The War Years

The War Years

The first half of the twentieth century was thrown into turmoil by two world wars. Shanks & Co. were affected both on a business and personal level.

World War 1

According to Gilbert Shanks, 1913 had been the best year the company had ever seen. Demand for goods had been increasing and profits were on the up. Unfortunately, the advent of World War 1 brought this era of growth and optimism to a sudden halt.

The demands of war did lead to new opportunities for the company, for example, they increased their production of admiralty goods and hospital appliances. They also developed Aeration and Whirlpool baths to help treat war wounds, as well as vitrified acid-proof ware for the manufacture of chemicals. However, the huge decrease in orders for household goods meant that the company emerged from the war in debt.

Aeration whirlpool bath

Personal losses were also felt, with the death of John (Jack) Shanks in 1917. John’s cousins Gilbert and Ronald were called up, but survived the war to return and play a continuing part in the company’s history. It is recorded that twelve workers from Shanks were also killed during the conflict.

The civic minded members of the Shanks family contributed to the war effort in various ways. As well as making individual contributions, they collected contributions from workers and raised funds through charitable efforts. William Shanks continued to serve on the town council with the founder’s son and Jack’s father, John, who was by that time a Bailie.

John (Jack) Shanks

Recruitment drives took place in the Tubal works, during the lunch hour, where the young Shanks employees would be urged to sign up ‘to serve king and country’. Immediately after the war, William and John Shanks joined a committee to organise a war memorial to the fallen, with John taking the chair. With his own son amongst the casualties, it would no doubt have been a cause close to his heart.

World War 2

With WW2 looming, the company knew that they would once again lose their household trade, which had been expanding healthily during the housing boom of the 20s and 30s.

One of the reasons why Shanks had struggled so much during WW1 was that they did not attempt to gain munitions work until later on in the war. Determined not to make the same mistake twice, the company immediately applied to the Ministry of Defence to be put on their list. In 1940, they were given their first munitions contract and this was to continue throughout the war years.

Over the period of WW2, they produced aero engine components, torpedo tubes, bomb components, tank components and ammunition. In the Pottery there was large scale production of chemical ware. The total value of munitions supplied during WW2 totalled £2,000 000, a significant sum.

Like other employers at the time, Shanks began to employ women workers to take the place of those who had gone to fight. A total of twenty two workers died in the armed forces during WW2.

Shanks & Co. Ltd, 1851 – 1969

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