“It Turned Us Yellow All Over”: Health Care Provision for Munition Workers During the First World War

This talk by Dr Claire Chatterton, Staff Tutor at the Open University in the North West and Chair of the Royal College of Nursing's History of Nursing Society, will mark the refurbishment of the First World War: Returning Home exhibition which is part of the 100-year anniversary of the conflict.

Link to “It Turned Us Yellow All Over”: Health Care Provision for Munition Workers During the First World War  event
Wednesday, 21st June, 2017
18:30 - 20:00
University of Chester Riverside Museum

Dr Claire Chatterton from the Open University in the North West and Chair of the Royal College of  History of Nursing Society,  will speak about munitions workers at 7pm and there will be an opportunity to visit the refurbished exhibition before and after the talk.

Thousands of women and men volunteered to work in factories producing armaments to supply the British war effort but the health hazards they encountered were considerable.  Perhaps the most well-known health impact resulted from filling shells with the explosive TNT (trinitrotoluene) which often turned workers’ skin yellow, leading to the nickname of ‘canaries’. Munitions work was strenuous, physical labour which often involved operating machinery and lifting large and heavy loads. Working hours were long with few breaks and the work was repetitive. Noisy working environments led to  hearing loss and workplace accidents were common place. Explosions led to significant losses of life. Other munition workers died of the effects of poisoning by the chemicals they were exposed to.

Although much has been written about the vital role played by both women and men in producing munitions and the impact that this had on their health, less is known about the provision of health and nursing care to this workforce. This presentation will aim to increase understanding of the ways in which heath care was provided for those working in the munition factories and the contribution that nurses made to this.

The University of Chester Museum, based at the University’s Riverside Campus on Castle Drive, contains a permanent collection of curiosities from the world of medicine, nursing, midwifery and social work. In addition, the First World War: Returning Home exhibition provides an insight into what a soldier invalided back from the Front would have found on his return to Cheshire. Using local examples wherever possible, the exhibition covers aspects such as treatment at the Front, volunteer nursing, a doctor’s country practice, home life, food and recipes and social welfare. 

Opened in 2014, the exhibition has now been refurbished with the generous help of the Heritage Lottery Fund and Big Heritage and this event will mark the re-opening of the exhibition. Both the permanent collection and the First World War exhibition will be open before the talk (from 6pm to 6:50pm) and afterwards.

The talk and museum visits are free of charge, but please confirm your attendance with Roger Whiteley for refreshment purposes: r.whiteley@chester.ac.uk, 01244 511614.

The University’s Faculty of Health and Social Care (FHSC) Historical Society aims to unite individuals with an interest in medicine, nursing, midwifery and social work across the University and the wider community. The Society meets regularly for a range of talks and discussion and anyone with an interest in health and social care or social/local history is welcome to attend.

Full details on the programme of events are available here and group visits for six or more people to the museum can be accommodated by arrangement with Roger Whiteley.

 Dr Claire Chatterton