Skip to content

Lyle’s Golden Syrup Through World War II

Lyle’s Golden Syrup’s journey began over 150 years ago – in 1881, Abram Lyle bought a sugar refinery on the Thames in East London and started making golden syrup, calling it ‘Goldie’. Since then, the Lyle’s factory has evolved with the times, embracing change and challenges as they came.

During the six years Britain was at war, from 1939 to 1945, Lyle’s was more than just a factory. It was a community, a place of support and an integral part of the East End of London. During those difficult times, it provided jobs to women, food for soldiers, protection and shelter for the local population.


When war broke out, the number of the refinery workers was cut considerably by the recall of reservist to their colours, the call up of the Territorial Army and the large number of employees who volunteered for service in the Armed Forces.

This led to the recruitment of more women workers and by February 1942 approximately 150 girls were employed in the Process doing work previously done by men. In the summer of 1942, Lyle’s also started employing additional women, on a part-time basis and by the end of September, over one hundred part-time workers were employed at the Lyle’s Plaistow refinery.

Daisy Lewis was one of five sisters employed in the Syrup Filling Department at the refinery in 1939 who all took over men’s jobs during the war years. She became of a few women to be trained as a panswomen, a skilled and exacting job at the heart of the refining process. Her face lit up as she recalled those years. “It was a marvellous job,” she said. “We used to wear spotless white boiler suits. The pans were enormous – almost like gasometers. I dare say I’ll be called imaginative, but the whole floor used to remind me somehow of a ship.
“I remembered one night when the bombs were coming down, I thought to myself if we ever get a hit here we’ll all end up as toffee apples. When I went home in the morning it was always straight to the shelter and I don’t suppose I ever had more than five hours’ sleep at a stretch during that period. One of the worst nights at the refinery, the iron blackouts blew in. But they were happy days.”


While syrup and sugar production took priority in the refinery, a certain diversification was introduced, and under the auspices of the Ministry of Food, a plant for the dehydration of potatoes was installed.

By August 30th, 1943, our plant was ready to operate. Potatoes and carrots were washed and peeled by machines, before being conveyed down were women stationed at both sides of three trimming bands would remove blemishes.

Sliced, blanched, then dried, the dehydrated were then air sealed and packed and sent to the troops.

A total of 1,314 tons of dehydrated potatoes, 188 tons of dehydrated carrots and 147 tons of dehydrated cabbage were produced until Christmas 1945.

It was said by a soldier son of one of our workers when home on leave from North Africa, that he had heard of our product and had even known it to be on the menu, but that the troops had always advanced before the cooks could manage to reconstitute the stuff!


Home Guards units were raised at the refineries and with the well-trained first aiders and firemen employed there, useful detachments of Civil Defence and Auxiliary Fire Service were formed. The closest possible liaison was kept with the local military and civic authorities.

In June 1940, the Local Defence Volunteers, later to be called the Home Guard were speedily formed. Made up of over 200 men the volunteers included mostly old soldiers and youngsters who had not been called up.

Joseph Cary, the Sports Secretary too over command of them (the Sports Club activities being considerably curtailed) and devoted a great deal of his time to the work. He was later appointed Liaison Officer for a number of factory units, being directly responsible to the Battalion Commander.

At first, the factory Unit solely defended its own premises. Later on, this was changed to a more general policy involving the defence of the neighbourhood in which the factory stands.

Subsequently, these men patrolled the factory grounds and surroundings, engaged on fire-fighting, assisting the National Fire Service even gunned down enemy planes and protected civilians from unexploded bombs.


Following severe air raids, which started on September 7th, 1940, the number of homeless employees was so great that it became imperative to provide sleeping accommodation inside the refineries.

By mid-1941, of the 3,600 people employed at the Thames and Plaistow refineries together, 17 per cent or so had had their homes evacuated, and for those who found it impossible to go home each day – 8 per cent – arrangements had been made for dormitories, and a couple of hundred men and girls slept at each refinery.

In January 1941, the following figures were found by a detailed census:

As conditions improved a little and went back to normal a number of residents were able to return back to their homes, and by 1942, were only 40 men and 2 girls living in the Refinery.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of VE Day, and we are proud to continue to show our support to those impacted by the war. We have launched a Limited Edition VE Day Lyle’s Golden Syrup tin to mark the 75 years since the end of the most devastating conflict in modern global history.

Designed in collaboration with Help For Heroes, the unique tins retain Lyle’s iconic gold and green colours and feature a Morse code on the border, spelling out “V for victory”.

The tin is released in partnership with the renowned Help for Heroes charity, which helps to provide better facilities for British servicemen and women who have been wounded or injured in the line of duty. The limited-edition tins will be available in stores from April 1st, and 50p of every tin sold will be donated to the charity, with the target to raise £25,000.

Designed in collaboration with Help For Heroes, the unique tins retain Lyle’s iconic gold and green colours and feature a Morse code on the border, spelling out “V for victory”.