1944-06-24– Photo-Heritage House Museum
During World War II Frost & Woods of Smiths Falls won a government contract to produce over 100,00 No. 36 hand grenades per month. For those of you who have no idea who Frost & Woods was, here is a brief synopsis:
For over 116 years they were known as one of the largest manufacturers of durable farm implements in Canada. In fact, the company was considered one of the most technology advanced firms of their time. So, it wasn’t a surprise that during the second world war they were awarded a contract to produce grenades as well as artillery shells and chests to hold ammunition. The factory also made the bolts and bushing for the Lancaster Bombers- and Frost & Wood was known as the largest producer of munitions in Eastern Ontario. What a lot of people don’t know is that most of these employees producing this ammunition were women.
Canada introduced new initiatives during the second world war to improve wartime production levels, and one of these was an appeal to women to register for war service work. There were over 900,000 workers, male and female, in Canada’s factories in WWII when Canada’s population was only around 11 million. Most women took these jobs not only because their husbands were away at war, but because wages in munitions plants averaged more than those for traditional female jobs.
On September 10, 1939, when Canada followed Britain and declared war on Germany factories rapidly converted over to wartime industries. Cockshutt and Frost & Wood in Smiths Falls were no exception. The Canadian Government ordered the Cockshutt Plow Company to begin manufacturing equipment for the air force, while Frost & Wood converted to a munitions factory and employed over 1,200 people at the peak of wartime production. These women and men learned how to prime the number 36 grenade that some say resembled a pineapple. The reason the grenade was designed that way was so it would explode into many fragments.
When assembling the grenade, a worker inserted a dynamite cap into a receptacle inside the grenade. The base could then be unscrewed, which was kept separate until ready for action. Inside was a small tube that had to be inserted into another part inside the body of the grenade. This small tube had a mixture of Foamite of Mercury inside, and was so unstable, even the heat from someone’s hand could cause it to explode. Once the base plate was screwed back on, it was then primed and ready.
Photo- Heritage House Museum
When the pin was pulled, a spring loaded mechanism inside would activate, creating the grenade to explode.Though Frost & Wood produced grenades and shell casings, the munitions were not filled with explosive powder in Smiths Falls and were often shipped empty to be filled later in the United Kingdom.They were lucky, as producing bombs and ammunition was extremely dangerous work. Small incorrect movements or misplacements of material could trigger accidental explosions.
January 24-1944-Photo- Heritage House Museum
Female industrial workers could not keep up with demand as the war progressed. The September 6, 1943, issue of Newsweek reported that 3.2 million new workers were needed for industry—primarily in munitions. Former employees of Frost & Woods remember being able to walk in and pick whatever job they wanted to do. Smiths Falls attracted many young employees to the area and during the war young Annie Barber moved to the area. Working out of the head office as a secretary, Barber remembers working in a room they called “The Blue Room” where the windows were painted over with blue paint because there were no curtains.
Photo–Heritage House Museum
Some of these unarmed grenades made at Frost & Woods were kept by employees at the time, and later passed down through their families. According to some their mothers never spoke much about what they did, as I am sure they were well aware of what they were making. Recognition for the value of their work has been a long time coming, but even now – despite all they faced – I am sure the surviving “bomb girls” never saw themselves as heroines because they were busy “doing their bit” for their country. For all these reasons, the contribution of women workers in the military ammunition industry to the war effort was exemplary and their involvement in the defence of our country invaluable.
Today the horn of Frost & Woods no longer sounds at lunch time and at 5 pm as the company eventually closed in 1955 and later demolished to what the population remembers as: “every last brick”. But, the memories of the women and men who stepped up as local citizens still hangs in the air of where Frost & Woods once stood. The women came to work and took their lunch pail to a man’s job– as they all knew they could be something more, and they all were, right to the end.
With files and photos from Heritage House Museum Smiths Falls