Lab Assistant at an Explosive Factory by Jane Gilmour

Jane’s first job was for ICI Ardeer based in Ayrshire, Stevenson. The factory had been open before World War 2. It made all sorts of explosives for industry and military use.

Her parents said she could leave school if she got a job to support herself. The job in Ardeer was 40 miles from home so she had to move home to share digs with two other girls from her school who had also secured work at the factory. The lady they stayed with did not ask for a high rent, however whenever they had a pay rise they were supposed to pay a little more. Her wages were £254 a year.

Her usual work day started at 20 past 8 with 52 minutes for lunch. Her day ended at 5 p.m. The chemicals were weighed and measured. Batches of product had to be tested for stability before they could released from the factory. There were very few accidents during the five years she was there. Once there was a big explosion overnight in an underground area. One day she working in the lab testing batch samples by heating them to a set temperature in a glass-fronted cupboard.  Suddenly one sample exploded. It may have been nitro-glycerine. The explosion was contained by the glass front of cupboard, which remained intact. All she remembers is finding herself across the room and up the stairs but couldn’t remember getting there. Her colleague said she saw Jane moving really quickly after the sample exploded propelled by sheer fright.

Former British Embassy in Moscow GNU Free documentation license  Wkicommons

Former British Embassy

After she had been working there for five years one day she went out for a break and felt fed up. She saw an advert which said “Nanny needed for a one year placement in Moscow”. She decided on a whim to apply and one month later had an interview. She got the job and then had to request a one year leave of absence from her job at ICI, which she got. One month later she was in Moscow. The Berlin wall went up just before she left the UK. It was 1961. She went to work for Mr and Mrs George at the British Embassy. Mr George was the British Consul and they had two school-age children. There were a lot of evening engagements and Jane then looked after the children. During the school day she was free to travel around Moscow City benefiting from a degree of freedom that the diplomats enjoyed i.e. she did not have to say where she was going. She could travel outside Moscow but had to notify the authorities where she was going. During her year in Moscow she visited the Ballet, Circus and Historic Churches. An interesting observation was that at the funerals she saw there were only retired people and sometimes their grandchildren but never anyone between five – retirement age. She wondered if this was because there was supposed to be no religion in the communist state at this time, though that was not actually the case.

Additional links
More information about the factory at Ardeer and the company Nobel enterprises.

Berlin, Mauerbau:Construction of the Berlin wall with concrete blocks. A crane surrounded in barbed wire stands in the foreground.

Construction of the Berlin wall with concrete blocks. A crane surrounded in barbed wire stands in the foreground – August 1961

More information about the Berlin wall


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