The feared loss of jobs is averted with the original hand rolling mills kept in operation much longer than anticipated to meet demand.
King George V1 and Queen Elizabeth paid morale-boosting visits to the works in February 1941 and July 1943 with Geoffrey Summers being invested with the CBE on the latter occasion.
Even before the official declaration of hostilities, the works had moved into the production of galvanised sheets for Anderson garden air raid shelters, producing them at the rate of 50,000 a week. Prototypes were tested in the General Office area where aerial bombs weighing 500lb.were detonated within 25 feet of a group of shelters and 75 tons of pig iron was piled on a shelter roof. One brave volunteer went into a shelter while a heavy concrete ball, normally used for breaking up slag, was dropped on it! The shelter was virtually undamaged and the volunteer survived to tell the tale.
The Anderson air raid shelter, made of curved corrugated steel sheet, saved many lives during the Blitz of the major cities. Designed by the British Steelworks Association in early 1939, the structure was 6ft.6 in. long, 6 ft. high and 4 ft. 6 in. wide and was made of 14 gauge galvanised steel sheet. It was sunk into the ground to a depth of three feet.
Because of a shortage of steel and zinc, the Anderson shelter was replaced in 1941 by the Morrison indoor shelter, made of 10 gauge steel.
There were over 100 wartime uses for Shotton steel.
Steel sheets were Shotton’s only product at the time and in the early days of the war it was not uncommon for an employee to say he wanted to leave the firm “to make munitions.” It was not until the management opened a shop window near the main works entrances showing the range of munitions made from steel sheet that employees realised how important their work was and that they were in fact making munitions.
From a workforce of about 5,500 employees, 1,834 men enlisted for war service. Many of their places were filled by women, including many wives. Women had worked in the General Office from the First World War but now they moved into the laboratories, packaging departments and even on to cranes. Altogether a thousand extra women were recruited mainly as crane drivers in the hot and cold strip rolling mills, slab yard and Marsh department. Other jobs in the strip mill, pickling and annealing plants, foundries and steel making furnaces were strictly for the men.
The works was well-known to the German Luftwaffe, as shown by a map dated September 1941 and retrieved from an enemy plane brought down nearby. Low flying raids were hazardous because of the low lying Clwydian range of hills and decoy lights on high ground and the Dee marshes made bombing difficult of a plant crucial to the country’s war effort.
Production went on round the clock. At night, metal sheets were used to black out the buildings and the roasting temperatures and airless conditions inside were described “as hot as hell and as black as Hades.”
Early warning was received whenever an enemy aircraft was spotted heading for Deeside and furnace tapping was delayed to avoid the glare of molten steel usually visible for miles.
The works had its own Home Guard regiment with Richard Summers as colonel. It eventually became the 19th Cheshire Regiment although the men who formed it were Welshmen and Shotton was in Flintshire. Discipline was strict and training was taken seriously, even though it was wooden pick handles that were sloped on shoulders at first. Later, the men were bussed to and from Chester Barracks for rifle training.
The works’ ambulance room was concrete reinforced to become a bunker, manned at night by two Home Guard officers, with the colonel taking his turn about every 10 days.
In the event, not a single shell or bomb fell on the works during the war and on 22nd May 1945 Richard Summers spelled out the extent of the contribution made in defence of the country. During six years of continuous high pressure operation, the works had produced 3.3 million tons of steel ingots, 2.2 million tonnes of sheets, sufficient to make over 60 million steel ammunition boxes, over 40 million jerry cans and 16 million oil drums. Richard Summers and everyone else felt proud of a job well done.
The MV Hawarden Bridge, a ship built for John Summers and Sons in 1940, had the distinction of being the first Allied ship into Dunkirk harbour after the town’s liberation after the Second World War. It was sold in 1967 and was subsequently used on inter-island trading in the West Indies. It was seen in a Barbados harbour by a Shotton technical consultant, Harry Johnson, while he was visiting customers in the West Indies in 1972. At the time over 90 per cent of buildings in that part of the world had corrugated galvanised steel roofs, and Shotton’s Galvaprime product, in red, green and grey, was being used as roof and wall cladding on a new estate of 500 houses on the outskirts of Bridgetown.