The war changed the way of the world rapidly on the home front and by February 1918 an estimated 1.4m British women were working in jobs that would previously have been done by men.
Around half of them were working in munitions and Huddersfield had a vital role to play in making sure the soldiers had the weapons they needed at the front.
Click below to see a gallery of women working in munition factories during World War One.
By 1918, Huddersfield was manufacturing 33% of Britain’s high explosives — the majority at British Dyes at Leeds Road, which went on to become ICI.
And on October 6, 1916, British Dyes came perilously close to causing Huddersfield’s greatest-ever disaster.
At that time it was producing almost 5,000 18lb shells per week and as the smoke billowed skyward panic spread through the densely populated neighbourhood.
Hundreds of homes were evacuated and streets were thronged as residents moved to a safer distance from what was effectively the biggest bomb Huddersfield has ever seen.
Inside the factory some employees bravely remained to fight the blaze. John McMaddocks rushed to operate the fire extinguishers before using his body as a draught excluder to prevent the flow of air from ‘fanning the flames’ into the explosives stores. His main assistance came from employees Ethel Brown and Private Charlie Shaw before the fire brigade arrived. Thankfully, after several hours, and at considerable risk, they extinguished the blaze.
In 1918, Mr McMaddocks, of Sheepridge, Ethel, who lived in Brighouse, and Pte Shaw of Moldgreen were awarded the MBE ‘for courage and resource in dealing with a fire at an explosives factory at great personal risk.’
Pte Shaw had been recalled from serving with the West Riding Regiment in 1915 to utilise his expertise in chemicals and munitions at British Dyes.
This wasn’t the only near-miss in Huddersfield during the First World War.
Overtired staff posed an additional risk in TNT factories. An accident or worker error could ignite explosives in the storage sheds.
Such a fate befell dye and chemical company John W Leitch and Co Ltd, of Milnsbridge. In 1902 the company became the first in the UK to manufacture TNT. Output was increased enormously at the start of the war, but the equipment was old.
At 8.30pm on July 19, 1915, a corroded steel coil sparked a huge explosion. One worker was blown from the roof and was fortunate to escape with minor injuries.
The lighting system short-circuited, igniting other stocks of chemicals in a chain of detonations. Six of the seven sheds in that part of the factory were ablaze. As the smoke billowed skywards thousands came to watch the flames. By extreme fortune no-one was killed.
And on June 5,1918 there was a second explosion at a Huddersfield TNT factory when Standard Fireworks, based at Crosland Hill, suffering considerable damage but no fatalities.
Working for the Admiralty during World War I, Standard Fireworks was an obvious supplier of explosives and had one of the safest munitions sites in a stone quarry with purpose-built gunpowder stores from quarry-blasting.