Now It Can Be Told! - War Factory Under Houses of Parliament

The War Illustrated, Volume 9, No. 210, Page 140-141, July 6, 1945.

When doodle-bugs were falling thick and fast on London, a secret factory beneath the Houses of Parliament - in the vaults made famous by Guy Fawkes - was busy turning out weapons to counteract the flying bombs. They were new instruments, urgently needed at the coastal gun-sites, and when the order was given to the Palace of Westminster's Munition Unit (the factory's official title) there was no dallying. In a matter of hours the weapons were delivered and in action.

Flying bombs now figure only in evil dreams, but the factory still hums with great activity. For the 150 men and women have heard the call for a secret "something" designed to hasten the end of the war with Japan.

During the war with Germany were 1,224 Alerts at the Palace of Westminster, and Parliament was hit by bombs on 12 occasions. Two of our own shells struck the building, one damaging Big Ben, the other exploding in the Royal Court. A shell crashed into the library of the House of Commons but did not explode. Total casualties were three killed and 15 wounded. And still the work went on in the factory.

Three hundred square yards it covers, comprising a large vault and several passages, and for two and a half years it has been in operation with few outside of those immediately concerned aware of its existence. Honour for its inception goes to three M.P.s, and when the idea was cautiously made known amongst those most likely to accept employment, there was no lack of response. Mostly voluntary part-time workers, the 80 men and 70 women engaged inspected and assembled 2,000,000 shell fuse parts in the first months of their labours.

At one time eight different war contracts were being skilfully handled by these policemen, Cabinet Ministers' wives, mothers and daughters, Parliamentary counsel, firemen, Civil Servants, retired Army officers, young men awaiting their call-up, and others who constituted the factory's capable "hands". The ages of these workers in the vault have ranged between 17 and 70 and, not to be outdone by youth and advanced age, Houses of Parliament postal, telephonist and kitchen staff personnel have joined in, as extra demand has fallen on the establishment. Hard work demands reasonable living, and so a factory canteen was established to serve 150 two-course meals per day.

It has been no case of "All work and no play", for on occasion a grand piano and a R.A.F. Dance band have been introduced into the Grand Committee Room of Westminster Hall. And in the early days of this year the first act of "Love in Idleness" was played before the workers; this making history in that never before had a theatrical performance been staged within the area of ancient Westminster Hall.

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