worked in dangerous industries during the war to keep our defences going in that period.
I want to talk about the munitions factory at Aycliffe, now Newton Aycliffe. In 1941, when Royal Ordnance factory No. 59 opened in Aycliffe, the town of Newton Aycliffe did not exist; it became a new town in 1947. The former site of the ordnance factory is now the second-largest industrial estate in the north-east. If people go to the industrial estate, they can still see the blast walls and some of the buildings where munitions workers worked during that period. At its peak, in 1943, the factory employed 17,000 people, 90% of whom were women. Around the country, there were some 64,500 munitions workers who filled the shells and the bullets. The importance of their work was recognised, as they received visits from Winston Churchill, King George VI and even Gracie Fields, who gave a beautiful rendition of the Lord’s Prayer, which is well remembered by many of the workers.
Filling shells and bullets is obviously dangerous work. I understand from a study by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office in 1940 that the Aycliffe Royal Ordnance factory produced more than 700 million bullets during its period of operation. The work was extremely repetitive, fragmented and boring, but there were high levels of companionship among the women as they daily risked their lives filling bombs and bullets. Many of the women started work at 18, but the average age was 34. Workers were supposed to be under the age of 50 to work at the factory, but apparently a Mrs Dillon, who claimed she was 49, was actually 69. She was the best worker in the factory, losing only two days of work in two-and-a-half years. She received the British Empire medal from the King for her work.
The women who worked in the factory became known as the Aycliffe Angels because, in numerous wartime broadcasts, Lord Haw Haw used to say:
“The little angels of Aycliffe won’t get away with it.”
Although there was never a raid on the factory, because it was secret, the workers faced terrible situations. I have a personal interest in this story, because my grandma, Isabella Woods, worked in the factory during that period. Dorothy Addison spoke to the Northern Echo about her time at the station. In a description of what she did, she said:
“I was on ‘Group Five’ and our job was to weigh cordite, put it into linen bags and sew gunpowder on top. This was put into ‘25-pounder shells’ and the next block had to put the detonator on top! We were searched and if anyone was found with matches, it was instant dismissal! We wore protective clothing and shoes that didn’t cause any friction and our hair had to be tucked in a turban. I remember one girl in the next block getting her hair in a machine and being scalped—she died!! German bombers often came over and all the lights had to be out. One night they came over—we knew the sound—the siren went and we all had to go into the shelters. The sky was lit up with hundreds of ‘chandeliers’—our name for bombs.”
That is what they had to put up with, day in and day out for the period of the war.
Let me mention also some of the people who died. There was an explosion on 2 May 1945—just days before the end of the second world war—in which Isabella Bailey, Elsie Barrett, James Bunton, William Clark Hobson, William Mitchell, Christopher Seagrave, Edmund Smith and Alice Wilson died. Phoebe Morland died on the night of 20 February 1942, along with Irene Irvin, and Alice Dixon. Phoebe’s husband was in the Navy during the war; although his job was considered the more dangerous, it was his wife at home who was killed, leaving behind two children. That is what our ancestors had to put up with. Many of us have relatives or know of people who worked in those industries.
I pay tribute to Great Aycliffe town council for doing its bit over the years to remember the Aycliffe Angels. It produced a memorial certificate, which it gave to the survivors. My grandma was awarded one posthumously; she died 30 years ago. To this day, it sits on the coffee table in the sitting room of my mum’s house. The council also helped to prepare and build a memorial in the town centre to the men and women who worked in the industry.
Newton Aycliffe is now a thriving town with a massive industrial estate. The town itself did not exist until after the war; there were only fields. The factory was built on that site because the area tended to get misty, so it could be hidden from bombers. That is part of the proud history of the town. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) on securing this debate. He is right that the munitions workers should be recognised. They were not on the front line or fighting in the desert or in the jungle or at Normandy, but they helped to keep the war effort going and some of them lost their lives in that dangerous industry. A permanent national memorial would suit their endeavours.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) on securing this debate. I recognise the cross-party support from Members on the all-party group on recognition of munitions workers. I pay tribute to those who have spoken and given personal testimonies on behalf of themselves, their families and the areas they represent.
Curiously, in researching my speech, I came across a personal link of a different kind, not to someone who worked in a munitions factory, but to the right hon. Jim Griffiths, a cousin on my mother’s side and a predecessor of my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith). On 3 June 1937, he spoke in a debate on the munitions factory in Bridgend. We must not forget that in the selection of sites for munitions factories, a number of factors came into play, including that areas were not easily identifiable by bombers and that, in what were termed depressed areas, there was a ready supply of good labour. Those taking part in that debate in 1937 included not only my relative from Llanelli, who later became Secretary of State for Wales, but my predecessor, Mr E.J. Williams, one of my predecessors as Member of Parliament for Ogmore, who asked the Minister about
“the sources of recruitment for the Bridgend munitions factory”—
which was one of the largest munitions employers in the country, employing some 40,000 people—
“and whether any instruction is issued which debars unemployed persons from Maesteg, Aberkenfig, Pontycymmer, and Ogmore Vale Employment Exchanges?”
He went on to ask whether the First Commissioner of Works
“will stipulate in all contracts that, except for technicians, local labour must be engaged at the preparatory or constructional work at the Bridgend munitions factory.”—[Official Report, 3 June 1937; Vol. 324, c. 1149.]
That issue of employing local labour echoes down the years to our current industrial strategy.
The debate in 1937 took place when factory sites were being identified and before the first recruitment of conscripted young women. In Llanelli, Carmarthenshire and in the south Wales valleys, young, unmarried women would receive a letter on their doorstep telling them that they had a choice: go into the forces; be sent away to do X,Y or Z; or work in their local munitions factory. Many of them uprooted, went to work in the factories, lived in barracks and contributed for the whole of that period. As we have heard, while many of them settled or returned to their families, many others lost their lives, not only in explosions but through cordite and chemical poisoning, with many people maimed or dying of their injuries.
Let me fast-track right to the end of the war, when thankfully we had overcome the challenge we had faced from the fascists and others, to a fantastic piece of history—the foremen’s farewell dinner in the regional canteen at the Bridgend factory. It was not an entirely joyous occasion, because many of the people there were returning to places with high unemployment. As part of this dinner for the foremen—and forewomen, as working in the munitions industry was, in many ways, a major step forward in the employment of women—there was a bit of a sing-song. The last chorus of the song that they sang at the dinner goes:
“And now we’re redundant,
But work ain’t abundant,
So that is the end of us Foremen, God help.
But our ghosts, pale and sallow,
Will haunt cleanways so narrow,
Crying, stores for wars, alive, alive O.”
And off they went to seek work.
In the few minutes I have for my speech, I want to support my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South in his call for recognition of munitions workers. The all-party group has done great work and will shortly be launching in Parliament a fundraising effort to build a permanent memorial in the national memorial arboretum. The group has already instigated, with the support of outside partners, archive work with the Imperial War museum, bringing together the sources of information on munitions workers.
Last year, for the first time there were 18 positions reserved for munitions workers on the march to the Cenotaph as part of Remembrance Sunday; they came from all around the country. However, that still leaves outstanding some form of individual memorial—a badge, a ribbon or a medal—and I say to the Minister that that is where he and the Government come in, and where we would ask for his support.
The 40,000 people who worked in the Bridgend factory made a significant contribution to the war effort. Today, I am focusing not on the scale of that support but on the fact that we should recognise that, for many of those people, this work was a formative part of their growing years as young men and women. In the Bridgend factory, with 40,000 people working there, essentially a huge town was established, with a rail network, new road infrastructure and so on. On the site, they had dance halls, canteens and a massive social life. They had darts leagues, football leagues, opera societies, a factory band and a rugby club. As a big rugby aficionado myself, I notice that it says of rugby in the Christmas 1943 newsletter:
“The Rugby side, despite many difficulties—the chief being the loss of players to the forces—has done creditably, having played 9, won 6 and lost 3. Points for 42, against 55.”
However, on the front of that same newsletter, there is something that I will quote and leave the Minister to think about. The superintendent of the site says:
“Looking back, we remember that last Christmas gave us the first lifting of the shadows then engulfing us, the first promise of a better day dawning. If you remember, it was in November 1942 that our Glorious Eighth Army started to drive Rommel back on his long desert retreat—and since then what truly great feats we have accomplished! Africa freed—Mussolini banished—the U-boat menace squashed—our feet on the mainland of Europe and the conquest of Italy well in hand. In all these feats, you, the Workers of R.O.F. 53, ‘have had a share’. You have a right to be proud of your contribution to the fight for freedom.”
I say to the Minister that we in the all-party group on recognition of munitions workers will do all we can to gain recognition for those people of Royal Ordnance factory No. 53 and for all the others right across the country—the tens of thousands of people—who played their part in the war effort. We urge the Minister to consider what else can be done by the Government to ensure that we recognise individually the contribution of munitions workers.
As other colleagues have already done this morning, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) on securing this debate. Like one or two others who are here in Westminster Hall today, I am also a member of the all-party group on recognition for munitions workers. I also have to declare a further interest; before I came to this place, I was a munitions worker myself for 18 years. So there was life before this place.
In considering the task that was laid before people during the second world war and the first world war, I recognise only too well just how hard the work of munitions factory staff was. However, that work was being done in completely different circumstances to those that exist today. The “war effort” is something that people glibly talk about, but they never recognise just how difficult it really was back in those days.
I will go back to the first world war. In my local community—I say “my local community”, but it is actually in the constituency of the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the right hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell) —the two villages of Eastriggs and Gretna were built around the manufacture of munitions. In fact, the village of Eastriggs is called “the Commonwealth village”, and that can be seen in its street names: Halifax road; Sydney road; Melbourne avenue; Winnipeg way; and Auckland way. All around that village, there are streets and avenues with names from the Commonwealth.
I pay tribute to the local people in that area who have developed what could be seen as a tourist attraction. They have developed a project called “The Devil’s Porridge”, where they put on a display of what life was like during the first world war. They have tried to replicate that period as best they can, and I must say that they have made a fantastic effort to replicate what it was like to work in a munitions factory back then.
I also think back to the presentation of awards and badges to the Land Army girls. I must say that some of the hardy souls I met at that time made the comment, “Well, we were very lucky, we escaped the munitions factories”, because they were given a choice: did they want to go to work on the land, or did they want to go to the munitions factories? Quite clearly, they wanted to be out in the open air rather than working in a munitions factory, which they recognised was very dangerous work. Unfortunately, that offer was not made to some people, who were told, “You are going to munitions factories.” We must also keep it in mind that the women at that time were paid only half what the men were being paid, so there was not just a workforce dominated by women; there were men in the factories, who were actually paid twice as much as the women were.
Colleagues have mentioned today the companionship and comradeship found in munitions factories, and I have to say that I have found it absolutely fascinating, during the period that the all-party group has been established, to meet some of the women workers. They related their own stories and I must say that some of them could not be printed in Hansard, because of some of the antics that these people got up to. They were safe in a workplace, but their antics outwith included social events, social evenings, even cycling 10 or 15 miles to a dance. That was not uncommon and when we consider that many of today’s young people will ask “Can I get a lift?” if they are asked to pop down to the shops, we realise that these women in the factories were real hardy souls who saw nothing whatever as a challenge.
They also experienced a lot in the workplace. We have already heard about the “canary girls”, but all of the people in munitions factories were working with chemicals of all kinds, including acids. Sadly, many individuals were left disfigured because of severe acid burns. There were some acids that people worked with that resulted in their teeth falling out. So it was not pretty, but it was the war effort.
I also thank the Royal British Legion for enabling a number of these ex-munitions workers to take part in the Armistice day parade last year. I actually came down to London to be with two ladies from my constituency who took part in that parade, Margaret Proudlock and Margaret Shields. They will be for ever grateful to the all-party group for achieving that initial recognition. However, as hon. Members, including the Minister, have heard we want that little bit extra—something a little bit special—for individuals to be recognised.
The site that I worked at was the Royal Ordnance factory Powfoot, which was managed by Nobel Explosives, a subsidiary of ICI. I remember distinctly being told about the site on my first day, “There’s 365 acres here, boy. One for every day of the year.” That was founded in 1940. Also in my constituency was a site at Edingham in Dalbeattie, built in 1939. There was a further subsidiary site of Nobel’s in Dumfries itself, at Drungans. In checking one or two things, I came across the following in Hansard from 25 February 1946:
“Mr. McKie asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will make a statement regarding future plans for the munitions factory at Drungans, Dumfries.”
At that time, the President of the Board of Trade was Sir Stafford Cripps, who replied:
“This factory has just been declared surplus to Government requirements. It is, in its present form, suitable only to a limited extent for peace-time production, but the Board of Trade will endeavour to make arrangements for it to be used to the best possible advantage.”—[Official Report, 25 February 1946; Vol. 419, c. 548.]
That factory continued to operate from that date into the late 1980s, when it closed. The Powfoot site, which I worked at, ceased production in November 1992, after the privatisation of Royal Ordnance factories.
I want to add a little support to what has been said this morning. The Imperial War museum has been helpful to us. I am confident that we will get something at the national memorial arboretum and that there will be an effort to raise the £100,000 that we want. I also thank Scott Dodsworth of BAE Systems for all the work that he has done.
One challenge that became apparent when I first raised this issue was that we have no records of these individuals. In my home town of Annan, a lady at the Historic Resources Centre, Renée Anderson, has a card index system of some 2,600 members of staff who were employed. It is fascinating. I do not know how old this lady thinks I am, but she produced a significant number of photographs, some of which were black and white and from way back and asked if I recognised any of the people. Of course I did not, but I am sure that people in the community will come forward to try to identify them. Renée wants to put on a display about what that site did.
As we have heard this morning, these places were secret. I met a chap a good number of years ago who used to fly for the RAF. He said, “We were always told to keep away from this area, because we had no idea what was there. We were told, ‘Do not fly within this specific zone.’” People were moving around that site something that could, with the slightest spark, have decimated the area. To give an example, I am sure that colleagues will remember incidents in recent years, in Peru and Holland, where fireworks have gone off in an enclosed area and totally destroyed it, and have taken the paintwork off vehicles in the vicinity. That is the ferocity with which this material—small arms propellant—burns. It is ferocious and, when it goes, people stand no chance at all. That is the sort of environment that women worked in during the war.
My latter days at the Powfoot site were spent as a production supervisor. People in a work force do complain and my answer to complaints from some of the guys that that was dirty, heavy work, was, “This was women’s work during the war”—not demeaning anyone, but just showing the fortitude of those women in ensuring that our guys on the front line were properly armed.
I hope that the Minister will speak to his colleagues. It is little to ask that these women get individual recognition. I know that the records are not as we would like to be able to identify each and every one of them, but the information channelled to my office and in the Historic Resources Centre in my home town is a good starting point. I am sure that other colleagues will work tirelessly to ensure that we get official recognition for these people who made the difference to our troops on the front line, especially during the second world war.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. This is not the first time, but it is exciting none the less.
This has been an excellent debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) on his excellent speech and on the work he is doing to promote this issue. He started by reflecting that the debate was recognising some of the forgotten heroes. In as much as they have been forgotten by history, the work that the all-party group is doing and the speeches by hon. Members today are ensuring that they are forgotten no longer. We need to recognise the contribution they made. My hon. Friend reflected on the huge personal risks and sacrifices made by munitions workers, known as “canaries” because of the effects of their work with chemicals. I endorse the work of the all-party group. The Opposition should look to work with the Government and the all-party group on some of the more difficult issues to do with individual recognition.
The hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) broadened the description of people who also served. When discussing this issue, we need to reflect on the many people who contributed in different ways to the war effort. Steps forward have been taken in recent years to recognise various groups, and the hon. Gentleman gave us a glimpse of other groups that we might choose to bring under this umbrella in the future. Perhaps inadvertently, he posed a challenge to my hon. Friend, as the description could continue to grow. At what point do we narrow it down? If we are asking for individual recognition, recognising that collective recognition that is long overdue—although there are real signs that it will be given—what work can the all-party group, with Government and the Opposition, do to try to narrow the description so that we can find out how many people we are talking about, how we are going to find them, who will do the work to see who will receive the recognition, and how we ensure that there is public confidence that a self-certification model will not demean the achievement in receiving it? Questions arise from the hon. Gentleman’s contribution.
My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) reflected on the contributions and sacrifices of her constituents. She brought some colour to the debate, with her description of yellow-faced people swimming in a red river, which nicely brought to mind the massive personal sacrifice and contribution that people made. My hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) reflected on the fact that 90% of the workers in the factory at Aycliffe were women. More than 1 million women worked in munitions factories during the second world war. He alluded broadly to the way that history had, in various ways, written out women’s contribution to the second world war effort. As a society, we are belatedly recognising that contribution, and this debate helps in that process. My hon. Friend was also proud to talk of his respect for the Aycliffe Angels and the contribution they made to the war effort.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) reflected on the importance of local munitions factories as employers in the pre-war years. He also reflected on the fact that the big immigration concern in the mid-1930s was whether people would come from Maesteg to steal all the jobs. As the world has shrunk, the issue has broadened out slightly, but it was none the less interesting to hear that concerns we still recognise today were alive and well in Bridgend in the 1930s. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr Brown) made an interesting pitch for the tourism offer in his area. He made us aware that today we can still see evidence of what munitions factories were like, and many people will be interested in taking up his offer. He also reflected on the sacrifices made by workers at the time.
In discussing this issue and the fact that I would be contributing to the debate, I learned that my mother-in-law had worked in the Bryan Donkin factory in Chesterfield. The more we talk about this issue, the more we hear about people we never even realised had made a contribution. The BBC’s “People’s War” website included a contribution from the Derby action team about the war effort of munitions factory workers in Chesterfield. It mentioned that Chesterfield people kept a relentless black-out to ensure the factories were never bombed, although errant German bombers accidentally bombed the Chesterfield football ground and the Walton golf course. What the Germans had against Chesterfield’s sporting prowess, we will never know, but they did not manage to get to the factories.
The eminent war historian Simon Fowler has written about munitions workers, and one quote brings together very nicely some of the issues we have talked about:
“Britain could not have emerged victorious in 1945 without the help of the many who selflessly worked all the hours they could to provide the materials the British Army and Allied troops used to defeat the Germans… People were injured or killed while making munitions every day. Their recognition is long overdue. They played a key part in the War and it’s a scandal it’s taken until now, when there are not many left to see it.”
Many of us would echo those comments. In recent years, there has been not only renewed appreciation of the role of our heroic armed forces, but wider recognition by society and, I glad to say, the Government of those who served in many other ways. In recent years, we have taken huge strides forward in recognising the contribution of the Bevin boys, the land-girls and the Women’s Timber Corps, and we also have the memorial to women who died during the second world war.
I entirely support the recognition that munitions workers received for the first time at the Armistice day parade at the Cenotaph, and I congratulate the Royal British Legion on that. I also entirely support the campaign for a national memorial at Alrewas. I hope and expect that there will be wide public support for the campaign my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South described.
I acknowledge the difficulty posed by the lack of adequate records, as well as the fear that individuals will, as a result, never get the personal recognition we all think they deserve. I hope that wider recognition will be granted as quickly as possible, given that the clock is against many of those who clearly deserve recognition. Her Majesty’s Opposition are more than happy to be involved in cross-party talks on practical ways to move things forward in a way that enjoys confidence and is effective.
This debate is a time for us to recognise the debt that this generation owes to all those who stood up and were counted in Britain’s finest hour. It fell to them to fight for the essential freedoms that these blessed isles have enjoyed for so long and, God willing, will continue to enjoy. When questions were asked of that generation, they answered—and then some. They saved lives, but they also saved the world from a tyranny so evil that even imagining defeat makes our blood run cold.
In recognising the contribution of all those who served in our munitions factories in this debate, we are also passing on the gratitude, respect and thanks of this generation to all those who heroically served and saved our country all those years ago.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I join the many others who have spoken in congratulating the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) on securing a debate on such an important subject. He has a keen interest in this issue, which he has expressed over a number of years on behalf of many of his constituents. I am grateful for the work that he and the chairman of the all-party group have done.
It is worth recognising not only the cross-party nature of the debate—there have been contributions from both sides of the House—but the fact that there have been contributions from almost all parts of the UK. We have heard from those representing the south and the north of England, the midlands, Wales and Scotland, so this really is a matter for the whole United Kingdom.
It is almost unnecessary to say that the production of munitions was essential to winning the war. Hundreds of thousands of women were drafted into armaments works and assembly plants across Britain to keep the armed forces supplied and to free men to fight on the front line. As we have heard from almost everybody who has spoken, many of these workers were killed, maimed or injured in industrial accidents or air raids, as the Luftwaffe tried to halt the production of supplies. That in itself demonstrates how vital the work was to the war effort.
The hon. Gentleman spoke with lyrical eloquence about the blood, toil, tears and sweat of not only those on the front line, but the munitions workers and, indeed, the munitionettes, who ensured an uninterrupted supply of munitions to the front. Nobody can fight or defend themselves and their country without munitions. About 2 million people took part in the production of munitions, and we have heard of the Aycliffe Angels and the Roses of Swynnerton, but there are no doubt many other such groups across the country. People were uprooted, some lost their lives and the lives of others were irreparably altered by injury and by their work. Their contribution should be remembered and understood by this generation.
The Government recognise and appreciate the courage and fortitude of all those who worked in munitions factories in the second world war to supply our armed forces. Photographs in our history books remind us of the endless lines of munitions that were produced. We have heard again of the huge impact of this work on the social fabric, with women going to work in factories often for the first time. That was the case in my family: my grandmother took up work for the first time in that period and never gave up the habit afterwards. The same thing happened across the country, and it resulted in a permanent change in the social fabric. Women made a great advance in the work force; it was a necessary advance, although work is still needed today to complete it.
During the war, factories were the responsibility of the Ministry of Supply, a predecessor of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. That is why replying to the debate falls to my Department. In a sense, as the Minister for Skills, I am the Minister for Labour Supply, to use older terminology. As the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South said, answers need to be worked out to complicated questions about the potential formal recognition of munitions workers. There is the question of numbers: there could be tens of thousands of people still living who worked in munitions factories in the second world war. That does not include those who worked in factories involved in closely linked activities that were vital to the war effort, such as producing airframes, ships and boats, vehicles—tanks have been mentioned—and uniforms. The war effort could not have proceeded without any of those.
As has been mentioned, the disruption to employment in the war years, the time that has elapsed since and the necessary secrecy of the work make it harder still to identify all those who were involved. Manufacturing of equipment for our armed forces was spread throughout the UK’s extant manufacturing base, and many businesses that would not obviously fall within the definition of munitions factories were integral to the work. For example, small carpentry firms and furniture workshops produced wings for aircraft, and sewing machine manufacturers and repair facilities made essential components for weapons.
The Minister is right to say that it is important to recognise the work of the different allied trades, but I regard our proposal on munitions workers as a first step. When the Bevin boys were recognised, it was appreciated that the land-girls would need to be too, but the issues were dealt with discretely and individually, so there is a precedent.
Yes, I understand that point. Fireworks manufacturers, which were mentioned in the debate, were also critical to munitions work, but there is an important question about where to draw the boundary.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) talked about close links to Woolwich and the involvement of a range of people. The hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) talked about Les George and Pembrey munitions factory and reminded us not only of the dangerous work done during the war, but of the entirely necessary work that continued after 1945 to make unused munitions safe. The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) reminded us that the work was often repetitive and, in his word, “boring”, but that it was none the less a proud part of the history of the town and that the work was a source of companionship. That was not least the case in places where it had a huge and obvious impact, such as Bridgend. The hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) spoke of the massive, 40,000-person Bridgend site and the debate about who should work there—a debate that I entirely recognise in what has been happening this very week. We can imagine the camaraderie in the canteen, among the foremen of Bridgend and in the enjoyment of dance halls, opera, football and rugby, but also in the workers’ fortitude in the face of the danger of the task. Finally, the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr Brown) talked about his personal experience. He provided a powerful testament to the strength and fortitude of the women who worked in the factories during the war, which he related to his account of the men who work in the same factories now.
The lack of records and the difficulties in verifying entitlement raise practical questions about how to recognise formally the contribution of individual civilian workers, but I will consider the points that have been made in the debate and speak to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, who is formally responsible. He is to meet the all-party group on 23 April to listen to the arguments in person, and sends apologies for not being able to attend the debate. He has also been invited to the event on 15 April and will attend if he can. He is looking forward to replying to the all-party group about that shortly.
I welcome the way in which the Minister has responded to the debate, and the fact that he is keeping an open mind. In Bridgend there is a memorial to the 27 people who died, which reads:
“Cofiwn yn ddiolchgar
Bawb a weithiodd yn
Ffatri Arfau Penybont
Ac yn enwedig y rhai
A laddwyd yno”,
“Remember with great gratitude
All those who worked at
The Bridgend Arsenal
And especially those
Who were killed there”.
It goes on to list all the names. We are starting to put in place the things that will give recognition, and I welcome the fact that the Minister’s mind is not closed to the possibility of individual recognition for those who served, including those who have passed away. Their families may want them to be recognised and to have something that is personal to them, by which they can remember.
The hon. Gentleman suggests that time is pressing, especially for those who served during the second world war. I pay tribute to the all-party group, which was set up to explore ways to prevent those valiant efforts from being forgotten. The Government appreciate its work. As the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South said, thanks to its efforts, last Remembrance day, munitions workers, both male and female, participated for the first time in the march past the Cenotaph. We should thank the Royal British Legion for its support.
The launch event for the fundraising campaign to raise £100,000 for a lasting memorial at the national memorial arboretum in Staffordshire will be on 15 April in the House of Commons, and I wish it well. I hope that campaign that will be well supported by the public—I am sure that it will. I also hope that, subject to other business, my hon. Friend the Minister of State will be able to make it to the launch. I know that he was pleased to receive his invitation. I pay tribute also to the partnership with the Imperial War Museum, supported by BAE Systems—in particular I want to recognise the work of Scott Dodsworth—to record the achievements of munitions workers and ensure that we do not forget.
As encouragement to the Minister and others in the Government to come to the event, perhaps I should I point out that they would be in the inestimable company of our patron, the authoritative and renowned broadcaster Huw Edwards, who lends his gravitas to the work being done by the all-party group. I am sure that Ministers would bask in the glow of the launch.
If Mr Edwards’s eloquence can match that of the hon. Gentleman, it will be a truly memorable event. His reading of words from the front of the Bridgend factory magazine, and, also in translation, from the memorial, had powerful force. I wish the all-party group every success on 15 April and sincerely hope that the event will result in a fitting tribute to those who risked and gave their lives in munitions factories. I will take a clear message back to my colleagues. I am grateful to have had the chance formally to restate our gratitude to the thousands of people who carried out that essential and dangerous work in the name of freedom, and who risked and gave their lives so that we might enjoy that freedom today.