The Great War Centenary - 1917
From Front Line to White Lund
White Lund Disaster
Story of the Great Explosions At a National Filling Factory
The Daily Post, Preston, 25th January, 1919,
The Censor, in October 1917, did not allow much mention to be made of
the White Lund Explosion and the aftermath affecting the citizens of
Lancaster, Morecambe and district. The restrictions on the story
were relaxed in January 1919.
30,000 People Who Wandered Throughout the Night
October 1st, 1917, will be long remembered by the inhabitants of
Lancaster, Morecambe and a much wider area by reason of the disastrous
explosion which took place at the National Filling Factory, White Lund.
These extensive works, stretching from Oxcliffe Marsh to Morecambe, and
practically uniting the boroughs of Lancaster and Morecambe, played a
conspicuous part in the Great War, and the workpeople responded with
cheery goodwill and alacrity to departmental pressure when the situation
on the Western front called for increased output.
For twelve hours there was a succession of explosions which were heard
for more than 50 miles around, and filled the inhabitants of the
immediate district with great anxiety. Thirty thousand people of
Lancaster, Morecambe and surrounding villages wandered through the night
in all states of deshabilie, taking to the hills or the open expanse of
seashore, and there was not a country lane, church, chapel, or barn for
miles around where people were not seeking shelter from what they deemed
to be imminent danger. Needless alarms, of course, said wise-acres after
the event, but when strong men were thrown to the ground by the force of
concussion remote from the scene, windows were shattered, and doors
which had been left secure were flung open, the fears commonly
entertained were excusable. A police constable at Cottingley Bridge,
near Bradford, and another at Birkdale, timed the first explosion. One
of the crashes flung open a shepherd’s door in Dentdale, which had been
securely bolted. People were rocked in their beds at Fulwood and
Bolton-by-Bowland, while inhabitants of East Lancashire and the
Rossendale Valley got out of their beds and congregated to discuss the
nature of the disaster.
20 Fire Brigades in Attendance
Fire brigades in Bolton and other distant towns did not wait for the
alarm before hurrying to the stations for the call, an din an incredibly
short time the greater part of the 20 brigades which did duty were
assembled to assist. Motor volunteers from Preston, Blackpool, Kendal
and elsewhere hurried to the scene with nurses and such other help as
might be required. It was a Providential interposition that the disaster
began when the work-people were assembled for supper and that the
officials were able to make timely announcements of the danger. By
common consent and official admission, putting it colloquially, “many
V.C.’s were well earned.” In proportion to the magnitude of the disaster
the death roll was small.
Very pathetic was the case of the workman who stayed behind to help the
firemen, and was found buried by a wall which collapsed still grasping
the nozzle of the fire hose and equally so the case of a nurse who, amid
the tornado of fire and exploding shells, screened the body of a man
mortally wounded for several hours while shrapnel was falling all
around. Pieces of exploded shell were picked up at a distance of several
miles, though curiously some buildings of public importance in the
immediate vicinity, over which flew pieces of shrapnel, suffered less
than they might have done from a March gale. In the face of danger
responsible heads made a desperate endeavour to clear away as many of
the shells as possible, and in the teeth of it all a Midland driver and
fireman, with death staring them in the face, coupled up and cleared
away a train load of shells.
Many medical men were in readiness to give help as near as it was
possible to approach, and one of these had an alarming experience. He
was about to start his motor when a violent explosion occurred, and he
had scrambled under the car for protection just as a large piece of
shell crashed into its working parts, and left him stranded. Elaborate
preparations were made at the local hospitals, but the cases requiring
aid were few.
The Big Explosion
The explosions commenced at 10.45 p.m., and continued to rave violently
to 6 o’clock the following morning, and intermittently till about 3
o’clock the following afternoon. Many people will remember, as long as
memory serves them, the terrific explosion which occurred about 3 a.m.
First there was a sort of demonical hissing and blue flame, and the next
half minute a collapse of plate-glass and windows in all directions. The
glare in the sky from the fire was seen from the outskirts of Liverpool.
In the country districts farmers became obsessed with the idea that a
great raid was in progress, yoked up, and took their families away to
the fells, in all directions. Buzzers sounded in vain from employment
the following morning at many establishments, and scholars who attended
school were either sent home out of consideration for the fact that
neither teachers nor children had had sleep, or mothers, stirred by some
new alarm, demanded their instant release. Workers displaced were
immediately transferred to another part of the country.
The Ministry of Munitions at once appointed an assessor for claims for
damage, which were innumerable, and all were met in a reasonable spirit.
The heads of the Ministry were early on the scene, and displayed a
humane interest in the matter which reflected every credit on the
Department, and the King himself showed practical sympathy. In
proportion to the nature of the disaster the material damage was
relatively small. The Ministry of Munitions afterwards conveyed through
the public authorities their appreciation of the gallant services
rendered by fire brigades and the timely response of many voluntary
The censorship at the time barred reference to the disaster other than
the brief communiqués of the Press Bureau, which concisely gave the
facts, and the coroner’s inquests, which were exhaustively conducted by
Mr Neville Holden and his deputy Lieutenant Colonel H D Wilson, DSO.,
were not at the time allowed to be reported. The Ministry of Munitions,
however, afforded the fullest possible assistance in the inquiries, and
they showed that there was no slackness, or lack of foresight, or
provision in any way to cope with an untoward accident. The closest
inquiry, however, left the origin of the fire in obscurity.
The Death Roll
On 3rd December 1918, Lord Shuttleworth, Lord Lieutenant of the county,
distributed many distinctions awarded for bravery on that occasion, and
paid tribute to the valour of the race as then revealed in the deeds of
heroism of women and men. The official death roll in connection with the
disaster was as follows:
Firth Dole, 32, filler’s labourer
James Inglesent, 38, fireman
Thomas Henry Beck, 39, fireman
John Crowther, 37, fireman
Frederick Leslie, 38, fireman
Henry Thomas Taylor, 26, overlooker
William Henry Topping, 27, shell searcher
Ernest Duester, 26, fireman
Herbert Peterell, 26, Labourer
Male person – unidentified.
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