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The Reyrolle Story: Eight - White Feathers

...Occasionally, enlisted men were discharged back to the Company as essential war workers. However, back at work many were challenged by other workers and told they should be serving the King in the armed forces. Some were even presented with white feathers to indicate their cowardice...

During World War One some essential workers on the home front were branded as cowards.

Robert Owen continues his history of one of England's great engineering firms.

To purchase a copy of Robert's book please visit
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Reyrolle-Story-History-Co-Ltd/dp/1905295073/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1245678876&sr=1-1

The years from 1906 to 1913 were prosperous years for Reyrolle. Overseas markets were born with the first panel of metal-clad switchgear going to Australia. Special flameproof panels were also researched, designed and produced for the growing mining industry. There was not complete agreement on safety concerning the use of electricity in the mines, and in reply to another reader, Henry Clothier (on behalf of the Company) had a detailed letter in The Times on 23rd June 1909 about the development of an automatic protective apparatus. The capital employed in the Company increased to 40,000, sales grew by 250%, profits by 300% and the number of employees grew each year.

However, the success of the Company began to take its toll on the health of its Managing Director. Holidays in his much-loved Lake District, which perhaps reminded him of his native Correze area in France, did not help, and in 1914, he returned to France with his family for a short period to recuperate. Henry Clothier was left in charge at Hebburn.

The 1914-18 War brought many and varied problems to the growing Company. Numerous workers volunteered for the armed services and many were part of the three-quarters of a million who never returned. Occasionally, enlisted men were discharged back to the Company as essential war workers. However, back at work many were challenged by other workers and told they should be serving the King in the armed forces. Some were even presented with white feathers to indicate their cowardice. To prevent this undesirable practice, Reyrolle (and other Companies) issued each of their key workers with a lapel badge which confirmed their status as an essential war worker.

During the war, women replaced men on the production line and Alf Nicod was put in charge of a special training scheme for newly recruited females. Supplies of raw material and parts were cut and this caused production complications. However, perhaps the major problem was caused by the 'boom' in government bureaucracy. The Company Secretary was bombarded with letters and forms from civil servants introducing new regulations, and demanding statistics on every imaginable topic. In spite of this, the company continued to produce switchgear, hundreds of thousands of shell fuse caps, and make an active contribution to the repair of many ships in the River Tyne.

The nearest the war got to Reyrolle was in 1917, when a German Zeppelin dropped bombs on nearby Hebburn Colliery. There was little damage, but Palmer's Jarrow Shipyard wasn't so lucky - seventeen men were killed.
The war years were prosperous years for Reyrolle. Net Profits increased from 9540 in 1913 to 30,701 in 1919 and dividends on ordinary shares varied from 11% to 22%. By the end of the war the firm employed over 800 personnel.

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