Sheffield event marks 100 years since end of World War One

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An event called Sheffield’s Great War will commemorate the centenary of the end of World War One.

The event will take place at Sheffield City Hall Memorial Hall on Sunday, November 11, the day that marks the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended the war, and comprises a series of short talks by six local researchers, writers, academics, historians and enthusiasts, to tell Sheffield’s story and the city’s crucial involvement during 1914-1918.

Engineers in 1915, making shells

Engineers in 1915, making shells

The event takes place from noon, with all profits donated to the Royal British Legion.

Event curator Chris Corker said: “What a perfect opportunity this is for us, on the centenary of the end of the First World War, to look back at Sheffield’s fascinating involvement during the conflict.

“The event is perfect for all ages and levels of interest and we are excited to be able to raise money for a great cause whilst reliving such an important part of all our history.”

At the event, Chris will be talking about Sheffield in each year of the war and the armaments industry in the area.

Gunfire tests on helmets made from Hadfield's Resista steel

Gunfire tests on helmets made from Hadfield's Resista steel

John Cornwell’s talk will focus on the Sheffield City Battalion, and the first soldier to sign up to the regiment, through to the final combatant to die in 1994.

Sylvia Dunkley will be discussing their research into women’s work during the conflict, which expanded far beyond munitions work.

Chris Hobbs’ talk will be on the Zeppelin air raid of Monday, September 25, 1916, when the first Sheffield civilians died in the war.

Sarah Holland will be discussing their research on farm labourers in the Sheffield area and the efforts to recruit a ‘land army’ to replace men leaving their farming jobs to become soldiers.

Women crane drivers working for Cammell Laird

Women crane drivers working for Cammell Laird

Mike Collins’ talk will explore city hospitals which treated 70,000 injured soldiers.

Tickets are priced at £7 plus booking fee. Full information at www.sheffieldsgreatwar.co.uk.

Here, Chris writes the first in a series of features about the war on the Sheffield homefront:

Many works in Sheffield remained closed on the morning of Thursday, January 1, 1914.

Hadfields workers in 1916

Hadfields workers in 1916

Aside from the armaments companies, most reopened the following Monday, giving them time to repair boilers and overhaul their machinery.

The mood for 1914 was optimistic, and in the weekly trade journal The Engineer published the following day, their Sheffield correspondent was equally upbeat. He wrote: “A week hence the Sheffield district will be in full swing once more, and on the threshold, it is hoped, of a successful year.”

The correspondent, like most of his contemporaries, had no idea what the year to come had in store.

As the tens of thousands of workers in the metal trades of the district went back to work after the festive break, few would have suspected that it would be five years until they could celebrate another Christmas with the nation at peace.

The Great War would have an extensive impact on Sheffield.

The armaments industry of the area, consisting of just five companies, would be called upon in the early months of the war to supply the armed forces with most of the shells and projectiles the nation required.

It was a challenge they would spectacularly fail, leading to the mobilisation of the entire nations’ industrial resources in a hitherto unknown manner.

Sheffield had been known as the ‘Arsenal of the World’ prior to the conflict, the three armour manufacturers of John Brown, Cammell Laird and Vickers, along with two projectile manufacturers in Thomas Firths and Hadfields, becoming global leaders of the trade.

In 1914 alone, the five companies would receive orders for armour and projectiles from the navies of America, Italy, Japan, Spain, Greece, Portugal and the Ottoman Empire.

They were productively and technologically connected to an international system of armaments companies, involving licensing and royalties for sharing patents and innovations.

Part of this system was Krupps, the largest armaments company in Germany.

Such was the close connection of the Sheffield armaments companies and Krupps that the latter’s chairman, Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halback, visited Sheffield from June 18 to 20, 1914.

Along with his entourage he stayed with Sir Robert Hadfield, chairman of Hadfields, at Parkhead House, and on June 19 visited the five Sheffield armaments companies in Sheffield which made arms.

Just eight days after the departure of Gustav Krupp from Sheffield, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot and killed in Sarajevo, leading to the 37 days of international political manoeuvring which resulted in the British declaration of war against Germany on August 4.

The impact of the war on the metalworking industries of Sheffield was initially somewhat mundane.

While we think of the Great War in terms of shells, cannons and battleships, some of the earliest orders to Sheffield were for forks, knives and spoons so soldiers could eat, razors so they could shave, and shovels to dig trenches.

The shell orders did eventually materialise, and in vast numbers.

On September 17, Hadfields received 21 separate orders for over 100,000 shells. Firths received similar orders and began expansions at their Weedon Street works to cope with the enormous demand.

The companies never turned down an order from the Government, yet knew they couldn’t deliver them on the required timescales.

By May 1915, both companies would be thousands of shells behind in their deliveries, contributing to the Shell Crisis and the establishment of the Ministry of Munitions.

As these larger orders came in, production of steel also vastly expanded.

In their next annual review of the Sheffield area on January 1, 1915, The Engineer’s Sheffield correspondent reflected on 1914 by stating that: “The year just closed will always be looked back upon as the most memorable in the history of the iron and steel trade, and in the stirring events of the last five months the Sheffield district has played an important part.”

They went on to note: “The great armaments firms were, as they still are, the substantial foundation of activity in the steel industry’ and “The weekly production of steel…since August came in has been simply stupendous, and today the output of several thousand tons per week is considerably behind requirements”.

It was an ominous note to end on, and yet accurately foreshadowed the changes ahead for Sheffield in 1915, as the entirety of the city’s industrial capacity would be brought into wartime production.