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Disaster in August 1916. Unsung heroes a life changing event.

Updated on March 30, 2013
tonymead60 profile image

Tony is now a full-time writer and he has currently 4 published books with many others planned.

Low Moor Disaster

The Fireman, Low Moor Disaster
The Fireman, Low Moor Disaster

Disaster In Bradford

Sometimes when you sit down and write the words can take over, and you are no longer in charge of tehm; as if the page has a will of its own and must be heard. This happened to me here; the hub is nothing like I intended it to be; it was about grandma and the terrible injury she suffered during World War One, the war to end all wars.

Somehow, it changed and I felt the pain and hurt of all those people who suffered, not on the front line, but those who were left behind. Have you ever sat up and waited for your child to come home? How long does an hour seem, you know that really they will be alright, and that pretty soon they'll bounce in and wonder what all the fuss is about. But what if you had no idea where they were and you knew that their pals were being slaughtered by the hundred everyday. Now that takes some imagining. So I apologise if you get as upset and feel as sad as I have about these events.

On with the story.

When I was a little lad, my grandma used to take me to Scholemoor cemetery Bradford, to see a statue that must have been a sad reminder for her of a very significant event in her life.

The statue was dedicated to the firemen killed one August day in 1916.

A Canadian soldier kisses his daughter goodbye
A Canadian soldier kisses his daughter goodbye | Source

When will we learn.

The Somme 1916
The Somme 1916 | Source

Stalemate WWI

When the stalemate of the trenches began, it was obvious that it was not all going to be over for Christmas as the politicians had been promising since the outbreak of war in 1914. There was going to be a shortage of munitions. Every available factory was changed over to help with the manufacture of bombs, bullets, and shells. For the first time women were mobilised to work the land and in factories and other manufacturing.

The Explosion

In the words of Chief Officer Scott, " within half an hour of turning out to the fire, all 18 men were in the infirmary or killed ".

Bradford Munitions Disaster

On August 21st.1916 That day the worst industrial accident ever in the UK shook Bradford.

Low Moor Munitions Company was manufacturing the ingredients for explosive shells to be sent to the front lines far away in France. They were in particular producing and using ‘picric acid’ a substance related to the textile industry, which was Bradford’s main employer before the war. The workers were nicknamed ‘canaries’ because the chemical made their skins pale yellow. The substance at times was quite unstable as it reacted with the shell casings and could explode. Later TNT replaced it as this was much more stable.

A fire was reported and firemen arrived from local fire stations, there was a tremendous explosion and the firemen were blown off their fire-engines. The fire was now completely out of control, but worse was to come; burning debris was falling everywhere after the explosion. A large gasometer containing 270,000 cubic feet of gas was hit and punctured by falling debris. The following explosion is said to be the loudest bang ever heard in England, the heat was felt over a mile away. Surrounding houses were destroyed and windows were smashed for a radius of several miles.

The nearby railway was put out of action and a worker killed, almost 30 carriages and wagons were destroyed and 100 seriously damaged.

One thing which one eye witness recalls was the number of dogs running away in all directions, later to be found as far away as Wakefield, Huddersfield and Halifax some twenty miles from home.

Through her deafness, I heard the drums of War.

Ordinary people who had no idea why their loved ones were being slaughtered in foreign fields, just tried to get on with their lives as best as they could. Food and the stuff of their lives were becoming difficult to find, but then suddenly the war becomes a real living or rather dying thing. For most the death and horror were just stories in the newspapers until an event such as this awakens them to the reality.

On August 21st.1916 my grandma was going about her daily routine, she had no idea that the greed of nations, in particular, Kaiser Bill’s bloodlust and thirst for Germany’s expansion was about to change her life forever.

A slightly built girl hardly five foot tall who was an accomplished pianist who played regularly at her local church she was in the small scullery kitchen when suddenly her life was shattered and altered. The house windows disintegrated as the shock wave from over two miles away punched its way into the house. Cornered in the small kitchen the percussive effect that followed the initial shock was devastating and Grandma was deafened for the rest of her life. Although they saw several doctors, no help was available and her hearing was never restored.

There is no memorial or even a plaque to those civilians who were killed, or lost their homes. How many must have been in need of help, no one got councilling in those days, no celebraties came and lamented the horror of that day.

To the best of my knowledge there is not even a mention on the statue's base. I'm not saying there should not be a monument to the brave firefighters, far from it, I have great respect for them. The tragedy is that the civilian loss has never been recognised in the same way as the services in either World Wars, for the victims of the blitz, that went on in many cities night after night with thousands killed, displaced, lost and injured. Even merchant sailors who died in cold black seas far from home, just doing their job. Without whom we would have starved in Britain during both wars.

Plastic Poppies

World War one

The custom of selling poppies began in the United Kingdom on Armistice Day, 1921. The widows of some French ex-servicemen suggested the idea when they called on British commander in chief Earl Haig at the British Legion Headquarters. They brought with them some poppies they had made and thought that the sale of them could help victims of war.

The haunting poem written by John McCrae while serving on the battlefields of Flanders was thought to be the inspiration for this:

In Flanders fields the poppies grow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place, and in the sky

The larks still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard among the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved, and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

The services begin with two minutes of silence. Edward George Honey (1885-1922), an Australian journalist and soldier, first suggested the idea of a silent tribute to the persons who died in World War I. In 1919, his suggestion was adopted throughout the British Empire.

The aftermath, the break up of nations

The first World War was billed as the war to end all wars, well as we know that never came about, but the map of Europe was shaken up and four major players were changed forever. The German, Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman and Russian empires all changed. The Habsburgs, the Romanovs, the Hohenzollerns, and the Ottoman aristocracies were lost. France who lost 1.4 million soldiers was badly damaged. Britain slipped from being a major lending banker to being a major borrower.

The flu pandemic that devastated Europe after the war killed more than the war itself had done. It was mistakenly called Spanish flu, but it had originated in America and been brought over by the American troops.

By 1922, there were between 4.5 million and 7 million homeless children in

Russia as a result of nearly a decade of devastation from World War I, the Russian Civil War. It is thought 25 million died from a typhus epidemic. 750,000 German citizens died of starvation during the war due to the blockade of seaports.

The list seems endless and the horrors are without boundaries, so much so that I am overcome with grief as I write this article.

The situation, of course left the door wide open for the fascist parties of Europe to take a step nearer power. The Russians as always suspected everyone of trying to undermine them and closed their borders. Some say it was to hide the atrocities that had been committed during the revolution, but no one nation is in a position to be the first to cast a stone.

So much talent lost forever.

The list of war dead is sad enough, but more than names were lost. What scientist, what thinkers, what artists, what friends.

Rupert Brooke

The Soldier
Rupert Brooke

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

The Soldier
Rupert Brooke

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them

When you go home tell them of us and say -
For your tomorrow we gave our today.

Where is Low Moor Bradford W.Yorks

low moor bradford:
Low Moor, West Yorkshire, UK

get directions

The site of the old foundry has gone, but the memory lingers on.


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    • tonymead60 profile imageAUTHOR

      Tony Mead 

      7 years ago from Yorkshire


      thank you for your comment and votes. Yes at times only the high and mighty are given credit for a victory, and although not everyone can be given a medal I think that there should be some recognition of those who stand and wait. After all, there would not be a victory if it were not for them.

    • old albion profile image

      Graham Lee 

      7 years ago from Lancashire. England.

      Hi Tony. A great hub. My mother was on 'munitions' during WWII in Manchester. You are right to mention the families left behind; They also serve who only stand and wait.

      Voted up and all.


    • tonymead60 profile imageAUTHOR

      Tony Mead 

      9 years ago from Yorkshire


      I grew up in my early years with Grandma and she was terrific, her deafness did not hinder her at all and she never complained or moaned about it. She was a sensational cook, nothing fancy, but she could make the sole of a boot taste like fillet steak.

      many thanks for your useful and helpful comments and votes.

      have a nice weekend [what do you do?] take care and al see thee later Oh mighty Celtic Queen.



    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Tony, What an excellent, informative, profound tribute to your grandmother and the civilian casualties of August 21, 1916! In particular, it's sobering to think how wars which are begun and waged according to macrolevel decisions can have such tragically microlevel impacts. When all is said and done, the result usually can be summed up as "They make a desolation they call peace."

      It's impressive to me how your grandmother moved on from the loss of her hearing and musical career to raising a family of accomplished people such as you and to reaching the culinary heights herself. Was her deafness such that she went through a life of silence or of strange noises?

      Thank you for this compelling, moving, worthy tribute.

      Voted up + all categories (except funny).

      Respectfully, Derdriu

    • tonymead60 profile imageAUTHOR

      Tony Mead 

      9 years ago from Yorkshire


      Thank you for your visit and interesting comments. What a horrible experience for your father, I'm sure it left a deep scar.

      We are all at the whim of policy makers and so many have paid the price for that.



    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 

      9 years ago from California

      My heart breaks over the adversities of war. My Dad experienced a life changing event in London during WWII. He walked out of a pub; it was bombed behind him. His friends still in the pub perished. He never smoked or drank again.

      Wasn't it Churchill who said "Those who forget history are destine to repeat it." We need to remember. Bless you for this reminder.

    • tonymead60 profile imageAUTHOR

      Tony Mead 

      9 years ago from Yorkshire


      thank you for your comment and interest. The village I grew up in had many spinsters, all about the same age. There was a Miss xxxxx in every shop, in the chapel choir, everywhere; I never thought anything about it as a kid, but I wonder how many of them had waved off their boyfriends, fiances, and perspective husbands. What must they have felt like everyday when battles such as the Somme were raging.



    • Angie Jardine profile image

      Angie Jardine 

      9 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

      Hi Tony ... very moving and well researched hub.

      For some reason I am always drawn to this event in time ... I cannot think what it must have been like to live in Britain after it ended.

      There was not just the tragedy of so many men killed during the war but also the fact that there would also be many mentally scarred women left to live life alone as the country had so few men left.

      So terribly poignant ...

    • tonymead60 profile imageAUTHOR

      Tony Mead 

      9 years ago from Yorkshire

      Hi scarytaff,

      nice to hear from you again, many thanks for the visit, and comment; always appreciated.



    • tonymead60 profile imageAUTHOR

      Tony Mead 

      9 years ago from Yorkshire

      Hi Kash,nice to hear from you again, thank you for the visit and vote. I really did feel quite emotional when writing it, it's the waste, and the stupidity of war that I think gets to me. If the politicians were the one to stand on the front lines instead of fiddling their expense sheets, it would be a very different thing.



    • tonymead60 profile imageAUTHOR

      Tony Mead 

      9 years ago from Yorkshire


      many thanks for the vote visit and vote. I suppose there was so much going on at that time incidents like this were only ever local news.



    • scarytaff profile image

      Derek James 

      9 years ago from South Wales

      Voted up and awesome, Tony. You're right, the news of the suffering of civilians in those dreadful wars was never publicised, more shame on the politicians. Great hub.

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 

      9 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Tony my friend, Having just read this well written hub i can see why you were sad in writing it. It was a great tragedy that day and many people were killed or hurt and your grandma was one,it is a shame that all the civilian loss has never been recognized . You did some great research and writing here,great job !

      Vote up and more !!!

    • writer20 profile image

      Joyce Haragsim 

      9 years ago from Southern Nevada

      I can see why you feel sad writing all this information.

      Coming from South of England I never acutally heard of this disaster before. I am sorry your Grandma was made dear poor little thing.

      Voted up and awesome, my English friend, Joyce.


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