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How tragic Grace found her place on a Norfolk war memorial

PUBLISHED: 16:24 11 November 2017

Beeston Church, near Litcham, where munitions worker Grace (Gracia) Bolton's name is on the war memorial.

Beeston Church, near Litcham, where munitions worker Grace (Gracia) Bolton's name is on the war memorial.

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Keith Skipper tells the sad story of Norfolk munitions worker Grace Bolton .

A memorial to those who died in the Great War marks the path to the graveyard and parish church perched on a hill outside my mid-Norfolk home parish of Beeston. The roll of honour includes munitions worker Gracia Bolton.

She was born in 1898 at a farm near the church. Although her birth certificate gave her name as Grace, she was baptised Gracia Margaret. By 1918 she was working at No 6 Shell Filling Factory in Chilwell, near Nottingham, and lodging with her aunt at Regent Street in the town of Beeston nearby.

From one Beeston to another … and the tragedy of July 1, 1918. Grace Bolton prepared for her late shift at 6pm. Just over an hour later a huge explosion destroyed the mixing house and ripped apart two of the three milling buildings.

Eight tons of TNT had exploded without warning, killing 134 workers and injuring more than 250. Grace was one of 25 women to perish and her death certificate declares starkly: “Presumed killed as a result of an explosion. Deceased known to have been in work at the time and since missing”.

Bravery shown by hundreds of survivors and other rescue workers prompted the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Munitions to describe Chilwell as “the VC factory”, a name that has stuck. Two workers were decorated for prompt action to prevent ignition of a further 15 tons of TNT.

A government committee investigated several possible causes – a bolt had come loose and fallen into machinery, hot weather caused the powder to cake and even sabotage was considered – but all conclusions were dismissed in most quarters and just about every account gives the cause as “unknown”.

The Beeston, Norfolk, and Beeston, Notts, memorials record her as Gracia Bolton. The Chilwell memorials settles for Grace Bolton, the name on her birth and death certificates.

She died just under a month short of her 20th birthday.

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