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The Silvertown explosion

27 January 2017

January 26th, 1917.

ON FRIDAY, in the neighbourhood of London, a shocking disaster occurred in a munitions factory. In the early evening a fire suddenly broke out, and within five minutes there followed a terrific explosion, the force of which was felt over a radius of many miles. At first it was rumoured that the loss of life was to be reckoned in thousands, and when the violence of the explosion and the numbers of houses that were wrecked are considered, it is simply marvellous that the death-roll is comparatively so small. After most careful investigation the Ministry of Munitions is able to report that the deaths number about 70. There were, however, in addition, many sufferers from injuries either very serious or of various degrees of seriousness, and also we must reckon in the ruined homes of many who happily escaped with their lives. As is always the case on occasions like this, proofs of heroism, readiness to aid, and skill and promptitude in bringing relief to those who were not past help were abundantly forthcoming. From the chief chemist, who, after urging the flight of the employees, went back to fight the flames and perished in his endeavour, down to the obscurest helper, there came a great united effort to be of service; and many a tale could be told of kindly folk who gave shelter to poor people suddenly made homeless. The lesson of this calamity seems to be that munitions works ought not to be situated in or closely adjacent to thickly-populated areas, but isolated, provision being made for the conveyance of the workers to and from their work. It is frightful to think how much greater the loss of life might easily have been.


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