Swynnerton Training Camp and Training Area near Stone was built 80 years ago in 1939, at the beginning of World War II. Located so it was easily hidden in the mist and fog, the camp was originally constructed as a Royal Ordnance Factory (ROF), creating ammunition for the war effort.
During this time, a total of 33,000 people worked at the factory, the majority of whom were women, producing Spitfire bullets and black powder used for illuminations at sea. The work was very dangerous and there were many injuries and fatalities, however, there are still a number of surviving ‘Swynnerton Roses’ to this day, all of whom are in their 90s.
Last month, Landmarc Support Services (Landmarc) and the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) spent the day reminiscing with the Swynnerton Roses, former apprentices and local residents during their annual Remembrance and Armistice Day lunch.
The event – now in its 19th year – was hosted by Landmarc and the DIO, and saw over 250 guests including family members, ex-employees and residents from Swynnerton and the surrounding area join the Roses for a wreath laying ceremony before sitting down for a lunch in the very place they used to work. The local Air Cadets band played songs from the 1940s throughout the day whilst attendees clapped and sang along.
Visitors were also able to visit the small museum situated on the camp, created by Landmarc employees to commemorate the fascinating history of life on the camp during and after the War.
Attending the event was Samantha Webb, whose great grandmother Lillian Hill was a Rose. Since 1999, Samantha has been researching and campaigning to get the Roses and all the other women working in ammunition factories to be recognised as veterans, just as the ‘land girls’ are. Thanks to Samantha’s efforts, the Roses and their relatives have been asked to march at the annual Remembrance Day parade in London for the last eight years.
Primrose Patman, a Rose who has just turned 100, fondly recalls memories from her time at Swynnerton, “I worked at the factory from January 1941 until June 1945, working with explosives on a daily basis. As we were on rations, we used to make potato sandwiches to keep us going through the 12-hour working days. In the evenings we sometimes cycled to the local pub – the Fitzherbert Arms in Swynnerton – to meet American soldiers for dancing. The four years I spent at Swynnerton were some of the happiest of my life!”
Sam Williams, Facilities Manager at Landmarc, commented: “It’s always such a pleasure to host this annual event. Bringing people together who can all share some fascinating and interesting memories from this camp and being able to hear their stories first-hand is fantastic.
“I can’t stress enough how important it is to continue traditions such as these, taking time to remember those who sacrificed so much for us, whether they were fighting on the front or producing ammunition in factories such as Swynnerton.”
Major (Ret’d) Jim Salisbury, DIO’s Training Safety Officer at the camp, who organised the event with Sam Williams and Landmarc’s Team Manager, Sarah Butler, said: “It’s always a pleasure to invite the Roses back to camp each year. Back in the 1940s, their contribution to the war effort went largely unnoticed, carried out in secret with little recognition. So it’s therefore wonderful to be able to say a public thank you and recognise the part they played in keeping our country safe.
“All the staff who work across the West Midlands for DIO including the Ministry of Defence Guard Service, alongside Landmarc, and ESS work as one team and feel proud to carry on with the tradition of this hugely important event.
“The former apprentices association from the post war Ordnance factory and our local residents also take great delight and pride in joining us at this event. They feel that it is always done from the heart and take comfort that the memory of the work that the Roses carried out during the war is continued today in support of defence.”