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Kenneth Bingham Quinan Part 4

By Collections blog

Quinan’s later life

At the end of the War, Quinan was 40 years old. He was offered a knighthood which he turned down (as an American, he didn’t think it was appropriate). He was made a Companion of Honour on the same day as General Smuts. He also received official thanks from the House of Commons and a gift of £10,000. In 1919, he returned to South Africa. His work was clearly held in the highest estimation and praise was showered upon him as can be seen below. Photograph below shows Quinan in later life.

“The unique professional knowledge derived from many years of technical experience, the unremitting work of a powerful and vigorous mind, and the irradiating influence of a great, genial and unselfish personality were unreservedly put at the disposal of the British Empire. An atmosphere of good fellowship and of equal comradeship in work pervaded every branch. Everyone who came under the influence of Mr Quinan was stimulated to put forth his best in the general cause.” – Article in Nature Journal, 1920


“It would be hard to point to anyone who did more to win the war than Kenneth Bingham Quinan.” – David Lloyd George


Below: Quinan was given a solid gold brick on retiring along with the words “from one old brick to another”.

KBQ’s timeline after the war

In 1917 Quinan was appointed to the Commission of Chemical Trades after the War. Churchill offered him a position in the Ministry of Munitions but he declined this offer and many others.


In 1919 he returned to his old farm in South Africa as a consultant


In 1922 he helped found and became the first Vice President of the Institute of Chemical Engineers (now the Royal Institute of Chemical Engineers). The main aim for this was to disseminate the information gathered during the War.


31st December 1923 married Jean Pargiter. They had two sons


In 1924 KBQ retired to his fruit farm ‘Bizweni’ in Somerset West where he built a laboratory and dedicated himself to grape production. He also enjoyed big game hunting (especially lions).


In 1942 KBQ was invited by the British Government be Senior Representative in South Africa for Chemical Defence Matters. He worked tirelessly in munitions manufacture again.


11am 26th January 1948 KBQ collapsed and died at his desk in his office at the age of 69.


You can read the first three parts here:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

HM Factory Gretna map

Kenneth Bingham Quinan Part 2

By Collections blog

Kenneth Bingham Quinan  “The great KBQ.”


KBQ was probably the most important person behind the construction and successful operation of HM Factory Gretna (the greatest munitions factory in World War One, The Devil’s Porridge Museum tells its story).

Part 2: KBQ goes to war

“There is Q an American by nationality, a South African in experience, a man with a drive like a steam piston.”  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote this after visiting HM Factory Gretna

On December 19th 1914 a cable sent from the High Commission for South Africa in London stating that K B Quinan was urgently required in Britain.

The High Commissioner immediately cabled De Beers in Kimberley.

“Quinan required urgently in London – can he catch mail steamer leaving Cape Town this afternoon?”

Quinan cabled back, “Yes.”  He packed up his life, made arrangements for the management of the factory and steamed out of Cape Town at 4.30pm that same day.  He was 36 years old, a bachelor and said to have ‘an arresting personality.’

Steam ship Norman

It is said that the steamship, Norman (pictured left), delayed its departure for an hour to enable the man of the moment to board (this was a very unusual occurence and suggests how valuable KBQ was to the British Government).

“For the next four years Quinan’s inspiration, personality and indefatigable labour earned him a wide reputation as one of the greatest organisers and men of genius who had worked in Britain during the War.”  Quote from an article in The Chemical Engineer Journal, 1966.

Quinan was put in charge of the Factories Branch of the Ministry of Munitions (about 20 factories in total).

He worked seven days a week throughout the War and was mainly based in London in his offices at Storey’s Gate.

KBQ brought several of his colleagues with him from South Africa and trained many people who went on to become key figures in the teaching of Chemistry and in Chemical Engineering.

Lord Moulton

Above: Lord Moulton was the Chairman of the Committee on High Explosives.  He observed that British explosives experts were working 16 hours a day and that help was needed from the Empire.  He reached out to KBQ.

He oversaw all the munitions factories in World War One including:

3 Ammonium nitrate factories

2 Calcium nitrate factories

1 Ammonium perchlorate factory

1 Synthetic Phenol factory.

Quinan was also involved in several notable projects including:

the design and construction of a plant for the production of TNT near Chance & Hunt works, Oldbury

the dismantling of distillation units at Rotterdam and for their re-erection at Barrow in Furness and near Avonmouth, Bristol

In 1918, KBQ was put in charge of the Experimental Chemical Warfare and was involved in the building of a phosgene plant in Calais.  Phosgene was a poison gas used in World War.

“KBQ then turned his attention to the design and construction of the big factories at Queen’s Ferry, Sandycroft and Gretna.  These were to produce 600 tons of TNT, 15 tons of tetryl, and 800 tons of cordite weekly, and it is doubtful whether any larger factories for these products have ever been built in Europe.  They were completed in astonishingly quick time – Queen’s Ferry and Sandycroft were operating very early in 1916, and Gretna several weeks later.”

Quote from an article in The Chemical Engineer Journal, 1966.

Part 3 coming soon…

If you found this article interesting, you might like:

Gretna’s Secret War

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