Gas Girls: women workers in Avonmouth WW1 Mustard Gas factories: community theatre, film, booklet, exhibition

Actors performing 'Gas Girls'

All workers in the factories had to sign the Official Secrets Act, so few of them had never talked about their experiences.

Making a difference

How the project achieved outcomes for heritage

  • The hidden stories of the Gas Girls were uncovered through research at local and national archives.
  • The stories of the Gas Girls were interpreted and explained through a range of media. People locally and nationally found out about new stories as they were discovered through press releases, blog posts and tweets. 
  • The play and exhibition interpreted the history for a wide audience. Reviews of the play were very positive – one audience member said it was “brilliantly conceived… authentic… poignant … deeply moving… thought-provoking… haunting… made me cry…”
  • The stories have been permanently recorded in the book and film, meaning future generations will be able to benefit from the research.

How the project achieved outcomes for people

  • Participants developed skills in archive research, learning from experienced archivists at the National Archives and at the local record office.
  • The cast and audience learnt about the real lives of people during the First World War: their motivations, their struggle with the moral dimension of using gas; their attitudes to the war and a sense of the past as being full of real people living real lives.
  • Participants learnt about the historical context of the time, by researching the developing role of women at the time and life on the home front.  They used this information to build characters, scenes and dialogue.
  • The audience, without exception, said that they had learnt something about the historical story.

How the project achieved outcomes for communities

  • One thousand people saw the play in total. Each tour venue was chosen because it was in an area of social deprivation, and all the shows engaged a significant local audience.
  • Local people have been inspired by the project and wish to develop more heritage projects. 

Lessons learnt

The project leaders were not aware of the wealth of information they would find at the National Archives. As a result they wished they had visited the archives at the beginning of the project before they started devising characters and story lines. Because the younger participants had low levels of historical knowledge about the First World War, considerable research was needed before the characters could be developed. acta and the audiences felt that theatre was a clear and effective vehicle for explaining this emotional and hidden story.  

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