As the world’s biggest weighing company at the time of the First World War, Avery was responsible for developing and ensuring accurate weighing in the munitions industry, a critical part of mass production. This work resulted in more accurate weighing machines, advanced testing machines and new processes for manufacturing.
The historic site of Soho Foundry in Smethwick, Birmingham (which is still home to Avery Weigh-Tronix today) came under the control of the Admiralty with mine sinkers, munitions and aircraft assemblies being produced.
Perhaps more importantly, Avery employees pulled together during the huge period of unrest, funding Harborne Hall VAD Hospital and even forming a Company of soldiers – D Company 1st battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment.
In an extract from the book, Gilbert Vyle, W&T Avery’s Managing Director addresses the assembled workforce on 12th August 1914 at the Soho Foundry;
'“I have asked you to assemble here today so that I can give you some idea of what our general position is under the very grave National disturbance that is now going on. These works form a very important unit in the whole of the business of this Company, and as far as we are permitted to do so, we propose to carry on business until further notice. Should darker days come, and shortage of work arise, we shall adopt a policy of shorter hours rather than a smaller number of work-people. In this case we shall endeavour to find employment for everybody.
Now a word about these brave lads of ours who have gone to the front. There are thirty-four, we believe, who have gone out of these works, and over fifty from our Bristol works and our branches in the United Kingdom. We know that our men on active service will receive less pay than they would in regular employment here. What we are prepared to do is to make up the difference between the average wage they have been receiving and their military pay. The Company will pay this to whoever they ask us to pay it to and pay it from the time they left our employ. There are only thirty-four men who have joined the forces from these works. When I look at the large number around me, I say – that is not enough. I want to make a special appeal to all of you who are qualified by physical fitness and age, to go down to the Town Hall in Birmingham to-day and enrol your names – we will make up the difference in your pay, we will look after those at home, and your jobs will be waiting for you when you come back.”
From that moment W&T Avery and the famous Soho Foundry was on a war footing. For the next four years Avery’s would be at the forefront of transforming weighing and testing in British manufacturing. Over 1,200 employees would go to war, and some would not return.'
‘The Power of Balance – W&T Avery Ltd in World War I’ is 205 pages and has been illustrated with rare photographs taken during the war years. The book can be purchased in Paperback for just £10 through Amazon from the 9th November.
About the author
Andrew Lound is a writer, lecturer, TV presenter (Streets of Birmingham), and former curator of the Avery Historical Museum. He has extensively researched this history of the company utilizing its extensive archive.
26th October 2018