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Edward SpencerForeman, Nitro-glyerine Hills, Dornock
‘Many examples of heroic conduct were displayed in times of emergency by the staff and workers of H.M. Factory Gretna. At Dornock around about four thirty in the afternoon on November 5th 1917, due to an oversight, spent acid was run from No 2 Nitrator, Hill 1, into a charge of Nitro-glycerine which was being washed in the pre-wash tank. The natural consequence was that great heat was evolved = with the evolution of large quantities of red fumes of Nitrogen Peroxide and probability of the charge of 2700 lbs of Nitro-glyercine detonating at any moment. The chargeman and others in the house had added cold water to the charge in the hope of reducing its temperature, which had risen to a danger point. As however the temperature was still rising, the half dozen men in the house fled from the building. The foreman, Edward Spencer, was outside the building at the time, when he saw the five experienced Nitro-glyercine section operatives rush from the building from which fumes were issuing. Notwithstanding that, Spencer was well aware that these men would not have left unless the position was almost a hopeless one, he entered through the back door, groped his way to the fuming charge of Nitro-glycerine, and finding that there was still room in the tank added more water, and stayed with the charge until the temperature was reduced and the danger overcome. When Spencer was asked by the manager why he, a married man with a family, had taken such enormous risks, he merely said, ‘I was responsible for the house, and if it went up I was going with it.’ Spencer was inscribed on the Roll of Honour of the Carnegie Hero Trust Fund, and received twenty pounds from the fund. A gold watch was presented to him from the Ministry of Munitions, in recognition of his heroic conduct. He had been awarded the MBE for an earlier act of bravery at the Gunpowder Factory, Waltham Abbey.’ — Gretna’s Secret War by Gordon Routledge (Bookcase, 1999), p. 37-38
Info received from The Carnegie Hero Fund Trust, July 2021: ‘However, I can now present the attached extracts from our records regarding Edward Spencer. We have attached the citation wording and information from our minutes (detailing the incident), along with an image of the relevant page from the Roll of Honour. The Roll of Honour is a beautifully illustrated book which is displayed in the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum here in Dunfermline.’
Edward Spencer (39), East Rigg, Dumfriesshire, on 5th November 1917, displayed great courage and bravery in a time of great danger at an explosives factory at Gretna.
Edward Spencer (39), on 5th November 1917, displayed great courage and bravery in a time of great danger at a certain explosives factory. Spencer was awarded an Honorary Certificate.
The case was reported on 2nd May 1918 by the Superintendent of the factory:
“On 5th November 1917, about 4:30pm, a worker had displaced the charge from a nitrator separator into the prewash tank in a certain Explosives Factory. Through inattention he had continued the displacement after all the nitro-glycerine was off the top of the charge, thereby causing a large amount of spent acid to pour into the prewash tank amongst the water and nitro-glycerine which was in it, thereby causing a rise in temperature to 40 degrees C. and very alarming fumes from the mixture in the tank. While this was being done the foreman, Mr Spencer was out of the house, having left by the door to perform some of his duties in the charge house. He then came back and proceeded from the steps outside the house round the space between the house and the mound, pulling down blinds.
Meantime the position of matters in the house did not improve and the chargeman decided that the acid mass of nitro-glycerine in the prewash tank was getting completely out of control, and that it would be impossible to get its temperature reduced in time to save an explosion. He then instructed the workers to leave the house.
By this time Spencer had reached the point very near the escape door from the Nitrating House and just at the mouth of the escape tunnel. He heard the men rush from the house and knew something must be wrong. He proceeded to the escape door and saw that the house was full of fumes.
Spencer was certain of only two facts – first, that the men had left the house, which was an indication that they regarded the position as hopeless; and second, that a tremendous amount of fuming had taken place, which is a likely precursor of an explosion.
Of the actual position of matters in the house he was entirely ignorant, and from which of the vessels in use the trouble was coming he did not know. Notwithstanding that his information must have led him to decide that the chances of his ever coming out of the house alive were very small, he proceeded into the house, up the stairs to the top platform, discovered what was amiss, and set about taking steps to set matters right. The atmosphere of the house was so bad that, having turned the cold water on to the prewash tank, he had to leave the house for a breath of fresh air. He then returned to the house and satisfied himself that the temperature was falling, and stood by until the men returned and took over their regular positions.
It is true that all the workers had actually left the nitrating house in which the detonation was to be feared, but the nitro-glycerine in the adjacent wash-houses might easily have been exploded by the impact of falling masses of lead and iron machinery, in addition to the danger incurred by people moving about the section.”
Spencer is married and has two children.
Heroics mentioned in the Dornock Farewell, held in The Devil’s Porridge Museum’s archive collection: