The Wartime Memories Project - Royal Ordnance Factory, ROF 59, Aycliffe

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Royal Ordnance Factory, ROF 59 was situated at Aycliffe in County Durham. Building work began in May 1940 and the factory opened in April 1941. The workers, 90% of whom were women, worked in three shifts with production around the clock. The factory employed 17,000 people, special trains and buses were laid on to being workers from the surrounding area. On more than one occassion these buses and trains were straffed by German Aircraft. The Aycliffe "Angels" were often mentioned in Lord Haw Haw's broadcasts.

The work was very dangerous, and there were several accidents, on one night shift 4 women were killed in an explosion. On another occasion 8 workers lost thier lives. Many were injured by machinary, loosing fingers and limbs. The chemicals used in the explosives coloured the workers skin yellow and their hair red, many suffered skin complaints.

The factory closed at the end of the war and today the site is an industrial estate, some orgional buildings and blast bunds remain.

I volunteered to go to munitions factory, I enjoyed working there, hard work, we filled 40 lb bombs, I thought the work was was too heavy and I asked to be moved to something lighter. so I went onto the smiths shells, bullets, you had to put them on your hand then put them into the machine. Well, I had more on the floor than in the machine so I said "Oh no I'll go back on the 40 lb bombs". We filled the bombs with TNT, you had to, put the TNT in and press it down. When it was solid they'd bring a tilly and take them away to have the detonators fitted, they did that in a different part of the factory.

Our skin went yellow and our hair went ginger. You could come home and have a bath but when you went to bed, your sheets and all went pink, my Mam used to keep two sets just for me. People all knew where you worked with your yellow skin and red hair. I used to wonder if it was doing that to your skin what was it doing to inside, but I'm 86 years old and it hasnt hurt me at all.

I used to get a bus to Hartlepool and dash to get a train to Aycliffe a, bus would pick us up to take us from station to the factory. I worked all the war, for the first shift I got up at 4 to start work at 6, it was a 2 hr performance to get to work. I had two relations who lived in Hordon and travelled with us. We used to have a sing song on the train. One day a plane machine gunned the train, everyone on floor, at easington is a pub with bullet holes in the wall from where it fired at the train.

It was rare we went into the shelters at work, the whole factory was always blacked out at night. One night we wanted to go to abultions, we got in there and it looked different, there were mirrors and everything, then we realised, we were in the mens abulutions! We had a laugh about it.

One time there was an explosion at work on the shift before us, the smell in factory was horrible, 4 people had been killed. We had to work our full shift.

You had to get changed when you arrived at work, take out your hair grips and everything. We wore an overall and wore gloves, the smiths shells were rough and would prick your skin. We either wore gloves or wrapped our fingers with elastoplast, else by the time you finshed your shift you'd have no skin left.

We had some good times, we used to swap butter for sugar, tea for sugar, what ever you had left you'd swap for something you needed, exchanging clothing coupons and the like. One day someone said to me "Mrs Jones husbands is killing a pig, would you like pork?" I went to her house, just an ordinary house, I wondered where she kept the pig. She took me in and the bath was full of joints of pork! It was rough but we got through alright.

Sadie Holligan

If you worked at ROF Aycliffe we would love to hear from you.

Please contact us:

As 2005 is the 60th anniversary of the end of World War Two, we are celebrating by extending the Wartime Memories Project to collect as much material as possible. If you or any of your family or friends would like to contribute we would love to hear from you.
If you live in the UK we may be able to arrange to have our professional video crew record the telling of wartime stories, to create a lasting resource which will be used for education.
We would love to hear from anyone who would be interested in taking part.

Those who served at Royal Ordnance Factory, ROF 59, Aycliffe.

  • Ida Adams.
  • James Allan.
  • Betty Allison
  • V Armstrong.
  • Mrs M. M. Atkinson.
  • Isabella Bailey. (d. 2nd May 1945.)Read her story
  • M Banks.
  • Ruth Barker.
  • Elsie Barrett. (d. 2nd May 1945.) Read her story
  • Miss J. Barron.
  • Mrs. Bartle.
  • Miss D. Baxter.
  • Rhoda Beadle.
  • Ella Binks
  • Mr W. A. Bird.
  • G R Black.
  • Ruby Borlace.
  • James Bunton. (d. 2nd May 1945.) Read her story
  • Elizabeth Brown
  • D Brydon.
  • Ruby Carter
  • Teddie Caygill.
  • Miss J. Coates.
  • Vera Coates.
  • Vera Coulthard.
  • Alice Crawford.
  • Miss C. Crosse.
  • Miss M. Davidson.
  • Mrs A Dawson.
  • Mrs Mary Alice Dillon. Read her story
  • Alice Dixon. (d. 21st Feb 1942. aged 22)Read her story
  • Miss D. Dixon.
  • Lilian Dixon
  • Miss P.Dowson.
  • Gwen Eden.
  • W H Egglestone.
  • David Evans.
  • Mr W. Evans.
  • Miss T. Feeley.
  • Miss E. Fennessy.
  • Mrs I. Fawcett.
  • Maisie J Forster.
  • Miss N. Forster.
  • Patricia Garnett.
  • Mrs German.
  • Miss M. Gibson.
  • Miss W. M. Gill.
  • Alma Goldsmith
  • Florence Gray.
  • Olive Greaves.
  • E Guy.
  • Miss M. Hagan.
  • Laura Hardwick
  • Miss H. R. Hardy.
  • Miss M. J. Harrison.
  • Mrs. Hewerson.
  • Ruth Hewitt
  • J W Hill.
  • Miss D. P. Hinde.
  • E Hindmarsh.
  • William Clark Hobson. (d. 2nd May 1945.)Read her story
  • Miss M. Hodgson.
  • Nancy Hodgson
  • Winifred Holland
  • John Holligan.
  • Mrs. Sadie Holligan. Read her story
  • Miss G. J. J. Holloway.
  • Hazel Florence Howe.
  • J Huck.
  • Norman Hughes.
  • Captain Richard Humble. Factory Superintendent.
  • D Hunt.
  • Doris M Hutchinson.
  • Mr Illingworth.
  • Irene Irvin. (d. 21st Feb 1942. aged 24)Read her story
  • Janet Jackman.
  • Mr D. W. Jones.
  • Miss M. Jordan.
  • Bill Jury
  • Etty Kendall
  • Violet Kidd
  • Mr. H. A. Lacey.
  • Doris Lamb.
  • Austin Lamont. Forman, Group 1 C-shift.
  • Miss M. Langhorne.
  • E Larkin.
  • Margaret Laverick.
  • Miss A. Lee.
  • Mary Leech
  • Edith Lindale.
  • Miss E. J. Lightwood.
  • Miss E. M. Lloyd-Jones.
  • Edith Lowther
  • Mary McCormick
  • Miss S. Mackay.
  • Connie Makinson
  • Miss E. Mailer.
  • Norah Magee
  • Miss D. Mather.
  • Joyce Marshall
  • Mr. E. Maughan.
  • Mr J. H. Metcalfe.
  • Vera Miller
  • William Mitchell. (d. 2nd May 1945.)Read her story
  • Phoebe Morland. (d. 21st Feb 1942. aged 24)Read her story
  • Joe Neilson. Foreman
  • Gladys Nelson
  • Miss J. Newby.
  • Jennie Newell
  • Mrs A. Nicholls.
  • Mary Nixon
  • E C Palmer.
  • Jennie Palmer.
  • Miss M. Patterson.
  • Irene Pattinson
  • Joan Pattinson
  • G Peacock.
  • Rosemary Picken
  • Miss J. Pickering.
  • Miss R. Pocklington.
  • Audrey Proud.
  • Vera Rickerby
  • Edith Richardson
  • Sarah Lily Richardson
  • D Ritchie.
  • Sally Rostlow.
  • Miss H. Rowcliffe.
  • Mrs J. L. Schirmer.
  • Christopher Seagrave. (d. 2nd May 1945.) Read her story
  • Miss W. Scott.
  • Miss Elsie Shaw.
  • Don Short. Portsmouth Dock Yard. Read his story
  • Miss M. Slee.
  • Dorothy Smith.
  • Edmund Smith. (d. 2nd May 1945.)Read her story
  • Zoe Smith.
  • Ruth Soulsby
  • Mrs A. Steele.
  • Mrs E. Stephens.
  • Mr J. I. Stevenson.
  • Miss Gladys Stoddart. Read her story
  • O Stoves.
  • Miss M. Spence.
  • Queenie Suggett.
  • N Swann.
  • Miss N. Tait.
  • Joan Talbot
  • Edna Thompson. (d. 21st Feb 1942. aged 30) Read her story
  • Miss J. Thompson.
  • Mrs. Tindale.
  • Miss V. Topp.
  • Doris Urwin.
  • Ethel Varvill
  • Miss Ruth T. Vickery.
  • Galdys Walker.
  • Sadie Walker.
  • Lillian Watling.
  • Leading Fire Woman. Audrey Ware. Royal Ordnance Factory Fire Brigade. Read her story
  • Kitty Walton
  • Eric Welsh. messenger boy Read his story
  • Eva Welsh
  • Norah Welsh
  • Maisie White.
  • Major G. V. Wickham.
  • Alice Wilson. (d. 2nd May 1945.)Read her story
  • Elsie Wiper.
  • Miss K. E. Wood.
  • Edward "Ned" Worthington
  • Mrs Louvain Worthington
  • C J Wright.
  • Jane Wright
  • Peggy Young.

If you have any names to add to this list, or any recollections or photos of those listed, please get in touch.

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