Barrow shipyard firemen tackle blaze as shells explode around them

25 September 2017 2:36PM

SHIPYARD firefighters from Barrow were among Lancashire crews which helped contain the fire and explosions at the shell filling factory at White Lund, near Morecambe, in October 1917.

It was a real struggle to get their equipment to Morecambe – taking more than four hours – but they made up for it when they got there.

With shells exploding and flying through the air as they worked, the Barrow crew was in action for well over 40 hours.

In those days, the Barrow yard’s vehicles were a petrol driven water pump, a French car and a Merryweather steam-powered fire engine.

The story of their daring and exhausting exploits was recorded by Vickers fire captain D’Arcy Benson Moffat.

His men would have been well trained in what to expect at Morecambe as Barrow had its own munitions works and Vickers had built the White Lund site at Morecambe.

Word had reached Barrow of the fire and explosions at Morecambe on 11.45am on October 2 in 1917.

It was decided to take a fire crew and the steam fire engine.

They set off from Barrow at 11.55am and took until 4.30pm to cover 50-odd miles.

It had been suggested that the engine went on a truck pulled by a Barrow to Lancaster train but this was rejected.

The steam-powered vehicle set off accompanied by a motor lorry carrying reserve supplies – but this broke down at Greenodd.

A second lorry was sent – but this broke down at Skerton, near Lancaster.

The main role of the lorries would have been to carry the paraffin fuel used to raise steam on the fire engine.

Captain Moffat noted: “These mishaps considerably delayed our progress, as we had to go out of our road at Grange, where we fortunately secured 30 gallons of paraffin.

“We also had delays in securing the necessary supplies of water for the steam boiler, this having to be renewed every eight miles.”

When they got there, the crew must have thought they had arrived in the middle of a battle.

Captain Moffat, with typical British understatement, said: “Considerable trouble was experienced” as they put out a fire in railway wagons filled with live shells and TNT explosives.

Many of the shells got hot enough to explode and sent fragments of shrapnel through the air.

He noted: “We also extinguished a large number of minor fires in the vicinity of the paint stores which, if unattended, would have proved disastrous.”

The Barrow crew struggled to get enough water to spray on the flames and had to rely on a steam fire engine from Fulwood, Preston, to pump water from a stream.

He recorded: “The brigade were on continuous duty at the fire from arrival at 4.30pm on Tuesday until noon on Thursday, by which time the fire was totally extinguished.”

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