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Lizzie Robinson

Feature Stories Ident Lizzie Robinson Ibrox Crowd 1917

Their names will be remembered for evermore

Standing before 60,000 spectators at Ibrox Park, 21-year-old Lizzie Robinson looked swamped in her khaki overalls, as the king pinned a medal to her. In 18 months, she had not missed a shift at the Cardonald munitions factory. Seven days a week from 6am until 5.30pm and on night shifts every two weeks, Lizzie was the best time-keeper. She was the first woman to be awarded the Medal of the Order of the British Empire, an honour created in 1917 for devotion to duty but which has now been superseded by other awards.

Urgent Demand

The need for huge amounts of munitions became apparent from the start of the war. In winter 1914-15, ministers began a "shell and gun crusade" to increase output. In 1915, the Ministry of Munitions ordered new factories to be built, including three in Glasgow: Mossend, Mile End and Cardonald. Women were employed to manufacture 18lb mobile field artillery guns, and the shells they fired.

As with so many other roles they were given during the war, women's success at the job surprised some observers. A souvenir book of the Cardonald factory written in 1919 recalled: "'Prior to the war the employment of women on machinery of this nature had never been contemplated ... [being probably] beyond their strength. [However] in a short time, almost all of the machines were 'manned' by women. There was not a single operation in the factory in which they were not engaged."

The National Projectile Factory at Cardonald looked after its staff. It provided protective clothing, canteens, employed nurses, and organised activities such as theatre performances and choirs. There was even an in-house newspaper called the Cardonald News.

The King visits the Factories

It was into such busy and well-run workforces that King George V walked, when he toured Glasgow's shipyards and factories in September 1917. He stopped and spoke to women operating saws, lathes and fixing boiler plates. The king had just approved a new honour for community or non-military war services, the Order of the British Empire. When he presented the honours at Ibrox on 18 September, a choir made up of Lizzie Robinson's colleagues sang the national anthem. She received a special ovation from the crowd and from wounded servicemen as she passed.

Lizzie, who lived with her parents in Alma Street, Govan, sent a picture of herself wearing her medal and munitions uniform to the newly formed Imperial War Museum in 1918.

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  • Lizzie Robinson becomes the first woman to be decorated by King George V with the Medal of the Order of the British Empire, before a crowd of 60,000, at Ibrox, on 18 September 1917. Credit: © IWM (Q 54481)
  • Among the sea of female faces is section of the Grand Stand with Lizzie Robinson's colleagues from the National Projectile Factory, Cardonald. Credit: © IWM (Q54672)
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