the First World War 65 million soldiers were mobilized. Over 8,500,000
of them were killed
and 21,225,000 severely wounded, many of them by munitions made,
in part, from whale oil. WW1 was a monumental disaster not just
for humans, but also for whales who gave their lives that men might
die. Between 1914 and 1917 over 175,000 whales were killed at South
Georgia in the south Atlantic.
explosives are classified as low or high explosives. Low explosives,
e.g. gunpowder, are mixtures of readily combustible substances that
undergo rapid combustion and are used for propelling bullets and
high-explosive shells. High explosives, however, are used to shatter
things. They are unstable molecules that undergo explosive decomposition
to produce rapid and powerful shock waves.
was used extensively in W.W.I as a high explosive. It is a colourless,
oily, and unstable liquid that decomposes with explosive violence
when heated or jarred.
synthesized by an Italian called Ascanio Sobrero in 1846, is made
by reacting glycerol (glycerin, glycerine,or 1,2,3-propanetriol)
with concentrated nitric and sulphuric acids.
is present in the form of esters (glycerides) in all animal and
vegetable fats and oils. It was released by treating the fats with
alkalis such as ash from burned seaweed. Whales were an important
source of fat for this process. The production of ash from kelp
was itself a major industry in Scotland in the western and northern
isles during the 18th and 19th centuries.
quantities of high explosive shells were manufactured during the
war, many of them by women munition workers. Shell production was
physically demanding and dangerous work. This was the first time
that women had been employed in large numbers in heavy industry
and was a turning point in the history of female work practices.
more peaceful times nitroglycerine (or blasting oil) had been used
as a commercial explosive with production being pioneered by the
Swedish Chemist Alfred Nobel in 1862. Unfortunately it was very
dangerous to handle but in 1866 Nobel invented dynamite, nitroglycerine
made safe by absorbing it onto a diatomaceous sand, known as kieselguhr,
to produce a pliable dough-like material.
established a dynamite factory at Ardeer in Ayrshire, which, by
1907 by was reputed to be the largest explosives factory in the
world and which closed only relatively recently. The required
kieselguhr was found in substantial deposits in Scotland at
Loch Cuithir on the Isle of Skye and in Aberdeenshire.
became very successful and made Nobel a very wealthy man indeed.
The fortune that he made from its sale and the sale of other explosive
products is the basis of the modern Nobel Prizes.
much of the nitroglycerin in dynamites has been replaced with ammonium
World War 1 - Trenches on the web
Nobel in Scotland
burning around Orkney
Library of Scotland
Shrapnel explosion at the front
& Galloway Museums
Camouflaged artillery - western front
Museums of Scotland
Women munition workers, Airdrie, 1918
Kelp burning on Papa Westray, Orkney
Women mixing Dynamite, Ardeer, Ayrshire
Kieselguhr works, Dinnet, Aberdeenshire