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Photo of John Charles Burnham CBE

John Charles Burnham, CBE

HM Factory GretnaSuperintendent, Gretna Mossband
Birthplace Surrey Camberwell EnglandPlace of Death Dorset Poole England Date of Birth: December 9, 1866 Date of Death: June 28, 1943


Full name of worker at H.M. Factory Gretna (and any other names they are known by): John Charles Burnham CBE.

Do they already have a Wikipedia page? If yes, please paste link: No.

Gender: Male.

Date and Place of Birth: 9th December 1866, Camberwell, Surrey, England.

Date and Place of Death: 28th June 1943, Poole, Dorset, England.

Nationality: British.

Do we have images/photos of this person?: Yes.



Childhood: His siblings were George Alexander (1865-1867), Margaret Ann Mary (1869-1934) and Bessie (Elizabeth) Jane Lee Burnham (1871-1951).

Parents: John Charles Burnham (1844-1917) and Margarette Morley Gray (1843-1890).

Parent’s occupations: His father was a carpenter. Both of his parents died in London workhouses, and Burnham attended Macclesfield Industrial School. “This was a home for poor children, orphans and those who had been sentenced to a period of confinement in the courts of law.”

Schools / universities attended and years of attendance: 1885-1889: Burnham studied at Owens College, Manchester, graduating with a B.Dc. (Vict.), in the first class, and was elected an Associate of the College in the same year.

Occupation: Chemist.

Place of residence at Gretna: N/A.

Job title at Gretna: Director of the Board of Management and Superintendent at H. M. Factory. John Charles Burnham was responsible for keeping the greatest factory in the world operating smoothly which he accomplished every day he was there as the factory helped Britain win the war by producing the most cordite out of any factory in the whole world. When leaving the Factory Burnham left behind a meticulous record of his work in the form of a Factory Manuel which is now in the National Archives.

Marital status: Married Lillian Cox (1873-1969). They married in 1898.

Children: Marjorie Winifred (1897–?) and Edna Lilian Burnham


Travels: 1889-1894: After graduating from Manchester University, Burnham became Assistant Chemist at the War Office Research Dept. Woolwich Aresenal (Explosives). He worked under Dr. Kellner, the War Office Chemist who had previously been based at Owens College, Manchester.

1893: Burnham was elected a Fellow of the Institute of Chemists.

1894-1899: Burnham moved to India to work as Chief Chemist in an experimental Cordite Factory in Kirkee which is in the state of Maharashtra in west central India. The factory was listed as producing small arms and pistol ammunition. It is still there today.

1899-1915: Burnham was appointed Manager and Chemist at the Government of India Explosives Factory, Aruvankadu Nilgiris in the state of Tamil Nadu in Southern India. The factory produced cordite and gun cotton (and still produces explosives).

Awards/recognitions: When he was working in India, his advice was sought by the Government on many occasions, and his services were recognised by the award of the Companion of the Star of India (CSI) in 1911 at the Delhi Durbar which was hosted by King George V and Queen Mary.

1915-1921: In 1915 Burnham was loaned by his employers to the Ministry of Munitions and became Director of the Board of Management and Superintendent at H. M. Factory, Gretna, which he held until 1921. When he eft the Factory in 1921, he was given an illuminated manuscript (in possession of The Devil’s Porridge), signed by the workforce which included the following phrases:

  • ‘…the able and distinguished manner in which you have acted…’
  • ‘…the public-spirited and self-denying efforts you have made…’
  • ‘…the courtesy and consideration you have shown…’
  • ‘…accept our united thanks for your constant kindness and goodwill and our sincere good wishes for your future happiness and welfare.’

Burnham appointed CBE in 1920. He was among 5000 named in the Honours List for War Services.

Trivia / any other information: The effects left in his probate were £2664 11s. 7d.

1922-1924: Burnham was appointed General Works Manager of British Dyestuffs Corporation, Manchester, before retiring in 1924 (following the war).

Burnham showed King George V and Queen Mary around the factory when they visited in 1917.

At the end of the War, Burnham was a major part of the Armistice celebrations (his speech on November 11th 1918 was recorded in the local paper, the Annandale Observer.

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