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Nora Morphet being given the British Empire Medal by Lord Lonsdale.

Worker of the Week: Nora Morphet

By Collections blog, News

Worker of the Week is a weekly blogpost series which will highlight one of the workers at H.M. Gretna our volunteers have researched for The Miracle Workers Project. This is an exciting project that aims to centralise all of the 30,000 people who worked at Gretna during World War One. If you want to find out more, or if you’d like to get involved in the project, please email This week, volunteer Marilyn tells us all about Nora Morphet.

Nora Morphet was born on 18th April 1898 at Staveley , Nr Kendal , Westmorland to James and Sarah nee Irwin. James was the son of an agricultural labourer ( 1871 census) and at 17 in 1881 James is a Railway Porter.  James and Sarah were married in Brampton in 1891 according to Marriage registers. They lived in and they lived at 15, Dalston St, Carlisle

The 1901 census places the family at Railway Cottage, Staveley, James being a Railway Signalman age 35 and born at nearby Barbon, Westmoreland. Sarah was born in Brampton, Cumberland , now aged 36. They already had 4 children – Mary Alice , 8 and Ethel, 3 born in Brampton , Nora 2 and James 1 born in Staveley. A 5th child , Esther Annie  was born on 2nd July 1901 but tragically Sarah the mother died on 13th December according to the Register of deaths. The parent’s ages indicated in the 1901 census are questionable when tallied with other sources of evidence.

By 1911 , James now  a widower for almost 10 years, lived in Back Street , Yanwath ,near Penrith with his young family. He is now 47, still a Railway Signalman. Mary Alice , 18 , described as single and now indicated as being born in Carlisle which links with other sources – the young couple had lived at  15 Dalston St  when they first married. Nora, 12, James 11 and Esther 9 all scholars.

Ethel is to be found on a separate census return as a 15 year old servant for a miller and his wife at Morland ,Penrith.

The Cumberland and Westmoreland Herald- Saturday 30th December 1911 report in full the Christmas performance by the whole village school at Yanwath. Nora , James and Esther all performed. Nora played the part of a Christmas  fairy.

Here we turn to the plight of James junior. The Forces war record tells us that in July 1915, James , a private in the Coldstream Guards having previously been reported missing was now being reported by the German Authorities as being in a POW camp. Having been born in 1899 he clearly lied about his age in order to join up. One can only imagine what Nora and the rest of the family suffered at this time.

Coldstream Guards Log for James Morphet

The Coldstream Guard log tells us that he was dismissed on 12/11/1919 “ Surplus having suffered. “

He must have joined the Royal Irish Constabulary rather than go back home to Carlisle where the family were now living at 6 Millholme Avenue. The Royal Irish Constabulary pension ledger clearly shows James as being pensioned off in February 1922 ( now aged 22/3) , £46.16.7d to be paid annually and all correspondence to be sent to 6 Millholme Avenue, Carlisle. He was clearly going back to live with his father.

Meanwhile, Nora we can assume responded to a call to work at HM Factory Gretna in 1916 and more than likely travelled on a daily basis from Carlisle. Throughout her whole time at Gretna she must have worked with the knowledge that her younger brother was a prisoner , that he had joined up when he was too young and that he may not come home again.

Nora must have worked as a munitionette at Gretna because the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer of Thursday 2nd May 1918  reported “. Miss Nora Morphet, 6, Millholme Avenue, Carlisle, for courage and high example in continuously working long hours in poisonous atmosphere which habitually affected her health;”

Nora pictured in The Daily Mirror, May 3rd 1918

For this she was one of 3 young women Presented with British Empire Medal by Lord Lonsdale in Carlisle “MEDALS FOR BRAVE CARLISLE WOMEN WORKERS. By command of the King, Lord Lonsdale, the Lieutenant Cumberland, at the Town Hall.”

Chris Brader in Timbertown Girls refers to the three girls but there are no specifics of why exactly they had been awarded over and above many others and what particular effect it had on their health.

Not only was this reported but it was photographed and Nora appeared proudly on the front page of the Daily Mirror , Friday 3rd May 1918.

We lose track of Nora at this point until April 1926 when she is listed in the Marriage registers for St Pancras, London as marrying an M H Lyons. Was she in service in London? How had their paths crossed?

Mark Horatio Lyons , a young widower, described variously as Diamond dealer/salesman/jeweller in Passenger lists for trans Atlantic crossings. He was from Edgbaston , King’s Norton, Birmingham. Passenger lists show his as travelling to New York via Ellis Island on 6th January 1916 aged 19 on board the  SS Paul, with the intention of becoming a  permanent citizen. On the same passage is a Florrie Hazel Myra Price, his future bride, also of Edgbaston.

A US Army draft card appears in the records for Mark H Lyons, born in Birmingham , England and stating that he had been deemed “ medically unfit for the British Army and he is the sole supporter of his wife and child” Subsequent events date this at autumn 1918. He is described as tall, slender with brown hair and blue eyes. We can assume that he married Florrie in Baltimore, Maryland and they had a daughter.

Mark Lyon’s (Nora’s first husband) US Army Draft Card

On April 12th 1919 he arrives in Liverpool aboard the “Aquitania” , described as single and a diamond dealer . Florrie had died in February in Baltimore , Maryland and shows that both Florrie and the baby daughter were interred at the Price family grave in Brackenwood Cemetery Birmingham on 17th April 1919. Florrie had died before they left America.  Baby Valerie Rena Lyons baby daughter of Mark and Florrie Lyons  was 4 and  a half months old.  His address is 8 Wellington Road, Edgebaston. Probate records show that Florence left £135 6s 3d in effects to Mark Lyons of 8 Wellington Road.

Nora’s marriage to this first widower did not last long. Mark died in 1933 in St Mary’s Hospital , Paddington ,London  on 14th January 1933 . Probate was to Nora Lyons , 8 Wellington Road , Edgebaston £ 28,902 17s 10d. This same year we know from the nursing registers that Nora began her 3 year training in Leicester to become a nurse.

Her brother James was living with father James in 1924 according to the Electoral register and is working as a Railway Porter, dad still being a signalman. They are listed as James and James Jnr.

Marriage registers tell us that James Jnr married Betsy( Bessie) Jane Heslop in 1925, She had been born in Yanwath where the Morphet family had lived. Her father was also a Railway Signalman.

We learn later that they had a daughter, Dorothy in 1926 and a son, James in 1928.

Tragedy hit Nora and her family in 1930 when her brother James , aged 30, committed suicide by gassing himself and the 2 children, Dorothy 4 and James 2, in bed. His wife had gone out for the evening to visit her sister in law. It was reported nationally and regionally that she had come home to discover this scene in the bedroom of  their home at 31 Prescott Road , Carlisle – described in one newspaper as the new Corporation Housing.

James’ death reported in The Scotsman – Monday 06 January 1930

Reports mentioned that they seemed such a happy family, that he had suffered ill health for some time. The Sheffield Telegraph and the Londonderry Times reported the inquest and mention depression and bad headaches.

James ( father ) appears to have moved along Millholme Avenue at this point to number 12 to stay with his daughter Ethel Annie now Armstrong and her husband .

By the 1939 register now aged 65 he has moved again to 28 , is a retired Railway signalman and is living with Emma Bell , 62 a widow.

In 1933 Nora appears on the Nursing Registers for the first time , training at Leicester Royal Infirmary and Children’s Hospital between 1933 and 1936. Her registration number was 85004. She appears on the Nursing Registers  for 1937, 1940, 1943 and 1946. They are revised every 3 years.

The  1937 Nursing register shows that Nora is back in Cumberland, living at 5 North Street, Maryport No trace of her can be found on the 1939 national register.

The 1940 register of nurses shows that she has moved to Brackenlands, Wigton, Cumberland and it is from there that she marries a second widower, Wilfred Isaac Witts Lomas.

The 1939 National register shows Wilfred as being 33 , a Commercial Traveller selling Tubes, of “ The Rowans” , 66 Lutterworth Road, Blaby Leicester. His wife Susan is listed on a  separate page as a patient at Leicester hospital, Regent’s Lane and death registration shows that she died in September 1939.

10 months later Wilfred married Nora, 9 years his senior in Wigton, Cumberland. Coincidentally, his father was also a Railway Signalman. Could Nora have nursed his wife whilst in Leicester and some kind of bond struck? This was the second widower that she  married.

At aged 42 it seems that Nora had a son, John Wilfred A Lomas born in Leicester. Electoral registers subsequently place him in Edinburgh in 1964 aged 21  living in Marchhall Crescent in the vicinity of the Pollocks Buildings of the University. He married Irene Kemlo in Abernethy, Perthshire in 1966.

Nora and Wilfred appear on the Midland, England, Electoral Register for 1962 living at 60 Swancote, Road Birmingham. It is not clear why Wilfred’s Probate listing mentions the Leicester address.

There is an indication that Nora  died in Birmingham in 1984 aged 86 having outlived Wilfred by 10 years. The last official mention of her that can be found is the  Nursing register where she is still listed as living at 66 Lutterworth Road , Blaby, Leicester.  Death registers tell us that Wilfred died in 1974 in Leicester.


Madeline Ida Bedford.

Worker of the Week: Madeline Ida Bedford

By Collections blog, News

Worker of the Week is a weekly blogpost series which will highlight one of the workers at H.M. Gretna our volunteers have researched for The Miracle Workers Project. This is an exciting project that aims to centralise all of the 30,000 people who worked at Gretna during World War One. If you want to find out more, or if you’d like to get involved in the project, please email This week, Research Assistant Laura Noakes writes up volunteer Beth’s fascinating research into Madeline Ida Bedford.

Poetry was big in World War One. Soldier poets like Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfrid Owen are famous even today. The wonderful Imperial War Museum have compiled a list of nine Great War poets--all of them men. However, women also wrote poetry during and about the conflict. One of these women, Madeline Ida Bedford, was connected to Gretna, and her most famous work is all about munition workers.

Madeline Ida Bedford was born in London in 1884.[1] Her father, Edward, worked as a civil engineer[2], and her parents had married in 1876 in India. Madeline grew up in London with her siblings, Ellen, Alice Mildred, Grace Doris (who unfortunately passed away before her first birthday) and Edward Terence. It appears that Madeline grew up comfortably in a middle-class household—the 1891 census records the family as living at 60 Wood Street in Woolwich and having two servants.[3] By 1911, Madeline, aged 26, was living with her single sister with two servants and is recorded as living off private means.[4]

We don’t know exactly what Madeline’s connection was with Gretna. However, a poem of hers apparently appeared in one of the Farewell magazines produced by staff at the factory. This led the folks over at the Female Poets of the First World War to speculate that she worked at HM Factory Gretna during World War One.[5] However, I couldn’t find the poem mentioned in either of the farewell magazines! I did, however, find one attributed to a ‘M B I’–it might be a stretch of the imagination, but maybe this is a typo and author of the poem is indeed Madeline.

Whether or not she actually did work at HM Factory Gretna, Madeline produced a very popular wartime poem about munition’s workers and their wages:


Munition Wages

Earning high wages?

Yus, Five quid a week.
A woman, too, mind you,
I calls it dim sweet.

Ye’are asking some questions –
But bless yer, here goes:
I spends the whole racket
On good times and clothes.

Me saving? Elijah!
Yer do think I’m mad.
I’m acting the lady,
But – I ain’t living bad.

I’m having life’s good times.
See ‘ere, it’s like this:
The ‘oof come o’ danger,
A touch-and-go bizz.

We’re all here today, mate,
Tomorrow – perhaps dead,
If Fate tumbles on us
And blows up our shed.

Afraid! Are yer kidding?
With money to spend!
Years back I wore tatters,
Now – silk stockings, mi friend!

I’ve bracelets and jewellery,
Rings envied by friends;
A sergeant to swank with,
And something to lend.

I drive out in taxis,
Do theatres in style.
And this is mi verdict –
It is jolly worth while.

Worth while, for tomorrow
If I’m blown to the sky,
I’ll have repaid mi wages
In death – and pass by.

Sadly, Madeline’s brother, Edward, died in France during the war. [6]After the war, Madeline married in 1919 to Ernest Bolton Morris, who was a Major in the army.[7]  Together they had a daughter, also called Madeline, in 1922. Madeline passed away in 1956.[8]

[1] Church of England Births and Baptisms 1813-1920 for Madeline Ida Bedford, accessed via ancestry.

[2] Info gathered from the 1901 Census for Madeline Bedford, accessed from Ancestry

[3] 1891 Census for Madeline Ida Bedford, retrieved from Ancestry.

[4] 1911 Census for Madeline Bedford, accessed from Ancestry

[5] Female Poets of The First World War: Madeline Ida Bedford (1885 – 1956) – British (

[6] England Andrews Newspaper Index Cards, 1790 – 1976, for Edward Terence Bedford. Accessed from Ancestry

[7] Westminster, London, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1935 for Madeline Ida Bedford. Accessed from Ancestry.

[8] England & Wales, FreeBMD Birth Index, 1837-1915 for Madeline Ida Bedford. Accessed from Ancestry


George E Syms and his family.

Worker of the Week: George Ernest Syms

By Collections blog, News

Worker of the Week is a weekly blogpost series which will highlight one of the workers at H.M. Gretna our volunteers have researched for The Miracle Workers Project. This is an exciting project that aims to centralise all of the 30,000 people who worked at Gretna during World War One. If you want to find out more, or if you’d like to get involved in the project, please email This week, volunteer Marilyn shares her research on George Ernest Syms.

George Ernest Syms was born on 29th July 1890 in Colombo, Ceylon ( 1911 Census ).The Civil Engineer records tell us that he was of Anglo-Dutch- Burgher nationality. According to Wikipedia,” the Burgher people are a small Eurasion ethnic group descended from Portuguese, Dutch, British and other European men who settled and developed relationships with Sri Lankan women.”

George was the second child of 5 , only 3 of whom survived beyond infancy. His sister Vida was born in 1888, his brother named after their father as Samuel Henry Syms (3rd) and twin boys. One twin died at birth and one died aged 2 ( Public member tree )

They were the children of Stephen Henry Syms ( Jnr) and Adolphina Henrietta Fiescher. Stephen  had emigrated from Berry Pomery , Devon in 1883 aged 19 following the death of his mother Caroline nee Crispin. Samuel is described as a farmer. He was the son of a butcher and his mother had spent time in the Workhouse from the age of 5. There is very little information concerning Adolphina. Stephen and daughter Vida certainly sailed 1st class to Colombo in 1907 aboard the “ Oraya” when he was 44 and was described as a farmer. ( Ships passenger list)

George appears in the 1911 census as a visitor. He is a civil engineering apprentice.

The 1911 census for England and Wales shows George Ernest as a visitor at 65 Vicarage Road, Willesdon, London aged 19. He is shown as an apprentice associated with civil engineering, born in Ceylon and a British Citizen. This is all written in his own hand. The head of household was Robert Monk , 40 , a railway signalman, Mrs Annie Crispin Monk, 43. Daughters Ethel Rosa, 14 a milliners apprentice and Lily. These seemingly were his aunt , uncle and cousins – Annie was his father Stephen’s sister. It is unclear why the relationship is not stated where appropriate on the census form rather than merely visitor.

In 1911, the girl he was to marry in the summer of 1918 , Otellie Sybil Corteling, was living at 4 Frances Cottages, Forge Lane, Mid Higham, Kent . The census shows that it had 4 rooms and 7 occupants. Albert Thomas Wilson, 45, widower, Railway pensioner and insurance agent born in Higham, Kent, Francis Laurie Ambrose Corteling, 21, stepson, Uralite labourer, born Haputate, Ceylon, naturalized in 1909 .Otellie Sybil Corteling, 19, stepdaughter born in Kandy, Ceylon. Albert Denis Wilson 11, Francis Ethel 9, Doris Blanche 6, Phyllis Doreen 3 and a half all born in Colombo. Otellie’s late father Laurie Stephen Corteling was a medical practitioner. Little background information can be found about him. Her mother , Frances Winifred Ambrose  as a widow with 2 children married for a second time . It is possible that Albert Wilson being a railway signalman, and George’s father Samuel Syms being a railway guard knew each other in Ceylon.  George’s uncle  Robert Monk in London worked as a Railway signalman also. It is unclear when this family moved back to England but it must have been between 1907 and 1909 as the youngest child was born in 1907 and Otellie’s brother became naturalized in 1909.

By March 1912 George is listed as a student in the UK, Civil Engineer lists him as living at Mrs Appleby, 13 Great George Street, Hillhead, Glasgow. The Aberdeen Press and Journal reported on Saturday 6th April 1912 :- “ INSTITUTION OF CIVIL ENGINEERS. At the ordinary meeting the Institution of Civil Engineers following Scottish candidates were admitted students: George Ernest Syms…” 

The Dumfries and Galloway Standard Wednesday 19th April 1916 reported that George had been sent to the UK by his parents from Ceylon to obtain training as a civil engineer. We know that he was in London in 1911 – Census evidence.

George’s military record shows that  ”WR509860 Syms G E attested” ( enrolled as ready for military service) “on 8-3-16” 

We know from the Dumfries and Galloway Standard dated as above that he was living at 1 English Street , Annan in April 1916 and was employed by Messrs P & W Anderson , H M contractors at Gretna. That “he belonged to Ceylon and was here to study. He had completed 2 years of his course but owing to the outbreak of war had been unable to complete his training or get back home. ( H M Factory Gretna construction began November 1915 and production started April 1916 ) This latter date coincides with George attesting and then appealing to a court as reported in the D and G Standard. “He was prepared to follow  the same course taken by other tribunals towards native students of the British Empire. The local tribunal pointed out that the appellant had stated to them that he had completed his training , and had acted two years as an assistant engineer… Mr ‘Bainic, clerk tribunal; would have been exempt had re- mained at university. That is exemption under the Aet. The Chairman (to appellant): Supposing you did off the war ,just now, you can go back to that employment without any difficulty, I suppose. Temporary exemption was granted until 17th October. “

An image of George’s war record, regarding his marriage in 1918.

By  November 1916, George had moved back to London and was living at 73 Landsdowne Grove, Neasdon with his Aunt, Annie Monk according to his Military record. His civil engineer record shows an application for associate membership signed on 23rd November 1916 and stating that “since completing his training he had worked as a civil engineer for 5 years and is at present preparing for associate exams”. This makes the dates recorded from his appeal even more woolly, the years simply do not equate unless he was working whilst studying and he was referring to his first qualification. 

We know that on 7th December 1916, George’s father, Samuel, aged 53, now described as a railway guard, travelled alone, 1st Class aboard  “ City Of Exeter” of the City Shipping line from Liverpool to Colombo. Perhaps we can assume that he had been to visit and/or support his son following his tribunal and before he signed up. It is not clear when Samuel sailed inbound to England.

By 6th January  1917, George Ernest enlisted at Mill Hill, London. His Military record/medical record shows that he was 26 years and 150 days old, weighed 129 pounds ( just over 9 stone ), was vaccinated in infancy, his vision was 6/6 in both eyes. It also states that “ he has had asthma and has double hydrocele “–( fluid round the testicles). Under “ slight defects but not sufficient to cause rejection DAH “- disordered action of the heart. 

Also in his Military record dated 24th February 1917– passed as C1 – fit for home service only and assigned to Labour Corps RE ( Royal Engineers) transportation branch . The Labour Corps were only formed on  22nd February 1917 according to the Great War Forum. George was probably one of their first recruits. He is recorded as having transferred to 138th Labour Corps between 8th and 15th March 1917. Meanwhile, the Institute of Civil Engineers lists George as having been elected an associate member of the institute.

Some 9 months later he transferred to Royal Engineers-Docks on RE rate of pay. On his Posted trade and special qualifications form he is a draughtsman(Arch) Classification Superior. Rating 1 shilling and 8 pence per deum.

On the strength of this George married Otellie Sybil Corteling at Gravesend Ebenezer Wesleyan Chapel, Milton Road on 10th July 1918. Her address at the time was given as 88 Darnley Road Gravesend. More details regarding George emerge on this page of his Military record. We now know that he was 5ft 7 ins tall, his girth when fully expanded was 34” with a range of expansion of 2 “.Not a particularly large chap.

Their wedding Banns show that Otellie’s stepfather Albert Thomas Wilson and her brother Francis acted as witnesses and George’s address is Rosebank, Shorne, Kent  His father is shown as a Rail Guard and Otellie’s father as Medical Practitioner , deceased. We can only assume that Otellie’s family and George’s family were acquainted in Ceylon prior to moving to Kent.

A handwritten “ Memo” records the amendment detail of the marriage to his military record dated 30th July. The newly weds are living at 88 Darnley Road, Gravesend.

Within a month, on 11th August 1918, Form B122 in the Army record records that George W.O.A.S ( while on  active service) at the Boulogne Base , France was held in open arrest and disciplined by losing  day’s pay for failing to screen a light.

According to a Public member tree on a baby daughter was born and died in 1918- there is no documented evidence for this nor any dates.

Some 5 months later, George signed to become an associate member of the Institution of Civil Engineers according to the Civil Engineer Records.

This higher qualification is  what possibly led him to a promotion on 1st May 1919. Appointed as an acting corporal at the Directorate of Docks, RE. Promoted from superior to Very superior standard with a pay per deum of 2 shillings, an increase of tuppence per day.

We know that George  was granted 14 days leave to the UK from 28th November 1919 before being promoted to A/Sgt on 1st March 1920.His military record shows that he spent sometime in the Rhine .

He was issued at Purfleet with a protection certificate and certificate of identity on 2nd May 1920. “Rank – sergeant. Advance of £2. Furloughed for 28 days. Certificate to be produced when applying for unemployment benefit.”

One of the final entries in George’s army record is  on 29th May , discharged on demobilization from the Royal Engineers Labour Corps. His address was given as Rosebank, Shorne , Kent his home at the time of his marriage.

By August 17th 1920 George sailed outbound on Bibby Line “ Lancashire” from Liverpool via Marseilles, Port Said, Colombo and Rangoon. He appears to be travelling alone. 

There are multiple gaps in the passenger listings for this family’s crossings between Ceylon, India and the UK which makes this jigsaw tricky. Otellie and George’s first child, Phyllis Joan was born some time during 1921 according to her age on the incoming passenger list of the Nellore, June 1926. Pregnancy would explain why Otellie did not travel out to Colombo with George.

The final entry in his Army Record is a certificate of disposal  of a decoration dated 30th June 1922 and being posted to Irrigation Engineer Kanukhein, Mulliatavic, Ceylon. This gives us something of an insight into what he was occupied with at the time. Otellie and baby Phyllis must have joined him at some time because a second child, Dennis George was born in 1923 ( age indicated in 1926 passenger list)

George’s father, Samuel Henry died in 1924 aged 60 and both he and his wife who died in 1944, are buried in Kanatte Cemetery, Colombo

He was definitely involved with Giant’s Tank, Murankan, Ceylon, a huge project according to Wikipedia. The January 1926 Civil Engineers list show George as a former student working on this project.

By June 1926, the family sailed back second class to London from Colombo aboard the “ Nellore”. George’s parents were still living in Ceylon and Otellie’s stepfather and brother and half siblings were in Kent.

This is where there is more confusion, a third child Bertram Ernest was born in 1930 – place of birth Calcutta according to a Public Member tree but there is no evidence of a passenger list for them travelling to India between 1926 and 1930. The incoming passenger listing for 24th April 1931 does show that the last place of residence was India and that their next place of permanent residence would be Albany Cottage, Shorne, Kent. This was as first class sailing to London.

George and his wife in later years.

George Ernest Syms died aged 74 on 1st January 1964 aged 74 and Otellie died in 1977. I have included  a photograph of them holding what looks like a grandchild in the folder courtesy of a Public member’s tree. Year unknown. It is definitely not their daughter Phyliis Joan’s child as he was born in 1945 and died in 1970. The photograph looks as if it could be late fifties/ early sixties. There is no evidence that either of the sons married and /or had children but a change of name spelling  to Sims/Symms/Symmes has added a complication to the search for them.

A Duke of Edinburgh student looking at a new donation.

New donation explored by Duke of Edinburgh student

By Collections blog, News

We recently received an interesting donation from a local family.  There were lots of certificates and badges relating to one lady’s involvement in World War Two.  Before we accessioned the objects to add them to our Museum Object Collection, Finlay, a Duke of Edinburgh student who volunteers with us each weekend , did a little research to see what he could find out about the objects.  The following was written by Finlay and is based on his research.

Photo above shows WVS: Civil Defence Badge

The first object donated was a membership badge for the WVS dating back to 1939. The original role of the WVS was to encourage women to join ARP (Air Raid Precautions) Service as wardens, ambulance drivers or in hospitals.

Photo above shows Civil Defense Corps Badge

The second badge donated to us is a Queens Crown Civil defense badge. This was a civilian volunteer organisation established in 1949. It would take controll in the aftermath of a nuclear attack. It was disbanded in 1968.

Photo above shows National Savings Badge

The third badge donated to us was a blue, national saving badge. It is part of the National Savings Campeign to encourage the lending of people’s personal savings to the government to finance the Second World War. This badge served to duistinguish saving committee members and local volunteer collectors.



Photo above shows Canadian Mystery Badge

There was another badge that was donated to us, but we couldn’t work out what it was. On the sheild there is the flags for some Canadian provinces.

Maud Bruce OBE.

The Marvelous Miss Maud: From Gretna Girl to Aycliffe Angel

By Collections blog, News

In the World Wars of the twentieth century, there are certain historical themes and people that almost everyone knows: Kaiser Wilhelm, Winston Churchill, young idealistic men hardened by their time at The Front, soldier-poets, VADs, The Blitz—the list goes on and on. These ideas, people and events are discussed and taught in almost every history classroom across the country. Like Henry VIII and his six wives, the World Wars are an integral part of our country’s collective history. Every year, on Remembrance Sunday, we pause and commemorate those who sacrificed so much and the men and women who lost their youths, and sometimes lives, to war. Although the story of both World Wars is well-trod, there are still discoveries to be made, and histories to be told. This article strives to be one of those.

This is the story of a woman who you’ve probably never heard of. I hadn’t either, till I started working at The Devil’s Porridge Museum in Eastriggs, Scotland. Maud Bruce was an ordinary woman who was extraordinarily courageous in the service of her country during both the 1914-1918 and the 1939-1945 wars. She is barely, if at all, mentioned in the numerous history books that cover both periods of history. Until a few months ago, she didn’t even have a Wikipedia entry. If you googled ‘Maud Bruce’ the first couple of entries would be all about a very different Maud Bruce—Robert the Bruce’s daughter, who lived in the 12th century! Our Maud Bruce is absent from history, and I am determined to put her back into it. Maud was a woman from a working-class background, traditionally not someone considered ‘important’ enough to be remembered. But Maud is important—she played a key role in munitions making in both wars, winning awards for her bravery.

Maud Ellen Bruce was born on 20th December 1894 in Coundon, Durham, England to Thomas and Emma Bruce. She was their fifth child and had two brothers and six sisters. Her father Thomas worked as a coalminer.[1] Coundon was traditionally a coalmining village, and Thomas probably worked at either Black Boy Colliery or Auckland Park Colliery, both nearby.

In 1901, Maud was six years old. Although the census doesn’t record whether or not she attended school, by this time education was compulsory by law for children aged five to twelve.[2] By 1911, Maud was sixteen and working as a general domestic servant.[3] Her older sister, Rose, who worked as a dressmaker, filled out the census form. This strongly implies that the Bruce children did have some form of education—they were clearly literate. Despite this, it is also clear that the family did require their older children to work to supplement the family income. Alongside Maud and Rose, William, then aged twenty-five, worked as a collier mechanic labourer and Emma, aged fourteen, was working nearby as a servant for James Black.[4]

Maud dressed in her munitions uniform

Prior to the World War One, the Gretna area was mostly agricultural, but during hostilities ‘the largest cordite factory in the UK was established’ in response to the need for munitions.[5] This new wartime industry meant a dramatic increase in the local population as people migrated to the area to work. One of these workers was Maud Bruce. Maud arrived at HM Gretna in late 1916 to work as a forewoman of the cotton drying house in the Dornock section. Maud was billeted at Grenville Hostel, Eastriggs.[6] She was head of the Women’s Fire Brigade and in charge of thirty girls. It is clear that Maud was an exemplary worker: she is described as having ‘gained rapid promotion’ during her time at Gretna, and as being ‘exceedingly popular’ with her staff and superiors.[7] It is likely that her younger sister, Lily also worked at the factory, as she appears in a photo alongside other munition workers in Maud’s papers.

Maud would have been doing potentially dangerous work in the factory—there were accidents throughout the war, and some munitions workers were horribly injured. Cordite was what was made at Gretna—a type of explosive propellent which went inside the shells used at the Front.

Maud was recognised for two notable events during her time at Gretna. The first occurred around April 1917, when a fire broke out at night in the cotton drying machine. Maud used a hose to subdue the flames, and then the fire brigade put out the fire.[8]

On the second occasion, Maud similarly demonstrated her calm and collected approach to danger. This event was outlined in detail in the local newspaper:

“Three months ago, about eight o’clock in the morning, she was close at hand when fire broke out in the drying machine. In a few seconds, the chamber was filled with smoke. As quick as lightning Miss Bruce climbed up the ladder to the top of the machine, twenty feet height, and with the vigorous use of a sweeping brush cut away the cotton at the top part of the machine, and pushed it down. In this way she prevented the fire spreading to the next machine. The staff of girls under her charge, encouraged by her example of coolness, set to work with the hose, and in a short time the fire, which was arrested in the willower part of the machine, and before it could reach the elevators, was successfully extinguished.”

In June 1917, Maud was awarded a British Empire Medal by The Duke of Buccleuch, K.T., who was Lord Lieutenant of the county of Dumfries.[9] This event was held at the central offices of the factory in front of a number of staff. It was stated that ‘each of the recipients of the medal stepped forward, and was cordially shaken hands with by the Duke, who pinned on the medals, and as he did so there were cordial cheers from the assembly.’[10] The Duke said that ‘it was extremely gratifying to realise that deeds of heroism were also being performed by factory workers at home, and especially by women.’[11]

Maud was awarded the Medal of the Order of the British Empire[12] (MOBE) in August 1917 ‘for admirable behaviour in charge of the women’s fire brigade at a fire at an explosive factory.’[13] In the aftermath of her heroic deeds, Maud had been interviewed by The Standard. She is described as wearing ‘khaki trousers and jacket’ and didn’t realise that she’d been awarded the MOBE at the time of the interview.[14]

Maud did get some media attention from her actions and the honours bestowed upon her. Usually these took the form of celebrating the work of women war workers. In the Sheffield Weekly Telegraph, she was referred to as a ‘plucky munitions lass’ and is cast as a heroine—the news story details the ‘thrilling story’ that led to her being awarded the Munitions Medal which it’s stated ‘has rarely been more pluckily won.’[15]

Maud worked at H. M. Factory Gretna from January 1917 – August 1919 and was only let go due to reduction of labour.

The year after leaving Gretna, Maud married Thomas Edward Nunn in Shildon, Durham, England.[16] Thomas had grown up in Shildon, only around 4 miles from Maud’s hometown of Coundon.[17] He was born on July 8th 1892, and was the son of Charles Nunn, a coalminer and Ellen Nunn. He had a younger sister, Lily and a younger half-brother, Wilfred. Aged 19, in 1911, Thomas had followed in his father’s footsteps and was working as a banking out miner.[18] Like Maud, Thomas had played his part in the war effort. He served in the Royal Irish Regiment and was discharged due to disability on 10th May 1917.[19] Thomas received the Silver War Badge, also known as the Wound Badge, for his service, as well as the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

Maud and Thomas welcomed their first child, Raymond, in 1920, and their second child, John in 1922. The inter-war years seem to be pretty quiet for the family—Maud and Thomas appear on the election registers during these years but as of yet I haven’t found them in other records during this time.[20] In the 1939 Register, Maud and Thomas are working at ’unpaid domestic duties’ and a ’general labourer’ respectively.[21] Thomas is also working full-time as a A. R. P. Warden. A. R. P. Warden’s were at integral part of the Home Front War effort—they patrolled neighbourhoods during the blackout and made sure that everyone was abiding by the rules! This register was conducted less than a month after the United Kingdom declared war on Nazi Germany, and Maud and Thomas were facing the second worldwide military conflict during their lifetimes.

In World War Two, as with World War One, there was a HUGE need for munitions. Royal Ordnance Factory (ROF) Aycliffe was built in Aycliffe, County Durham in 1941. During the war, ROF Aycliffe employed 17,000 people and operated 24 four hours a day.[22] Unlike at Gretna, at Aycliffe cordite wasn’t made, but the workers were filling shells and bullets with powder.[23] This was still very dangerous work—there was accidents and explosions, as Maud would soon find out.

The Women Behind the Women- Munitions work at a Royal Ordnance Factory in the North of England, c 1942 War worker Mrs Wilkinson breaks down fuses at ROF Aycliffe, near Darlington, County Durham.

The women workers of Aycliffe were soon known by the moniker ‘Aycliffe Angels’. This was given to them by the infamous Lord Haw-Haw, an English man who worked for the Nazis throughout the war, and regularly broadcast propaganda radio programmes to the UK. Haw-Haw frequently said during his shows ‘the little angels of Aycliffe won’t get away with it.’[24] Not only did this give the workers a sticking nickname, but it also highlighted the importance of their work—it was essential to the war effort.

Maud’s identity card, which she would have had to have shown upon entry and exit to the factory.

At Aycliffe, ‘all workers had to wear special shoes and overalls which they put on at the beginning of each shift. They were checked to make sure they didn’t have any flammable items in their possession, like matches and cigarettes, or metal objects like hair grips which might fall into machinery.’[25] This would’ve been very similar procedure to Gretna—I wonder if Maud had a sense of déjà vu when she began working at Aycliffe? Also like at Gretna, the materials they were working with at Aycliffe were dangerous, it ’often causes skin and hair to turn yellow (munitions workers were referred to as ‘canaries’), caused asthma and breathing problems, sometimes made teeth fall out and damaged the lining of the stomach.’[26] The many potential health issues involved in working in munitions would also effect Maud. Later in life, those who knew Maud would note that’ My grandmother…read the newspaper to Mrs Nunn each morning as her eyes had been damaged in the munition factory, so she always wore specifically tinted spectacles.’[27] But the danger didn’t just come from the chemicals–the workers at Aycliffe were also at risk from bombing.[28]

In fact, I think Jacky Hyams sums up the work of those at Aycliffe and other munitions factories during World War Two best: ‘To describe their work as hazardous is something of an understatement. The Bomb Girls endured much: exhaustion, fear, sacrifice, separation from loved ones, personal or family tragedy – not to mention the enormous risks to their own lives and physical welfare as they worked. Yet these women, all ages, married or single, from different backgrounds, were a crucial link in the long chain that made up Britain’s wartime endeavour. The men were sent off to fight, fire the bullets, drive the jeeps, fly the planes and drop the bombs. But it was the Bomb Girls who helped make the final victory possible. They too were amongst the country’s true heroes of wartime.’[29]

John D Clare has emerged as the authoritative historian of the Aycliffe factory during World War Two, and has offered valuable critique of the happy and positive image of the Angels that some accounts portray.[30] He argues instead that the reality was far more complex—that ROF factories weren’t great places to work, that the work itself was boring and monotonous, and that they were undervalued and underappreciated—both during the war and for many years afterwards.[31]

Maud (far right) at a reunion of Aycliffe munition workers in the 1980s.

The fight to recognise the work and sacrifice of munitions workers has been long and sadly many Aycliffe workers died before their work was even acknowledged. One of the more recent campaigns has involved the Rotherwas Munitions Group, the National Munitions Association and BBC Hereford & Worcester, who have campaigned for workers to be recognised with a munition workers veterans badge, which you can now apply for if you or a relative worked in munitions in World War Two.[32]

Maud worked at the factory from when it opened in 1941. She later said of her work, ‘I loved the work until the accident. I was in hospital over five months.’[33] The accident Maud spoke of happened in 1943, when ‘some ammunition exploded, and she was very severely burned on her face, arms, hands and chest. She spent six months in Darlington Hospital and then returned to the factory until the end of the war.’[34]

In order to fully recover from this injury, Maud underwent plastic surgery—still a pioneering procedure mostly used on servicemen who suffered awful injuries in the course of their duties. Later in life, she would have a distinctive mark from these injuries; ‘My mam seemed to think that Mrs Nunn had had some plastic surgery on her face – she’d put her hands up to shield her face in the explosion. I think she was one of the first people to have it and her skin was kind of wrinkle free in those areas.’[35]

In addition to her work in munitions, and her recovery from her injury in 1943, it’s important to acknowledge that during the war Maud’s husband was also an ARP warden, and her sons were both away fighting. Raymond served as a lance-corporal [36][37]Later, friends remembered that ’Both of her sons fought in WW2 and were commended for bravery. One of them, I believe, was on the Burma railway.’[38] This must’ve been a stressful and scary period for the whole family—not only was their country at war, but all four of them were intimately involved with that warfare.

World War Two came to an end in 1945, and the factory at Aycliffe closed. I’ve been able to find out a little of Maud’s life after this time. From the copy of her death certificate, it appears that Maud worked as a school dinner lady at some point. In 1954, her husband Thomas, died by suicide at the age of 61.[39] Her oldest son, Raymond, also predeceased Maud, dying in 1984. Even in 2021, over twenty years after her death, Maud is remembered fondly by Shildon locals:


‘Mrs Nunn was as you can see a happy cheerful person, who just lived an ordinary life and got on with looking after a husband and family of boys.’[40]


‘She loved a chat and was always happy to have visitors and this continued when she moved to the nursing home…Overall, I remember her as a kind, strong, practical, determined, smiley old lady.’[41]


But even though Maud had already lived an extraordinary life—bravely taking part in both World Wars alongside raising a family and dealing with both her husband’s and son’s death, she wasn’t done yet. In 1995, Maud turned the big 100! She celebrated with her family and friends at the nursing home in which she lived, and received a letter from the Queen. Her big birthday was reported in the local press and Maud spoke to reporters about her long life. ‘I didn’t want to reach 100, I think it is too long to live, but I am now looking forward to my birthday.’ Maud also recalled the moment she was awarded the OBE, saying: ‘the OBE was the most memorable experience of my life. It was a great honour and I am very proud of the award.’[42] Her son John mentioned in the same article that Maud ’is hard of hearing, but says ’hearing aids are for old people.’’

Maud surrounded by her family at her 100th birthday.

Mrs Maud Nunn (Nee Bruce) OBE passed away on January 8th 1995. Her great-grandson, Andrew, remembers her as ‘a remarkable woman and an inspiration to generations of our family.’ I wholeheartedly agree.

[1] ‘William Bruce’ Census Return for Shop Hill, Coundon, Parliamentary Borough of Bishop Auckland, Public Record Office, folio 140. Retrieved from

[2] See: The Elementary Education Act 1880 and The Elementary Education (School Attendance) Act 1893. Despite being compulsory by law, the enforcement of such a law was a different matter and many working-class families needed their children to earn a wage as soon as they possibly could.


[3] ‘Maud Bruce’ Census Returns for Tyne Terrace, Coundon, Parliamentary Borough of Bishop Auckland, p. 918. Retrieved from


[4] ‘Emma Bruce’ Census Returns for Tyne Terrace, Coundon, Parliamentary Borough of Bishop Auckland, p. 922.

[5] Timothy McCracken, Dumfriesshire in the Great War, (Pen and Sword Books, 2015) p. 13.

[6] ‘Brave Gretna Girls: Munition Workers Honoured’ Dumfries and Galloway Standard, 29 August 1917, p. 2.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] ‘Heroism in Factories: Duke of Buccleuch presents medals at Gretna’ Dumfries and Galloway Standard, 19 June 1918, p. 2.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] ‘Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood’ The Edinburgh Gazette, 27 August 1917, issue: 13133, p. 1788.

[13] ‘Brave Gretna Girls: Munition Workers Honoured’ Dumfries and Galloway Standard, 29 August 1917, p. 2.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Heroism in Factories: Duke of Buccleuch presents medals at Gretna’ Dumfries and Galloway Standard, 19 June 1918, p. 2.

[16] England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1916-2005, General Register Office, Maud Bruce to Thomas E Nunn, Jan-Feb-Mar 1920, vol no: 10a, p. 483

[17] ‘Thomas Edward Nunn’ Census return for Albert Street, Shilden, Chapel Row, Parliamentary Borough of Bishop Auckland, Public Record Office, folio 44, p. 31. Retrieved from

[18] Thomas Edward Nunn’ Census return for Albert Street, Shilden, Chapel Row, Parliamentary Borough of Bishop Auckland, Public Record Office, Retrieved from This probably means he worked as a banksman, a person who dispatched the coals at the pitbank, unloading and loading the cage.


[19] ‘Thomas Edward Nunn’, UK, World War I Pension Ledgers and Index Cards, 1914-1923, service number: 3/8372, reference number: 2/MN/No772, Retrieved from

[20] England & Wales, Electoral Registers 1920-1932, Durham England

[21] ‘Maud E Nunn’ 1939 England and Wales Register, Borough of Shilden, Public Record Office, Retrieved from

[22] Royal Ordnance Factory Aycliffe in the Second World War 1939-1945 – The Wartime Memories Project –

[23] Aycliffe Royal Ordnance Factory – Aycliffe Angels (

[24] | CommuniGate | Why were they called ‘The Aycliffe Angels’? (

[25] Colin Philpott, Secret Wartime Britain, Hidden Places that Helped Win the Second World War (Pen and Sword, 2018) p. 4.

[26] Colin Philpott, Secret Wartime Britain, Hidden Places that Helped Win the Second World War (Pen and Sword, 2018) p. 5.

[27] Facebook recollection from a lady who knew Maud as a child.

[28] Colin Philpott, Secret Wartime Britain, Hidden Places that Helped Win the Second World War (Pen and Sword, 2018) p. 5.


[29] Jacky Hyams, Bomb Girls – Britain’s Secret Army: The Munitions Women of World War II (Kings Road Publishing, 2013), p. 14.

[30] RealAycliffeAngelsNN.pdf (

[31] Ibid. See also: Days before VE Day an explosion tore through the Aycliffe Angels factory – killing eight | The Northern Echo

[32] Apply for a munitions worker’s veterans badge – GOV.UK (

[33] ’Munitions Blaze Heroine Maud Reaches Century’, Unknown Newspaper Article, shared by the family of Maud

[34] ’Munition Factory Workers Re-Union a Great Sucess’, Unknown Newspaper article, shared by Maud’s family.

[35] Facebook recollections from a lady who knew Maud as a child.


[37] Supplement to the London Gazette, 13 December 1945, p. 6072.

[38] Facebook recollections from a friend who remembered Maud.

[39] Thomas Nunn’s Death Certificate

[40] Facebook recollections from a person who knew Maud.

[41] Facebook recollections from a person who knew Maud.

[42] Munitions Blaze Heroine Maud Reaches Century’, Unknown Newspaper Article, shared by the family of Maud

Thomas Goodall Nasmyth.

Worker of the Week: Thomas Goodall Nasmyth

By Collections blog, News

Worker of the Week is a weekly blogpost series which will highlight one of the workers at H.M. Gretna our volunteers have researched for The Miracle Workers Project. This is an exciting project that aims to centralise all of the 30,000 people who worked at Gretna during World War One. If you want to find out more, or if you’d like to get involved in the project, please email This week, volunteer Marilyn shares her research on Thomas Goodall Nasmyth.

In an appreciation written by Dr C E Douglas and appearing in the  British Medical Journal (BMJ) of 30th January 1937 alongside an obituary Thomas is described by his eminent colleague as “one of the strongest personalities, a man of the widest capabilities and sympathies in the profession of medicine. A splendidly built young man, taking to hunting and fishing. A keen and balanced mind.  But if he had a great brain he had a bigger heart, and medical charities on a large scale appealed to him.” This high praise gives us a glimpse of the kind of person Thomas Goodall Nasmyth was.

Thomas was born on 28th February 1855 at Cardenbank, Auchderran, Fife to Isabella and James Armstrong Nasmyth. His father was a coal master, which was the “ owner or lessee of a mine”. Thomas was the 4th child of 7, 5 sons and 2 daughters. The 1861 census lists the family as living at Easter Bucklyvie,(also referred to as  Bucklyvie Easter) Aberdour, Fife.

 By 1871, aged 16, Thomas was living at The Farm of St Clement’s Well , Tranent  Haddington, Midlothian sadly now a housing estate according to Google maps. He resided with eldest brother Alexander now 23 and a colliery manager , his older brother John, 17 years old, and Mary Andrew, aged 59 who was a servant. John and Thomas were pursuing life as a “student of art” although it is not clear where this studying took place.   

In 1876 Thomas aged 21, graduated from University of Edinburgh with MB ChB ( Bachelor of medicine and surgery) 

On 7th November 1882, Thomas, described on marriage registration as a bachelor of medicine, aged 27, married Violet Nicol Denny  aged 23, a spinster at Woodlea Dumbarton. Violet was the daughter of Archibald Denny, shipbuilder, deceased, Thomas was pursuing a career in General Practice in Beath Fife. 

Exactly 10 months to the day following their marriage, Violet had a daughter, Jenny born at Beath, Fife on 7th September 1883. A second daughter , Isobel arrived in 1885 also at Beath, Fife. 

1886 took him to Cambridge to gain a DPH ( Diploma in Public Health ) He studied for this whilst having a wife and 2 very young daughters aged 3 and 1. It is unclear whether he left his family in Scotland or whether they travelled with him.

A further qualification in 1887 from the University of Edinburgh completed Thomas’ training and in the same year he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Thomas left general practice in 1889 when he was appointed as the very first Medical Officer of Health for Fife, Kinross and Clackmannanshire . 

The 1891 census still shows Thomas , now 36 as a General medical practitioner. He, Violet and their two daughters continue to live at Foulford House, Beath, Fifeshire where they employed two servants, Elizabeth and Fiona Drysdale , 20 and 16. 

In 1897, Thomas’ mother died aged 76 at Middlebank House, Dunfermline declared on her death registration as of “ senile decay” and certified by her son in his professional capacity.

The following appeared in the St Andrew’s Citizen on 22nd May 1915, referring to a cause Thomas had been concerned about since 1898. He was very influential in the ultimate bonding of whisky for 3 years as described below.  

FORMER COUNTY MEDICAL OFFICER AND NEW WHISKY. Writing last week, the London correspondent of the Glasgow Herald supplies the following interesting local item : —“ There is good deal of pressure being brought to bear Westminster to secure the cancellation of the Chancellor’s proposal for the compulsory bonding of spirits for three years, but I gather that opinion on both sides of the House is with Mr Lloyd George and against any substantial modification of the scheme. Most people seem to think that most harm results from the consumption of raw spirits, and one member who holds this view strongly recalled to-day in the Lobby the entertaining story told to the Feel Licensing Commission in 1898. T. G, Nasmyth, formerly medical officer for Fife, Kinross, and Clackmannan, and now of Torrie House, Dunfermline. The story, which was intended to illustrate the deleterious effects of drinking new’ whisky, was related in these words to the Commission friend of mine experimented with two monkeys of apparently the same age, the same size, and the same species. To one of the monkeys he gave old matured whisky, and it got intoxicated quite quietly. To the other gave new whisky, and it became violently intoxicated and very much excited. A week or two afterwards repeated the experiment The monkey which formerly been given the old whisky was now given the raw article, with the result that it became violently excited, and the monkey which previously had become excitedly intoxicated from row whisky was given matured whisky. The effect was to produce a quiet, gentlemanly state of intoxication. Dr Nasmyth, accepting the results of this experiment as conclusive, advocated the retention of whisky in bond for two or three years–the proposal now made by Mr Lloyd George 17 years after Dr Nasmyth urged it upon the Licensing Commission.”

In 1899, according to his Wikipedia page, Thomas was one of the first people to begin to make a link between bovine tuberculosis and the human form which eventually and much later led to the widespread pasteurisation of milk. He published two papers “Hints about the prevention of consumption” and “ Milk borne diseases”.  He also published a report in 1900 on “ Methods of Sewage Purification “There is no apparent evidence to corroborate any of the above , however , they are clearly within his professional remit and interest.

Thomas’ brother John aged 41 in 1894 , according to his death registration – a minister of the Church, single having suffered from Cardiac weakness for 10 years and dying of Cardiac Syncope, certified by Thomas.

A younger brother James Russell, single,  passed away tragically in 1901 aged only 35. According to his death registration he was found dead near a railway goods yard in Inverkeithing, cause of death- drowning and “ not certified”. One can only surmise that this was a tragic accident or suicide. Thomas and Violet were living at St Micahel’s,  Cupar, Fife, he listed as the County Medical Officer. Also according to the 1901 census, they had two domestic servants. 

Their two young daughters now 17 and 16 were listed as boarders at St Leonard’s, Bishopshall, St Andrew’s. 

Also in 1901, when his father and brother Alexander were partners of the Donibristle Colliery Company and both holding managing certificates, there was a mining accident where moss created an inrush into the workings resulting in the death of 8 men. 

Barely 2 years later on 7th January ,James , Thomas’ father died  aged 82 , of heart failure according to his death registration and certified by W R Nasmyth MD. There is no clear familial link to be sourced but it is highly likely that there is one.

Thomas’ parents had resided at Middlebank House, Dunfermline for many years. The Dundee Evening Telegraph 27th June 1903 headline Dunfermline Man’s Estate reported that James left an estate worth £266,091.14.6d. He wanted the house to stay in the family and his eldest son or subsequent sons could buy it for £10,000.

In 1906, Thomas travelled with his younger daughter Isobel from Glasgow to New York, leaving on 11th August. They travelled saloon or 1st class , Isobel aged 21  has no occupation, profession or calling but Thomas is described as a Physician.* They arrived back in Liverpool on 15th September aboard  “Tunisian” of the Allan Line.** Also listed are 2 other Physicians so it is unclear as to whether his journey was a professional one. It is at this time that he took up his role as counsellor/councillor to the British Medical Association (BMA), a role he fulfilled until 1910.

This was a sad time for Thomas. His older sister Isabella died aged 58 on 7th July 1908 at 17 Ainslie Place , Edinburgh although her death registration states clearly that her usual address was 27 Palmerston Place , Edinburgh. Isabella died of a sarcoma. She must have resided with Thomas and Violet. His eldest brother Alexander Hogg died on 3rd June 1911 at Middlebank House ( he must have bought the family mansion and estate for the said £10,000 as described above). According to his death registration he Alexander died of heart disease which he had suffered from for several year. Certified by W R Nasmyth MD.

At this time Thomas was living at 27 Palmerston Place, a handsome house in the West End of Edinburgh.

Thomas is described as 56 years old, and living by private means. Also living with him was Violet, aged 53, his wife, Jenny, aged 27, his daughter and Isobel,  26 years old, daughter. The household also maintained Margaret McClaren, 31, cook, Grace McFarlane, 24 housemaid, Margaret Melville , 23 table maid and Christine Smith 28 housemaid. All 4 staff had been with the family for 9 years.

For the years 1912-1913, 1913-1914, 1914-1915 , the electoral register only shows Dr Thomas G Nasmyth , Dr of medicine as being eligible to vote in this household.

By 1915 , the valuation rolls show that Thomas not only  was the proprietor and occupier of 27 Palmerston Place  but that he also owned 8 Palmerston Place Lane *, house, stable, motor carhouse, and occupied by a coachman John McIntosh. This makes a 5th member of the paid household staff. This at a time when WW1 had begun.  

1915 also saw his elder daughter Jenny aged 31 marry Adam Nimmo McKillop, Political secretary and son of ex MP for Stirlingshire , deceased, aged 38 at St Cuthbert’s, Church of Scotland, Edinburgh – a very grand building at the West End of Princes Street. In a small announcement of the forthcoming wedding The Scotsman 12th June 1915 it was described as “will take place very quietly on 24th June”. Interestingly , a very quiet wedding in a very large and important church building with two clergy officiating  as reported in the Scotsman. The address given for Dr and Mrs Nasmyth is 27 Palmerston Place and Torrie House, Fife.

Adam was also Second Lieutenant 2//7 Royals Scots . Lothian Regiment as described on his wife’s death certificate. The newly weds took up residence at 27 Palmerston Place. It is unclear where sister Isobel was at this time 

1916 was an eventful year. Thomas became a grandfather, at the age of 61, to Violet Leslie in May.

This was also the year that he responded to the Scottish Medical Service Emergency Committee ( SMSEC) call for war work. His registration document shows him as a retired medical officer of health and his residence would be Town House*, New Mills, Fife. Presumably this is when he took up his role at H M Factory Gretna as Administrative Medical Officer a role given his background in Public Health. This role  appears to have been tailor made for him.

We know that Jenny and baby Violet were living with her parents at Torrie House in September 1916 because an advertisement appeared in the Scotsman on 6th September 1916 for a nurse to travel with an officer’s wife and  4 month old baby to undertake nursery duties and babies washing. Apply Mrs McKillop , Torrie House. Her husband must have been away on war duties. The forces war record shows that his regiment served in Gaza and the Middle East before going to France in 1918. There is a break in his service between April and November 1917 – possible compassionate leave considering the events below?

Thomas became a Grandfather for a second time on 2nd June 1917, this time to twin boys Norman Nasmyth McKillop and James McKillop. Tragically, Jenny died on 24th July aged only 34. Her death registration states that she lived at 27 Palmerston Place, Edinburgh, was 34 years old. Cause of death “ nephritis ( Bright’s disease) 70 days and ureamia 2 days “ both of these diseases are of the kidneys and can be caused by pregnancy complications. One can only imagine how devastated Thomas and violet were to lose their daughter so tragically and as a physician not be able to save her. This left her widower with 3 very young children. 

Violet Leslie, Thomas’ Granddaughter

I have included a photo of a grown up Violet Leslie who went on to marry and have 5 children, living to the age of 98.

Following the war , Thomas is listed on the electoral register for Edinburgh for 1920-21 as again residing at 27 Palmerston Place along with Violet his wife and 35 year old daughter Isobel who both presumably were now eligible to vote.

His son-in-law remarried in September 1920, Amy Dorothy Threlfall of Garstang in a ceremony in Kendal, Cumberland. She was a widow having lost her husband in 1919 in an accident in Syria. He is buried in Damascus. They went on to have at least one child, Ian in 1921.

Following his stint at Gretna and at an age when many men aged 66 would be slowing down Thomas put his mind  and energy into becoming a town councillor for the ward of Morningside in Edinburgh. His proposal as a candidate appears in the Edinburgh Evening News , 25th October 1921 along with a photo of him and The Scotsman , Friday 28th October 1921. He was duly elected , a role he held on to until 1929. 

He bought a large property in Morningside , Canaan Lodge, 41-43 Canaan Lane. This property was described in the To Let section of The Scotsman , 23rd October 1832 as having “ 3 public rooms, 7 or 8 bedrooms, besides extensive servants can, a well stocked vinery and greenhouses, a coach house, stabling and offices suited to the requirements of a first class establishment accommodation. …situated in its own grounds, with a large and beautifully arranged and comprising flower, fruit And kitchen garden”

During his prominent years on the Edinburgh Town Council we know from The Scotsman of 1st November 1922 that he  joined the Board of Commercial Bank of Scotland. 

It is also noted in his obituary , BMJ Jan 30th 1937 that during his active years he was “ frequently called as a witness to give evidence before various public committees and commisions and made valuable suggestions before committees of the House of Commons on such subjects as the miners’ eight hour day, diseases of the mining industry , and certification of death.”

It cannot be corroborated that the claims on his Wiki page that he published during these years.

Living in such a grand mansion he held a garden fete under the auspices of the Edinburgh Women Citizens’ Association where Mrs Violet Nasmyth realised a sum of £470. The Scotsman, Tuesday 1st July 1924. The article reads that:

Feminist Town Councillor

“The Edinburgh Town Council does not have many feminist member…There is one member , however, who takes a warm and practical interest in women’s work and welfare, and organizations.. Dr Nasmyth, a staunch believer according to his own confession in the value of feminism…in social and political work.” 

He had varied interests . Reported in The Scotsman , Thursday 5th February 1925 Thomas was a member of the Edinburgh Show committee, actively looking for a suitable site to commence use from 1927. 

The Dundee Evening Telegraph of Friday 13th July 1928 list Dr Thomas Nasmyth as a subscriber for a call for a crematorium in Edinburgh at East Warriston. At the time of his death he was a director of the Crematorium.

This is the same year that the St Andrew’s Citizen reports that “ Sr T G Nasmyth , Canaan Lodge, Edinburgh, formerly medical officer of health for Fife, has been appointed Deputy Lieutenant for Edinburgh . He is Bailie on Edinburgh Town Council.”

It is reported in The Scotsman 27th September 1928  that Thomas was part of the official vist of the Sultan of Muscat to Edinburgh. This would be part of his Deputy Lieutenant role,

Thomas was clearly a very prominent citizen.

The Dundee Courier Thursday 6th June 1929 reported that he retired from the council. At aged 74 he perhaps deserved a rest. He is also described as being an extraordinary director of Perth Show.

Sadly, at the age of 82, Thomas died at his  home, Canaan Lodge, on 16th January 1937.

He was cremated on 19th January 1937  at Warriston – the crematorium he had fought to have built. The cause of death is registered as double pneumonia 4 days and cystitis. The crematorium record sourced via deceased online states that he was a Director of Edinburgh Crematorium and that his ashes were delivered. This indicates that his ashes were indeed buried in Dean cemetery in the family grave. 

The grave of Thomas Goodall Nasmyth.

His will, reported in The Scotsman , Saturday 23rd January 1937 list the charitable interests that he held “ Dr Nasmyth has made the following quests:- To the Church of Scotland, 121 George Street, to be applied for the purpose of the Committee on Social Work, the sum of £500. To the Royal Hospital for Incurables, Edinburgh £250. To the Royal Institution for the Edinburgh…of Deaf and Dumb Children? To the Royal Blind Asylum and ??, £250. To the Edinburgh, Leith and ? Branch of the RNLI, £250.”

His death was reported in several newspapers according to searches on the British Newspaper archives. The biggest honour was the obituary and appreciation in the British Medical Journal quoted at the beginning of this blog..

May McIver presents Queen Mary with a bouquet of flowers.

Worker of the Week: Victoria May McIver

By Collections blog

Worker of the Week is a weekly blogpost series which will highlight one of the workers at H.M. Gretna our volunteers have researched for The Miracle Workers Project. This is an exciting project that aims to centralise all of the 30,000 people who worked at Gretna during World War One. If you want to find out more, or if you’d like to get involved in the project, please email This week, volunteer Robin Hall, tells us all about Victoria May McIver.

May was born in Longtown, Cumberland ( now Cumbria) on 24th May 1899. The youngest of 4 children to John Henry McIver ( 1854-1909) and Mary Openshaw  McIver ( Nee Makin)  She had 3 siblings. A sister Jessie and two brothers John Henry and Arthur. On 18 June 1899 May was baptised in Arthuret Church, Longtown. (1)

In 1901 the family lived at 10 Bank Street, Longtown. Her father was 47 yrs, mother 35 yrs, Jessie was 9yrs, John Henry 7yrs, Arthur 5yrs and May was 1 year old. (2)

On 24 December 1909 May’s father John Henry died aged 56yrs. May was 10 yrs old at the time. Her mother now had to care for 4 children which must have been very difficult without any welfare state. (1)

In 1911 the family lived at 47 Esk Street Longtown. May’s mother was 44yrs, John Henry was now 17yrs and employed as a Woodman, Arthur was 15yrs and employed as a Kennel Boy, May was 11yrs and still at school. Her elder sister Jessie was 19yrs and had left home to work as a Domestic Servant for a Mr Dodds in Carlisle. (3)

May went to work at HM Factory Gretna. In 1917  aged 17yrs whilst working on A shift in the Cotton Preparation Department she had an accident and lost her left hand and part of her arm. She was cared for in the factory hospital.

When in the hospital in May 1917 King George V and Queen Mary carried out a visit to the factory and when at the hospital Queen Mary was presented with a bunch of flowers by May. May was chosen to present the flowers as she was the youngest patient in the hospital aged 17yrs at the time. (4)

May McIver presents Queen Mary with a bouquet of flowers.

I can find no record to say May was able to work after the accident or received compensation for her injury

In January 1928 May married William Balma Grey at Arthuret Church Longtown (1) and they lived at 8 Albert Street Longtown. They had one son Ivor who was born in 1938 and died in 2020 (1) Ivor went to Longtown Primary School with my friend Derek Coultard (6) Derek recalls visiting Ivor’s home after school one day and being fascinated to see how May was able to peel potatoes with only one hand (5). Ivor became a Geography teacher at Annan Academy and taught Dorethy (Dot) Seaton and Eleanor Oswald who are both Trustees of the Devils Porridge. (6)

A photo of Victoria presenting Queen Mary with the flowers can be seen in the Devils Porridge Museum , Eastriggs(4), which tells the story of HM Factory Gretna the greatest munitions factory on earth and their miracle workers, one of which was Victoria May McIver.


  2. 1901 census England and Wales
  3. 1911 census England and Wales
  4. Photograph Devils Porridge Museum
  5. Personal account Derek Coulthard
  6. Personal account Dorothy Seaton and Eleanor Oswald
Mary Gerrie Esson

Worker of the Week: Mary Gerrie Esson

By Collections blog

Worker of the Week is a weekly blogpost series which will highlight one of the workers at H.M. Gretna our volunteers have researched for The Miracle Workers Project. This is an exciting project that aims to centralise all of the 30,000 people who worked at Gretna during World War One. If you want to find out more, or if you’d like to get involved in the project, please email This week, volunteer Catriona Banks, tells us all about her grandmother, Mary Gerrie Esson.

Mary was the fourth child born to Alexander Esson (9 July 1858 – 28 June 1945), a butcher in Aberdeen, and Margaret Crofts (25 Mar 1866 – ? poss Sydney, Australia) from Whalsay, Shetland. Alexander and Margaret (Maggie) were married in Aberdeen on 21 Nov 1890, and had eight children in total, two boys and six girls. Tragically, both boys were killed in WW1, and three of the girls died as babies.

Mary lived in Aberdeen and from the uniform she is wearing in the photograph below, it is likely she attended St Margaret’s School for Girls on Albyn Place. The photo shows Mary and her classmates doing a Physical Education class in 1909 or 1910, when Mary would have been 12 or 13 years old.

Mary Gerrie Esson, right rear, in school uniform (St Margaret’s School for Girls?) participating in PE class. Image, c1909.

The census of 1911 reveals that Mary, then aged 14 years, had left school and was working at the Paper Mills but her job is illegible [‘? sorter’, perhaps].

By 1916, Mary was working at the Munitions Factory in Gretna. She would have been twenty years old. She was given a triangular-shaped brass badge in acknowledgement of her war work.

Front – ‘On War Service 1916’



Rear – ‘199798’

Mary sent a postcard to her mother, Maggie, in 1917, posing in her munitions factory uniform. The back of the card reads: ‘With Love from Mary to Mother. 24.4.17. D.E.S. H.M Factory. Gretna’

Meanwhile, Mary’s older brother, James Ross Esson, had joined the City of Aberdeen Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery (RFA) when it formed in the spring of 1915. His service number was L/4402, and his rank was Driver. He found himself in Salonika in the midst of the Balkans campaign, and was tragically severely wounded in action. He later died of his wounds on 20 February, 1917. The Aberdeen Evening Express newspaper of Friday 2 March, 1917 reported on James’ death:

The following day, the same newspaper listed James Esson on their Roll of Honour. They noted that he was the ‘Dearly loved and deeply regretted’ eldest son of Mr and Mrs Alexander Esson, 71 Dunbar Street.

The youngest of the family, Alexander, also enlisted for service in WW1 and joined the Gordon Highlanders. He was a Lance Corporal in the 6th Battalion, service number S/22581. He must have been only 17 when he initially signed up, possibly prompted by the death of his older brother? In any case, Alexander was in that cohort of new recruits flung together and sent to defend the Somme at the Lys River in what became known as the Fourth Battle of the Somme, which occurred between 9- 29 April, 1918. Alexander was killed in action on 11 April, 1918. He was 18 years old.

Alexander’s body was never found. He is remembered at the Loos Memorial in Pas de Calais, France.

Aberdeen Daily Journal, Friday 17 May, 1918

On 7 May, 1920, Mary married Charles Gordon Sellar Banks (14 Dec 1895-25 Jul 1936) at The Manse in Old Aberdeen. In 1914, Charles had joined the Royal Naval Division and served at Gallipoli where he was wounded and invalided off the Peninsula, and then in France where he suffered gas exposure which left him with permanent damage to his lungs. At the time of their marriage, Charles was an Apprentice Cabinetmaker, aged 24, living at 234 Holburn Street. Mary was a 23 year old Laundry Worker, living with her family at 71 Dunbar Street.

Mary c1920

The first of Mary and Charles’ children, a daughter, Aileen Esson, was born on 27 November 1920 in Aberdeen. The story that was told as I grew up was that Charles’ lungs were so bad that doctors recommended a warm, dry climate. So, in January 1925, the small family relocated to Auckland, New Zealand where they spent several years. My father, Charles Gordon Esson (known by his family as Gordon) was born in Auckland on 20 December, 1929. His birth certificate notes that there was another boy born to Mary and Charles in the years between Aileen and Gordon, but he had died at birth. As the years passed, Charles’ health became progressively worse, and as he realised he was going to die, he wanted to die back in Scotland. So, the family of four returned to Aberdeen in May 1933 aboard the Rangitane from Wellington, New Zealand – Aileen was 12 years old, and Gordon was three. Charles Gordon Sellar Banks died on 25 July, 1936 aged 40 years, succumbing to acute asthma. He is buried in the Nellfield Cemetery, Aberdeen.

Mary applied for a war widow’s pension, but her application was denied. One can only imagine what a difficult time this must have been for a young widow with two children to support in a post-war United Kingdom. What a bitter blow to have lost your husband whose health was fatally compromised due to his involvement in the war, and not be granted a war widow’s pension.

In 1939, with a second World War brewing in Europe, Mary decided to migrate permanently to New Zealand. Shipping records show that Mary, aged 42, Aileen, aged 18, and Gordon, aged 9 sailed on the Orontes from London to Sydney, disembarking on 14 February, 1939. While the ship itself was due to sail to New Zealand, the industrious Mary left Aileen looking after her young brother at Circular Quay and managed to secure accommodation for them all (at the Salvation Army hostel, 140 Elizabeth Street, Sydney) and a job for herself as a seamstress. And so, the family’s plans changed, and they ended up settling in Australia.

Aboard the Orontes, February 1939.

Aileen, Mary, Gordon with appropriate Australian props.

They stayed only a few years in Sydney before moving once more, this time to Melbourne. Gordon (now known as Charles) went to boarding school in the rural town of Kilmore, attending Assumption College on a scholarship. Charles was a brilliant student and school records show that the College followed his academic and professional career for many years after he had finished Matriculation.

Interestingly, Assumption College Kilmore is a Catholic school run (in those days) by the Marist Brothers. It was around this time (c.1941) that Mary, Aileen and Charles converted to Catholicism from Presbyterianism. Charles talked about it in terms of expediency – the family were befriended

by the Headmaster of Assumption College who suggested that it would help their case for a scholarship if they were Catholic. So, the family were baptised at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney before their move to Melbourne.

The electoral roll of 1942 shows that Mary and Aileen were living at 12 Lorna Street, Moonee Ponds, an inner-western suburb of Melbourne. At the time it was a fairly industrial area, dominated by a huge munitions factory on the nearby Maribyrnong River. Both Mary (aged 46) and Aileen (aged 22) were listed as munitions workers at the Maribyrnong Ammunition Factory. I am not sure what type of work they did at the factory, nor how long they worked there, but I assume they both wanted to do their bit for the war effort, given the involvement of so many of their family members in World War I.

By 1949 Mary and Aileen had moved from Moonee Ponds to the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, settling eventually at 1 Avenue Athol, Canterbury. In the electoral roll of 1954 Mary’s occupation was listed as Home Duties. As she was only 58 years of age, and had always been an energetic, intrepid person, I wonder if her health had begun to decline. Mary Gerrie Esson Banks died at the age of 68 on 18 November 1964. Her death certificate states that she succumbed to stomach and liver cancer. She is buried at the Box Hill Cemetery. The inscription reads: ‘In loving memory of Mary Esson Banks. Died 18th Nov 1964. Beloved wife of the late Charles Gordon Banks of Aberdeen Scotland. Devoted mother of Aileen and Charles’.

A newspaper article with a very dark photo.

Worker of the Week: Bryde Johnstone-Douglas

By Collections blog

Worker of the Week is a weekly blogpost series which will highlight one of the workers at H.M. Gretna our volunteers have researched for The Miracle Workers Project. This is an exciting project that aims to centralise all of the 30,000 people who worked at Gretna during World War One. If you want to find out more, or if you’d like to get involved in the project, please email This week, volunteer Beth Banks, tells us all about Miss Bryde (Bridget Helen) Johnstone-Douglas.

Beth started out with this image in her research into Miss Johnstone-Douglas:

This image is a page from the Dornock Farewell, a magazine put together by workers in the Dornock Section of the Factory at the end of the war. In this magazine, many workers had listed their names and future addresses, perhaps for friends and former colleagues to contact them. A name and an address isn’t a lot to go on, but Beth found out some fascinating things about Miss Johnstone-Douglas’s life. The address given in the Dornock Farewell led Beth to this building in Edinburgh:

9 Doune Terrace, Edinburgh

Further searches led to the discovery of a probate calendar that gave further information about Miss Johnstone-Douglas’ family.

Arthur Henry and Jane Maitland Stewart Johnstone Douglas were the parents of Miss B. Johnstone-Douglas.  From the Baptism that took place in London we have a name for Miss B. – Bridget Helen.

The Johnstone-Douglas family home in London was at 27 Connaught Street.

From Census entries it was discovered that Bridget was known as Bryde. She had 2 brothers and 6 sisters and lived a very privileged life in Society circles.  The family also had connections with Lockerbie in Scotland including Comlongon Castle.

Comlongon Castle

From the few newspaper articles found mentioning Bryde, it becomes apparent that this lady was a caring person who involved herself with the community.

Transcript: Will any kind friend lend or give Bicycle to Discharged Wounded Soldier? Apply Miss Bryde Johnstone Douglas, Ruthwell.

Bryde was also the 11 x Great Granddaughter of King Edward 4th of England!

It would be interesting to ask Bryde how she found working at HM Factory which was quite a contrast from the lifestyle she was familiar with. Unfortunately we don’t know much about the type of work Bryde did at the factory, only that she worked in the Dornock section. We don’t even have a clear photo of Bryde, although, frustratingly, although this very dark and low quality image retrieved from the BNA purports to show Bryde at a society event:



“The Gentlewoman” Saturday 29th August 1908

A big thanks to Beth for her fantastic research into the very intriguing Miss Bridget Helen Johnstone-Douglas! I wonder if any skilled photographers out there might be able to clean up the purported image of Bryde and make it clearer?

Edward Pearson.

Worker of the Week: Edward Pearson

By Collections blog

Worker of the Week is a weekly blogpost series which will highlight one of the workers at H.M. Gretna our volunteers have researched for The Miracle Workers Project. This is an exciting project that aims to centralise all of the 30,000 people who worked at Gretna during World War One. If you want to find out more, or if you’d like to get involved in the project, please email This week, volunteer Beth Banks, tells us all about Edward Pearson.


10 May 1874-9 November 1925

Edward was born in Bradford, Yorkshire the son of George and Sarah (Dickinson) Pearson and the grandson of Samuel and Elizabeth (Asquith) Pearson.  It was Edward’s grandfather Samuel who started the family building business for public contracts. In time Samuel’s sons joined the business S Pearson + Sons.  They were a highly successful company and had contracts all around the word building bridges, dams, roads.[1]  The British Government offered Weetman Pearson, Edward’s brother, the contract to build the HM Factory at Gretna.  Weetman was too busy with other commitments at the time so suggested that the contract be given to his brother. So, this is how it came about the Edward was given the contract for HM Factory.[2]

Unfortunately, when HM Factory was due to be officially opened, Edward was not able to attend for the honours as was reported in the local newspaper.

However —-

Photo in Gretna’s Secret War by Gordon Routledge

Edward Ernest Pearson married Susannah Grace Croft on the 8th September 1904 at Ware, Hertfordshire.  The couple eventually settled in Hertfordshire to raise a family of 3 sons and 3 daughters.


Edward and Susannah inherited Brickendonbury from Edwards’s father.

Brickendonbury, where Edward lived with his wife.

During his life Edward was conferred with the honour of a knighthood, as well as in 1909 made Sheriff of Hertfordshire. In 1924, he was awarded the Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem in England.

Edward Ernest Pearson died unexpectedly on 19th November 1925.

Aberdeen  Press + Journal: Saturday 21 Nov.1925











[2] Moorside: A Wartime Miracle by Gordon Routledge, Published by P3 Publications 2020

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