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Memorial honours Leeds factory workers for their bravery

Gemma Davy, the great-niece of Jane Swift who died in the tragedy, by the memorial. PIC: Simon Hulme

Gemma Davy, the great-niece of Jane Swift who died in the tragedy, by the memorial. PIC: Simon Hulme

  • by Alison Bellamy
 

A memorial marking the courage of dozens of workers who lost their lives at a factory in Leeds during the First World War has been unveiled.

At a ceremony in Manston Park, Cross Gates, a memorial stone and plaque for the Barnbow workers was unveiled by council leader Coun Keith Wakefield and Coun Pauleen Grahame (Lab, Cross Gates).

They were joined by Gemma Davy and Graham Sykes, who are descendants of people involved in the tragedies.

The number one shell filling Barnbow factory was built at Manston and started production in August 1915.

A total of 17,000 workers, mainly women, worked in extremely hazardous conditions to provide shells and munitions for British and allied forces until the end of the war in November 1918.

But in December 1916, 35 women were killed in an explosion at the factory, with many more seriously injured.

In March 1917, a second explosion killed two more. In May 1918, a third explosion killed three men.

Coun Wakefield said: “It’s an honour to unveil the memorial to those who lost their lives.

“The turnout was tremendous as we remembered these tragedies, which are not that well known outside Cross Gates due to a media blackout during the First World War.”

He added: “It is only right and proper that we pay tribute to those who lost their lives, so future generations won’t forget the sacrifice.”

The memorial honours those who died and their rescuers, who displayed incredible courage and selflessness despite the fear of further explosions.

The plaque listing the names of the victims is accompanied by boards which tell the story of the women, who are often known as the Barnbow Lasses.

Prayers at the event were given by Churches Together LS15, while there was also a poetry reading by Richard Burgon, of Thompsons solicitors.

Pupils from local schools read out the names of those who died in the explosions.

The East Leeds History and Archaeological society worked with Leeds City Council on establishing the memorial.

 

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