From carriages and trams to munitions and flying boats

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These photographs of the Dick, Kerr and Company factory on Strand Road, Preston, show production of some of the 3.3m shells sent out to the front line during the conflict.

Following the outbreak of the war, the War Office placed a contract with the company to manufacture and supply munitions with the first batch of shells ready for collection in March 1915.

Today, Dick, Kerr and Co’s successor, defence, aerospace and security company, BAE Systems, still supplies equipment to the Armed Forces in the form of fighter aircraft, including the Eurofighter Typhoon.

Ian Lawrenson, heritage manager for BAE Systems’ Military Air and Information (MAI) business which runs its facilities at Warton and Samlesbury, said the Dick, Kerr factory was turning out 30,000 projectiles a week at peak production.

He said: “At the outbreak of the First World War, the Allied Forces were unprepared for the scale of operations they were facing and needed to quickly establish manufacturing facilities.

“Dick, Kerr and Co was producing tram cars at the time, but when it placed its entire organisation at the disposal of the Ministry of Munitions, there was a lot of reorganisation required to make Strand Road ready for producing artillery.

“They used 94,000 tonnes of steel, 1,900 tonnes of copper and 15,000 tonnes of lead during conflict, so it was a significant operation to supply the forces.

The photographs show many women leading the manufacture of the shells.Nearly 150 men employed by Dick, Kerr and Co died during the First World War with the company establishing a Relief Fund which saw £24,000 handed out to families of those who fell. On top of the munitions, 100 petrol locomotives were built there to haul ammunition on the Western Front.

Ian added: “Despite the focus on the war effort, the manufacture of tram cars and associated electrical equipment continued through the war, albeit on a modest scale.

“In 1917, Dick, Kerr and Co also famously formed a women’s football team who played their first match at Deepdale on Christmas Day 1917 before a crowd of 10,000 in aid of the local hospital for wounded soldiers on Moor Park.”

It was also in 1917 that the Preston tram factory took the first steps that would lead them, one day, to become one of the world’s leading manufacturers of warplanes. The company was tasked with producing aircraft to designs from the Royal Navy Air Service (RNAS) Seaplane Experimental Station in Felixstowe. Dick, Kerr and Co produced Felixstowe flying-boats.