The Bomb Girls of Smiths Falls

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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.

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Photo- Etsy

 

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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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

 

Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read.

Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in Hometown News

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About lindaseccaspina

Linda Knight Seccaspina was born in Cowansville, Quebec about the same time as the wheel was invented and the first time she realized she could tell a tale was when she got caught passing her smutty stories around in Grade 7 at CHS by Mrs. Blinn. When Derek "Wheels" Wheeler from Degrassi Jr. High died in 2010, Linda wrote her own obituary. Some people said she should think about a career in writing obituaries. Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa from 1976-1996. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off she finally found her calling. Is it sex drugs and rock n' roll you might ask? No, it is history. Seeing that her very first boyfriend in Grade 5 (who she won a Twist contest with in the 60s) is the head of the Brome Misissiquoi Historical Society and also specializes in local history back in Quebec, she finds that quite funny. She writes every single day and is also a columnist for Hometown News and Screamin's Mamas. She is a volunteer for the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum, an admin for the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page, and a local guest speaker. She has been now labelled an historian by the locals which in her mind is wrong. You see she will never be like the iconic local Lanark County historian Howard Morton Brown, nor like famed local writer Mary Cook. She proudly calls herself The National Enquirer Historical writer of Lanark County, and that she can live with. Linda has been called the most stubborn woman in Lanark County, and has requested her ashes to be distributed in any Casino parking lot as close to any Wheel of Fortune machine as you can get. But since she wrote her obituary, most people assume she's already dead. Linda has published six books, "Menopausal Woman From the Corn," "Cowansville High Misremembered," "Naked Yoga, Twinkies and Celebrities," "Cancer Calls Collect," "The Tilted Kilt-Vintage Whispers of Carleton Place," and "Flashbacks of Little Miss Flash Cadilac." All are available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle. Linda's books are for sale on Amazon or at Wisteria · 62 Bridge Street · Carleton Place, Ottawa, Canada, and at the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum · 267 Edmund Street · Carleton Place, Ottawa, Canada--Appleton Museum-Mississippi Textile Mill and Mill Street Books and Heritage House Museum and The Artists Loft in Smith Falls.

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