First World War
Second World War
Actions & Movements
© Images are copyright, Trustees of the King's Own Royal Regiment Museum.
You must seek permission prior to
publication of any of our images.
The Great War Centenary - 1917
From Front Line to White Lund
White Lund Disaster
The personal experiences of Haworth Nuttal
The personal experiences of Haworth Nuttall, of Number 13, National
Filling Factory, Morecambe, where he seems to have been a manager’s
Some facts and figures about Number 13 National Filling Factory,
White Lund, Morecambe
Situation up to 1st October 1917
||2nd December 1915
|First Shell Filled
||18th July 1916
|Shells to date
|Amount of Amatol
|Sizes of Shell Filled
||60 pdr. 6” 8” 9.2” 12”
|Area of works
||1,100,000 sq ft
|Number of buildings
|Output per week
||First week of October 1917
“Coming Events Cast Their Shadow Before”
A beautiful Autumn evening, date 1st October 1917; just on the edge of
twilight – the sun having half an hour previously dipped down behind the
Cumberland Hills, time 6.15 p.m., I left my Morecambe home, 24 Albert
Road, to take up duty for the night at the National Filling Factory No.
Accompanying me was my friend, John Crowther, and on this particular
night his wife followed us a little way up the street, jokingly saying
she would ascertain for herself as to whether we took up with any girls
en route to work. Alas, poor woman, if only we had taken the invitation
of two girls we met coming from work, Jack would, in all probability,
have been now in the land of the living. These two particular girls said
“Don’t go to work this lovely night, but come on with us to the Tower”.
Jack touched on of them under the chin, and said, using his blunt
Lancashire dialect, “Till see you on Saturday Love.”
As we were passing through the cornfield we noticed shooting through the
sky a Ball of Fire, practically in every appearance a Comet. Seemingly
as it reached the Factory it burst and dropped to the ground. I felt a
little nerved and turned to Crowther saying, “Yon’s no Star, as there’s
none yet out”. He replied, “Then what’s it sign of”, and poor lad,
little did he then dream how soon he was to know.
Arriving at the Factory we parted, he going directly into the Danger
Buildings, and I into the General Office to receive my instructions for
I was seated in the Office with Mr Comyn, my Manager, going into various
matters, when Mr Stokes, the General Manager entered, saying “Good night
Comyn; Good night Nuttall”. It struck me then as being very unusual for
Mr Stokes to do this, but it never entered by head how soon, and on what
mission I should, that night, have to call him back to the Factory.
Amongst my instructions from Mr Comyn was that I had to go and see
Crowther personally regarding the untidy condition the girls had left
his Unit in the previous night. It appeared the Danger Building Officer
had to stop production in this Unit during the day for fear it would
After Mr Comyn left, Mr Hemsworth, the night manager, told me to give
all assistance possible with the 12” shells, as the Ministry were
desirous of us going in excess of our allocation if at all possible.
I went into the Factory about 8.30 p.m., walked through every section,
and was satisfied that the manufacture of the implements of destruction
was being carried out in a satisfactory and speedy manner. On seeing
Crowther my message was delivered, and when leaving him he said he
wanted to see me after supper; what for, I do not, nor shall I ever
know. He actually said “Ta Ta”, which I afterwards realised was “Good
bye on this earth, maybe we shall meet in some other world”.
On leaving Jack I went on to 6C Section, and in going through there I
found it was close on 10 p.m., so wended by way down to the Canteen, and
sat down to a supper I never finished.
“With us when storm is sweeping o’er our pathway dark and drear
waking hope within our bosoms; stilling every anxious fear.”
Readers, picture a clear starry night, still, with a beautiful full moon
lighting up the country around. Then picture the writer, seated with the
Foreman and Staff at supper. Go still further, and picture seeing a
flare of light shoot high into the heavens, and imagine you were there,
and knew that one of England’s largest explosives factories had taken
fire; yes, taken fire, with the full knowledge that there was no chance
of coping with it. You can only imagine these things – we lived them in
Immediately on seeing the glare I went at headlong speed in the
direction of same, and on arriving there found that the upstairs section
of 6C Unit was one mass of flames. The room contained a large quantity
of T.N.T. ready for going in the agitator for melting. The room
underneath was crammed full of 12” shells, filled and partly filled,
with an adjoining room which contained 6” filled shells, Amatol, Trotyl,
and other high explosives.
I knew the place was doomed, and realised that an explosion would occur
as soon as the flames reached the loaded shells. Providence however
seemed to keep the flames away from these shells for fully 20 minutes,
and I am sure it is due to this fact that the death roll was not much
Suddenly it dawned upon me that the Night Manager was away home at
Supper, and knowing that my duties would be at the main gates and
general office I made my way there at once. In proceeding there I had to
pass through the crowd of girls who had congregated round the office and
gates. The moaning and screaming of these girls was terrible, and I
afterwards learnt that their cries could be heard a matter of two miles
I gave the police instructions to open the gates at once, went and told
the telephone operator to notify the General Manager, told him also to
commandeer the Lancaster Fire Brigade, made my way to the Garage,
brought out a car, and instructed a mechanical fitter to bring in Mr
Stokes. Again I proceeded to the gates, and found that they had not as
yet been opened; but when the car was approaching they were thrown open,
and I was carried clean out with the half frantic girls. From the
commencement of the fire to the girls getting out was only a matter of
about ten minutes, but I vouch to say it appeared to the more like ten
Outside the gate a temptation came over me to make myself as scarce as
possible, and get to some safe cover, and then realised that life is not
always the first thing to be thought of. Casting to one side this
temptation I ran into the factory area, never again expecting to come
Making my way to the Fire Station the man in charge informed me that all
instructions were being carried out, and therefore I could do nothing
I went towards the scene of the fire, going round the back of the
factory to see what service I could be. A slight explosion occurred, but
I wended my way on until I could see the firemen, foremen, over lookers
etc., in their vain endeavour to fight the flames.
Suddenly an unwanted gleam of light shot up, lighting up the heavens for
miles around, followed by a terrific, deafening explosion. I was lifted
clean off my feet, and carried through the air – how far I cannot tell,
but when I recovered I found myself in a ditch of water, my clothes torn
to rags, covered with mud, wet to the skin, and my lip and nose
bleeding. I had heard soldiers from France in relating their experience
of being wounded state that they only knew of wounds received when they
see the blood, and naturally at the moment I was under the impression I
was really worse injured than happily I was.
This explosion cut off all electric lights, and telephonic
communications, and another thing we have all to be thankful for is that
there was a beautiful full moon to guide our steps.
I looked round, and the fire seemed to be dying out, and nothing but
black suffocating smoke could be seen issuing from the building.
Overjoyed at this I was about to get hold of a hose pipe to play on the
ruins when my heart sank within me, for in every section I could put my
eyes on ten to twenty small fires were springing up, all of which had
been caused with burning projectiles thrown about with the explosion.
It was easy to ascertain what a terrible time was before us, and
regaining my feet, off I bounded to take shelter behind one of the
transit sheds. No sooner was I there than off went another bang, and the
flames seemed to fly like lightening to the place that was affording me
shelter. Off I made again, and explosion followed explosion like a huge
Ultimately I reached the general office, and entered to procure my torch
light. The inside of the offices were in a wrecked state, but crawling
through this wreckage I was able to secure the object of my visit.
After ascertaining the further efforts to subdue the flames were useless
I took it upon myself to withdraw to a place of safety.
Commencing to run in the direction of Bare village a terrible fright
came over me, and then I realised what a precious thing life really was.
Buildings filled with live shells were being blown up, shrapnel was
flying around me, and the field I passed through was literally strewn
with lumps of steel.
At every explosion I went headlong into dykes and heard pieces of shell
whistling over my head, and dropping, yards, sometimes a few feet away
from me, with a dead like thud into the ground.
At least I reached Bare, and crouched under the sea wall, feeling then,
for the first time, well out of the danger zone.
“Other Refuge Have I None Hangs My Hapless Soul on Thee; Leave, Ah!
Leave Me Not Alone Still Support and Comfort Me”
Here at Bare, seeking shelter under the sea wall, were hundreds of men,
women and children, practically all clad in their night attire.
Realising that owing to the uncertainty regarding the distance to which
fragments and debris may be projected I had no difficulty in persuading
everyone in the vicinity to take cover at ever explosion.
Women were moaning for their husbands, relatives etc., who had that
night been working at the factory, terror stricken children were crying,
and men with anxious faces were doing their utmost to calm both. The few
of us there who were au fait with the factory were praying that the
flames would not reach the magazines. Fortunately they did not. If they
had done, the result I cannot tell.
About 3 a.m. the most violent explosion occurred. The home of my mother
‘Clowbridge’ Burnley, is a matter of 45 miles distance from the factory,
and situated amongst the hills, but the force of this, and the first
explosion was plainly heard by my mother, sister, and in fact everyone
in the neighbourhood. They tell me that the windows shook as though
there was an earthquake, and everyone rose from their beds fearing that
the Zepps. Were about. I afterwards learnt that this explosion at 3 a.m.
was No. 4 Melt, in which was a large quantity of filled 8” and 12”
Russian shells, all filled with pure T.N.T. and the most deadly weapons
produced in the factory.
After this I ventured along the promenade to the West End of the town,
on arriving at the home of a particular friend was overjoyed to learn
that this friend was safe. Here I stayed for a matter of about 1 hour,
and then wended my may in the direction of 24 Albert Road.
“Heaven’s Morning Breaks, and Earth’s Van Shadows Flee; In Life, In
Death, O Lord Abide with Me”.
With aching heart, and uncertain step I arrived at 24, Albert Road, and
was immediately confronted with the question, “Where is Jack?” The
expression that came over my face must have told them its own sorrow
tale, for Allan, his son, and Susannah, his wife, immediately broke
down. As best I could I told them that I thought he would be alright,
as, as far as I knew there was no one killed, but a few injured, and
Jack might be amongst the injured, and been taken to the hospital. At
the time I had my doubts that Jack would never again come across the
threshold of 24, Albert Road, as he had gone:-
“Through a hell of fire to hero’s end!
What nobler death could fortune send?”
About 8 a.m. along with Mr Hemsworth I made my way to the factory, just
to see how matters were there. We had got to within about 200 yards of
the place when No. 2 Unit caught fire, and immediately another terrible
explosion occurred. Large pieces of shrapnel were thrown all around us,
and the only shelter we could find was a stone gate post. This gate post
we clung to until the danger had passed. We ultimately reached the
factory, and after being there a few minutes were compelled to withdraw
owing to the continual explosion of individual shell.
Again I arrived at 24, Albert Road, changed from my rags, had a good
bath, proceeded to the Headquarters in Morecambe, the West View Hotel,
and was soon busy taking down the evidence of the men who had made a
vain endeavour to fight the fire.
Tuesday night arrived, but with no Jack. His poor wife kept continually
asking me if I thought here was any chance for him, and if I thought he
had been hurt and taken to the hospital, but I knew there was no hope,
as I had phoned all the hospitals in the neighbourhood, and been
informed by them that he was not there. When I told her this she
weepingly said she would not care if they only found part of him so that
she could take him home to bury, and her wish was granted, particulars
of which I will give in my next chapter.
“The Lord Gave, And the Lord Hath Taken Away.”
On the Wednesday morning about 3 a.m. I was awakened from my slumber by
another rather heavy explosion, and in the dreary dark stillness that
followed, everything that had happened sprung up so vividly before me.
My nerves felt unstrung, and I was terror stricken. I lay there, and
ultimately, with thankful heart, saw the dawn of a new day.
Arising, I partook of a light breakfast, (my first meal since the half
finished supper) attended to my correspondence, which mainly consisted
of enquiries as to my safety, then made my way again to the
Headquarters, the West View Hotel.
On arrival I was informed, that a body, supposed to be that of Crowther
had been found, and at the request of on factory officials I proceeded
down to the factory for the purpose of identifying this body, and as
many of the others as possible.
Reaching the factory I was ushered into the hospital, and there laid out
on the cold bare floor were the bodies of six dead heroes. Yes, when
men’s souls are tried they are not often found wanting. Most men are of
heroic stuff, but few men know it. A catastrophe like this at Morecambe
brings out the noblest qualities. It took every ounce of self denial to
go back into that burning factory, and stand by duty. The call for self
preservation was unheard by those men when duty raised her voice.
Reverently the sheets were taken from the bodies one after the other,
and I found no difficulty in identifying Jack. Had I not been so
familiar with his clothes, however, I fear my task would have been
practically hopeless. God forbid me ever telling anyone who knew him
with his happy smile the condition his features then bore. In my
imagination I can now see him, yes, with his happy smile, and with
ghastly appearance he then had, and always shall I regret having seen
him then like he was.
As surmised he would, in all probability, be killed in one of the first
explosions. He was found where I saw them playing on the fire; his feet
entangled in piping, and his head resting on the ground. The following
day his watch was found in the same place, burnt and broken, but we
could plainly see that it had stopped at 12.45. Maybe that it had run
down at this time the following day, else it had stopped with the
concussion of one of the explosions.
On reaching 24, Albert Road, to notify his wife I found that she had
already heard. What inward grief and pain we all know a woman suffers
when sorrows brings no tear to the eye.
“Thank God – Bless God – all ye who suffer not
More grief than ye can weep for.”
She had already shed so many tears that she could cry no more. The only
consolation I could offer her was that Jack had died as a great hero and
martyr as anyone on the Field of Flanders. The reply she gave me was
“Thank God you are saved Haworth”, and at that I completely broke down.
The car then called for me and I was driven to the County Hotel,
Lancaster, the new headquarters for the purpose of giving the officials
from Vickers, Barrow in Furness, and the officials from the Ministry of
Munitions, London, as much information as I possibly could regarding the
sad calamity that had befallen the factory.
That day Jack’s body along with the others was conveyed to the Morecambe
Mortuary, and his wife, along with his two sisters, who had made the way
to Morecambe immediately on receiving notification that Jack was
missing, were allowed to go and view him, but only from the knees
downwards. May be they would have liked to see his face, but I am sure
it was for the best that this privilege was not acceded to.
On arriving home from Lancaster they notified me that I was wanted at
the police station. I went there right away, and was summoned to attend
the inquest on the unfortunate victims the following day.
Along with Mrs Crowther I attended the inquest, which was held in the
town hall, Morecambe. This was the first I had ever attended in my life,
and I trust to God it will be the last.
One thing occurred just previous to the commencement of the inquest that
struck me rather forcibly, and made me wonder did even death bring
forgiveness to some mothers in law. The occurrence was two women, one
the wife of one of the victims, and the other the mother having a ‘barn’
as to where this poor lad’s remains should be laid to rest.
The jury in passing a word of sympathy on to the bereaved stated that
the only verdict they could arrive at was that these brave men had lost
their lives accidentally, whilst attending to duty. Aye, when duty gave
one big call they were not found wanting.
“Change and Decay in all around I see: O thou, who changest not,
abide with me.”
The first thing one notices on entering Morecambe, Lancaster and the
villages in the immediate vicinity, is that practically all, the window
frames are minus the panes, and on getting nearer to the factory one
sees an occasional building minus the roof. The fields around have
already been practically cleared of shrapnel by people bent on
possessing warlike souvenirs of the greatest explosions known to have
occurred in England.
On arriving at the factory on the Friday morning I found no difficulty
in obtaining the necessary permission to escort a friend over the ruins.
Several times since the explosion had I traversed the grounds, but her I
will give you an insight into prevailing conditions as we found them
Passing in at the main gates we noticed that the General Offices, and
Motor Garages are burnt to the ground, with the adjoining building,
known as the canteen, practically in an undamaged state.
We now get a full view of the havoc wrought to what are termed the
danger buildings. These buildings consisted of charge houses, discharge
houses, incorporating houses, stemming rooms, press houses, finishing
rooms, transit sheds, offices and stores, all connected one building
with the other by wooden runways, the length of these runways being four
miles. On Monday night at 10 p.m. they were equipped with the most
modern machinery for shell filling: today they lie one mass of ruins,
and in them, well a fortune for a scrap iron dealer.
The power house, paint shop, bond store (with the exception of about
six) magazines, and hospital, all stood the effects of the explosion
magnificently, and with the exception of broken windows, and a few
shrapnel holes in roof came out with, a severe shock.
Gathering up a few souvenirs we made our way again to the main gate, and
on reaching there I was not informed that I could that day go home on
the 3 o’clock train to enable to me to pay a last homage to my lost
friend Jack Crowther. It had been arranged that Jack should be interred
at the United Methodist Free Church, Loveclough, near Rawtenstall, (one
miles from where he spent his childhood’s happy days), on the Saturday
Mrs Crowther, Mr Watson, Mr and Mrs Scaum, and myself all travelled
along together by this train. The remains of Jack followed in a later
En-route to Burnley the main topic of conversation by people in the
carriage was ‘the big explosion at Morecambe’. Little they knew how near
home this explosion had been brought to a least one of our number.
Actually some of them said they knew for certain no one was killed,
whilst others said they had heard hundreds were killed. We kept a silent
tongue, as we knew full well the actual circumstances of just what had
“Be it ever so humble, There’s no place like home.”
Burnley was reached about 6 p.m. A cold North wind was blowing, and the
rain was falling in torrents. Mr Watson kindly gave me an invitation up
to his home, but I refused, as I was so anxious to get to my own home;
knowing full well what a welcome would be waiting me from my mother the
only person who knows the best and worst, and still loves me in spite of
all my faults.
After a three miles walk through the country I reached Clowbridge, and
immediately my mother saw me she burst into tears, and naturally I
She told me how Sister Maggie and herself had been awakened out of their
sleep by a terrible explosion, how my Aunt had jokingly said “What about
your Howarth if the Zepps are at Morecambe/”, how they listened terror
stricken to explosion after explosion, how she received the news the
following day that Morecambe factory had “gone up”, she knowing full
well that I was on night duty, and how she felt when she heard the
rumour that I was missing, (I might here state that a rumour was
circulated in the district that I was amongst the missing), and what a
burden it took from her when she knew that I was safe.
I related by experience to her, and then went to see my relatives and
friends, also Crowther’s mother, but dwelt on details of the explosion
as little as possible.
Jack’s body arrived at his mother’s home, 200 yards from our house, at
midnight that night.
“Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was,
and the spirit shall return to god who gave it.”
On Saturday afternoon 6th October, 1917, John Crowther was laid to his
last resting place just about ten yards from the grave of my father.
When the bier bearing the corpse passed by father’s grave I then
realised what a miracle it was that this grave was not open to take a
corpse as well.
Hundreds of people had gathered off the neighbouring hills and dales to
pay a final tribute to the dead hero.
On the coffin itself a few handfuls of dirt were thrown as the ominous
words of the dreaded ritual sounded in the gathering gloom, “Ashes to
ashes, Dust to dust.”
His heartbroken wife and son had to be assisted from the grave side,
leaving behind that shell of all they had loved and worshipped to the
chill of Earth’s desolate embrace.
As I look one lingering look at the coffin, a piece of prose, which I
had often recited in the presence of Jack and all at 24, Albert Road,
Morecambe, flashed across my mind. That prose was:-
“Yours is the happier lot; you are freed
For ever from the grim unloveliness
Of these damned days; from all the beastliness
That hems us like a gaol – the sorrow greed
Of fame and guerdon never satisfied; you need
No more to brood into fresh wakefulness
The tired Spirit; you have forgetfulness
Of all mean things; pain no longer heed.
So, then, I cannot, as me thought I should,
Grieve over this severance of brotherhood;
But must rejoice always that you should aim
So high in life, by sacrifice have gained
The highest, and in the rude stone cross
Must see a triumph that outweighs all loss.”
We left, after seeing the grave partly covered, and then, I returned
when the dusk of the evening had come on, and not a sound disturbed the
sacred stillness of the place – when the bright moon poured her light on
tomb and monument, on pillar, wall, and arch, and most of it (it seemed
to me) on his quiet grave in that calm time when outward things and
inward thoughts teem with assurance of immortality, and worldly hopes
and fears are humbled in dust – then with tranquil and submissive heart
I turned away, and left him with God.
Farewell John! Farewell, my more than brother! It is but for a little
“Lead, kindly light, amid th’ encircling gloom,
Lead thou me on;
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead thou me on;
Keep thou my feet; I would not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.”
On the Sunday afternoon I returned to Morecambe, and after assisting
there in the squaring up of matters was ultimately transferred to the
Scottish Filling Factory, Georgetown, Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland.
The afternoon before I took my departure for Scotland I walked along the
Morecambe sands, picturing in my memory the pleasant faces, and
recalling joyous tones of the many whom I had known. Other people were
about, but they all seemed strangers to me, and I to them; and as I
marked how wave after wave rolled up the shore, with its murmur and its
foam, each sweeping farther than the other, each effacing the traces of
the last, I saw an emblem of the passing generations, and was content to
find that my place knew me no more.
Maxwelton braes may be bonny; Loch Lomond at sunset may stand out as one
of the finest scenes; but to me these places have no charms. In my
loneliness life seems now to hold nothing, and yet I ought to be
thankful and make use of the life that was spared me.
The lads on the battlefield are enduring practically every day similar
experiences to what I had. God be with them.
Here as I conclude I pray that never again shall I have the experience I
had the first week of the tenth month nineteen hundred and seventeen.
© Images are copyright, Trustees of the King's Own Royal Regiment Museum.
You must seek permission prior to
publication of any of our images.
Only a proportion of our collections
are on display at anyone time. Certain items are on loan for display
in other institutions. An appointment is required to consult any of
our collections which are held in store.