The Chilwell catastrophe: Fatal explosion on the home front

It is the pictures of the vast warehouses of shells, six hundred thousand of them, that is most shocking: that they could all be fired in just two or three days.

Heritage Calling

On 1 July 1918, at 7.10pm, a catastrophic explosion tore through the National Shell Filling Factory at Chilwell, Nottinghamshire.

The blast killed 134 workers and injured 250 – the biggest loss of life from a single accidental explosion during the First World War.

Rubbe and remains of a destroyed factory building after the blast A large part of the factory site was reduced to rubble after the explosion. © Historic England/AA96-03585.

Eight tons of TNT had detonated without warning, flattening large parts of the plant and damaging properties within a three mile area. The colossal blast was heard 30 miles away.

Eye witness, Lottie Martin, a worker at the factory, later recalled: ‘…Men, women and young people burnt, practically all their clothing burnt, torn and disheveled. Their faces black and charred, some bleeding with limbs torn off, eyes and hair literally gone…’

A destroyed factory building pictured after the blast Many factory buildings were twisted and distorted by the force of the blast. © IWM HU96428.

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