Tea with PM for Leeds Canary Girls

FLASHBACK: The Barnbow factory.
FLASHBACK: The Barnbow factory.
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They were the workers who the war turned yellow – the “canary girls” who manned the munitions factories in two world wars and whose skin was turned a lurid shade of yellow by the toxic chemicals with which they were forced to work.

Explosions were common, and in December 1916, 35 women died at the Barnbow factory in Cross Gates – the single biggest loss of life in Leeds’ history.

The event was hushed up at the time, for fear of damaging the nation’s morale, but yesterday a campaign to give the munitions workers official recognition was given prime ministerial blessing.

Theresa May took afternoon tea at Downing Street with veterans of the factories, and promised to explore other ways of honouring their contribution to the war effort.

“Their work was vital to the war,” Mrs May said when she agreed to the meeting.

“Their work was, in one sense, absolutely routine, but in another sense, it was extremely dangerous, and we should recognise their efforts.

“They produced vital equipment for the armed forces that helped us to victory.”

Mrs May had been urged to receive representatives of the Canary Girls campaign by North Hertfordshire MP Bill Wiggin, who called for an award to recognise their contribution.

But Mrs May told him at an earlier Commons debate: “For practical reasons, it is not possible to pursue individual awards.”

Most of the buildings at Barnbow were demolished by the mid-1920s but the remains of the factory were added last year to the national heritage list.