25 SEPTEMBER 2017 – ERIC JACKSON: THE BARNBOW LASSES
Mr Jackson’s interest in the Barnbow munitions works was aroused when he found the names of two women, Jane Few and Helena Beckett, on the war memorial at All Saints Church in Pontefract. They had been among 35 women killed in an explosion at the works on the night of 5 December 1916. Today there is little to see of the works, but during the First World War 16,000 people were employed there, 93% of them women. Barnbow was opened in 1915 as a shell filling factory in response to the British army’s massive demand for munitions. Working there was dangerous, not only because of the risks of explosions, but also because of the damage exposure to explosives did to the long term health of the women. However, wages at Barnbow were high – on average £3 a week – and free rail transport was provided to the works and this attracted women workers from York, Pontefract and Castleford as well as Leeds. Although the site was cleared after the First World War, the memory of the Barnbow lasses has been revived in recent years in a number of ways among them several memorials, streets named after some of the victims of the 1916 explosion and a play.