william_blower_headstoneIn the Thanet Advertiser dated 11 August 1917 there was a brief report that an Australian munitions worker, William Blower, had died at Ramsgate General Hospital on 26 July 1917 aged 56. He was buried in Ramsgate Cemetery at plot KC 358 in a grave by himself, not in the WW1 plot. I was puzzled as I could not find any mention of him on the AWM (Australian War Memorial) website so I emailed their research centre with this query:

We have an Australian munitions worker Service No 2276 buried in Ramsgate cemetery who is listed on the AWM and on the CWGC website but the service numbers do not match anyone else listed on your website. The obit column in our local paper lists him as William Blower aged 56. To have died in Ramsgate General Hospital rather than a VAD hospital he must have been pretty far gone by the time he got brought to Ramsgate but what regiment did he belong to, and as a munitions worker rather than a soldier where would he have been serving? Any suggestions appreciated.

This was their reply:

Thank you for your enquiry to the Australian War Memorial's Research Centre. Unfortunately the AWM does not hold files relating to munitions workers and other skilled workers sent to the United Kingdom during the First World War. The National Archives of Australia has the service records for these men in the series MT1139/1 which consists of personnel dossiers for men enlisted under a joint Australian Commonwealth - Imperial Government scheme for providing skilled Australian workers to British war industries during the First World War. Under this scheme the volunteers would receive free passage to Great Britain, an allowance for travel time, a special allowance for the duration of service, and eventual repatriation to Australia. Married men also received a separation allowance, but were required to allot a portion of all their earnings to dependants. The men were expected to work in whatever industries they were directed to by the British Board of Trade, and under the prevailing conditions and wages for the duration of hostilities.

Government newspaper adverts appeared in August 1916, and the first party of 76 workers departed Australia in September. Groups continued to be recruited and sent at intervals, with the eventual number of workers under the scheme totalling just over 5,000. Almost 1,000 of these had already been working in Britain under private agreements with large firms such as Vickers, and were brought under the conditions of the scheme. An additional 200 former AIF soldiers were also recruited in Britain. Initially only skilled workers were sought, however at the request of the British Government later groups included large numbers of navvies for general labouring.

These men were not members of the Australian Imperial Forces and did not serve in combat units, but were recruited to meet the shortfall in skilled labour that threatened many of Britain's key wartime industries including munitions. To request further information please contact the National Archives of Australia reference service on: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Article and image contributed by Laura Probert. Laura is the Editor of the excellent East Kent Branch Newsletter, Between the Lines.


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