Keen to continue their already successful studies on the First World War, Fyling Hall Year 9 pupils, Toby and Tomas, carried out independent research into two important aspects of the Great War. The pieces below are their own independent research following some of suggestions by their History teacher, Mrs Harrington. Well done, boys!
The canary Girls – The unseen heroes of the First World War
In 1915, while men were fighting on the battlefields, thousands of women were answering the government’s cry for help by joining the war effort. They signed up to fill the gaps left by the men who were called into service, taking jobs in transport, engineering, mills and factories to keep the country moving. However, even though they did not experience the horror of the trenches, their jobs were nonetheless fraught with danger. Munitions workers battling the “shell crisis” of 1915 were prime targets for enemy fire, with factories routinely flattened by enemy bombs. The German bombings would cause a massive explosion, killing anyone inside the factory. The women who were spared such a fate were no less safe, facing the daily peril of handling explosive chemicals that carried the risk of them contracting potentially fatal diseases. The effects of their work were immediately visible with a horrid shade of yellow that stained their skin and hair and gave them the nickname, the Canary Girls. These symptoms were caused by trinitrotoluene which is an explosive, commonly known as TNT. The symptoms were even passed onto their babies, which were born bright yellow. As well as having the yellow skin consequence of working with TNT, the women were also in huge risk of amputation with every shell that passed through their hands. One of the workers even went as far to say, “In the factories, we would take the casing, fill it with powder, then put a detonator in the top and that had to be tapped down. If we tapped too hard, it would detonate.” The fear of explosions was so large that women were not even allowed to wear nylon or silk and they were not even allowed metal hair clips because they could cause sparks by friction. Of those who survived life in the factories, many had health problems later in life. Some had bone disintegration, whilst others developed throat problems and dermatitis from TNT staining. It was a very dangerous job and it is undeniable that these women, were heroes of the war.
The fateful voyage of the Lusitania
The Lusitania was a British passenger ship that was owned by the Cunard Line and was first launched in 1906. It was built as a passenger ship for wealthy customers and so was luxurious and renowned for its speed. During World War I the Lusitania was sunk by a German torpedo, resulting in great loss of life. In May 1915 the British ocean liner was sailing from New York City to Liverpool, England. Following reports of German U-boat activity along the Irish coast, the Lusitania was warned to avoid the area and to adopt the evasive tactic of zigzagging. Many people believed that the Lusitania couldn’t be hit as it was too fast and was too big to be hit. But this was a lie. Nearly 1,200 people were killed. The ship sank within 20 minutes of being hit by a German torpedo. There has been a lot of thought about its quick sinking, which was partly why most of the passengers on board died. Most of these thoughts include a second explosion that occurred after the initial torpedo strike. Some people believe that there was a second torpedo hit by another U-boat and some people believe that there was only one torpedo but it caused major damage to the steam room and the bursting pipes caused the blast, hastening the Lusitania’s sinking. Other historians believe that the ship was carrying a cargo of ammunition and that it exploded. Whichever reason the ship sank though, the Germans were in big trouble. The British ocean liner’s sinking contributed to the United States’ entry into World War I but was not the only reason that they joined. Despite outrage over the incident, the U.S. government continued to keep their neutral stance for another two years. This may have been because they were waiting to gain all their supplies but may also have been the fact that the German government made an excuse that they did not realise that it was a passenger ship. However, at the end of 1916, the United States began to become worried about future attacks and finally they declared war in 1917.