Skip to main content

Collections blog

Fire engine for H.M. Factory Gretna. This is an archive photo.

New object of the month for June

By Collections blog

This display and post were created by Morgan, who is doing work experience with us (and possibly an apprenticeship).

This month’s object of the month is a model of a Fire Engine.  As a state of the art and potentially explosive factory, many precautions were taken to avert the risk of fire including the provision of fire brigades and fire engines.  These photographs show some of the engines and fire stations in World War factory gretna fire engine

The Eastriggs fire station was located within easy access of the Factory and was surrounded by houses with reinforced concrete walls on the ends that faced towards the Factory site (in case of explosion).

object of the month fire engine

During World War One there were many explosions and fires which happened at the Factory in Eastriggs which the fire department had to deal with.   Many of these explosions injured many people and sometimes caused fatalities, one of these people was Miss Roberta Ewart Robertson from Dumfries who was killed in an explosion which happened in Gretna due to accidental causes.

To see Roberta Robertson’s commemoration on a local war memorial click here:

Eastriggs fire station

Photo of Eastriggs fire station during World War One

During these fires and explosions there were some who put their lives in danger to save the lives of others these people were presented with awards for these actions. For example Mary Adams was honoured for courage in assisting others at great personal risk during a fire and in June of 1918 Maud Bruce was awarded a bravery medal for climbing to the top of a drying machine and removing cotton following a fire in the drying house. This shows that factory workers put themselves in danger to make the supplies that were needed in the war.

Maud Bruce

Photo above shows Maud Bruce

A Brodie helmet on display.

New object of the month display for May

By Collections blog

Object of the Month May 2019: WW1/WW2 Helmets
This month’s objects were chosen by Peter Muir.

Combat helmets have a long history in military service due to the importance of protecting the human head. However, while they were historically commonplace, their use declined from the 17th century onwards as it was found that metal helmets offered insufficient protection against modern weaponry such as firearms, limiting their use for soldiers at risk from melee weapons like sabres. By the start of World War One, none of the major combatant nations had any real form of head protection for their soldiers, at most issuing light leather headgear designed to protect against bladed weapons.

However, soon after the outbreak of the war it became clear that soldiers needed better protection. A major cause of casualties was from artillery, whose lethality had increased massively as technology developed, yet this had not been realised until artillery began to be used in the scale seen in the First World War. Shrapnel and fragmentation shells were particularly deadly, as they sent small pieces of metal flying in all directions from the blast, thus head wounds from such attacks became a major cause of injury and death on the battlefield. While no helmet could protect against bullets and remain practical to wear, it was possible for them to protect against these flying fragments of metal. As a result, the warring combatants revived the concept of a combat helmet and the basic idea continues to see service to this day. World War One produced several famous helmet designs who saw service through the war, as well as service all the way to World War Two and sometimes even beyond.

For the object of the month display, Peter has chosen three famous examples.

The top helmet is the Brodie helmet, a British design. It was named after its designer, John Brodie, and was made from “Hadfield steel”. The helmet was designed to made from a single rounded piece of metal which could then be pressed into a bowl shape. This made the helmet easier to produce, as well as stronger than making it out of more pieces.

The helmet’s broad shape helped protect soldiers from air-burst shells (shells exploding in the air). However, it offered less protection to the lower head and neck. The helmet first saw service in late 1915. The variant on display is probably a Mark II helmet, which was introduced in 1938 and saw service in World War Two.

The middle helmet is the Stahlhelm (steel helmet), a German design. Its designers, military physician Friedrick Schwerd and engineer August Bier, examined where exactly on the head most wounds were occurring and designed the helmet to protect against them. It was approved for general use in early 1916.

The helmet offered more all-round protection than the other two designs and used stronger metal, though this meant it took more time and effort to make and the deep sides could interfere with peripheral vision and muffle sound. The variant on display is an M42 variant, which was introduced during 1942 to meet wartime demands by incorporating cost cutting measures.

The bottom helmet is the Adrian helmet, a French design. France was the first country to introduce helmets, introducing them in early 1915. It was designed by Intendant-General August-Louis Adrian and was called the M15.
The helmet was thinner and lighter than the other two designs, making it less of a burden to wear and much easier to make, though affording less protection as a result.
You will notice that there are two small holes on the front – these were intended to be mounting points for various emblems that would denote the branch of service of the solider (e.g artillery, cavalry, infantry).
The helmet was quite popular and other nations who adopted the Adrian design would come up with their own emblems. The variant on display is a second, post-WW1 variant introduced in 1926 called the M26, which featured some improvements, notably having the main part of the helmet made from a single piece of steel rather than two, making it sturdier.

Four medals and a cardboard box with a letter.

Medals in the museum collection

By Collections blog

On Mondays, the Devil’s Porridge Museum is very lucky to have Desray working in the office as a digitisation volunteer.  She has been going through the objects in the museum’s object store and adding them to our digital database.  Each object has its own database entry which takes around 10 minutes to create.  Desray has created hundreds of database entries on all sorts of different objects.  She is currently working her way through our collection of medals.  She found this object very interesting and here she tells us why…



These medals were sent to Mr G.H Varcoe in Lancaster on in April 1945 and were received for his service during the second world war. He has been awarded four medals, which include the 1939-45 star, the France and Germany Star, the Defence Medal and the War Medal 1939-45. It was interesting to find that most of these medals were still had their original paper packaging; making them appear as if they had either been well cared for, or barely worn at all.



The lapel badge (which also belonged to Mr Varcoe) is from some unidentified regiment, or could have possibly been handmade. Its design could possibly resemble a stethoscope, a flower growing on a hill, the letter y, or some sort of snake.  One of our volunteers, Robin, has suggested that it may be a spur and therefore be associated with the cavalry.

Thanks to Desray for this blog and for everyone she does!





A train outside Gretna Church.

World War One locomotive

By Collections blog

The Devil’s Porridge Museum has the photo below in its collection.  It shows a train near St Andrew’s Parish Church in Gretna.  A railway line ran through here during World War One.

train outside gretna church

The locomotive was built in 1916 by Hudswell Clark and sent to the munitions works at Gretna.

It was sold by the Ministry of Munitions in 1922 and consigned to the scrap yard in 1957.  It somehow survived and was eventually bought by Mr Stephen Middleton, who has restored it to working order on the Embsay and Bolton Abbey Steam Railway (near Skipton).

Thanks to Davie Wilson, one of our volunteers, who shared this information and these photographs with the museum.


Some embroidered letters in a display case.

New object of the month display for March

By Collections blog

Every month, we change the display in our object of the month cabinet.  This enables us to showcase some of the objects we have in store (some of which haven’t been on display before).


For March, we have this beautiful sampler on display.  It was recently accessioned (added to the collection) by our collections volunteer, Hannah.


This is the text that is on display with it in the cabinet:


Object of the Month: March 2019
Stitched Sampler

Samplers such as this were made by children as they learned to sew. They almost always include the name and age of the person who created it along with letters of the alphabet and numbers, some include poetry and pictures too.

Samplers were an essential part of most children’s upbringing until the mid-twentieth century. They were a way to practice different stitches and demonstrate the skills of the child. Sewing was an essential skill for working class women (to mend clothing) and a desirable one for upper and middle class women (who often occupied their time creating pieces such as decorated table cloths, fire guards and wall hangings).

This one was sewn in Dumfries, dates from 1885 and was sewn by a child aged 10.

object of the month


Isabella Dixon OBE

International Women’s Day: inspiring women of World War One

By Collections blog

Yesterday was International Women’s Day, a time to celebrate wonderful women so here is an account of bravery shown by two remarkable women during World War One.

Maud Bruce was from County Durham, aged 22 when she went to work at HM Factory Gretna (which the Devil’s Porridge Museum is primarily focused upon). She became a forewoman and was in charge of a women’s fire brigade unit in the factory.

Six months after her arrival at the plant, at 8pm on 22nd May 1917, a fire broke out in the gun cotton drying house where she was employed. In this section of the plant there were always large quantities of loose dry cotton lying about. Smoke began to appear out of one of the cotton drying machines, and within a few minutes, the room was filled with thick smoke. Flames began spreading rapidly to the layers of cotton inside the willower, as the machine was called. Maud (photographed below) climbed the ladder beside the machine, which was about 20ft. high, and cut away the burning cotton to prevent the fire from spreading, and by her cool action, the other girls were encouraged to operate the steam and water sprinklers, to extinguish the existing fire.

Her brave deed, therefore, not only halted the expansion of the fire, but also ensured that the rest of the girls carried out their fire fighting duty.

Isabella Dixon

On June 21st 1918, when she was 23, Maud was awarded the OBE by the Duke of Buccleuch, at Gretna she was described in a newspaper article as, “…a fine type of girl…”. The same article from 1917, describes another young woman called Isabella Dixon (photographed above) who was awarded an OBE at the same time as Maud, ‘for presence of mind and courage entering a burning room in an explosives factory and playing a hose upon the flames.’

Maud was one of the first people in the country to undergo plastic surgery. She lived to be 100 years old (photographed below in later life).

maud bruce in later life

A toy rabbit.

New Object of the Month display

By Collections blog

We have a new object of the month display for February.  It shows some new donations to the Museum including a small pram and some vintage children’s comic books.  We also got out a gorgeous little stuffed rabbit which was in our object store.  The display was installed by Łukasz, our Monday work experience student from Annan Academy.  If you visit the Museum this month, you will be able to see this display of children’s objects on the Ground Floor.

The top shelf shows the beautiful vintage rabbit which Hannah, our collections volunteer found in our object store recently.



Translate »