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Worker of the Week: Herbert Womersley

By April 13th, 2022No Comments
The inside of a cigarette case from 1918.

Worker of the Week is a weekly blogpost series which will highlight one of the workers at H.M. Gretna our Research Assistant, Laura Noakes, has come across during her research. Laura is working on a project to create a database of the 30,000 people that worked at Gretna during World War One.

After receiving photos of J. C. Meldon’s pocket watch a few weeks ago, we were delighted to have another photo of a worker’s  momento from their time at H.M. Factory Gretna. This time the photos were of a cigarette case, given to Herbert Womersley.

Engraved upon this cigarette case were the words ‘H. M. Gretna 23.2.18’

Herbert was born in Warrington, Lancashire in April 1899. He trained as a chemist in soap manufacturing, but from a young age his passion was entomology. Entomology is the study of insects, and Herbert wasn’t the first person in his family to be interested in the subject, his father, Fred, was an amateur lepidopterist.

“The American Soldiers in Presence of Gas” (Reeve 37283), National Museum of Health and Medicine, Otis Historical Archives.

When the First World War broke out in 1914, Herbert joined the Royal Army Medical Corps, before transferring to the Chemical Corps. He served at the Front, and was involved in some of the earliest chemical weapon attacks on German soldiers. At some point between this and the end of War, Herbert ended up at H. M. Factory Gretna.

After the war, Herbert Womersley emigrated to Australia and made his lifelong passion a career. He became a renowned entomologist. Several insect genera and species were even named after him!

Herbert’s entry in the ‘Who’s Who of Australia’ in 1944

When photos of Herbert’s cigarette case were recently shared with us, we were able to find his name in the Mossband Farewell magazine. The Mossband Farewell was a put together by the staff at the end of the war, and at the end of the magazine there was a list of staff and addresses. A ‘H Womersley’ is listed, as part of the operating staff, and his address is in Warrington.

The page in the ‘Mossband Farewell’ where Herbert is mentioned.

From this it seems Herbert worked in the Mossband section of the Factory. Mossband and Dornock were the two administrative sites at H.M. Factory Gretna. Dornock was where the mixing of acids, nitrocotton and nitro-glycerine was done, and in Mossband the compounds were brought together to make cordite.

Herbert Womersley and his wife Alice in the front yard of their home in Adelaide, South Australia

However, one part of Herbert’s story remains a mystery! We couldn’t figure out the significance of the date engraved on the cigarette case—23.02.18. Maybe further research will shed light on why this date in particular was commemorated on Herbert’s cigarette case.

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