This site commemorates the men and women of Collingham, Linton and Micklethwaite who served during World War 1.
Mitchell, Raymond James


Family background

Raymond James Mitchell was born on the 27th June 1884 in Dublin, the son of James Nicholds Mitchell (1851-1932), a commercial traveler, and his wife Ann Emma Mitchell (1855-1924) (nee Hurse). Five years later, at the time of the 1891 census, Raymond was living with his parents and siblings, Cecil and Edith, at 249 Bearwood Road, Harbourne, Staffs. Raymond's father's occupation as a commercial traveler seems to have meant that the family often moved, and in 1901 the family had arrived in Yorkshire, living at Versper Road in Headingley. Raymond was educated at Leeds Central High School from 1897 to 1901. From 1901 Raymond was an apprentice with Whittaker Bros Ltd in Leeds working in the workshops as a turner, fitter, tool maker, instrument maker. He also carried out some work on some early X-ray equipment. From 1905 to 1907 Raymond was a demonstrator at Huddersfield Technical College and Birmingham Technical School. Raymond next worked as a Scientific Assistant at the Franklin-Adams Astrographic Observatory at Hambleton and the Transvaal Observatory in Johannesburg. Here he was in charge of the Franklin-Adams Astrographic Chart of the Heavens. His work included general routine astronomical observations, together with photographing a complete series of stellar photos of the Universe. In 1911 there is a break in Raymond's career as he suffered an accident and had a long illness, but by 1912 Raymond was back in the UK and became a commercial engineer, works manager and finally Chief Engineer at Edison Accumlators, of London and Birmingham - jobs he maintained from 1912. to 1923.

Raymond is included on this website to the villagers of Collingham, Linton and Micklethwaite, as by 1911 he is recorded in the 1911 census as living with his parents at The Cottage, Langwith Road, Collingham. Raymond's father was still a commercial traveler, and Raymond's own occupation is listed as a science student in astronomy.

On the 17th April 1913, Raymond married Eleanor Mary Holroyd (1887-1979). During the war they had three children Peter Manville Mitchell (1914-2000), Guy Richard Mitchell (1915-1996) and Margaret Mary Mitchell (1918-2007), all born in Twickenham, and after the war they had another two children Sheila Kathleen Mitchell (1921-1923) born in Brentford but who died aged only 2 years, and Michael Robert Parry Mitchell (1926-2012) born in Twickenham.

Wartime occupation

At the start of the war Raymond was employed by Edison Accumulators in charge of the design and manufacture of electric accumulator vehicles for municipal use and also trucks, locomotives and special battery vehicles. He was also in charge of contracts, technical and publicity departments. In 1915 Raymond was aged 31 and was therefore of military service age, but his skills and expertise could also be put to use in reserved occupations, and Raymond's wartime service was as Senior Works Manager at No. 1 National Shell Factory in Leeds.

National Filling Factory No.1, also known as Barnbow, was a First World War munitions factory, covering over 400 acres, located at Cross Gates in Leeds. Shells had previously been filled at Leeds Forge Company, in Armley but by 1915 the Armley output of around 10,000 shells every week could not match the demand for ordnance. At that time, Joseph Watson, was a Leeds soap manufacturer chaired a committee to plan the building of a new Ordnance factory in Leeds and it was decided that the new factory should be built on the outskirts of Leeds near to Cross Gates, and Barnbow was born. All the infrastructure, that a large factory needed, had to be put in place. Power, water and sanitation all had to be included. Extra platforms were added to local train stations to get the workers to the site. A railway line was also built to the factory to get the raw materials in and the shells out. A large number of storage magazines were built at the side of the track. Making explosives requires a large amount of water and a water main was laid to deliver 200,000 gallons of water per day.

By October 1916 the workforce exceeded a massive 16,000 people, 93 per cent of whom were women and girls – the Barnbow Lasses. Working with Cordite turned the skin yellow and the girls were nicknamed the Barnbow Canaries. One antidote to the cordite contamination was milk and the factory also had a farm with a herd of 120 cows producing 300 gallons of milk per day.

Raymond took up his war work at Barnbow in 1915 and Shell Filling work began in December 1915. Staff came from all over Yorkshire. There were 38 trains a day to transport them, known as the Barnbow Specials. Conditions at the factory were not good, workers who handled the explosives stripped to their underwear, and wore smocks, caps, rubber gloves and rubber-soled shoes to avoid sparks. Cigarettes and matches were obviously banned, as were combs and hairpins to avoid static electricity. There were no holidays and shifts were eight hours long. Workers were allowed to drink as much barley water and milk as they liked.

On Tuesday 5 December 1916, 170 women and girls had just started their night shift. 4½ inch shells were being filled, fused, and packed in Room 42. At 10:27 p.m. there was a massive explosion which killed thirty-five women outright, maimed and injured many more. Many of the dead were only identifiable by their identity disks. The explosion also burst the hot water pipes and a lot of the women were scalded. There is no figure of how many women were injured in the explosion. Production was interrupted only for a short time, and once the bodies were recovered, other girls immediately volunteered to work in Room 42.

There were two other explosions that occurred at Barnbow, during the first World War. One on the 21st March 1917 killed two Women and another on the 31st May 1918 killing three men. None of these events were made public until 1924. Death notices appeared in the Yorkshire Evening Post, simply stating cause of death as "killed by accident". Barnbow was Britain’s premier shell factory between 1914 and 1918. By 11 November 1918, a total of 566,000 tons of ammunition had been shipped to the various fronts.

After the war

After the war Raymond returned to work with Adison Accumulators but in 1923 he became Technical Manager for Ransome and MArles Bearing Co in Newark on Trent and he then took various positions - Technical Manager Tungstone Accumulator Co, London and Market Harborough (1923-25); Development Engineer, Walker Electrical Vehicles, London (1925-1926); Development Engineer, General Electric Motors, London (1926-1928); Commercial Manager, Austinlite Ltd, London and Banbury (1928-1929); Production Engineer with L. Murphy, Maidenhead and Shalford (1929-1930) and Senior Assistant in Factory Planning Department of Gramophone Co, Hayes in Middlesex (1930). Then in 1931 he became a Production Engineer with Yorkshire Copper Works, Leeds. At this time, Raymond appears on the West Yorkshire electoral rolls for 1931 at Old House, Thorner and then from 1932 and 1933 at Inglewood, Rigton Hills, Bardsey. After that he is registered at Sandy Bank, Rigton Bank, Bardsey from 1935 to 1939. However in 1939 for the general registration before the second world war, Raymond appears to be at 14 Bedford Place, Crewe, living with Wilfred, a railway timekeeper, and Lucy Brown. At that time Raymond is shown as married and his occupation is listed as a production engineer.

Details about the later stages of Raymond's life are harder to find, but he moved back to Collingham at some point and he died at Homestead, Garth Avenue, Collingham on the 22nd November 1972.

Biography last updated 23 August 2021 12:53:03.

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