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The front of a postcard with a photo of a lady and a Birthday poem.

Postcard sent during World War One

By Collections blog

We are always on the look out for items that relate to HM Factory Gretna and its 30,000 workers (12,000 of them women) in World War One.  The Museum recently acquired this postcard which was sent with Birthday wishes to a worker staying at one of the hostels in Eastriggs during the War.

eastriggs gretna munitions girl postcard

As a complete list of all the munitions workers doesn’t exist just knowing the name of another girl and which hostel they stayed in is interesting.  This is also a sentimental card which shows that friendships and Birthday celebrations continued even during the dark days of War.

Brick hostels were built to house the workers in Eastriggs and Gretna.  Each one was superintended by a matron and they were named after famous people, many of them from Scotland’s history (such as Mary Queen of Scots, Robert Bruce and Walter Scott).  Balliol House (where the recipient of this postcard lived) was on Pretoria Road in Eastriggs.  John Balliol was King of Scotland.   The photograph below shows hostels being constructed in Gretna in World War One.

building hostels in gretna world war one

The street name is also interesting, street names in Eastriggs are primarily names of places from the Empire/Commowealth (such as Sydney Road, Auckland Walk, Delhi Place and Singapore Road).  This is a lasting legacy of World War One and demonstrates how people came from all over the world to work at HM Factory Gretna.  Many of their descendants visit us today from Australia and South Africa (for example) to share their family history.   The photograph below shows Pretoria Road today.  Balliol Hostel can be seen on the right.  At the end of the War, the hostels were converted into houses and many of these original World War One buildings are still standing and lived in today.

pretoria road

If you would like to know more about HM Factory Gretna and the townships of Eastriggs and Gretna in World War One, we have many interesting publications in our online shop:


Salter Scale

Old Set of Scales From Storage

By Collections blog

This item is a scale from around the 1940’s or 50’s and has been sitting in the Museums store for a while.

Salter Scale

It is a Salter No.50 scale which was made by Salter Housewares which was formed in 1760 in the village of Bilston, England. At this time Richard Salter, a spring maker, began making ‘pocket steelyards’, a scale like the fisherman’s scale of today.

Salter Scale

The business thrived throughout the 1900’s and by the 1950’s employed over 2000 people, still owned by the same family in the same area. Then in 1972 the company was purchased by Staveley Industries Plc and was split into separate subsidiaries, housewares, industrial etc. relocating as required.

Salter Scale

In the late 80’s and early 90’s Staveley was purchasing more businesses worldwide from a new ‘weighing group’ which became the Weigh-Tronix Corporation. The focus of the new corporation however was increasingly towards industrial or commercial weighing, so in February 2002, the management team at Salter Housewares Ltd, backed by Barclays Private Equity, bought the company out from the group, to concentrate on its consumer businesses.

Salter Scale

The company then grew rapidly over the next two years and was then acquired in March 2004 by US based HoMedics company, leaders in the “personal wellness” product category. In 2006, Salter Housewares USA and Taylor Precision Products Inc (also owned by HoMedics) merged together to combine sales, marketing and distribution efficiencies to be more reactive to their changing retailer environment.

A Royal Navy ship at sea.

World War Two ammunition shipped from Gretna to Russia

By Collections blog

We recently received a copy of the article below.  It appeared in a newspaper local to the Museum, The Annandale Observer, on September 7th 1945.  It details the wartime shipment of ammunition from a Central Ammunition Depot near Gretna Green (Eastriggs?  Longtown?).  The ammunition was sent via the Arctic convoys to Russia.  We weren’t aware of this before and were very interested to find out.


gretna to archangel arctic convoy world war two

If you are interested in this region during World War Two, you might like this book, which was published by the Museum following local history research and oral history interviews.

The Solway Military Coast book

This booklet (which is included within the Solway Military Coast book), specifically looks at The Ministry of Defence depots at Eastriggs and Longtown.

The Ministry of Defence Depots: Longtown and Eastriggs

gretna to archangel arctic convoy world war two

Lily Florence Curle

Gretna Girl – Lily Florence Curle

By Collections blog

Lily Florence Curle

Born 31st July 1900 died 1980

Worked at HM Factory Gretna 1916 – 1919

Lily Florence Curle

Just after her 16th birthday on 31st July 1916, Lily Florence Curle (later to become Mrs Alexander Ogilvie) heard from her friends that the new munitions factory at Mossband was looking to employ female staff of all ages.

She told her father that she would like to apply for one of these new jobs, but he said she could not as there was enough work for her to do at home, with her mother in a wheelchair.

Going behind her fathers back, which must have taken great courage in those days, she applied and was successful in securing one of these new positions.

Lily had to travel by bicycle to her work at Mossband from her home at Drybeck on the Authuret Road near Longtown, which was seven miles, a round trip of fourteen miles on top of a days work. This she did willingly (as she was glad to have work) morning and night, winter and summer and was never late.

She continued working with munitions at Mossband until she had to leave in the Autumn of 1919 to get married

The Civil Ensign of the United Kingdom.

The life and death of Eric de Clermont

By Collections blog

Eastriggs (where The Devil’s Porridge Museum is based) is known as the Commonwealth Village.  The majority of its street names are derived from places in the Commonwealth (or Empire) such as Vancouver Road, Delhi Road, Singapore Road etc.  The township was built in World War One to house workers at HM Factory Gretna, the greatest munitions factory on earth at that time (the Museum tells the story of this factory and its 30,000 workers).  The workers came from around the world and they left their mark behind in their wartime contribution and in the place names of Eastriggs.  Here we feature one person from the Factory who worked here in World War One.

Eric de Clermont

Born: 1st November 1880

Died (in Gretna): 5th December 1918

Commonwealth connection: South Africa


eric de clermont

Eric’s experiences before World War One

1st November 1880 Eric was born in London.

1899 Eric entered King’s College, Cambridge.

1901 Eric appeared on Census return aged 20, he was listed as a student.  At that time, his family were living in Reigate.  His father, Otto (48) was listed as a Mechanical Engineer and his sister, Helen (22) as a School Teacher.  His cousin, Kenneth Heilgers (19) was also staying with them and he was recorded as an East India merchant on the census.

1902 Eric graduated from King’s College with a BA.

1903 Eric graduated from Camborne School of Mines, Cornwall with a  qualification in Ore Dressing for which he was awarded an Honours Grade Second Class.

Some time after 1903 Eric travelled to South Africa to work in mining.

1916 Eric returned to Britain.


Accidents and ill health meant that Eric couldn’t volunteer for the army.

He had been an enthusiastic rugby player, even captaining his team at King’s College Cambridge before an injury.

He lost his eye and contracted miner’s phthisis (a lung disease) whilst he was working in the South African mines.

In 1916, he was nominated for a Commission in a tunnelling company and promised he would be sent quickly to the Front but his injuries and ill health put a stop to that.

Eric’s War work

Eric de Clermont joined the Ministry of Munitions and after his preliminary training at Pitsea near Basildon, he came to HM Factory Gretna in July 1916.

For more information on Pitsea, see:

He seems to have been a well known and well liked person as these quotes demonstrate.

“He had a schoolboy’s enthusiasm for everything he undertook, and a schoolboy’s instinct of playing the game.”

“He was full of enthusiasm for his new task, and was one of the first to take over a shift; he soon became a Range Officer, and finally was appointed a Sub-section Officer.”

“He worked his Sub-section up to a pitch of the highest efficiency, and was always devising schemes for increasing output and reducing costs; this he was enabled to do by real hard work, and by the respect and confidence of his subordinates, which he won without difficulty.”

The Death of Eric de Clermont

On November 25th 1918, Eric was taken ill with influenza (the Spanish Flu).  He had to be prevented (by force) from going to work at the Factory.

He was said to have been full of high spirits when he entered the influenza hospital.

But after a few days, pneumonia began to develop and he became quieter and finally passed away on December 5th 1918 aged 38.

He was buried at Rigg Cemetery on December 7th 1918.

Eric’s death “…cast a dark shadow over the closing days of the Factory, for with his passing we had lost a man who had gained our affection as colleague and friend.  He was an outstanding personality on the Cordite Section, and it is probable that but few of the thousands on the area did not know him, his ingenuous, engaging disposition, and the hundred and one little episodes associated with his name.” 

victory avenue

Photograph above: shows Victory Avenue, Gretna which was Eric’s address when he died

“His old tweed jacket; his beatific smile when one of his many little tricks was found out; his intense local patriotism…his garden, which he would weed on a rainy day sitting on a camp-stool under an umbrella – all these, together with the many episodes remembered by those who lived with at Staff-Quarters, Sarkbridge, and at 96 Victory Avenue, remain and endear him to us.”

All quotes from Mossband Farewell magazine (in the Museum’s archive).

To find out more about Eastriggs in World War One a map has been produced:

Photo of some munitions workers outside a Gym at H. M. Factory Gretna.

Wonderful new photo of Gretna Girls

By Collections blog

We recently discovered this postcard and have added it to our collection.  It shows a group of ‘Gretna Girls’ i.e. munition workers from HM Factory Gretna outside the gymnasium.  HM Factory Gretna was the greatest factory on earth in World War One, it employed 12,000 women (The Devil’s Porridge Museum tells its story).

The workers were comparatively well looked after with a Social and Recreation Department through which the gym and other facilities were provided.  A document in the Museum’s collection states that,

“…each township [Gretna and Eastriggs built to house the workers] became possessed of an Institute, a Cinema, a spacious Hall for Meetings, Concerts and Dances, a Mission Hall, smaller buildings for general purposes and a Recreation ground with pitches for Cricket, Football, Hockey and other healthy games.  Tennis Courts and Bowling Greens were also provided.”

hm factory gretna gym

This photo has the following text written beneath it.

“These Gretna girls in costume trim

Have spent the morning in ‘the Gym’

They learn to climb, to jump and run,

And to judge by their faces, it’s all great fun!”

Interestingly, the postcard wasn’t sent until 1960 and when it was sent it was sent to someone (a female student?) at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford.  The main text of the postcard does not relate to the photo on the front but the Postscript does.  It seems the writer of the postcard bought it at a Church Bazaar.

The following is an extract from the back of the postcard:

“Owner of this splendid collection and really did take wk in Gretna Green Ordnance Factory set up during First World War.”

The gym is described in a Museum document as being “…fitted with all the most modern gymnastic appliances, and the classes held for girl operatives on several occasions each week, under the direction of a trained instructress, have been attended with most gratifying and beneficial results, physically and otherwise.”

The same document also describes the uniforms worn by the girls:  “The members of these classes wear a neat and serviceable uniform that affords them ample freedom for their numerous exercises.”

We are very pleased with this new addition to our Museum collection.  If you are interested in the stories of Gretna Girls and their experiences in World War One, this publication (available from the Museum’s online shop) may be of interest to you:

Lives of Ten Gretna Girls booklet


Smiths Clock

Vintage Clock From Storage

By Collections blog

This clock is being kept in the Museums store, it is a wooden mantelpiece clock made by Smiths in Great Britain. We think it is from around the 1950’s but were not sure. The clock uses a coil system which means when the clock chimes the coil is struck which makes the noise.


Smiths Clock

Smiths, then called S. Smith and Sons (Motor Accessories) Ltd, entered the domestic clock market and formed a new company, Smiths English Clocks Limited, as the clock and watch division with Cricklewood as its main factory. After this Smiths acquired many other businesses such as English Clock and Watch Manufacturers of Coventry and the Enfield Clock Co. In 1935 Smiths released the synfinity which they described as “the clock that never stops”.


Smiths Clock

Smiths made many ranges of clocks from the 1930’s to the 1970’s including Catolle, Callboy, Synfinity and the Sectronic. In 1977 Smiths carried out another reorganisation of the clock and watch division which formed two separate companies, Smiths Industries Clock Co and Smiths Industries Watch Co. Then after that in 1979 Smiths ceased to produce clocks for the domestic market.

Victoria Robertson in munition workers uniform.

Gretna Girls – Victoria Robertson

By Collections blog

Gretna Girls – Victoria Robertson

Victoria went to work at Gretna when she was 16. She lived in Carlisle and travelled every day to the plant, by train. She worked in the Mossband section of the Plant, and she remembers that the Carlisle train used to stop at a specially built siding, adjacent to the Plant. She was accompanied on this daily trip by her mother, who worked in what she called the ‘scrub houses’


Victoria worked in the electrical maintenance department, and because of this, she was provided with a distinctive blue uniform, consisting of mop cap, battledress jacket, trousers, and an armband, bearing the letters E.D. There were between 12 and 18 girls employed in this section, and they were supervised by a man called Mr. Forster.


The Girls worked in pairs, checking and repairing light switches and electrical ranges around the various buildings. She remembers working inside one of the shops or workbuildings, where the workers were dressed in khaki trousers and jerkins.


She particularly remembers seeing the cordite coming out of the machines like spaghetti, and also recalls how strong the fumes were.


After the war, Victoria retained her interest in the electrical works, and joined the Electrical Association for Women in Carlisle.

Born in a Munition Workers Hostel in 1919

By Collections blog

A recent visitor to the Museum sent us a photo of their mothers Birth certificate who used to work at the munitions factory at Powfoot during the Second World War. The visitor was researching their family tree when they discovered that one of their mothers three sisters (who her mother never mentioned) also worked in a munitions factory.  The visitor’s mother (Margaret or Peggy Sweeney) was born at the end of World War One.   Her mother (Bridget Sweeney) worked in one of the hostels for munitions girls in Eastriggs (Newfoundland House).  She was a cook as shown in Peggy’s birth certificate (below).

Birth Certificate

Old Photo

These are photographs of Margaret or Peggy Sweeney as a child and young woman.

The accommodation for the workers at HM Factory Gretna varied as many wooden huts were built to be used as hostels but also a number of brick hostels were made to house more people, these brick hostels lasted for a long time and the majority of them stand today and have been split up into houses after being sold off after the war. The brick hostels had a matron and a cook to make sure that the workers were looked after and fed properly, each hostel was named after a famous figure such as Wellington, Kitchener and Wolfe which were all situated on Victory Avenue in Eastriggs.

WW1 hostels

The hostels were built very quickly by the Irish Navvies who came to Eastriggs and Gretna to build the Factory site. Even the brick hostels were built very quickly as stated in this account: “I remember when all the navvies were there building….. we were coming on shift one morning and they were starting to build a block and when we came off in the afternoon it was all up, the whole block was built, you know, the hostels, it was all built while we were at work, all built in a day, there were hundreds of men there.” – Mary Ellen Halliday, who started working in the factory in 1916 aged 19.

Hostel being built by navvies

When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle visited the Factory and hostels he said this about the way they were laid out “A considerable nucleus of solid brick houses which should be good for a century or more…. radiating out from this centre are long lines of wooden huts to hold the workers, cottages for the married couples, bungalows for groups of girls and hostels which hold as many as seventy in each. This central settlement is where people live – North and South of it is where they work.”

Gretna overhead view WW1

William and Ann Collins in 1916.

Photos of World War One munitions workers during and after the War

By Collections blog

The Museum was visited recently by a couple who told us about their family’s connections with HM Factory Gretna in World War One.  They donated photographs of their family from that time (for our original post about this donation, see:

The couple recently made contact with us again to share some photographs of the same people after the War had ended, when they had moved to Beeston in Nottinghamshire.

This photograph shows William and Anne Collins at around the time of their marriage om 1916 (she was a munitions worker at HM Factory Gretna and he was stationed there with the Royal Engineers).

The photograph below shows the same couple in 1973.

This photograph shows Anne when she worked at HM Factory Gretna, she was about 16 years old at the time.

The photograph below shows Anne in 1989 aged 91.

This photograph shows William in World War One.  He joined the Royal Engineers in 1914.

The photograph below shows William in 1973.  He worked at Wilford Power Station and died in 1981 aged 87 years.

Thanks so much to this couple and to all the people who share their family stories with us.

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