Saturday, 22 April 2017

"She works at Woolwich Arsenal Now" ......... a song from 1916 and a choir for today ..... the Woolwich Singers

I have no idea if “She works at Woolwich Arsenal Now” was sung by my grandfather or any of our family who served with the Colours during the Great War.

The song sheet, 1916
But I bet it would have been popular on the Progress Estate which had been built to house workers at the Arsenal.

And the romantic in me wonders if the first resident of the house in Well Hall where we lived sung the song on his way to work.

This was Basil Nunn and if he didn’t sing it then at least he would have known of it.

“She works at Woolwich Arsenal Now” was written and composed by Robert Donnelly in 1916 and told of a wounded soldier who received a letter from his girlfriend announcing that she was working at the Royal Arsenal.

And it pretty much had the lot, he was wounded and in France, she was doing her bit amongst the shells and guns in Woolwich and both were working for a common cause.

So the chorus must have seemed all the more significant to both munitions girl and soldier with its repeated refrain

"I work at Woolwich Arsenal now,
"Give my message to your chums,
"Girls are working ‘midst the shells and guns
"Altho’ ‘tis tiring, as you’re requiring ammunition for the fighting line,
"We’ll do our share for you out there."

Working in the Arsenal, circa 1916
Now I would like to know more about Robert Donnelley but so far I have only been able to find a few references on the electoral rolls for the years just before the Great War and of course this might not be him.

But if it was, then in 1911 he was at 46 Waverley Road in Plumstead where he rented three unfurnished rooms, one basement and two first floor rooms for six shillings a week from a W.J. Weeks.

He also appears on various electoral rolls back to 1902 and possibly onto 1954, but is absent from the census returns saving 1891 when a young Robert Donnelley is living at home with his parents in Plumstead.*

And by one of those nice bits of coincidence his father was an “overseer at the Royal Arsenal.”

Laughter on the Steps, the Woolwich Singers, 2014
So we have almost come full circle but not quite, because the inspiration for the story came from James who lives on the Progress Estate and came across a reference to the song.

And by by another nice twist "She Works at Woolwich Arsenal Now" was first unearthed by a member of the Woolwich Singers who are a “are a community choir, which rehearses weekly on Wednesdays from 6.30 – 8pm at the Clockhouse Community Centre, Defiance Walk, Woolwich Dockyard, Woolwich SE18 5QL."**

The aim of our choir is to sing together, meet new people and have fun!
No one has to sing by themselves and there is no audition to join.

We sing a mixture of traditional and pop songs – something for everyone, and everyone is welcome.”
And that I think would have been something Mr Donnelley would have approved of.

Either way you can judge for yourself  with this version by the singers of that song.***

And the original inspiration from James can be seen at The Progress Estate, Eltham, SE9 http://progressestate.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/she-works-at-woolwich-arsenal-now.html

Pictures; cover of “She works at Woolwich Arsenal Now” courtesy of  Greenwich Heritage Centre, www.greenwichheritage.org T Tube Factory, Woolwich Arsenal, from the collection of Mark Flynn, post card dealer, http://www.markfynn.com/london-postcards.htm

*Enu 9 46, Plumstead East, Plumstead, 1891

** Woolwich Singers, www.woolwichsingers.co.uk/

***“She works at Woolwich Arsenal Now” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_wzpJ5E-Ds

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