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A different kind of war service

Posted by on May 20, 2013

Recently I watched a news item about the unveiling of a memorial to the Bevan Boys who were conscripted to work in the mines during the Second World War.  I knew my grandfather had not served in the armed forces during the first war and, searching through my tin boxes, I realised I had the story of a different kind of war service to tell.

My grandfather, Herbert James Liversedge, who described himself as an engineering draughtsman specialised in mining and explosives.

National Registration Act 1915  Herbert James Liversedge

National Registration Act 1915
Herbert James Liversedge

He would have been 32 when war was declared.  His National Registration Act 1915 card gives his address in Llanelly; at this time the anglicised version of Welsh place names was used in official documents.  My grandparents must have only moved there recently as my mother had been born in Croydon not long after the outbreak of war.

authorisation to wear War Service Badge

authorisation to wear War Service Badge

The card exempting him from military service is undated but it certifies that as long as he is employed Nobel Explosives Company on work for war purposes he is authorised to wear the war service badge.   These were issued to protect the wearer from being harassed on the streets and handed a “white feather; a symbol of cowardice.



Herbert James Liversedge (1882-1928)

Herbert James Liversedge (1882-1928)

The note on the back of the photograph of my grandfather says that he is wearing the Crown Services Badge.  Although I cannot make out the details from the photograph I have guessed that it is similar to that shown in the picture which was specifically issued to munitions works.


War Service Badge (munitions workers)

War Service Badge (munitions workers)




Working in the munitions factories was not a particularly safe option, an estimated 600 workers died in accidents with thousands more injured.  The worst incident in Chilwell in 1918 killed 134 workers.  Many of those employed in the factories were women who had been conscripted for this work.

The factory in Pembrey where my grandfather was employed dated back to 1881[1], it was an attractive location; the sand dunes providing an effective screen as well as minimising damage in case of an explosion.

The fear of explosion was always present, in her diaries police officer Gabrielle West[2] describes searching workers at gates for cigarettes, matches and potentially combustible materials.  Despite these precautions explosions still occurred.   My mother remembered her father being called into investigate the cause of one particular explosion.  He discovered that a window cleaner had used a coin to scrape dirt of the window creating a spark.

Finally to return to the start, when researching munitions workers I found that a parliamentary debate had been held on 26th March 2013 to support setting up a memorial to munitions workers in the National Memorial Arboretum alongside those to the Bevan Boys and Land Girls  .  One of speakers in this debate was Nia Griffiths, MP for Llanelli in whose constituency the Pembrey factory was; the site is now a Country Park.


[1] The History of the Pembrey Royal Ordnance Factory:  Llanelli Borough Council

[2] Women Munitions Workers in Britain during the Great War: Deborah A. K. Brobst, Lehigh University


One Response to A different kind of war service

  1. Nicola Stevens

    Thanks for this interesting information about maternal grandfather – these ‘alternative’ war stories are so interesting!

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