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Vickers factory Crayford photo shows 14,500 happy workers on Armistice Day 1918
THE THOUSANDS of upturned faces are bright and full of hope on Armistice Day 1918.
But most of the 14,500 workers at Vickers armaments factory in Crayford would soon be laid-off as peace ended the massive wartime boom in weapons production.
With Prime Minister David Cameron pledging £50m to commemorate the First World War's centenary in 2014, this amazing image provides a snapshot of the home front in Bexley at the end of the Great War.
The photographer is unknown but the picture was taken from Maiden Lane and is being considered for the artwork of the new Crayford library, part of Bexley Council's town centre redevelopment plan.
Standing proudly in a light suit at the head of his great workforce is factory superintendent Thomas Keppel North, who oversaw Crayford's rapid expansion from just 300 workers at the start of the war to nearly 50 times that by its end.
According to Bexley's local studies and archives manager Simon McKeon, the patches of white in the picture are the hats of female arms workers called 'munitionettes' and the local pubs "did a roaring trade" that day as people drank to the war's end.
He said: "It's evidence that Crayford was home to a major factory and it was just as important as the ship yards of the north east.
"You wouldn't think a tiny town like Crayford could house such a large factory and such a massive workforce."
It is thought former Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath's father William is in the picture, as he worked in aircraft production at the factory.
Sir Ted lived with his family in a house in Green Walk from when he was two months old until the age of seven.
Local historian David Gillham, 72, tells the story of how Sheffield-based Vickers, founded as a steel production company in the 18th Century, moved south and became an armaments powerhouse.
He said: "Vickers took over the factory from (American inventor) Hiram Maxim in 1888.
"These sort of companies rev-up when there's a war on but in between times they sometimes struggle.
"Vickers made the Maxim gun for the Boer War in 1903 but with the decline of the arms trade they started making Wolseley type cars."
"The factory closed between 1910 and 1912 because there was no work."
As the clouds of war gathered over Europe in the run-up to 1914 government orders for arms began to pour in again, including for the famous Vickers machine gun and aircraft like the FB5 'Gun-bus' and later the Vickers Vimy.
Over four years the workforce rose to its 1918 peak before dropping rapidly to 3,500.
The factory continued to operate until its closure in 1985 and was completely demolished in 1998 to make way for the Tower Retail Park, opened in July 1999.
Mr Gillham, of Mount Pleasant Walk in Bexley, is a member of Crayford Town Archive and and encourages anyone interested in the area's history to get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org
Do you know anyone in this photo or have family who worked for Vickers in 1918? Contact email@example.com or ring 01689 885702.