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The British Government issued a statement on April 4, 1916:

The Ministry of Munitions reports with great regret that during the week-end a serious fire broke out in a powder factory, which led to a series of explosions in the works. The fire was purely accidental. It was discovered at midday and the last of the explosions took place shortly after two in the afternoon.
The approximate number of casualties is 200.

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There was a war on, so details were scarce.There was no mention of the location  or of the fact that the factory had been visited on March 31st by His Majesty’s Inspector of Explosives, Major Aston Cooper-Key. The Ministry was determined that the Great Push (Battle of the Somme) already in planning not suffer from a lack of ammunition. The Inspector noted that the factory had received far more supplies from the Ministry of Munitions than it could process, so it was “very congested.” Explosives were stored in sheds and even piled outdoors under tarpaulins. Empty TNT bags — empty except for explosive dust — lay outside a storage shed full of TNT. A nearby chimney was “fitted with an inadequate arrester,” so that sparks had already lit one fire early that Sunday, but it had been put out.(1)

The government is at pains to point out that the devastation was accidental — not the result of sabotage or an enemy raid.

(2) Details and image from Brian Dillon, “The Ghost of an Awful Energy: The Great Kent Explosion of 1916”


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