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Andrew HallidayMunitions Worker, Trolleys
‘Mary Ellen’s Story: Mary Ellen Hind was born in Carlisle and lived on London Road until she was about six years old when the family moved to Annan. She began working at the Dornock Factory in 1916 at the age of nineteen, where she met and married her husband Andrew Halliday. Mary Ellen, better known as “Nellie”, was in her ninety seventh year when we spoke at her Eastriggs home on Wednesday 14th April 1993. I talked to her about her days in Dornock and she recalled some of the memories of her youth, in the Great Munitions Factory: You got a bus from Annan to the Station Road end, and walked up a hill and caught a train that took us up into the factory. I was put in the screening shed at first and the gun cotton came to us in big lumps, shaped like a loaf, and we put them through a machine and graded them down to shreds and put into rubber bags, then they were taken from our huts to the stoves where they were dried to a powder. Later I was transferred from the screening shed to the engine house, the engine that dried the gun-cotton. It was a big iron shed, you couldn’t hear a sound until someone patted you on the shoulder, for the noise of the engine. I had to sit down there where the water was boiling and watch the temperature, if you didn’t watch that you would have blown the place up. Well we sat watching the temperature and we had to get up every half hour and see what the temperature was. If it was too high we had to open the door and put a wedge in it, to cool down the building, if it was the opposite then we had to close it. There was a Danger Inspector came to see the engine houses every now and again, to see if we were alright, he checked them, there were two engine houses to one stove, on three roads, and he came in and inspected them to see if the engines were kept all right. I remember once a girl was killed in the factory, up at Broomhills, at the acid point. When the girl was killed I was on the day shift and I was in bed at home in Annan. We heard the explosion all the way from there, but we didn’t know exactly what had happened until we got into work. Father got us out of bed to see what it was, and we went outside the door and could see the flames rising all the way from Annan. They said that dirt had gotten into the gun-cotton and that was what caused it. The girl who was killed was a chargehand, she got all her girls out, and she was the last to come out, and she was caught, she was the only one killed. We got a day off when that happened while they cleared the place up. I never lived in the hostels, because I was local I always travelled in from Annan, but two of the girls who lived in the hostels later came and lodged with my mother. The hostels all had different names, the one across the road from where I live today, was called ‘Nelson House’. The factory was a busy place, there were hundreds and hundreds of girls, they came from all over the place; Sunderland, Newcastle, all over, even one from Dornock, in the north of Scotland. There were three shifts, A, B, and C. I was on ‘A’ shift, from half past seven in the morning until half past two in the afternoon. The next shift came on after that, and they worked ‘till half past ten and so on. We worked through all sorts of weather and always wore wellingtons because we worked among water all the time, barring the time we were in the danger houses. The stoves were full of water and the screening shed, there was water all over the place. There were pools of water all over the factory, it was quite dangerous. The men pushed the trolleys about after they were loaded, two or three men to one trolley, they would push them up to the stoves, then some other men would push them from the stoves up to Broomhills, to the acid plant, it was a nasty place. Whiffs of acid would keep coming over every now and again, and used to fairly take your breath away. My gums were all poisoned with the acid and I had to have all my teeth taken out. They were good times in the factory even through there was a war on, and the girls were always singing, up and down the line. We used to come down the line at half past two in the morning for our break, and if you met the lady police you were searched. I was searched one night, and I had an awful cold, and my mother had brought me a bodice with buttons on, and then when I went through the changing room this night I met the lady police and she would examine me, and she cut all the buttons off my bodice and I was fined SIX-PENCE! You see you weren’t allowed buttons or needles or anything in case they got into the explosive. There were some girls who took knitting in and they were fined for having needles, you weren’t allowed anything like that. We wore a certain uniform, khaki, done with red, we changed into this when we came on a shift, we also wore a hat covering our hair. I can remember when all the navvies were there building the factory, they were always getting drunk and fighting. The factory and the hostels were being built together. It was a big project, there were miles of buildings going up; they demolished some of the farms to make the place, before that it was nearly all just green fields and farming land. I remember we were coming on shift one morning and they were starting to build a block at the bottom of the Rand, and when we came off in the afternoon it was all up, the whole block was built, you know, hostels, it was all built whilst we were at work, all built in a day, there were hundreds of men there. I saw them laying the foundation stone for the English Church in Eastriggs in 1917, the two girls who lodged with us and me came off work and went to see them laying the stone. The Catholic Church, (it was demolished only a few years ago) was on the left as you came into Eastriggs from the Rigg, there were so many Catholics they were many a time kneeling outside the door for the service. There was also a beautiful hall down there, the best hall in Scotland. When it closed they took the floor away from some other place, I can’t remember exactly where it went. It was a lovely floor, the men weren’t allowed in with boots on, only dance shoes. The policemen’s huts were all down there where we got the train, right up to the Butterdales. Then there were huts up in Eastriggs for the lady police. There were some good girls and there were some bad girls. I got my bicycle pinched once when I was down there. I put it in the shed when I went to work and when I went for it in the morning it was gone, but one of the girls who I worked with found out who had it and I got it back, and she got into trouble. I can’t remember what they did with her. Some of the police were nice, some were quite sharp and tried to catch you. I can remember the Solway Viaduct. I walked across it once when I missed the train back from Bowness. I was in service at a house over there, and I was only allowed home every fortnight. I didn’t catch the train this time and I walked home across the bridge that was before the war. I can remember the rail disaster at Quintinshill, my brother and me were cycling to Carlisle, we got to the Sark bridge and wondered why all the ambulances and motors were going up that road. We stopped and asked someone, and they said there had been a accident at Quintinshill. So we went up that road on the bikes to see it, but all we saw were lots of cars and people walking about. My uncle was a linesman on the railway and had been one of the first on the scene. I can just remember seeing the King and Queen when they came to the factory, they went to see the new English Church. Lots of girls worked down and Gretna and Mossband, but I never worked down there. There was a bad flu epidemic in 1917 and lots of girls were ill with it. The only time I had an accident in the factory was when I hit my head on a pillar in one of the buildings and had severe bruising. We worked through all kinds of weather, seven days a week, and we never even stopped at Christmas. I remember the Danger Buildings Inspector, a man from Australia, was dumbstruck one winter, he had never seen snow before. I can remember walking through the snow to work and working out in it. All the lasses used to come to Dornock from Gretna by train, and get off at the Wylies. My brother worked there too, and once, after some navvies had walked to Annan to go to the service at the Catholic Church, he found a pound note that one of them must have dropped. We told him to hand it in but he says “I will not!” and kept it. I met my husband during the First World War, he used to work on the trolleys, pushing the trolleys, but really I met him when he went to dances at Annan. Quite a lot of people met and married as a result of working in the factory. We married after the war in 1919, and lived in Halifax Road, Eastriggs, then lived at The Howes farm for 42 years. I think I must be the only one around her left that worked in the Dornock Factory. Sadly, Mary Ellen died in March 1995, and with this one of the last links with the Dornock Factory was severed.’ – G Routledge, Gretna’s Secret War (Bookcase, 1999) p. 61-64.