Two Aycliffe Angels returned to their former place of work when they were special guests at ROF 59’s official launch.
The former Presswork Metals building was part of the huge Royal Ordnance Factory in Aycliffe which employed 17,000 people, mostly women, during World War II.
And 70 years after the end of the war, Aycliffe Angels Vera Stobbs and Joan Davies returned to the site to officially launch ROF 59 when they joined Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson during the celebrations.
It brought back vivid memories for the two ladies.
Vera, now 91, said: “My aunt used to work here and she said she meet me when I came for my interview. We were walking along a big bang went off, and I said to my aunt ‘what’s that?’, and she said ‘that’s where you’re going!’. It was the cap shop I was going to.
“They used to bring the boxes out, just like they do in (the TV programme) ‘Deal or No Deal’ and you used to have break the seal put the caps on.”
Despite the death of one of her friends, Rosie Rob, Vera says she has fond memories of her time on the Green shift at ROF 59.
Lord Haw Haw (William Joyce) was a traitor who worked for the Nazis during World War II, making English Language propaganda radio broadcasts on Radio Luxembourg and other stations.
He dubbed them “the little angels of Aycliffe“, promising that the Luftwaffe would bomb them into submission.
“The Little angels of Aycliffe won’t get away with it,” he had said in numerous broadcasts, highlighting the importance of their work.
And Vera recalled: “Haw Haw used to get on the radio… there was no TVs then… and he’d say ‘we’re coming tonight to get the Angels’. We used to say ‘oooh is he? They’re coming tonight!’. But they never did.”
Eight women lost their lives only six days before VE Day in an explosion. And in another tragedy, a young woman died weeks before she was due to be married.
But Joan, who has lived in Aycliffe Village all her life, said the camaraderie at ROF 59 was always good.
“You just used to take it in your stride and get on with it,” said the 89-year-old, who worked in plant six producing smoke bombs for the Navy.
“There was thousands of people who worked here. People keep showing me photos and asking if I recognise people, but I don’t recognise anyone because there were so many. All of the people I knew from the factories have died now.
“But I think this is a good thing for the children. I think we have been forgotten, so it is nice to see it coming to the fore like this and people will remember the ROF workers, who did a very good job during the war.”
ROF 59 has been created by local steel firm Finley Structures after they acquired the site three years ago.
More than £1m has been spent on it in the last year. It now includes a climbing centre and a trampoline park as well as a restaurant and bar/lounge.
Local MP Phil Wilson, whose grandmother Isabella Woods was an Aycliffe Angel, paid tribute to the new facility.
“Me and a few other MPs are trying to get formal recognition for the work people did in the Royal Ordnance Factories,” said Mr Wilson.
“They were making the ammunitions for our men on the front line. And even though they were many hundreds of miles away from the front line, it was still a dangerous job.
“We’ve recognised all the veterans, as we should. We’ve recognised the Bevin Boys, and I think this is another group which should be recognised with some kind of honour.
“I think what John Finley has done here is fantastic. It’s paying homage to what happened here during the second World War with creating a modern facility, so that when people come in here, they don’t forget what has gone before, but at they can still come to have a great time in a modern facility.
“There’s so much happening in Aycliffe now, which is positive and optimistic, and I think this is part of that.”
Among the workers at ROF 59 were John Finley’s gradnmother Olive, mother Dorothy, and aunts Winnie and Teresa.
But, amazingly, Mr Finley only discovered this a few months ago.
“It wasn’t something the family talked about,” admitted John.
“People didn’t make a big deal about what they did in the war. My uncle Tom used to tell me about mornings before school when he’d sit on the step waiting my gran to come home from her nightshift and seeing that her hair had gone a funny colour, because the chemicals in the explosive compounds which dyed workers’ skin and hair yellow.
“I had no idea where that work was. It was only when someone in the family told uncle Tom what I was doing, he dug out some old photos and it all came to light.”
Now the family venture will enable the ROF 59 legacy to live on in Newton Aycliffe for generations to come.