IT was a tragedy which rocked a town and a whole nation.

And 85 years later local people and relatives of those involved, still commemorate the event.

For the young women of Erith, the WV Gilbert munitions works was good, if dangerous, local employment, based in wooden huts on Crayford Marshes in Slade Green.

February 18, 1924, was just like any other day, as 21 young women set to work in one of the huts, breaking down Verey light cartridges.

But before the clock had struck 9am, 11 of them and their foreman were dead and another was to die the following day, after being caught up in a catastrophic accident.

As the women sat at their work table a fire, whose source was never discovered, set off a series of huge blasts among the explosive cartridges.

Hero of the hour was foreman Edward Jones, 29, from Dulwich.

As the burning building was rocked by explosions, he went back into the blazing ruins and was killed by one of the blasts as he carried a woman away from the scene.

Eleven women, all but one from Erith, and Mr Jones died that morning.

The youngest was Alice Sweeney, aged 16, from St Francis Road.

For Gladys Herbert, 23, of Friday Road, her first day at the works was also to be her last.

Edna Allen, 17, of Alexandra Road Road, survived for a day, before dying from her burns.

Arthur Street neighbours Alice Harvey, 17, and Alice Craddock, 18, worked and died together.

Dolly Smith, of Powell Street, and Stella Huntley, of Oxford Terrace, were both aged 19 when they died, while Dorothy Sturtivant, of Manor Road, and Irene Turtle, from West Street, were 22.

The oldest woman killed was Elizabeth Dalton, from Lewis Road, Welling, who was just 24.

Lil Futter was 18 on that fateful Monday.

Her sister Violet had left the factory two days before.

Miraculously, Lil survived the blasts suffering just a small scar of her forehead.

The first thing she could remember was standing in the middle of the marshes.

An inquest and an inquiry, were held but no cause for the disaster was ever established.

A memorial to the dead was erected in the cemetery at Brook Street, Northumberland Heath, and this year, as every year, a small ceremony was held, organised by members of Erith and Belvedere Local History Society.

Relatives attended and, during a short ceremony, prayers were said and flowers were left, including a wreath laid by Bexley’s mayor Councillor Nick O’Hare.