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  Themes Homepage > The War Years
 
People
The War Years

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Life in the factory changed dramatically during the years 1914 -1918. By December 1914, 515 men, one in seven of the male employees, were in the forces. The number of women workers doubled and for the first time men and women worked side-by-side in the engineering department. Working until 11pm was common as Huntley & Palmers kept the armed forces, military hospitals and people on the home front supplied with biscuits and cakes.
'Our Work in the Great War', 1919
'Our Work in the Great War', 1919
 
Munitions workshop, 1915-1918
Munitions workshop, 1915-1918

Making Munitions
Alfred Palmer agreed to make shell cases for the war effort and before long the men and women working in the manufacturing department were turning out 900 a week. Of the 60,000 delivered, less than one hundred were substandard. ‘Every Huntley and Palmers’ shell is like a piece of jewellery’, one tester eagerly reported.
 
Loss of Employees
In total almost 40% of all male employees, namely 1,833, went away on active service. 145 of those were never to return having been killed whilst on active service. One of the early wartime casualties was Ronald Poulton Palmer, George William's nephew and adopted son. He had entered the business as an apprentice in 1912 and was due to join the engineering department in the autumn of 1914. Sadly he was killed in action in 1915.
First World War Memorial, 1920
First World War Memorial, 1920
 
The Inter-War Years
In the immediate aftermath of the war the Reading factory continued to be busy as restocking took place and a new cake factory was built. In November 1918 the 48 hour week was introduced. In preparation for this, employees who had served continuously since 1914 were allowed to vote on whether the dinner hour should be an hour or an hour and a quarter. They eventually decided on an hour and a quarter.
In July 1919 the company paid an extra weeks wages to commemorate the signature of the peace treaty along with one weeks paid holiday.
 

After an initial post-war boom, the high costs of goods and the strength of the pound led to a fall in production. Despite the decline in the number of employees from a post-war peak of 5,000 in September 1919 to 3,500 two years later, from August 1920 onwards the company had to reduce the working week to 31 hours with a complete shut-down on Saturdays and Mondays.
Employees with FA cup, 1927
Employees with FA cup, 1927
 
World War II
In the months prior to the Second World War, some changes were taking place in the biscuit industry as a whole. This included the proposal to introduce minimum wages, which due to war breaking out, were not implemented until 1942. The level was set as 70s [£3.50] a week for men and 43s [£2.15] for women.
 
Staff with gas masks, about 1939
Staff with gas masks, about 1939

Preparations for War
Huntley & Palmers went ahead with its own preparations for war including building air-raid shelters and fitting dimmed lights in case of a black out. It also reintroduced the principle of supplementing employees pay while they were on National Service.
 
In May 1940 Huntley & Palmers accepted an urgent army contract for biscuits, which involved the entire use of the auto plants 24 hours a day, seven days a week until it was completed. The rush meant postponing all holidays for factory and office staff alike.
 
Air Raid Shelter, about 1940 Women's War Week, 1941 Victory Parade, 1945
Air Raid Shelter, about 1940 Women's War Week, 1941 Victory Parade, 1945
After a direct hit on Peek Frean's Bermondsey factory in May 1941, some Peek Frean workers came to Reading where four varieties of their biscuits were being produced. Some of the employees were sent to work in munitions factories in Burghfield, but they still received their bags of broken biscuits.
 
 
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  Themes Homepage > The War Years
 
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