Remembering the Swynnerton Roses

Left to right: ‘Swynnerton Roses’ Barbara Botfield and Dora Gayle
with the badges presented at the annual Armistice Day Lunch.

Landmarc Support Services and the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) have hosted their annual Armistice Day lunch, which gathers together the ladies who worked at Swynnerton Training Camp in World War II – fondly named the ‘Swynnerton Roses’ – and family members, along with apprentices that worked
there in the 1950s, local residents, ex-employees, and the local police and fire brigade. The event aims to honour these ladies, the gentleman apprentices and remember those who lost their lives to protect our freedom.

During the war some 33,000 people – the majority of which were women – worked on site to supply troops with ammunition, including Spitfire bullets and black powder used for illuminations at sea. The work was dangerous and there were injuries and fatalities, however there are still a number of surviving ‘Swynnerton Roses’ – all of whom are in their nineties.

Dora Gayle, 93, one of the surviving Roses, who worked filling detonators, commented on the event:

“It’s nice to be able to come back to Swynnerton and be recognised for the work that we did. At the time we didn’t know how dangerous it was and we didn’t really know what was going on in the outside world as there was no wireless and you didn’t really talk to the girls you were working with.”

This annual event started 16 years ago as a gathering of around 10 people over a cup of coffee, a biscuit and the laying of a single wreath. It has grown exponentially to the event it is today, with a huge number of 172 visitors this year.

DIO, along with Landmarc and ESS employees, looked after the honoured guests from the moment they arrived. Tea and coffee were served prior to a short service and wreath laying at the cenotaph, followed by the haunting strains of the last post played by a bugler from Staffordshire ATC. The team then waited on the tables with a three course lunch, provided by ESS.

An added extra at this year’s event was the presentation of a badge to all of the Roses in attendance (of which there were seven) and those who had family representatives, in recognition of ammunitions workers and their efforts in the war. British Aerospace, which is now in charge of weapons production, was the sponsor of these and it was organised by Samantha Webb who is the great-granddaughter of a previous Rose, Lillian Hill, who is
sadly no longer with us.

Major (Ret’d) Jim Salisbury, DIO’s training safety officer at the camp, is part of the team that organises the annual event.

He said:

 “Being able to recognise the bravery of the men and women who served at ROF Swynnerton is a real honour. Especially the Swynnerton Roses, these unsung heroines had an extremely dangerous job to do and it’s our pleasure to be able to thank them with this event. It’s also a chance for us to be able to thank the local
residents for the support they provide to Swynnerton as a live firing site 365 days a year.”

Swynnerton Rose, Barbara Botfield, who is also in her 90s said:

“The day was absolutely lovely. The icing on the cake was to be presented with the badges. We never thought we’d be recognised for the work that we did, so to receive something was a huge surprise and I think all of us were genuinely shocked and pleased.

“I’ve got happy memories of my time at Swynnerton, it was a lovely lot of girls who just got on with a very dangerous job.”

Sarah Butler, Landmarc’s team administrator at Swynnerton,added:

“It is such a special day, not only for our guests but for me personally as my grandma was a ‘Rose’. It is an honour to serve these heroes and say thank you for all they did for our country and to say thank you to our residents for their ongoing support now.”

Swynnerton Training Camp was built in 1939, originally as a Royal Ordnance Factory manufacturing munitions for World War II, and the location was chosen because it was easily hidden by mist and fog.