Honouring our Heroes: Meet Marjorie, 98, from Scarborough who built bombs in World War Two

Marjorie Leppington, recalls her time as a Canary Girl in a munitions factory - vital work that has never been formally recognised. PIC: Richard Ponter
Marjorie Leppington, recalls her time as a Canary Girl in a munitions factory - vital work that has never been formally recognised. PIC: Richard Ponter

Like many teenagers will do this month, at the age of 18 Marjorie Leppington left Scarborough to move across the country.

However, rather than heading off to university, Marjorie, now 98, was going to work in a munitions factory, having been conscripted in 1939 at the beginning of World War Two.

Marjorie, right, at ROF Chorley in the war. PIC: The Leppington Family.

Marjorie, right, at ROF Chorley in the war. PIC: The Leppington Family.

LATEST NEWS: Everything you need to know before TV stars arrive in town for the premiere of BBC Scarborough

“I was eager to go,” said Marjorie, who lives in Scarborough. “There were four of us from Scarborough, I was glad to go.

However, upon arrival in Chorley, in Lancashire, and learning what their jobs would be, Marjorie’s and her friends’ eagerness diminished.

“We were so particular about our face and nails and once we saw what the job was we wanted to switch, we tried to get into the RAF.”

Marjorie and her husband Jack. PIC: The Leppington Family

Marjorie and her husband Jack. PIC: The Leppington Family

Instead, she stayed at the Royal Ordnance Factory (ROF) Chorley for four years.

The base grew to the size of a small town, employing 28,000 people at its peak.

Marjorie’s job on the production line was to put detonators in bombs, though she wasn’t aware of how dangerous it was.

“We had no idea, we’d have gone mad.”

Marjorie and her son Paul. PIC: Richard Ponter

Marjorie and her son Paul. PIC: Richard Ponter

The day at ROF Chorley began with a coach taking her from the barracks to the factory where she would be searched.

“Once you got over the safe area you weren’t allowed any jewellery because of the way it could interfere with the detonators,” she explained. “You couldn’t even wear a hairgrip and we were given special overalls and shoes that had no metal on them.”

Though Marjorie put special cream on her face to protect it from gunpowder, she still left work at the end of every shift with bright yellow fingers: this earned munitions workers their nickname ‘Canary Girls’.

“I was lucky to be on the machine I was, though, putting detonators into the bombs. The girls on the other two machines using gunpowder were even more yellow,” she said.

Marjorie Leppington, right, at ROF Chorley. PIC: The Leppington Family.

Marjorie Leppington, right, at ROF Chorley. PIC: The Leppington Family.

KEEP OUR COAST CLEAN: South Bay traders' bid to become plastic free

The three girls from Scarborough she went with remained friends throughout her time there, though she couldn’t tell her family in Scarborough very much about her work.

To protect the location of the factory from German attack, workers were banned from discussing what happened inside.

“Everything was secret, we couldn’t tell anyone what we’d been doing,” Marjorie said.

Whilst other munitions factories were bombed during the war, ROF Chorley was lucky. Marjorie said when the warning sirens began everyone went to the canteen to shelter.

“We knew if a plane came over and it was carrying bombs, you could hear it, they sounded different,” she said.

“We didn’t bother about them coming over. We were never worried, being young you didn’t.”

Marjorie and her friends would spend their days off in Chorley town where they occasionally got suits made at the tailor after saving up enough coupons from her £2 a week wage.

From Chorley they could get the train up to Blackpool to go dancing, evenings that she remembers fondly.

Leave didn’t happen very often, though whilst home in Scarborough Marjorie met her husband Jack, whom she married during the war.

“There was one white gown left in the shop and I got it,” she said. “He was lovely, super bright. He was so polite, a proper gentleman, and would always be wearing a tie.”

She left ROF Chorley in 1943 after becoming pregnant with their daughter and moved back home.

She and Jack went on to have another daughter and a son.

NOSTALGIA: 21 things you can't do in Scarborough anymore

The pair were married for 63 years before he died at the age of 90.

Following the war, Jack remained in the military before buying himself out after 15 years’ service.

Marjorie worked her way up to manager at Quartons Fruit and Flower Shop on St Thomas Street, a job she loved.

Though she missed the camaraderie of the girls in the factory, and getting food cooked for her in the canteen, she didn’t miss the work in the factory.

Around 950,000 British women worked in munitions factories in World War Two, risking their lives working with explosives.

However, despite being such an important part of the war effort, they have never been formally honoured.

“There’s never any mention of what we did, they never say the munitions factories,” Marjorie added.

“We were doing a dangerous job that couldn’t have been done without but we’ve never been recognised.

“We seem to have been forgotten about.”

Do you know any heroes?

In April The Scarborough News launched our Honouring our Heroes campaign, asking readers to tell us about veterans in our town, particularly those like Marjorie who may not have received the recognition they deserved.

We would like to get Marjorie some form of recognition for the role she played and we would like to hear from any other former munitions workers in the area.

In this special year - the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the 80th anniversary of the start of the Second World War - we are seeking out those men and women who served in the Forces, or played a key role at home - whose stories deserve to be told.

If you know of someone from the Second World War or later, who deserves recognition, or if your business can help with our campaign, email corinne.macdonald@jpimedia.co.uk