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Photo of Nina Cooper

Nina Cooper

Munitions Worker
Birthplace Tyne and Wear Sunderland EnglandPlace of Residence at HM Factory Gretna Flora Mcdonald Hostel Date of Birth: March 4, 1900

Biography

  • Liddle archive, transcript of interview with Nina Cooper, Uni of Leeds
  • Timbertown Girls, PhD Thesis by Chris Brader. Access here: http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/36426/,
    • ‘Nina Cooper, a Sunderland girl who worked at Gretna and who was interviewed in the 1970s, remembered going to many dances and socialising with local boys. For her, the issue of votes for women was not something which occupied her mind when she was young’ – p. 6.
    • ‘Oral testimony from Gretna workers also underlines this. Nina Cooper, from Sunderland, worked as a domestic servant before the war.’ – p. 23.
    • ‘Others were obviously attracted by the comparatively high wages on offer. Nina Cooper, also from Sunderland, cited the opportunity to earn more money as a reason for going to Gretna. Before the war she worked as a servant, working 60 hours a week for 6s. In August 1916 the gross female weekly adult rate for unskilled work at Gretna was 22s 6d. After deductions for board and food of 12s the net wage was lOs 6d. Sunday work and overtime could double that amount.’ – p. 30.
    • ‘Nina Cooper had negative memories of her working life and of living in hostels. She was engaged in cutting the cordite into lengths and then pushing the product in trucks ‘a mile or so’ to the drying section. ‘It was an awful job on the trucks on a night shift – cold rain, dark and lonely, pushing the heavy trucks, and rats running round your feet.’’ – p.  43.
    • ‘Nina Cooper recalled that fumes from the cordite made girls stagger, as if drunk They were then ‘taken to the sick bay to sleep it off’.’’ – p. 43.
    • ‘Nina Cooper recalled that: ‘You went to the medical hut about once a month to have your hair combed to keep heads clean’’ – p. 45.
    • ‘Nina Cooper, from Sunderland, remembered the dormitories as being ‘very cold in cold weather. . . . As the maids washed the floor it turned to ice as they dried out’ – p. 100.
    • ‘There was no rationing in hostels but Ministry officials stressed that food allowance was calculated for only what was deemed necessary to produce the output required of workers, probably indicating sensitivity to outside accusations of munitions workers being a ‘privileged’ group. In practice some of the younger Gretna workers were probably not receiving adequate calories to perform the harder physical tasks such as pushing truckloads of cordite. Nina Cooper performed such work and found herself ‘always hungry’. Coming from Sunderland, being served up unsweetened thick porridge as a main meal was not enthusiastically received. Opinions differed as to the quality of food, however. While Nina Cooper remembered the food as ‘very poor’, with dinners invariably cold by the time they were served up,’ – p. 106.
    • ‘Nina Cooper returned to Sunderland and went back to domestic service at 7s a week, after earning between £2 and £3 a week at Gretna. ‘That was all there was for a girl. I went to a dairy serving milk and helping in the house.’ Her pre-war job was in domestic service, earning 6s a week.’ – p. 251.
  • ‘Mrs Cooper of Sunderland recalls: I went to Gretna in 1916, we lived in hostels, just wooden huts with long dormitories and a large living room with wooden forms to sit on, and a big iron stove (no comforts). Each girl had a small bedroom, no door, just curtain at the doorway, and it was very cold in the cold weather, as the maids washed the floors they turned to ice as they dried out. Each hostel had a name, mine was Flora Mcdonald. We worked in three shifts and we went to work in trains with wooden seats and each one of us had a pass to show before we were allowed in the large gates. We made cordite. We changed into overalls and hats to cover all our hair and shoes that must not touch the ground outside where we worked. We made the cordite, cut it in lengths, packed it in trays and then carried it to small trucks at the doorway, and two girls pushed the truck a mile or so to the large stoves where it was dried out. It was an awful job when on the trucks, if on night shift – cold rain, dark and lonely, pushing the heavy trucks, and rats running around your feet. Sometimes girls were drunk with the fumes from the cordite, and had to be taken to the sick bay (as we called it then) to sleep it off. Dinner was served always cold, but we ate it as we were always hungry. There was a hall in the village where we could go at the weekends and dance with boys who came in from Carlisle. There was a medical hut where we had to go about once a month to have our hair combed with a small tooth comb to keep our heads clean. We earned two or three pounds per week, with thirteen shillings deducted for board and lodgings.’ – G Routledge, Gretna’s Secret War, (Bookcase 1999), p. 54-55.

Related by Category

Related by City - Sunderland

Related by County - Tyne and Wear

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Sunderland England

Flora Mcdonald Hostel