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Title: Doing their Bit - War work at home
Author: Cable, Boyd
Language: English
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[Illustration]



DOING THEIR BIT



    DOING THEIR BIT

    WAR WORK AT HOME

    BY
    BOYD CABLE
    _Author of “Between the Lines,” “By Blow and Kiss,” etc._

    WITH A PREFACE BY THE
    RIGHT HON. DAVID LLOYD GEORGE, M.P.

    _SECOND IMPRESSION_

    HODDER AND STOUGHTON
    LONDON      NEW YORK      TORONTO

    MCMXVI



    _First printed May 1916._
    _Reprinted May 1916._



PREFACE

BY THE

RT. HON. DAVID LLOYD GEORGE, M.P.


I hope that Mr. Boyd Cable’s book will have a wide circulation, both
amongst our troops who will learn from it how their comrades at home
are doing “their bit,” and amongst the public who will learn from it
how great is the industry and devotion of those who are supplying our
armies with materials of war.

    D. LLOYD GEORGE.



CONTENTS


                    I
                                PAGE
    WORD TO THE FRONT              9


                   II

    THE MUNITION MACHINE          22


                   III

    SUBLIME TO THE--SUBLIME!      38


                   IV

    SHELLS AND MORE SHELLS        52


                    V

    THE WOMEN                     67


                   VI

    THE MASTER JOB                86


                   VII

    “THEIR BIT”                  103


                  VIII

    THE GREAT “IF”               119



_It may be well to mention for the better understanding of references
to dates, etc., that these chapters were written in December-January,
1915-16, although publication has been delayed for various reasons
until now._

    MAY, 1916.



DOING THEIR BIT



I

WORD TO THE FRONT


When I came here from the Front a couple of months ago I remember
looking out from the train and thinking how quiet and normal and
peaceful the country looked. Driving from the train through London,
the street crowds, although flecked and tinged with khaki, appeared to
be going busily or lazily about their ordinary business or laziness,
the people were shopping, or walking, or driving in buses or taxis as
if they personally had still no more than a newspaper interest in
the war, as if fighting or munition-making were matters concerning a
certain section of mankind altogether apart from the ordinary life of
the country.

I know better now. My eyes have been opened, and I have seen fully
and satisfyingly. There is no fighting here, thanks be, but the khaki
that swarms and hives about the outer ways, and only trickles through
the big towns, is evidence enough of the fighting material. And even
less in evidence, because it does not wear a uniform and because its
business is carried on behind closed and carefully guarded doors, the
country is sweating at forge and furnace, is juggling with lathes
and stamps and presses, has peeled off its coat and set to work in
deadly earnest to give the Front the unlimited munitions the Front
so long has wanted. It is not given to many to see what actually
is being done, and to still fewer to say what they have seen, and
first of all I may explain the why and wherefore of these chapters
I am writing on munitions and munition-making. I am aware that very
competent journalists have already covered the ground in a series of
articles widely published in leading papers, and I am also aware that
prominent politicians have made statements as to “increased output” and
“controlled factories” and “organisation of industry,” and so on. But
I am also fully aware that the Front has become exceedingly sceptical
of all the facts and figures that have been paraded and of the promises
that have been made for a year past. I remember how in the first winter
we at the Front looked forward to the spring and listened hopefully
to the tales of a flooding tide of munitions that was to help us in
the Big Push. I remember how we hung on through the winter enduring
the punishment that came to us because of the shortage of shells, of
bombs, of trench-mortars and machine-guns; and I know how grimly the
Front stuck out the punishment and hung on stubbornly with a tremendous
faith that, come the spring, all would be well, that new armies would
be coming along to help carry the weight, that munitions would be
pouring out to help us level the long tally. And I know too well the
bitter disappointment and the black rage that filled the Front when
the spring came and brought us, not a plenty of munitions, but tales
of a great shortage, stories of strikers and shirkers, woeful cries of
a wasted winter. And when the spring dragged on into summer and the
summer crawled past and brought us face to face with the certainty of
another winter in the trenches-- But these things are past, and, with
the Front, I am glad to leave them and let bygones be bygones. But it
is because of this past that I asked the Ministry of Munitions to give
me an opportunity to see with my own eyes what is being done now, to
give me a chance, as one of the Front themselves, to tell the Front as
much as I might of what I might see, to let the Front know what I am
sure the Front wants to know, what are the munition prospects for the
future. The Ministry of Munitions has allowed me to look and to see,
to ask questions, to talk with inspectors and managers and workers, to
watch the work that is being done, and to figure out what is going to
be done. And now I am going to tell the Front as fully as I may what it
all amounts to. Some things that I know it would not be wise to tell,
I shall not tell; but that still leaves a lot that I know the Front
will be glad to hear. I hope the Front may read these chapters, and I
hope the Front will tie a stone to this book and sling it over to any
near-enough portion of the Hun lines, because what I have to write is
so very cheerful telling for the Front to hear that it would surely be
highly unpleasant for the Germans to digest.

And will the Front as it reads please remember this--that I am not
writing to please or displease any person or party in politics, that I
am not trying to support or injure the beliefs of any portion of the
Press, that at the present time I have no interest in anything beyond
the interests of the Front, that, like themselves, I only want to get
on and get done with the job, and that my interest in munition-making
and its prospects is the main and personal one that is so urgent at the
Front--Are we going to get the stuff we want? Are we ever going to be
short again?

And here, in a sentence, is the belief I have come to after a wide
tour of the munition works: We ARE going to have all we ever hoped
for; we are never, never, never going to be short again. I say this
remembering how the size, and therefore the requirements, of the Army
have increased, how much vaster in proportion to the increased Army
the supplies will have to be to come up to our wants, how our fighting
fronts have multiplied and grown, how also some of our Allies are still
dependent upon us for some of their munitions. In spite of all these,
I believe we are going to get all we want and need, if--it is the only
if, although it is in a way a big enough one, and one that I’ll come
back to presently--if the workers at home play up and play the game and
back us up to allow us to play out ours.

If they do that, we are going to have munitions to play about with,
we’re going to have a heaping plenty of shells and machine-guns and
bombs and grenades and ’planes and trench-mortars.

There are enormous stacks of munitions ready and waiting now, and they
are a mere handful to the munition mountains that are going to come
along in ever increasing quantity month by month. You men who clung to
your battered and water-logged trenches that winter while the German
shells pounded them and you to pieces and our own guns were making a
cruelly feeble reply, you gunners who heard the angry demands and the
pitiful pleas of the suffering infantry for “retaliation” and a heavier
fire and the silencing of this battery or that _minnenwerfer_, and
had to smother your savage longing to “let ’em have it” because you
were short of shells, you will understand the joy that has lately been
mine to stand and look at massed rows and ranks of big fat howitzer
shells awaiting shipment, to watch the wide sea of lathes whirling and
buzzing, eating up length after length of steel and brass rods, turning
out fuse-parts and one bit or another of weapons and projectiles,
to hear store managers wonder how or where they are going to house
the growing output, to be told, as I have been told time and again,
that the factory is running night and day, week in week out, that the
present output is to be doubled in the next month or two months, that
the full volume will be reached in February or March, April or May, as
the case may be. That last was perhaps the most cheery feature of a
completely cheering tour--the constant assurance that larger premises
were in contemplation or course of construction; that extra hands were
being taken on, or sought, or trained; that further machinery was on
order, or coming in, or being installed; that present output is only
a beginning and is to be added to by half as much again, or to be
doubled, or trebled. I didn’t have to be satisfied with hearing these
things, either; to be content with the mere telling; to be left at
the end wondering if it was all a mere vague wish or hope or an empty
boast, and doubting whether the spring, like last, would see the hopes
squashed and the boasts fallen flat. I had plain enough proof meeting
me at every turn that there was a solid and businesslike backing to all
the boasts and promises. Here I could see a score of huge lathes with
the packing being stripped from about them, there a wide cement floor
being spread, new storeys sprouting in a tangle of scaffolding and
steel girders on existing works, half-built forges and furnaces rising
gaunt from a sea of bricks and mortar and cement. I drove headlong
for hours in a fast motor or tramped interminably over wide areas
where brick and wood huts and houses and workshops ran, row upon row,
township after township, all empty of munition men or machinery, but
all clattering and echoing to the saws and hammers of the workers who
drove the job to the quickest possible completion. The promises I got,
and that I gladly pass on to the Front, were not only by word of mouth;
they were in solid brick and stone and wood, shining steel and brass
and copper, regiments of working carpenters and masons, whole brigades
of brawny navvies delving and draining and digging out foundations and
laying and levelling engine-room beds and machine-shop floors. I was,
in fact, more keen to discover and make sure of what is to be done
rather than what has been or is being done, and this because I know,
and the Front knows, how we stand out there for munitions now, but not
how much lay behind our daily needs, how we are to fare when, or if,
all the scattered fronts get busy together, when one big battle is to
tread so close on the heels of another that it will be hard to sort out
one from the other and issue us the right clasps to our medals.

Well, I confess myself satisfied; and I’ve a strong fancy that by next
summer the Front is going to be satisfied, and the Germans also are
going to be satisfied after quite another fashion. Just now I’m writing
about munitions, and I’m not going to wander off into war strategy, or
compete with the prophet experts in guessing when the War is going to
finish. But, after all I’ve seen and heard, it is impossible to get
away from this happy thought--if last winter and spring and summer
we could hold the enemy, could even on occasion beat back a long and
desperate assault, break in and grip and stick to a mile or two of
country, a few lines of trenches, if we could do what we have done with
a small army and a desperate lack of munitions, what are we going to do
this year with a fresh and big army, with lavish supplies of every arm
and equipment we require, with a flood of munitions pouring in as fast
as ever we can pelt them out? It looks pretty good, doesn’t it? And
now I’ll go on to a general description of some of the proofs I have
had of just how good it really looks.



II

THE MUNITION MACHINE


I have, I admit, been amazed to see the extent to which the war
workshops of the country have grown, the enlargement of existing works,
the springing up of entirely new factories, the huge armies busily
employed in all these places. But I have been still more astonished--I
have been out Front a year, remember, and have lost touch with the
country’s domestic doings--to find how munition-making has become part
and parcel of the national existence; that it is quite a commonplace
for Lady This of Tudor Hall or Countess That of Belgravia to be
handling a lathe in a workshop alongside Miss So from Kensington
and ’Liza Such from Houndsditch; that it is no more than a matter of
course that a man cast for a commission and refused for the ranks a
year ago on account of bad eyes has “gone munitioning” and, grime and
oil to his weak eye-rims, is driving a donkey engine in a big factory;
that any day you may see at the “canteens” of various factories
scores of ladies, who have been used since the day they were born to
being waited on hand and foot, now taking the other end of the job
and carving mountains of bread into slices and carrying cups of tea
and cheerfully waiting on the workers who serve their country in the
“shops.” I find that the passenger train services have been chopped
to pieces, that mails take any old time to do their journey, that
goods by rail get there this week, or next, or a month hence--because
munition transport blocks the rails; that whole industries have
been blotted from existence because their hands or their plant were
wanted--for munitions; that Polytechnic classes are being busily
taught--to make munitions; that, in fact, the whole country is one
seething munition factory, and no man or lathe or tool that can be
turned to munition-making is possibly doing anything else. It may
surprise you at the Front, as it certainly did me, to learn that the
Ministry of Munitions has taken a grip on the whole industry of this
country; that it has an autocratic control over it, wide and strong
beyond the wildest dreams of the craziest autocrat; that no man can
buy or sell a barrow-load of old iron or a sovereign’s worth of copper
or brass without some official of the Ministry getting to hear of
it and popping up to air an insatiable curiosity; that no lathe or
machine for working metal may be imported without the Ministry being
given copious explanations as to its destination and intended use,
and, moreover, if that use be not for munition work that the machine
or metal is much more likely than not to be commandeered forthwith and
set to munitioning; that no machine may be exported; that you cannot
buy or sell a new or second-hand machine without a permit from the
Ministry; that no man or firm may use man or machine to make clocks or
gramophones or motor-cars or anything between if the Ministry prefers
the man or firm to turn his factory to making munitions in whole or in
part. And all this power is no empty form. It is used to the full, and
as a result thousands of machines and scores of thousands of hands have
been turned from other work on to munitions. A mechanic may no longer
work where and on what job he pleases. If he is running a machine for
stamping out trouser-buttons and the Ministry wants him to turn over
to stamping out cartridge discs, he has to do so. If a firm is busy
making motor-cars, the Ministry inspector may step in and tell the firm
to drop that work and start making shells. If another firm already
making munitions is employing daily 100 skilled and 100 unskilled
hands, the Ministry will almost certainly take away a number of the
skilled hands and hand them over to another factory where skilled men
are scarcer and more urgently required. All this simply means that the
engineering resources of the country are mobilised and efficiently
organised and turned full force on munition-making. The Munition
Machine is running now with wonderful smoothness, but it is easy to see
what a gigantic task it must have been to get it in running order. It
could only have been done with the willing agreement and co-operation
of the great engineering and business men and firms throughout the
country. You have heard how the Ministry called on local business
men to organise their districts, to form local committees, and to set
themselves to getting the last ounce of munition work out of their
districts. Now I am telling you how those committees have done their
work, how they and the local Ministry offices and officials have
handled the job. But I doubt if ever the country will realise how well
it has been done or how much it owes to these people. I have come
in contact with many of them in my tour, and I found only one thing
greater and more wonderful than their efficiency, and that is their
keenness. Obviously and emphatically their whole hearts and souls are
in the job. They have in many cases sacrificed their incomes, in every
instance I met the whole of their leisure or pleasure or ease to their
work. I met one works manager who has not seen his home in daylight
for over six months, who has not seen his young children awake in
that time, whose normal working hours have been 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.,
Saturday, Sunday, and Monday alike. These works owners and managers,
and inspectors, and committee-men, and chairmen and secretaries, the
brains of the munition business, are amazing and wonderful beyond
words. They are the organisers and the driving power behind the whole
vast machine, and what that machine is we are going to know more
and more fully as the War goes on. I have often in the past heard
expressions of wonder that the services of the great business men, the
“captains of industry,” were not properly employed in the service of
their country. That, when one comes to realise the truth, is rather
a good joke, because, while people are still grumbling about it not
being done, it has been done--has been, quite after the fashion of real
business men, very completely done with an entire absence of fuss and
feathers and fluster and talk.

Some of the heads of the greatest engineering firms in Great
Britain--no, that is very wrong, and I ought to say in the Empire--some
of the greatest business brains the Empire owns are running this
munition business. In many cases--I believe I might say most cases,
but throughout these chapters I am only going to tell of what I
have actually and personally seen and known--these men are spending
unstinted time and energy on the work, freely and without fee, salary,
profit, or reward. Men who have been handling contracts running into
millions of pounds, men who have been earning many thousands a year,
have dropped all their own affairs to come in on munition work. I can
give you one instance out of many I met which will do for a sample.
At one place, which I’ll describe more fully later on, and which is
going to be when complete the greatest munition works in the world,
bar none, something like a score of our greatest contractors are hard
at work. They are the sort of men who take on as an ordinary job the
tunnelling of the Alps or the Andes, the building of a Forth Bridge,
the erection of a street of skyscraper buildings, the building of a
Nile barrage. Now they are building roads and huts and power stations
and water- and drainage- and lighting-systems, and are driving the
work at a furious excess speed to completion. And the Number One, the
head-centre bull’s-eye boss of the job, is a partner in what I believe
is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, contracting firms in the
Empire or the world, a firm whose name is a household word, whose
activities have spread over all the inhabited and a biggish section
of the uninhabited globe, who control capital running well up in the
millions and have fingers in all sorts of business pies. About him are
gathered a crowd of picked men from the four corners of the earth.
In the block of offices run up to house the staff and staff work you
could probably find a man to speak any civilised or semi-civilised
language in the world, and a few who can speak some tongues it would
puzzle a University professor to put a name to. They have been hooked
in from Chile or Chicago, Sydney or Santiago, from railway surveys in
Brazil or oil-fields at Baku, from bridge-building, lumbering, mining,
canal-digging, well-boring, tunnelling, from any or all of the biggest
jobs in the Empire or outside of it. And here they are dumped down in
a corner of Great Britain, planning, estimating, figuring, tearing up
the foundations of the earth and re-shaping it to their own ends and to
that one great end, munition-making. The fruits of all their energy and
experience and knowledge are sprouting about them and growing visibly
under their hands and eyes day by day and, indeed, hour by hour. They
are the power that is driving the machine, the huge machine which is
just beginning to speed up, which has not yet properly got into its
stride, but which when it does is going to justify to the hilt that
verdict on the Old Country that is credited to a Yankee journalist:
“Bad starters, but darn good finishers.”

But it is not only in the large new or extended factories that the
Ministry of Munitions is doing good work; in fact, I have heard it
said that this is the easiest and simplest side of the colossal
task. The difficult and intricate part has been the organising of
the small business and plants, the converting of all sorts of weird
manufacturings into munition-making. I had innumerable instances of
this before me wherever I went, but the whole idea was in a fashion
epitomised in a drive I was making from one large factory to another.
One of the Ministry’s engineers was with me showing me round. Like
all his fellows that I met, he was desperately keen on the work,
and because I was evidently anxious to hear and to learn he talked
munitions without ceasing and poured enough facts and figures over
me to stun a census collector. Our car moved on the wet roads at a
pace that was just over or under the edge of the safety limit--I
discovered afterwards that this is a habit with the drivers of the
Ministry cars, and one driver to whom I dropped a casual remark about
fast driving explained the habit. “These munition gents I drive never
has but the one word for me,” he said, “an’ that’s ‘Hurry up!’” My
engineer companion was in the midst of a staggering estimate of the
rate at which his district’s output was growing when the car swung
dizzily round a sharp corner, braked hard, and slid guttering under
the tail-board of a huge lorry that lumbered along in the middle of
the road. There was a tarpaulin over the wagon, but at the tail of
it I caught sight of something that reminded me of long lines of men
staggering with heavy burdens into the back-door trenches at Loos.

The car jerked out from behind the wagon, dodged into a gap in the
reverse traffic, swooped past, and fled squattering down the wet
road. “That’s the factory, over there,” said the engineer, pointing,
“and that chimney-stack beside it is the Blank Tobacco Factory.
They’re doing shells there now.” I expressed some wonder that tobacco
manufacture could by any wizardry be converted to shell-making. “Bless
you,” the engineer chuckled, “that’s nothing. I can show you queerer
changes than that. You see, our great trouble is to get machines enough
and men enough to handle ’em. Shows like motor works and boilermakers
were dead easy and obvious, and they were scooped in the first snap.
Then later--quick, look down this lane--at the end!” The car swooped
past, and I had one glimpse, as the lane-entrance opened and shut to
our passing, of a dingy, grey vista gleaming with wet puddles and with
a couple of lorries blocking the far end. “That,” said the engineer,
“is the X Y Z Gramophone works. They’re shell-fuses now.” And so as
the car buzzed fiercely down straight stretches, or banked steeply and
swung skidding and lurching round greasy corners, or checked sharply
and crawled hooting hoarsely and impatiently at impeding carts, the
engineer discoursed at length on the conversion of this manufactory or
that to munitions, and pointed out a late magneto-maker’s, or a piano
factory, or a coach-builder’s, describing their past operations and
summing up their conversion with “Now they’re pineapple bombs,” or
“They’re rifle-stocks,” or “They’re aeroplane frames.” I asked him if
these firms volunteered for munition work. “Some of them,” he said;
“but others never dreamed there was any war work they could adapt
themselves to.” I thought of the tobacco factory and concluded it was
small wonder some didn’t dream of it. “But I will say,” went on the
engineer, “as a rule they only want showing, or a hint of a showing,
and they get as keen as mustard on it. There was the Rollero Duplicator
now. You know what a duplicator is? Thing for printing copies off a
typed stencil sheet. Well, they turned over to----” and away he went on
another magic-wand conversion tale.

And that is the sort of thing I have been meeting throughout the
length and breadth of Great Britain. It isn’t only the big firms and
factories that are on War work. The little fellows are doing their bit
just as energetically, and if each of their shares is small it must
bulk considerably in the total; and many of them, by devoting all their
energy to certain screws or cups or cones, are able to free the large
makers of this small work, and leave them to handle other parts and
use up the fitments turned in to them. Every scrap of work turned out
by every firm or factory is done to gauge, and a screw made in a back
room in Bermondsey and another turned at Clydebank will fill and fit
a screw-hole bored in a Birmingham shop just as exactly as if the one
man or machine had made the lot. But the gauging work is quite a pretty
story in itself, though I must leave out its telling in the meantime.



III

SUBLIME TO THE--SUBLIME!


The car had run into the closer traffic of the town, and the engineer
was still pointing out various works that had been converted from all
trades under the sun to the one and only that counts to-day, when he
dropped a remark that roused a fresh current of curiosity. “It isn’t
only regular business firms that are in on this game, you know,” he
said. “There’s a good story I must get the Eastern district man to tell
you, about an old-clo’ Jew that wanted to switch his jet-bead machines
or something and his horribly sweated bonnet-makers on to war work.
He’d have taken on any contract he could grab too, from 15-inch shells
downwards. But the day’s long past when a man can hook a contract on
the gamble of sub-contracting it out, so our Jew misfired that lot.
I rather fancy his bonnet hands are button-holing cartridge-belts or
something now, though. But clothing and kit isn’t my line, and I don’t
know the details, and I’ve plenty of queer conversion cases inside my
own job. There’s one little place I have now would tickle you. The
factory is a top back bedroom in a little side street, the machinery
is one knock-kneed, rheumaticky lathe, and the factory staff is one
old man, although, between ourselves, I believe his old missus takes a
turn and keeps the lathe running while he’s asleep. The room isn’t big
enough to hold the lathe and the length of brass rod that feeds into
it and turns into a fuse-part, so they’ve knocked a hole in the wall
and the brass rod sticks out through it and works in again through the
lathe an inch at a time. Then there’s another little place something
after the same style to begin with, but growing a lathe at a time. It’s
just down the street here, and we pass it presently.”

And presently, at my request, the car slowed, sidled cross-traffic,
and halted outside the door of an ordinary, rather dingy-looking
street-door. When we rang and were admitted we squeezed past the
packing-cases that filled the narrow “hall,” climbed a steep stair,
and were shown into a parlour that might have been transplanted bodily
from a Bloomsbury boarding-house. Anything less promising of munition
work it would be hard to find, but presently the manager-owner-engineer
came along and fetched us to “the works.” He was mighty proud of those
same works, and small blame to him. He had started with a single
lathe and now here he had half a dozen running off the power of a
tiny engine tucked away in the corner. The lathes had been purchased
one at a time as each earned the first instalment to pay for the
next, the Ministry encouraging and helping the effort substantially.
Now the lathes were hard at work, packed so close that one had to
twist sideways to move between them, and bright little scraps of
polished metal ranged in rows gave proof of the capability of men and
machines and of the organisation and energy that are running through
the tiniest of Industry’s veins and are going to beat Germany’s
greatest efforts in the long run. In an empty lumber-room upstairs we
were shown a complicated and ingenious machine that represented the
former employment of the owner; and pushed away in a corner, dusty
and dull and tarnished, neglected and forgotten, were pieces of the
work the machine had been turning out, work which had been dropped
completely, and, more than that, which represented a trade and a
connection, long and slow in the up-building perhaps, which also had
been dropped completely. Here were buttons and belt-clasps and trinkets
of silver and enamel and dainty cloisonné work, glowing with all the
radiant colours of the rainbow, flecked with inset gleaming gold and
delicate silver sprays and tendrils. “Eastern trade mostly,” said the
proprietor, “India and Egypt and Turkey and so on. The natives like
’em, I suppose.”

Natives--yes. But instantly visions came back to me of Arabs chaffering
on the deck at Port Said, of the dark and scented interior of a
Japanese shop in Singapore, of a native pedlar squatted in the hot sun
before the hotel veranda in Sourabaya, and the assurance of the seller,
shrill and emphatic to the questioning tourists, “Native work, sah!
Re-al native work!” And here in a back attic in England--I daresay the
proprietor wondered why I grinned at his pretty trinkets and his big
machine.

And then as we clumped down the stairs and into the street again
the engineer made a remark that I must go back a little to make
understandable. “Rather a case of ‘the sublime to the ridiculous,’
isn’t it?” he said, and in that he was referring to the works we had
been over that morning and had just left. I had been shown these as a
good sample of what a “converted” works could do. In pre-War days the
firm were makers of a certain part of railway locomotives. They were
entirely specialists in this work, and employed many specialist hands
and a vast amount of specialist machinery on it. But now the whole of
their locomotive work has been set aside, and the whole energy of the
shops is turned on to war work. Some of the old machines, lathes,
and so on had been ingeniously adapted by the making and fitting
of new tools to their new work, and other new munition machinery
has been introduced wholesale. We walked through huge rooms filled
with heavy lathes, grinding, scraping, and screaming on the boring
and turning of blocks of steel that were growing swiftly under our
eyes to the familiar shape and semblance of shells. We followed the
rough steel billets through all their processes, the shaping and
smoothing of outside and inside, the grooving of the base to take
the copper driving band, the cunning scoring out of a “wave line” in
the groove, the fitting on of the copper band and its clutching in a
giant steel-fingered closing and opening hand that squeezed the copper
inexorably into its place and tightly into the “wave line,” there to
grip and prevent it slipping under the terrific wrench and spin the
rifled gun would give it. This “banding press” was a new machine just
installed and putting through its first shells while we were there.
It was merely another word in the same story I have heard throughout
the munition works. “It will speed up the output a good deal,” said
the manager complacently as we watched. “We’ll be doing another
so-and-so per cent. when it’s running.” In another vast chamber we saw
“pineapple bombs” or hand grenades being made--“pineapple” being a
neat description of the shape and criss-cross pattern of lines marking
the segments into which the grenade bursts. In the foundry the floor
was covered with rows upon rows of square-shaped, dark-grey boxes, and
with other square boxes bearing what looked like the impressions of
small dumb-bells. Men were busy about these boxes, the moulds for the
casting of the bombs, and at one end of the room other men were tapping
and prodding at an up-ended boiler-looking arrangement. From this,
when the clay stopper had been knocked out, a jet of molten metal shot
in a glowing, pinky-red stream running like water from a tap into the
heavy bucket in place to receive it. When the bucket filled, a fresh
plug of clay stopped off the stream, and instantly the bucket swung
off, swaying in the grasp of chains and hooks that ran on overhead
rails to the waiting moulds. The bucket checked and tilted at each
mould and the liquid metal poured smoothly into its appointed place
until the bucket was empty. After the rooms where the lathes rumbled
and roared, and the riven steel grated and squealed under the cutting
tools, and the hammers jarred and pounded incessantly, this foundry was
strangely un-noisy; but here, as in all the other rooms, there was the
same sense of bustle, of rush, of speed, of driving the work; and the
spurting jet of hot metal, the glow of the furnace, the dull roar of
the fire, the hoarse blowing of air through a nozzle where the moulds
were being blown clear and clean of dust and sand, the clink and rattle
of tools, the movements of the stripped and sweating workers--all gave
their own sure impression of haste and activity. “Thirty thousand a
day we’re turning out of these,” said the manager, “and we’ll better
that presently.” Now, you bombers of the “Suicide Clubs” might note
this--30,000 grenades a day are being turned out by this one firm, a
firm which only devotes a part of its work to grenades. This is only
one firm out of many I have seen, and very many more, no doubt, I
haven’t seen, and one particular make of the many makes you out Front
know are being made. Does it give you any realisation of the number
of grenades you will be getting presently? I hope so. I hope you will
understand and be sure that never again will you be “bombed out” of a
captured trench because your supplies of grenades ran out. And I hope
Herr Fritz across the way in the front trench also understands and
appreciates the prospect.

From the foundry we passed back into the workshops, picking a way
round and past and between stacks and piles of shells in every stage
of roughness and completeness; we climbed stairs, wandered over many
more floors, and many acres of man- and machine-filled rooms, and came
at last to one large, empty room. In it there were machines in plenty,
but no man or woman. The walls echoed emptily to our steps and voices,
the machines were still and silent, dust-covered, dingy, forlorn, and
abandoned; and piled in the corners, on and under the benches, anywhere
out of the way, were heaps of the locomotive parts on which the firm
was once solely engaged. There were many thousands of pounds’ worth of
these parts and of machinery standing idle, and one might have expected
the sight and the thought of all his own diverted specialist knowledge
and experience to have brought sadness and melancholy to the mind of
any manager. But here the manager had evidently no regrets and no time
to waste on memories. “We couldn’t adapt any of this machinery,” he
said lightly, “so we’re going to clear it out, and fill this place
up with new shell-making plant.” But, after all, that sentence only
summarises the whole scheme of this munition business. The man or the
machine that cannot or will not be adapted to war work is ruthlessly
cleared out and replaced by man or machine that can. It is to the
everlasting credit of the men that so many of their machines have been
cleverly adapted, that so few of themselves could not be, and that
still fewer--if any--would not.

The factory was knocking off for dinner as we came away, and the car
ploughed out through a hurrying crowd at the main gate and down a
dividing sea of workers in the road outside.

So now you will understand--to come back to where I broke off at the
street-door of the humble workshop of the one-time maker of enamel
buttons and “re-al native work”--what was in my engineer’s mind when
he made that side remark: “Rather a case of ‘the sublime to the
ridiculous,’ isn’t it?”

But it doesn’t altogether strike me that way. After all, the
trinket-maker upstairs was “doing his bit” to the best of his ability,
just as the manager in the locomotive works was doing his. When you
think of it, there is something rather fine in that single-track footy
little business cheerfully climbing out of its established groove and
plunging off along the new and unknown path of war work. If we take the
trinket-maker, and that other old man and his wife with their brass
rod sticking out through a hole in the wall, as samples and specimens
of the spirit that is animating the Empire and its workers to-day, it
is a thing to be mightily and devoutly thankful for. It is not, if you
look at it aright--the huge humming locomotive works and the sometime
button-maker--any case of “the sublime to the ridiculous.” I am not
sure, in fact, that it is not rather The Sublime to the More Sublime.



IV

SHELLS AND MORE SHELLS


It would be impossible for me to describe in detail all the factories
I was able to see, but in many of them I gleaned particulars which
show plainly the way that war work is being pushed through. I suppose
that if there is any one branch of munitions which the Front wants to
hear about it is the output of shells. Shells and guns count for so
much nowadays, a devastating artillery fire so eases the work of the
attack, a heavier opposing fire is so appallingly destructive to an
advance, the whole moral and physical effect of a superior artillery is
so great, that I know well how very welcome a word it will be to the
Front that shells of every size, weight, and calibre are pouring out
from the factories in a stream already tremendous, but not yet nearly
at its full volume.

One of the most inspiriting sights I saw on my tour was in the foundry
of a shell factory where the rough forgings were being put through
the first stages of their progress to completed six- and eight-inch
shells. The foundry was a vast place, with chinks of vivid light
glowing through the row of furnace-doors and lighting the hot gloom,
the vaporous film of smoke and steam, the bulky machinery looming
dimly through the half-dark, the hurrying figures of the workmen. A
furnace-door slams open, and a burst of glaring light glows fiercely
over the shop; long irons plunge into the flaming gap, and poke and
prod and hook hastily about the fire; a lump of glowing steel rolls
out, tips over, and thumps down on the inclined floor in front of the
furnace. There is a babel of yells, the rush of flying feet, the
clatter of a truck-barrow, and the red-hot billet of metal is pounced
upon, snatched, and twisted on to the hand truck, rushed to where men
wait its coming grouped about a lumbering press whose massive bulk
towers aloft into the misty gloom. The hot metal is clutched and jerked
into position under the heavy punch, and instantly the machine, with
a gigantic hissing sigh, moves and thrusts downward a smooth-moving
but irresistible punch. A gush of flame and burst of thick black smoke
leaps upward and vanishes swiftly, the punch presses home, stops,
reverses, pulls up and out again. The machine breathes another steamy
sigh, twists the first punch aside, poises another an instant over
the red, glowing metal, and again thrusts, plunging down upon it. One
after another the full set of punches take their turn and squeeze and
press their shape upon the plastic steel. Then the last punch draws
out, and two men jabbing with long levers hook out the metal, still
glowing hot but transformed in these few seconds from a rough round
block to a hollow cylinder; chained pincers grab the cylinder and swing
it rapidly to the drawing-press, where the tough steel is pulled out
like putty and drawn to its required size. When it has worked its will
the drawing-press disgorges the cylinder, cooled now to a deeper hot
rose-red, tumbles it out on the floor, and waits ready for its next
mouthful, while men trundle and roll the hot cylinder across the floor
to rest and cool beside the long row that lies fading off from rose to
blood-red, to darker and duller crimson, and through deeper and darker
shades to cold grey and black. And as the punches were jabbing at the
one hot billet another was falling from the furnace, and another was
being worked in the draw-press, or rolling from it rapidly across the
floor to the cooling place. Several gangs of men, several punches and
presses, were all working at a top pressure of speed; the foundry was
filled with the roar and rumbling and hissing sighs of the machinery,
the clatter of trucks, and clank of levers and chains and pincers, the
thump and thud and roll of the falling and moving billets, and every
now and then the outburst and clamour of shouting voices, the swift
rush of hurrying feet. The opening and closing doors of the furnaces,
the fierce glow of the fires, and the white- or red-hot steel billets,
the spouting gush of flames and sparks from the first thrust of the
punches, threw in turn a mantle of searing golden light, of radiant
orange, of dusky red, on the gleaming machinery, the running figures of
the men, their thrusting and pulling arms, heaving, jerking shoulders,
wet, glistening faces, shining, white-glinting eyes and teeth. The
foundry was palpitating and alive, humming and trembling, panting and
quivering, with savage, incessant haste, with sweating, driving energy,
with a splendid and ordered virility. It did one’s heart good to stand
there and watch billet after billet thud down from the furnace to the
floor, to see the giant machinery beat and squeeze them into shape,
to hear the calling and shouting, to sense the stir, the whirling
rush and drive of the work. And “drive” was the key-word of the whole
factory, as I found it is of most munition factories. Here, again,
the manager who showed me round was most openly anxious to get the
last possible ounce of output from his plant, and to add and add and
keep on adding to plant and output. Every process of the work is under
constant scrutiny, and every possible time- or labour-saving device has
only to be tried and proved to be instantly adopted. Here I was shown
under construction a new plant for cleaning out the finished shell;
there a newly installed arrangement for the quick and even painting
of the shells by air-brush spray; everywhere throughout the works
similar dodges for cutting down the time and labour, for speeding up
the output. And always remember that in war work cutting down time and
labour does not, most emphatically does not, mean reducing the working
hours or the number of hands. It only means finding time for more work,
freeing hands to turn on to more work again. Anything that will save
skilled labour especially, will allow the experienced engineers to “go
round” a little better, spread over the unskilled hands a little more,
is hailed as a godsend. In this particular factory there are 2,000
hands--I should say were, because that is some weeks ago now, and many
changes come in a few weeks’ munition work these days--2,000 hands, and
of these there were only sixty men who were engineers, were skilled
men. I asked what was the proportion amongst those men I had watched
grabbing and slinging about the white-hot billets, handling them and
the huge power machines so smoothly and skilfully. “Those,” said the
manager simply, “were all unskilled no more than a matter of months
ago. Milkmen, and market gardeners, and carters, and all sorts they
were, red-raw new to the job, and never inside a shop or handled a
tool till they came in here.” It seemed incredible, but I found plenty
of similar instances since, and the munitions engineer who was going
round with me assured me these things are the rule rather than the
exception. So apparently war work is not only making shell factories
out of sewing-machine and tobacco works, munition contractors out of
enamel-button makers, munition machines from bicycle- and clock-factory
lathes, but is also manufacturing as a by-product engineers and
mechanics from milkmen and all sorts of similar unlikely material. This
manager had the same old story to tell of increasing plant and hands
and output. I stumbled over a litter of planks and bricks and mortar
and building material outside this factory, just as I have outside
many others, and saw the half-built furnaces and half-laid concrete
engine-beds, and listened to the tally of the work under construction
and the machines on order or delivery, and the increase of output that
would result. This factory is doing six- and eight-inch shells mainly,
but the same increased-output programme belongs to every other make
in every shell factory I saw. One place is almost ready to commence
delivery of some hundreds of twelve-inch shells per week as a new
addition to their present output of many thousands of eight-inch shells
and forgings of six-inch shells per week, as well as completing a
portion of the six-inch. I saw at this place piles of new lathes and
motors waiting to be erected, and saw the new shops that have used up
4,000 additional new hands.

Another factory commenced building a six-acre shell factory in June, is
now employing 1,600 hands, and increasing them to 2,500 as quickly as
possible. At another place the present factory, covering many acres,
crammed to the doorstep with machinery and workers, stands on a site
which before the war was an open green field. Now it employs 6,500
hands and is adding about 200 hands a week. Yet another place was an
empty and idle building in July--in all these months mentioned I refer
to the year 1915--but now it is turning out 5,000 shells a week, and
it is to reach 20,000 a week within the next few months. All these are
merely instances, picked at random from my notes. I could multiply
them, and in every district I visited the local Munitions office
could, if they were permitted, have given me figures and dates of this
kind almost without end.

Before I finish this chapter I must pass along a message that the
workers at a certain national shell factory gave me for the men at the
Front. I had been telling the general manager how good it was to see
the stacks of shells, the ceaseless flood that was running through
the works, to hear all he had been telling me of the progress made,
and still more of the further progress to be made, and I was led on
to tell him something of the heart-breaking shortage of shells we had
known a year ago, the punishment the troops had suffered again and
again from the heavy artillery fire of the Germans, and the slow and
grudging reply that was all we could make. The manager asked me would
I talk to some of their shop foremen and tell them what a shortage
of shells meant to the Front. So he called in about a score or more
of his men and I just talked to them, and told them how the Front
was hanging on the efforts of the war-workers at home. I told them of
that winter in the trenches, of the hopes we had held to of plenteous
supplies of shells in the spring, of the blow it was to us to hear
of as great a shortage as ever, and, still worse, of the squabbling
amongst munition workers and their haggling over 8_d._ or 8½ _d._ an
hour pay, or Saturday half-holidays, or double overtime for Sunday,
while the men in the trenches suffered a hell of shell-fire, and soaked
in knee-deep gutters, and lost their limbs and lives from frost-bite,
and put in six- or sixteen-day spells, as need be, with no half-holiday
and a shilling a day pay for time and overtime. Maybe there was no
special point in my telling these particular things to these particular
men, because, as their manager assured me, that factory was doing and
always had done its level best, and there had been no friction or
slacking whatever in any department. But anyhow I told them, and I
told them the Front was hoping again for a flood of unlimited shells
this spring, for the essential wherewithal to break the lock-fast
lines in the West, for the munitions that would at last give us a fair
fighting chance--the more than which we don’t want, and don’t need, to
give us victory. And the men heard me out, and after I came away it
appears that these foremen and charge hands went back to their shops
and told their men what I had said, and by and by their manager sent me
a resolution and a pledge they had passed and signed. When I think of
the ring of earnest faces that surrounded me as I talked, of the group
of figures in their oil-stained overalls in the office built over the
workshop where the lathes and hammers and punches and presses around
and underneath us sang their ceaseless song of Shells and Shells and
more Shells, I feel that this is a resolution to be fulfilled to the
hilt, a pledge to be carried out to the last shrapnel bullet. And here
I give you their message, leaving out only the name of the factory and
the names signed at the end:--

“DEAR SIR,--We, the managers, foremen, and charge hands of the
above factory, who listened with grave interest and concern to your
description of our brave lads fighting in France and Flanders, and the
hardships they have to endure, due in lots of cases to lack of shell,
desire to place on record our thanks to you (who have been through
the mill) for putting the matter so clearly before us. We also pledge
ourselves, and desire you to inform our lads at the Front, that, so
far as we are concerned at the ---- National Munitions Factory, we are
working diligently, harmoniously, and sticking it, and will continue
to stick it, with the one object of getting out of the above factory
_Every Possible Shell_. We trust that our rapidly increasing output in
shell will help to fill those empty limbers you mentioned so feelingly
in your remarks.--With kind regards, we are, dear Sir, yours very
sincerely.”

That, I know, is the heartening sort of message you want to hear out
Front, and it expresses, only more clearly and emphatically, what I
have heard from other shell-makers throughout the Kingdom. “Every
possible shell!” Think what it means, you at the Front. And you think
of it too, Fritz Boche.



V

THE WOMEN


Ever since I commenced my tour of the war works I have been developing
a most whole-hearted admiration for the women workers, and the Front
may “spring smartly to attention” and give them the full “Present
arms!” salute for the way they are buckling down to their job. This
applies to women of all grades and classes too. I read in a local
paper the other day a brief paragraph about a presentation made by
fellow-students to a girl who has apparently dropped her college
career, taken a course of instruction in munition work, and had just
been given a berth in a large works in a munition city. Lady S----
(the widow of a brave man whose name is a “household word” throughout
the Empire) is working in a munition factory, her title and position
unknown to her workmates. If she drew wages according to her value, she
would be getting many pounds where she gets shillings, because she has
by constant talks with her workmates impressed upon them and explained
to them that they are working for far more than a weekly wage, that
they are backing up their men out Front, are saving British lives, are
helping their fighting men to beat the Germans, are themselves fighting
and racing the German workshops for the prize of final victory. The
result of all her explaining is recorded in plain figures in that
workroom’s output, in the increase of 30 per cent. the figures show.
I met by chance at a restaurant lunch-table the other day a girl
obviously of gentle birth and upbringing. She left the table at five
minutes to the hour to be back to the factory when the whistle blew,
and before she went she paid for her lunch about, I should estimate,
as much as she would earn for her full day’s work. My being in uniform
led her to ask a question and to tell about a brother at the Front and
briefly what she has done and is doing--helping in the delivery of
Derby “pink paper” forms, working in a soldier’s free buffet, making
Red Cross supplies, and now, because she believed it to be the most
useful and urgent, munition work. She starts work at 6 a.m. sharp every
morning, she puts in some eighty hours’ work a week, and is openly
proud of the fact that she has not “missed a quarter” on any day since
she started. I am mentioning these instances, not for the honour and
glory of any individual or any class, but merely to make it plain
that many women are in munition works, not from any need or wish for
pay, but solely and simply because “King and Country need them.” I
have been told, when looking at a room filled with hundreds of women
workers, that they represented every sort of class and occupation,
and that every one of them was new to the workshops. There were
ex-typists, milliners, cooks, housemaids, students, charwomen, theatre
attendants, many wives and sisters of soldiers, many girls and women
“of independent means.”

And their work is good, is, according to the opinion of every works
manager I asked, excellent beyond expectation. One manager had no words
sufficiently warm to praise. “Knock bottom oot o’ t’ men,” he said
emphatically and repeatedly. At this particular factory women were
doing the whole work of making 18-pounder shells. One girl, who a few
months ago had never seen a lathe outside a picture-book, is turning
the copper driving bands and does 250 bands each ten-hour shift--and
that, I am told, is up to or over a good man’s average. These bands
have to be pressed by a “banding press” on to the shells, and a girl
puts 500 an hour through the machine. Now, without describing the
operation in detail, this means that the girl lifts a shell from beside
her, places it in the machine, where it gets a first squeeze, lifts it
an inch or so and twists it round for a second squeeze, and lifts it
out of the machine on to a table-shelf beside it. She does the three
lifts--in, and twist, and out--500 times per hour, 5,000 times a day.
That is no light physical feat, and it speaks volumes for the energy
and the close attention paid, without a halt or break, to her work.
There are no men in that factory except a handful of skilled engineers
who are kept employed on tool-making and setting, sharpening cutters,
erecting machinery, and other work that only skilled men can do. There
is one room full of these men--The Room of the Old Men, I called
it--that I want to tell you about presently. It is a tale to be proud
of. For the most part the women workers I have seen were on lighter
work--shell-fuses, rifle cartridges, filling or charging, gauging--but
this manager assured me there was no doubt about the women’s ability to
handle anything up to the 18-pounder shell (I saw some on the heavier
4·5 shells later in another place), showed me how and where his women
loaded shells from the store into the trucks on the railway siding by
hand, and lifted out and up and in, and packed and stowed eight tons an
hour. And, finally, he boasted with honest and legitimate pride that
his girls did at least as good and, on official figures, cheaper shells
than any other factory in the kingdom. And the output is to be exactly
quadrupled within a few weeks--not “may be,” or “hoped to be,” mark
you, but, on cut-and-dried, certain, and deliberate plans, _will_ be.

At another factory I stood in a glass-sided passage and looked out
over a vast shop blazing with light, humming with belts and machinery,
packed with lathes and their women workers, brilliant with the vivid
colouring of the flags--Union Jacks and Standards--that were hoisted
proudly over the head of each girl and her machine. The girls were in
khaki overalls and caps, and the massed colours of the khaki, of the
Allied flags’ scarlet and blue and white and orange and black, the
glistening steely-blue of the machinery, the warm touches of the red
copper and yellow brass, all under the bright glow of the electrics,
all jostling and astir and quivering with life and animated movement,
made up a picture as thrilling and alive and heart-warming as any I
have seen throughout the war works. This is a brand-new factory--shops,
machinery, and hands all collected and built from the foundations
up since the war. There is no exact maximum output in view there,
apparently. It is simply growing as fast as new shops can be built,
machinery installed, hands found and taught and employed. There are
7,000 girls at work there now; they average 87½ hours’ work a week,
and they are “as keen as razors, as steady as rocks, as regular and
reliable as the factory hooter.”

Some of the work I have watched the women on is light and might
properly be described as women’s work. In one place, for instance,
there is a long row of girls sitting over a bench under the blaze of
electric lamps. They were piecing together four tiny scraps of metal
which at the end of the bench are being fused into one, making one
whole fuse-part which when complete is about the size of a sixpence and
the thickness of two pennies. One of the four pieces of metal is about
as flimsy as a clipping from a lady’s little finger-nail. How exactly
the fitting and brazing or soldering must be done was very clearly
proved by a box full of these particular fuse-parts that was shown me.
There were 40,000 of these completed parts and they were all “scrapped”
as useless because through a mistake in the making of one of the gauges
they were wrong by half a thousandth of an inch. It is hard to find a
comparison which adequately conveys the meaning of ½ a 1,000th. Perhaps
the nearest would be a fine hair-line, the upstroke of a pen. In this
same works--they were originally telephone-makers, although now the
original place is swamped in newly risen workshops--a large room is
filled with girls gauging or measuring the various finished parts, just
as in other factories I saw thousands of girls similarly engaged on
all sorts and descriptions of parts from shell bodies downwards. The
method of gauging is, roughly, that a girl has two gauges on which to
work, a “go” and a “won’t go.” One girl gauges a part for length, say,
another for width, another for depth, and if in any of these operations
the part “won’t go,” won’t pass through the gauge where it should “go”
or does go through the under-size or “won’t go” gauge, that part is
immediately outcast and returned for alteration or to the melting-pot.
In this factory there are something like 30,000 fuses on the move
flowing through the works, and on each fuse and its parts there are
about a hundred gaugings to be done. At another place--a motor works
in pre-War days--I was told that no girl had been employed by the firm
until a few months ago. Now every possible job they can handle is
being given to them. Everywhere I heard the same tale from employers,
managers, overseers, teachers, from every man who had had any dealings
with the women workers--they are intelligent, eager and quick to
learn, easy to teach; they are punctual and regular in attendance;
they are tractable and obedient and don’t “raise trouble”; they are
amazingly keen on their work, take an interest in it, stick closely to
it, and honestly do their best all the time. For munition work which
is within their handling capacity they are apparently ideal workers.
From the point of view of a firm’s or an industry’s progress and
advancement--this may have little to do with war work, but is, I think,
interesting--most of the engineers I spoke with agreed that the women
are not as good as the men, because the women have not the initiative
or inventiveness, would not think of or suggest any alteration or
improvement in machinery or details of their work; would, for instance,
go on for ever taking ten movements of hands and arms in lifting,
moving, and laying down each part if they had first been taught to do
it in ten movements, and quite ignoring any discovery they themselves
might make that the same thing could be done in nine moves or less. And
it appears they have little ambition, don’t tire of one simple job and
worry to be promoted to a less easy, higher-standard one as men do.
Offsetting all this, we must remember that women are new to such work,
and everyone admits it utterly surprising they should have picked it up
so completely and well. For their keenness and the intelligent handling
of their tools I need no hearsay evidence. I saw enough of it myself.
In shop after shop I moved about amongst these women, saw them pulling
levers, turning hand-wheels, sliding cutters to and from their exact
positions, handling complicated-looking lathes and presses and machines
as if they had been born and reared to the job, although actually 99
per cent. had never had hand on any machine more intricate than a
washhouse mangle. They are doing work, too, that a good many men would
hesitate about tackling. Personally, I should be sorry, for instance,
to be doing the riveting on of shell base-plates with a riveting
machine which delivers its hammer-blows at a rate of about 2,000 a
minute, a fiercely rapid roar of jarring blows that made one’s ears and
temples throb to hear for a few minutes. Yet women to whom I spoke on
that work smiled cheerfully and merely remarked that “you get used to
it in time.” Perhaps, but I don’t envy them the time till they do.

Everywhere I saw the women, fresh young girls and elderly toil-worn
women alike, closely intent on their work, wasting no fraction of a
second between the completion of one tool’s cutting and its withdrawal
and the substitution of the next tool--and such fractions are the more
precious when their loss means waste of a valuable lathe’s time as
well as the operator’s--obviously driving the work, giving hand and
mind and eye to getting through it quickly and getting on to the next.
Among many impressions I retain very clearly of the women’s deftness
and hustling intentness there is one I remember especially. A young and
pretty girl was testing shell-fuses, and as I stopped with the manager
beside her she flicked one quick upward glance from her work to us and
went on swiftly and steadily with her job. The manager explained to me
what she was doing. A box of fuses stood at her left hand; fixed to
the bench before her was an instrument which the touch on a lever set
revolving rapidly, and a little to the right and beyond this stood a
sort of clock-face with a pointer moving round and indicating the speed
of the machine’s revolutions. The operator picked up a fuse, slipped
it in the revolving-wheel centre, and started the machine. “Watch the
centre of the fuse,” said the manager. I watched it spinning until it
lost all shape or outline and became a mere blur. Then--_click_, a
tiny black hole appeared in the centre, the operator switched off the
current, slipped out the fuse, and put it aside as “passed correct”!
“This time,” said the manager, “try to see what figure the clock-finger
indicates at the instant the black hole appears.” It was harder to
do than it sounds, simply because that girl was so impishly quick at
seeing the two things in the same instant that the machine was slowing
and the clock-finger sliding backward and slowing before I could get my
eye on to it. But by watching the clock and ignoring the fuse I found
the needle always went to within a shade of the same point before it
checked and slowed. “The whole thing,” said the manager, “is simply
a speed test of a shutter which must open only after the speed of
revolutions reaches a certain number, and always before it rises to
another certain number. With the shutter working correctly, the shell
must be moving at a certain speed and spin before that opening comes
to allow the flash to pass and burst the shell. It is a check against
premature bursts, I believe.”

Through all this the girl’s flying fingers never halted or slowed, her
eyes never strayed from their set lines. She appeared to be doing two
things at once all the time, to be watching and catching unfailingly
the flashing wink of the opening black eye in the blurring circle,
the swing of the quivering needle-point, and at the same time to see
where to find the next fuse, the starting lever, the place to put the
fuse “passed.” Once she slipped out a fuse, prodded and fiddled at it
a moment with some mysteriously appearing tools, jabbed it back in the
machine, whirled it, stopped it, slid it to the “passed” side, and
without pause went on to the next. “That,” said the manager, “was a
‘fault’ she spotted--shutter opened too soon or too late. Slight fault
evidently she could rectify herself. If she couldn’t she’d have sent it
back as a reject.”

The manager spoke to her, and she answered him without lifting her head
or her eye or checking her hand an instant. And in turn I spoke to her
and told her just what the work she was doing meant to the Front. At
my first word she just flicked that quick glance at me again and kept
on smoothly and swiftly at her work. So, without interrupting her, I
went on and told her what a “premature” through a faulty fuse might
mean, at our end--a high explosive bursting in the bore, blowing out
the breech-block, splitting the piece, killing and wounding perhaps
every other man, or every man at the gun; or a shrapnel prematuring
at the muzzle, and the bullets that should have gone lifting high
and clear inside the case smashing, perhaps, into the open rear of
a gun-emplacement or a battery a few hundred yards in front of the
prematuring gun; or a shell exploding a second or two before it should,
some bare scores of yards short of where it should have burst, spilling
its hundreds of bullets down into our own trenches instead of the
enemy’s, hindering and hurting our own men instead of helping them. If
she had missed that fault she had just caught, I told her, the shell
that fuse was fitted to might, probably would, have done some such
deadly work; and every fuse she tested and passed good was one other
certain to do its proper work and help our men to storm a trench or
hold off an assault.

Then I came away, and I suppose she is sitting there now, her slender
fingers flying deftly to and fro, her pretty head and soft hair bent
over that whirling machine, her young girl’s eyes wide and intent on
the blurring fuse and the jumping needle, at either elbow a heaped
pile of golden-gleaming metal that soon or late will go roaring out
from the guns in flaming cordite blasts to beat a way through for the
Front to take to Victory and Peace.

In a way she is typical of the women on war work, turning their skill
and deftness, giving their youth and strength to “do their bit” and
help the Front. She is more significant than any picture of a blood-
and mud-stained fighting man, for she is emblematical of the work that
must be done, and--thanks be--at last is being done, to win the War.



VI

THE MASTER JOB


If we at the Front felt aggrieved last spring that the winter had been
wasted, that there had not been nearly enough hustling done on war work
at Home, certain it is that we can have no such complaint to make this
spring, or even now. The one great outstanding feature of all the war
works to-day is the way everything is being driven and speeded up. I
have told a fraction of what I have seen of this, of the green fields
of six months back covered now with busy works, of new floor after
floor being piled on existing works, wing after wing added to them,
scores upon scores of new machines being built or imported and set up
and to work, of hundreds and thousands of new hands being taught and
employed, of huge firms adapted to war work, of new firms and National
Factories working smooth and at top speed, of practically every works
and every machine running night and day without halt, of the double and
triple shifts of workers keeping the tireless machines whirling and
grinding and hammering from dawn to dusk, and without pause from dusk
on again to dawn. Perhaps amongst the many other things I have had to
tell, this one great fact of hustle and increasing hustle has been a
little overshadowed, and I had better give one clear instance where the
fact stands out sharp and stark, where nothing is so evident, where
almost nothing else is evident, but the one great and wonderful haste.
The particular effort deserves the telling all the more because it is
the tale of the Master Job, the greatest war factory in the world.
You will always remember that if I am unsatisfactorily vague in some
of the details and altogether miss out others, it is because I may
not and would not “give information of value to the enemy.” Probably,
despite the many precautions taken, the enemy knows all about it, but
this can only be through spies, and since the bigness of a spy’s pay
is apt to depend on the bigness of his news--or lies--at least I need
not corroborate them. The new factory then is a National one, a huge
plan to do, under the State and the Munitions Ministry, a volume of
work which will presently be ready for it, and which no one works or
several combined works is now capable of handling. Without being too
exact, I may say that the area of the works covers a piece of country
about twelve miles long and at no part less than a mile across. Think
a moment what that alone means--twelve miles, the length of the Front
running, say, from Loos up past Cambrin, the Brick Fields, Cuinchy and
Givenchy, on by Indian Village and the Richebourg battle-front, Rue
du Bois, Bois du Biez, and Port Arthur to about Neuve Chapelle. Take
it another way, and it measures one of the marches you go from the
firing-line back down the La Bassée Road to Bethune, through it, and
on again to about Lillers. It is roughly twelve miles from Richmond
across all London to Blackheath, from Alexandra Park down to Croydon.
Twelve miles is more than double the width of the city of Glasgow from
east to west, four times its extent from north to south. That may bring
home to you what the twelve-mile length of the new munition works
means. The engineer who took me round drove me in a fast car, out and
across and back, in what I thought quite a big three-cornered wedge,
but the ground covered, long though it appeared on the drive, shrank
to a mere corner of the whole when I saw it on the map. Sitting in the
car and looking round over long vistas and streets of huts and houses,
I could see in one direction to a clump of wood outlined in toy trees
against the sky; in another over a wide flat expanse with tiny dots of
buildings in the far distance, to where the ground swelled and rose
and fell away again in a tumble of plantations and hills and hollows;
in another down a long road and a jumble of finished huts and naked,
unfinished framings to where the horizon faded off into the indefinite
distance; in yet another to where my eye searched along the skyline for
the dot which was actually the big building of a power-station. Then I
was told that all I could see around me was inside the boundaries of
the works area as well as plenty beyond that I could not see. I saw
the spread of the area as a whole on a five-foot-long map and saw the
criss-cross of roads, the rows upon rows and clumps after clumps of
dots that marked the buildings of workshops and workers’ houses--and
even then, although there are huts for quite a number of thousands,
many of the workers are being housed outside the area, a motor-bus
system being run to carry them to and from their work. The buildings
are of wood, steel, and brick construction, and they are already
there, complete or incomplete, in tens and scores and hundreds. The
town, with its stores and shops, its churches and cinema-show, clubs,
canteens, and reading-rooms, is solidly built of stone, brick, steel,
and wood. There are a score of undertakings in hand which here are mere
side-lines, although each of them is a huge contract in itself. There
is a system of railways, a main line and many branch lines and sidings,
that runs to perhaps fifty miles of rails. There are vast water,
drainage, and lighting systems, powerful pumping-stations, and a great
reservoir; and a tremendous power-house to carry electricity throughout
the area. For mile after mile I drove along roads with a line of great
33-inch diameter pipes laid along the ditch, and past regiments of
navvies digging them in. There is another seven- or eight-mile stretch
of 27-inch pipes and innumerable miles of smaller piping. The workers
now engaged on construction work would make many line battalions of
full fighting strength; the hands to be employed will run in numbers
into brigades and divisions.

Now if all these facts convey any idea to you of the colossal size of
the job, you may understand what organisation, what skill, what energy
has been required to conceive, to plan, to execute the whole work, to
build and equip it and set it running in a matter of mere months. The
work that on ordinary contract, with smooth working and no day’s hitch,
with all the advantage of peace-time work--unlimited labour, material
and transport to be had for the asking and paying--would have occupied
at the very least three to four years, is being done here inside six
months. What that means only the heads, the officials and managers and
engineers and contractors, will ever know. The shifts and stratagems
that have had to be employed to find and keep labour, to get the
materials required or their efficient substitutes, to secure transport
to and on the area, to house and feed the workers, to fight the
weather, the wet and the frost especially, would fill many books, would
make a record of energy, efficiency, foresight, and resourcefulness
which would be for ever a pride to the Empire. The country has
conferred some large-sized powers on the Ministry of Munitions--larger
perhaps than is generally realised--and I must say the Ministry has
grabbed the powers with both hands and, through its lieutenants, is
wielding them in all sorts of unexpectedly useful ways. On the Master
Job, for instance, there was need for a lot of road transport, and
mechanical transport was not easy to find. But somehow and anyhow it
was found, and one traction engine that I saw puffing and snorting
at the head of a rumbling wagon string gives an index to the ways
and means of the finding. The engine still bore the legend “Jenkin’s
Galloping Horses,” and, it appears, previous to its commandeering had
been trundling from town to town a full set of caravans, and then
converting itself into one of those power-engines which are familiar
sights at country fairs driving a circle of prancing wooden chargers or
sea-sicky switchback boats in a swing roundabout to the brazen music of
a mechanical band.

There was another difficulty to be overcome in the way of finding
all sorts of materials. Here, again, the powers that be did not
hesitate to commandeer where more usual methods could not prevail.
The Ministry inspectors and engineers apparently know what every firm
in the country is busy about, and they simply reported where anything
specially required was to be found. Thus and so, some corrugated-iron
sheds and huts in course of construction on contract and destined for
some places at the other ends of the earth find themselves hastily
transported to Somewhere in Britain and hurriedly erected there instead
of at Sumatra or Zanzibar. The buildings required some converting and
altering perhaps to adapt them to use in a chilly, damp-laden country
instead of under tropical skies, but such difficulties are very minor
ones to the men who are running this job. There have been and still are
greater ones that are constantly being surmounted. There were fewer
in the summer months perhaps, but in the frost and rain of a cold
and wet winter all the canons of carpentering, masonry, and building
construction have been flouted and set aside. Any builder will tell
you how impossible it is, for instance, to lay concrete in frosty
weather. As a rule the builder may not have descended to details of
the why and the wherefore, but here the causes were sought, found, and
overcome. When it was necessary the water for mixing the concrete was
heated and the stones were warmed, and when the concrete was spread
it was carefully covered with straw or cinders or anything that would
keep the frost off it. Sometimes a roof would be run up to keep off
the rain, a temporary break-wind wall erected to hold out the winds,
blazing fires lit in braziers to fight off the frost, so that mortar
might be mixed and brick walls built. Building work, it has always been
understood, must cease when the winter sets in. Here nothing ceases,
everything drives ahead at high-pressure speed.

The whole of the area is still more or less under construction, more
or less completed. In some parts rows of huts and houses stand
practically ready for occupation; in others the work is in its first
stages, and the ground is one weltering chaos of heaped earth and
rough holes, up-torn turf, piled planks, bricks, mortar, and building
material. Swarms of men hammer and hew and dig and burrow amidst the
confusion; perky, self-important-looking little “pug” engines puff and
pant and haul their trailing strings of wagons amongst the earth heaps
and holes, round and between the lumber and the foundations and frames
of unerected buildings.

In other parts the green turf of the fields is still undisturbed, but
already it is scored deep with wheel-marks, is plotted out for the
coming of the diggers and builders. By the end of spring they will
have gone, the twelve-mile stretch will be humming from end to end
with munition workers, will be pouring out in a stupendous stream the
fighting-food of the firing line. Until it is complete the daily
routine is one of constant hustle, of planning and contriving and
dovetailing one piece of work into another, of keeping each and all
hustling fast on the move. Nothing is allowed to halt or check or stay
the work; everything must give way to the need for haste. Time is
always money, but here it is more than money; it is an expenditure, not
only of money, but without stint of brain and muscle power. Work is
planned to commence by a certain date and by that date be sure it will
commence, and the Front will feel the rush of the increased torrent
that will come sluicing out from the Master Job.

There are other greatly planned and wonderfully executed works which
only in their size are outdistanced by the Master Job. I saw one such
new works, so new that in parts the fields are still scattered with
cabbage stumps or trampled turnips, so new that only at the end of this
last September was the first sod cut. The end of September--and by the
First of January the first section was due to be turning out munitions.
When I was there the big boilers of the power-station were not ready
to be installed, but a temporary boiler had been dug out from Heaven
knows where, and its chimney was pouring out smoke as the temporary
furnace prepared for a trial run. When I saw the place, only about
fifty working days had passed from the cutting of that first sod, and
yet here were rows of completed workrooms, completed in some down to
the varnished walls and the linoleumed floors, the steam-heating, and
the electric lamps over the work benches. There are a dozen 100-ton
stores, miles upon miles of raised board walks (the “clean way” that in
a works handling explosives keeps the feet of the workers out of mud or
earth or grit), of steam-heating pipes, of railway and trolly rails.
There are scores of magazines, many scores of huts and houses, railway
sidings to allow of the handling of many hundred tons a day.

There are to be thousands of hands employed on each shift--the works
will be run on the night-and-day plan that appears to be the regular
rule in munition works now--and the first of them were to start inside
a month from the time I was there. If I hadn’t had the evidence of the
many finished buildings, and the vast amount of completed work there
before my eyes, I should have doubted the possibility of that early
start. There seemed such an impossible amount still to do. Running
out from the railway ran a long, box-built passageway straddling
above ground on criss-cross piles and scaffolding, breaking off
raggedly and abruptly in mid-air. Beyond this there is to be a large
room for the explosives workers to change and dress, but this room
was then no more than the surveyor’s markings on the ground. The
site of the engine-room was a wide and deep hole walled round with
close-set, stout, water-tight planking and bottomed with unpleasant
mud. Altogether it looked about as hopeless a task as one could find
to get such a raw welter running in any completed part for many, many
months; and yet, having seen the outcome of the previous fifty working
days, having met and talked with some of the hard-headed, warm-blooded,
live-wire men who are running the job, I have not the faintest doubt
but that their plans have worked out, that by the time this is in print
the work will have begun.[1]

        [1] Work commenced--January.

Once more it is the managers, the engineers, the contractors,
the business brains and energy of these and the local Munitions
Committee that have played the part of modern wizards and magicians,
that are turning an aching, empty desolation of waste land into a
spick-and-span bustling works. Here, again, difficulties have been
met only to be overcome promptly and efficiently--and if you saw the
ankle-deep, rutted mud, the water-tight, plank-sided box that had to be
sunk a good ten feet to find foundations for the engine-room bed, the
crane-engine overtilted and sunk in the mud where the unstable soil had
yielded to the platform piles, sank lop-sidedly, and left the engine
to slide gently overboard--if you saw these and many other things, you
would begin to appreciate some of the difficulties. But, after all,
there they are--a Master Job and many mastered jobs. And every week
that passes brings more of them to completion and nearer to completion,
nearer to the day we wait when no effort of the Front can outrun the
efforts of the war works.



VII

“THEIR BIT”


I have spoken already of “The Room of the Old Men,” one of the finest
samples I have seen of a patriotic endeavour by the workers to be up
and “doing their bit” for the country and the Front. The Room is part
of a National Factory that was commenced upon only last July. The men
in it are skilled mechanics and engineers, doing the work which only
skilled men can do, work without which a munitions factory cannot run.
They are nearly all old men, men who had retired from their trade eight
or ten or twelve years back, who, after a good long life of hard work
in the shops, had taken off their overalls and laid down their tools,
as they thought then, for good and ever. The manager took me round
amongst them and introduced me to them and gave me a chance to speak to
them and tell them that I hoped to let the Front know of their plucky
retackling of their old jobs. Old as they were, up to the oldest of
them--68 he proudly admitted to--they were doing a full and hard day’s
work. One man in that room, for all his rough, toil-hardened hands and
work-stained clothes, is worth his £20,000. Another when he dropped
his trade had invested in “a little farm well filled” and worth its
thousands of any man’s good money. And that man works each day in the
factory from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and before he comes in from his little
moorland farm, and at night after he returns to it from his day’s work,
he milks his cows, and feeds his chickens, and settles up the odd jobs
that must be done each day upon a farm. All the Old Men felt exactly
the same way about the War. They were too old--very regretfully they
were too old--to do their bit in khaki at the Front, but they were glad
and thankful for the chance that was still left to them to do their bit
in the shops. The manager, a local man himself, knowing the district
well, when he took up the munition work went over in his mind all the
old and retired mechanics he could remember. He went round to them and
put the facts straight to them--the Front was held up for munitions, a
National Factory was being started in their town, there was a sad lack
of the skilled men that they, skilled men themselves, well knew were
necessary, and--would they come? _Would they?_ They were ready, then
and there, to put on their caps, and walk back to the works with him,
and start in on the job. And there they are now. The general manager,
by the way, was deservedly enthusiastic about his Old Men and their
fine effort, but he said exactly nothing at all about his own. That I
discovered, by questioning, from the Ministry official who was showing
me round the district. He told me how the general manager had been
running a business of his own, but had left it when the word went round
for business men and practical men to help the Munitions Ministry, how
the works had been got together, how machines had had to be found and
tools made, how the working of an industry quite new to him had to be
learned first and taught to others afterwards, how under his planning
and guidance the factory had been set running, how efficiently and fast
it was turning out the work, how the Ministry in London had admitted
the usefulness of workings and figures furnished by him, and, finally,
how all his work had been and was being done without a penny of salary
or recompense. It isn’t a bad “bit” for one man to be doing.

In startling contrast to the Room of the Old Men I was introduced to
the works manager--aged 22. His is an old head on young shoulders,
however, and I heard much of his share in the factory’s “bit.” “Takes
his job serious, does our works manager,” I was told. “When we were
puzzling out ways o’ work he used to sit up nights thinkin’ shells, an’
go to ’s bed dreamin’ shells. Took it that serious, couldn’t see a joke
if ’t poked him in the eye.” And the works manager just grinned and let
it go at that.

It was in this same factory, by the way, that I met one of those
inspectors who in all factories pass the completed shells as correct,
and who, in this instance, was an ex-cheesemonger. Amongst these same
inspectors you can find ex- all sorts of trades and professions, from
actors and acrobats to schoolmasters and sausage-makers. There was a
question raised in Parliament recently about these men, and a good deal
of would-be wit was expended on the folly of employing such amateurs to
act as experts. But, after all, I see no faintest reason for the gibes.
The work these men are doing is not impossible or even difficult for
an intelligent man to learn. They have to pass gauges over the shell
and the shell must fit all the gauges. They have to see that no flaw
or crack is visible, that varnish is smooth and even, and so on. There
is nothing, I should say, nearly as difficult in finding flaws in a
shell as there is in making the same shell--and the shell has been made
by once unskilled hands or “amateurs.” When all is said and done, the
very great majority of munition-makers to-day are amateurs, although
they have each become expert on their own work--as the inspectors
have. The British Army that is going to whip Germany presently is
composed almost solidly of amateur soldiers, of just the same ex- this,
that, and t’other trade and profession as the munition workers and
inspectors. And, when you think of it, many Members of Parliament are
themselves amateurs at their job, or were not long since, and were also
ex-all-sorts before they were M.P.’s. I don’t see why they should fling
stones at the amateur inspectors who, like everybody else on this game,
are only doing their best to “do their bit.”

In a rifle cartridge factory I saw girls who were examining the brass
cartridges for defects. A girl would take a handful of cartridges
and roll them rapidly one after another across her palm, and, quick
and constant as the motion was, she missed no slightest fault. Some
defects, indeed, were so slight that when I picked up some of the
rejects I could see nothing wrong even on close and slow examination
until the girl pointed out a tiny scratch, a rough dot, an almost
invisible dent or bulge. There can be no hope of finding expert
engineers (if that is what the M.P.’s want) as inspectors here. The
cartridges are pouring from that factory at a rate of millions a week.
Walking about the works, you see girls shovelling brass cases with
a thing like a big coal-scoop into the capacious maws of hoppers to
machines that joggle and jolt the cylinders into their back teeth, and
turn and solemnly chew them over, and slide them out in a clicking and
tinkling stream, with one more operation performed on their way to
completion. Everywhere you may meet full barrels of cartridges wheeling
round, or standing in rows, or being emptied and filled; you can see
miles of ribbon-like brass bands sliding under punches that chop round
discs from them, watch the discs running in hundreds from machine to
machine, each machine giving it a punch in the passing and pressing
it more and more into its finished stage. You may watch long ropes of
lead running off fat reels into and through the machines which chop
it into lengths and shape it into bullet-cores which stream along to
meet another converging stream of nickel cases and become one with
it; and pour on further to join up with the brass cartridges after
they have run through the filling factory and had the cordite pushed
in and sliced off and a wad rammed on top. And the surging torrent
of completed, capped, cordited, wadded, and bulleted cartridges that
sweeps into the packing-rooms and out from the factory is so largely
the work of “amateurs” that there are about ten new hands employed for
each one of the old hands that used to man the works. And when that
factory is completed it will be turning out 5,000,000 cartridges a
week--mainly by the hands of “amateur” girls swept in from all over
the country to “do their bit.”

It is true that the professionals in machine-making have done much
to smooth the path of the amateur. Some of the semi-automatic and
automatic machines are so wonderful that one might imagine them
endowed with life and professional skill themselves. I have watched,
fascinated, the work of a screw-making machine which, after turning
the tiny thread, reached over a steel finger and thumb, picked up
the screw, lifted it back to a new position and jammed it there for
another tool to slide forward at the precisely right second and cut
out the cross-nick on the screw-head. There are automatic lathes which
seize a steel or brass rod pushed within their clutch and chop it up
and make shoulders and grooves and screw-threads on its outside, and
drill out the centre and put another and different sized and shaped
set of carvings on the inside, throw out the finished part, pull in
the metal rod, and commence work afresh on it. Some of these lathes
have five or six tools running and each performing its part in turn on
the fuse or shell part. In one small-arm factory there is a huge room
full of these automatic lathes all whirring and grinding away at their
hardest. And the men in that room are so few that one hardly notices
them and has an impression that the shop is cheerfully running itself.
Actually there is one man to each ten machines, to keep the long brass
or steel rods passing into their busy wheels and tools, to maintain
and regulate the flow of lubricant which runs constantly on each
cutting tool. In this factory there are automatics drilling out the
rifle-barrels, the drill pressing in so far at a time, when the machine
carefully withdraws it for a busy little steel hand to poke forward and
fussily brush off the grit and chips and clear the drill, which then
slides smoothly back and goes on with its job. A stream of oil runs
on each drill, and something like 1,000 horse-power is required for
nothing but the pumping of this oil to the rifle-drilling machines. The
factory is turning out 8,000 completed rifles and over 300 machine-guns
a week now. And, after the usual fashion, it is busily preparing to
add heavily to its output. About twelve acres of new floor space have
already been added to the works, and new floor is still being piled
on floor, filled with another tossing and churning sea of machinery
as fast as it is made ready, and driven up into its top working speed
at once. On top of the one room packed with workers and machines the
builders are at work on another room, laying the concrete floor,
riveting the steel girders of new walls, putting on another new roof.
And the moment the floor is down and the roof on and the steel skeleton
complete, in come the men who erect the overhead shafting and fill the
windows with glass--I might say fill the walls with glass, for each
shop is nothing but a glass-sided box--and start to erect the machines.
Each of the new glass boxes is about 600 feet long by 40 feet wide, and
there are whole blocks of them erected or with the builders hard at
work turning another roof-top into the floor of still another shop. It
is plain that the present output is going to do some tall climbing very
soon.

I find that my available space is running short, while I have still
left untold much that I have seen, so I must be content to assure
the Front that I have covered the ground of munition work more fully
than these writings may indicate. I don’t think I left any department
of the work untouched. I saw the making of bombs and grenades and
air-torpedoes, trench-mortars and bomb-throwers--cheerful things some
of these too, throwing bombs and winged torpedoes of impressive size
with accuracy for hundreds of yards--shells, innumerable shells,
from the pill, standing man-high and measuring about four feet round
the waist, that “Granny” throws, down through all the sizes of the
twelve-inch, and of “Mother’s” fit, to the fodder for the ubiquitous
18-pounders and Four-point-five “hows,” and still down to the fancy
sizes for the anti-aircraft and the pretty little one-pounder pom-poms.
I saw all shapes and sizes of guns too--massive, lengthy monsters in
stages running from the huge rough castings to the smooth shining and
polished tubes, fat-bodied squat howitzers, and, laid out in rows,
many field-guns, and, ranked in battery upon battery, many more light
Q.F. and machine-guns. There was an aeroplane factory where at least
a score of ’planes stood in various stages, from one completely built
and ready for her engines, to those still only in dismembered finished
parts, to say nothing of the piles of parts in the making. Here alone
the one firm I should have supposed were turning out more finished
’planes per week--battle-’planes and observing-’planes and fast-flying
scout-’planes--than all our armies could find a use for; and yet there
are, even to my own knowledge, several other ’plane factories.

So that you may take it I have made a full and comprehensive round,
have satisfied myself in order that I might fully satisfy the Front
that all their munition wants are going to be satisfied up to and over
the hilt. I can only finish the report of my observations with the same
assurance as I began it--we are never going to be short of munitions
again; spend them as fast and hot and heavy as we can, the workshops
can make faster than the Front can use; and the longer the War runs the
more completely we shall be armed and equipped to wage it. All this
seems certain and positive if--it is the only “if,” although it might
be a big one--_if_ the war-workers continue to do their share, _if_
they play up and back us in playing out the game.



VIII

THE GREAT “IF”


In my previous chapters I have told the Front what I could of the
rising tide of munitions, of what they may expect from the gigantic
effort that is at last being made in war work. I have said, judging
from what I have seen, nothing can stand against our armies and the
torrent of shells and munitions they will assuredly have from and after
the spring--if the war-workers play out their part. That is the one and
only “if,” but in the war works I have seen and heard some indication
that the “if” still remains, and now I want to say a word, as one who
went through that first winter and a year at the Front, to the workers
at Home, to ask the men in the trenches to write home to any and every
man or woman they may know in the war works and urge them to every
possible effort as I here urge them.

There is every evidence, and evidence that is under the hands and
before the eyes of the war-workers, of the enormous amount of munitions
now forthcoming. What I am anxious to impress upon them is the enormous
amount the Front wants and needs if it is to get a fair show. I have
no wish to belittle--even if it were possible--the war-workers’
efforts, but I do want them to understand that they cannot afford to
slacken that effort for a single day if an adequate, a really adequate
supply is to be maintained at the Front. A new National Factory and
its workers may be justly proud of their output of 5,000 shells a
week, and think they are doing enormously well if by the spring they
are trebling that output. But let them remember this--one single
insignificant battery of Field Artillery can fire away that present
week’s output in one day, a Brigade of Field Artillery can use that
week’s trebled output of 15,000 shells in the day again. The workers
may fairly argue that their factory is only one, that dozens, scores
of other factories are each turning out as many or more shells. But so
at the Front are there many guns and many batteries. Has the average
worker any idea how many Field Batteries there are in the Army to-day?
I may not say, but it is common knowledge that the batteries run into
very large numbers, and are going to take many shells to feed, are
going to keep the war-workers sweating again to keep the guns going.
In the battle-lines of the Western Front--I should say battle-line,
because, even if a thrust is being made on any one part of a few
miles, it means that an attack must be made strongly along the whole
line to prevent the enemy knowing where the main attempt is being
made--there are a prodigious number of guns employed. At a distance
behind the infantry trenches the ground is simply packed with guns and
batteries. Hitherto we have hardly had the guns going full pelt for
more than a day or two at a time. We have no wish to anticipate any
such spasmodic and unsustained efforts again. On the Western Front, or
the Balkan Front, or any other front, when the real Big Push comes we
must look to see a battle fought fiercely and desperately week after
week without a pause. We want to see the Germans hammered out of one
position, pressed hard and close and hurled out of the next, driven
hard again, battered and pushed in and battered and thrust out again
and again, treated, in fact, in just the sort of fashion they used
against the Russians in the Eastern drive. We can only do that as
the Germans did it--by the use of overwhelming torrents of artillery,
rifle, and machine-gun fire, grenades and bombs. Be very sure that
if and when we commence an offensive on those lines, the Germans are
going to reply in like fashion, are going to go all out to beat down
our heaviest fire with their still heavier one. The workers at home
know the enormous amount of munitions preparing here, but the Front
knows and feels the equally great effort of the German workshops. In
old days we have known it too often by having to sit and suffer under
it while our own reply was hopelessly inadequate; now our great hope is
that at last we are going to be on something better than level terms.
But to put us on such terms the war-workers have still to strain every
nerve and muscle, put out every ounce they possibly can. The whole
thing rests on them. They have been given the material, the shops, the
machines; they have got the finest brains of the Empire guiding their
efforts and ensuring that the greatest possible result is obtained from
their work. So it is up to them, and to them only.

I don’t think there is the slightest fear that on the whole the
war-workers are going to fail us, but it is impossible to avoid seeing
that enormous damage and desperate delay may occur through the slacking
or indifference or discontent of any one section of the workers. In
this great business of munition-making it is inevitable that all the
parts should dovetail, and that the output should advance in one
long even wave. It is no use having a million shells if, because the
fuse-makers have failed, there are not a million fuses to fit them; it
is just as useless having a million shells and fuses if the million
cartridge-cases are not ready, and a million charges of cordite made,
and the guns to fire them completed, and the gun-carriages built, and
the telescopic or prismatic sights made, and the gunners’ maps printed,
and the boots and clothes and equipments provided for the gunners.
And even if every last possible arm and ammunition and equipment is
completed in the artillery, the battle-line must halt, or, still worse,
must be beaten back and brutally punished, if there is a shortage of
machine-guns or cartridges or bombs or grenades. In a great battle
every branch of the Army must move and work together and keep the pace
as one great and unbroken whole, and it is equally vital that the
battle of the war-workers must run in exactly the same fashion. The
men making one of many fuse-parts may lose us a battle if they hang
up their work and prevent the fuses being finished and so leave the
guns short of shells, the Front without artillery support. The whole
business of munition-making must be hung up if the coal-miners, the
transport workers, the engineers, the explosive makers, almost any
one section of the war-workers, fail us. Such a complete hold-up may
be unthinkable, but there is another danger which is more possible
and almost equally lamentable. There are still some war-workers who
appear to consider the War as merely grinding out a grist of profit
and good wages to them; another lot who are still more concerned
over their hours and pay and conditions of labour, over labour rules
and laws, written and unwritten, over the profits the employers are
making or supposed to be making, over their position and status when
the war is finished, than ever they are over the winning of the war.
I know one works where there are two departments engaged on making
six-inch and eight-inch shells. In some way, which for the moment
is of no matter, the six-inch workers are paid at a lower rate than
the eight-inch workers. The wages of the six-inch workers cannot
be raised because that would raise the cost of the shells above
the contract price; the wages of the eight-inch workers may not be
lowered to level them with the six-inchers. The result is that the
higher-paid men deliberately restrict their output, make fewer shells
per week than they could do, so that they will only draw a weekly sum
about equal to the less well-paid workers. And they do this out of
a so-called sense of fairness, a supposed “loyalty to their mates.”
That is the sort of pettiness or indifference that staggers anyone who
has been in the carnage and destruction and misery of the Front, who
has endured the punishment resulting from a shell shortage. “Sense
of fairness”--“loyalty to their mates”! What about fairness to the
Front, loyalty to their mates and sons and brothers in the trenches?
How I wish I could make these men understand what it means to see a
line of infantry hung up by barbed wire, hacking desperately at it,
running up and down its face in frantic groups searching for a gap and
a clear path for their bayonets, to see these stout hearts falling
in hundreds under a hail of lead, the blast of machine-gun and rifle
fire and bursting bombs, to watch the line dwindle and wither and melt
away to heaps and clumps of dead lying still in the mud or squirming
in the clutch of the wire entanglements, to scattered figures crawling
and rolling and dragging their broken limbs and shattered bodies back
across the shell- and bullet-swept ground in a last struggle to reach
shelter. If only the most discontented workers could see such a sight,
would realise that it was due to nothing but the wire entanglements
not being completely swept away because sufficient shells could not
be spared to make a clean job of it, I wonder if they would ever again
talk of “loyalty to their mates,” would ever again waste a day off or
an hour off, would ever again be satisfied to do anything less than
their highest, biggest, and best possible output of work. There was
talk the other day of the engineers wanting an all-round 15 per cent.
rise in wages. No doubt they think themselves fairly entitled to this
because the cost of living has risen. But that sort of thinking simply
paralyses again the men at the Front. Suppose cost of living has risen,
suppose it has risen 50 instead of 15 per cent. Does that mean that
the engineers are going hungry or thirsty, doing without a bed to rest
on or a roof to keep them dry? Their mates at the Front often do all
this, and surely the war-workers might carry some slight share of the
hardships without grumbling, and not, because butter is too dear and
they must eat margarine, want an immediate rise to allow them to eat
butter again.

It is instances of this sort that make one realise the ugly “if.” The
real gravity of the position, the issue hanging upon them, cannot
possibly be fairly understood by any war-workers who slack, or restrict
output, or seriously concern themselves over such points as are
constantly being raised about pay, hours, and status.

It seems so impossible that the critical nature of the war should
not by now be understood, but I am sure that some of the war-workers
do not even yet fully understand, and they may easily be misled into
thinking munitions so plentiful and future supplies so promising that
all danger of a shortage is over. Let them remember that our Army that
was short of munitions was a very small affair compared with the Army
of to-day. That production which left, say, 200,000 men woefully short
a year ago may be multiplied exactly twenty times and still leave an
Army of four millions just as exactly and woefully short as ever. And
it is going to take many multiplications by twenty to raise us from
the hopeless shortage that kept us standing still last year, spending
flesh and blood in a desperate endeavour to make up for the lacking
steel and iron, and holding our bare own, to raise us from that to
being an irresistible force capable of advancing and breaking through
miles of trenched and barbed-wired and fortified positions, through
hordes of well-armed, unbeaten men, through a flaming barrier of shells
and bombs, through liquid fire and gas and machine-gun and rifle
bullets. The war-workers have to keep going more than the one front of
a year ago. There is now the Western Front, the Balkans, East Africa,
Mesopotamia, to say nothing of Egypt or any other battle-fronts
that may develop. Our war-workers are doing wonders, are turning out
mountains of munitions--but so, you may be very sure, are the enemy
war-workers. They had a very long start of us, had munition factories
and machines built and running, and they have been increasing these
while we have been improvising and starting ours. We cannot doubt but
that the German and Austrian shops are also running night and day, that
the need for an enormously increased output has long since been seen
and provided for, that their workers are going all out to give their
armies a preponderating supply so that they may meet and beat the best
our fighting and our working men can do.

The Front has no shadow of doubt about being able to beat the Germans,
if our workers can beat the enemy workers. “Give us the stuff we need,”
says the Front, “and we’ll give you victory.” The German armies are
probably saying the same to their workshops, and the matter boils
down to a battle of the workshops--ours and theirs. The British Army
doesn’t want anything more than a fair show, and only the British
workers can give it them. The Army is quite and cheerfully ready
and willing to hunger and thirst, to perish from cold and bitter
soaking wet, to wallow in the mud and misery of the trenches, to
endure bodily discomfort and aching fatigue, long marches and longer
outpost watchings, and lack of sleep and rest, to suffer frost-bite
and disease, loss of limbs and sight, dreadful wounds and death, so
that we may win the War. They can and will win, if the war-workers
will back them up, will throw in the last ounce of energy and
determination they possess, will fling aside the last atom of slackness
or self-indulgence or bickering or selfishness. The fighting men are
considering nothing--no question of short pay or long hours, or “what
will happen when the war’s over,” or what individuals may profit by
their sacrifice, or their own sacrifices and suffering--nothing but
the winning of the War. And the War is as good as won, though the full
price is yet to pay, if, and only if, the war-workers will think and
act the same as the fighting men. Will they? The answer is with them,
and with them only.


PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY RICHARD CLAY & SONS, LIMITED, BRUNSWICK
ST., STAMFORD ST., S.E., AND BUNGAY, SUFFOLK.



Transcriber’s Notes


Punctuation, hyphenation, and spelling were made consistent when a
predominant preference was found in this book; otherwise they were not
changed.

Simple typographical errors were corrected; occasional unbalanced
quotation marks retained.

Ambiguous hyphens at the ends of lines were retained.

The illustration at the beginning of the book is the front cover.





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