Conkers into Cordite

November 23rd, 2015

The trees are dropping their golden leaves and conker season is upon us. Although a they make an excellent Autumn pastime game, children were collecting them for an altogether different reason during the war. In the Autumn of 1917 the government sent a notice to schools and scout groups across the country. It read: “Groups of scholars and boy scouts are being organised… This collection is invaluable war work and is very urgent. Please encourage it.” The theory behind this seemingly bonkers idea is that they could be used to create acetone, an essential chemical for the manufacture of cordite explosives. Initially imported wood had been used, however the demand could not be met partly due to the German U-Boat campaign which prevented supplies from getting to Britain by sea. A proposal was made that conkers could be used instead. Children were paid 7s 6d (32.5p) for each 112lb they collected. Pupils at the Matlock Bath School joined in with the conker collection.

The campaign had such a successful response that it was impossible for all the conkers to be transported by train. Piles of Conkers sat next to railway stations, rotting away. 3,300 tons of the conkers were used to make cordite explosives for shells and bombs.