Updated: Feb 26
This month sees the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended four years of worldwide conflict, which cost the lives of countless people from many different countries.
Health and safety as we know it can tend to go out of the window in times of war, and in general this was the same in the 1914-1918 conflict. However there were some notable exceptions.
With most men of working age signed up to the war effort, it was down to the women for the first time to work the factories across the country. Those in the munitions factories in particular were working long hours to provide their loved ones with the ammunition they needed on the Front Line. The Ministry for Munitions established a "Health of Munitions Workers Committee" in 1915 to "consider and advise on questions of industrial fatigue, hours of labour, and other matters affecting the physical health and physical efficiency of workers in munition factories ad workshops."
Throughout the war, the Committee produced ten reports which helped improve the health and safety of the women working in the factories. These included providing work canteens to improve nutritional standards within the factories. Bovril and Oxo became the standard canteen lunch for many of them.
Three eight hour shift patterns were introduced, which included an hour for lunch and other breaks in the shifts. Sunday working was enforced except in emergencies. Overtime was only to be used in emergencies as well.
Measures were introduced to prevent exposure to hazardous substances, including the introduction of a hierarchy of control measures similar to what we have today.
So while the husbands and boyfriends were fighting for our freedom, the wives and girlfriends were doing their bit, and the benchmarks for our modern health and safety laws were being introduced.
It would be totally improper for me not to mention our eternal gratitude at this time to the millions who fought so that we can be free in not only the First World War, but also in all conflict - those that gave up their lives, were injured, suffered ill health or survived unhurt.
Within my own family, several of my great great uncles gave their lives in the conflict. These are commemorated on my personal family history website http://www.myfamilyhistory.me/p/world-war-heroes.html
Thank you to all those who fought at the time, and also for all those who played their part in developing health and safety principles that formed the linchpin of what we have in place today.
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
WILFRED OWEN, K-I-A one week before Armistice 1918