In the run up to the war many munitions factories were opened in the North West. They supplied the guns and ammunition needed by the armed forces. Many local companies also turned their factories over to wartime production.
The Rootes factory at Speke produced 60 Halifax bombers a month and employed over 13,000 people. By 1944 Littlewoods had 16 factories in operation employing 14,000 workers. They produced shells, parachutes and barrage balloons.
Many women worked in war factories. This was voluntary until 1941 when women were conscripted. By 1943 90% of single women were employed in the war factories.
"I was put on a training course for four weeks and I learnt how to rivet. I went to Rootes and worked three shifts on the fore end of the Halifax bombers." June Meakin, riveter
The Royal Ordnance factory Kirkby
Image courtesy of Prescot Museum Collection
The Government set up a munitions factory at Kirkby to produce detonators and to fill shells. It employed over 10,000 people, 8000 of whom were women.
Filling shells was a hazardous job with a high risk of explosions. A number of workers were killed and others lost their fingers, hands or eyesight. Skin conditions were very common from handling chemicals.
In dealing with the accidents and the fires which resulted, workers at Kirkby received 37 awards for acts of bravery. The factory was built outside the city to minimise the danger from explosions. This meant long journeys into work.
"My hands and the front of my hair was yellow and you had a big yellow caste on your face. It had to wear off, it wouldn't wash off." May Clarke, Worker at ROF Kirkby
The Royal Ordnance factory Fazakerley
The factory at Fazakerley opened in 1941 to produce machine guns and rifles. Managers and key workers were drawn from parent factories at Woolwich and Enfield. However, the main workforce was made up of 68% local women.
There was a shortage of skilled engineers. In 1941 the government hired skilled workers from the West Indies to help out in factories in the northwest.
"We had just come from the tropics, and it was perishing cold. We didn't have any training. There were several components and each one had a blueprint, and if you were stuck with anything you had to ask one of the chaps from Enfield." Angus Wood, Engineer from Kingston, Jamaica