Skip to main content
Collections blog

International Women’s Day: inspiring women of World War One

By April 28th, 2023No Comments
Isabella Dixon OBE

Yesterday was International Women’s Day, a time to celebrate wonderful women so here is an account of bravery shown by two remarkable women during World War One.

Maud Bruce was from County Durham, aged 22 when she went to work at HM Factory Gretna (which the Devil’s Porridge Museum is primarily focused upon). She became a forewoman and was in charge of a women’s fire brigade unit in the factory.

Six months after her arrival at the plant, at 8pm on 22nd May 1917, a fire broke out in the gun cotton drying house where she was employed. In this section of the plant there were always large quantities of loose dry cotton lying about. Smoke began to appear out of one of the cotton drying machines, and within a few minutes, the room was filled with thick smoke. Flames began spreading rapidly to the layers of cotton inside the willower, as the machine was called. Maud (photographed below) climbed the ladder beside the machine, which was about 20ft. high, and cut away the burning cotton to prevent the fire from spreading, and by her cool action, the other girls were encouraged to operate the steam and water sprinklers, to extinguish the existing fire.

Her brave deed, therefore, not only halted the expansion of the fire, but also ensured that the rest of the girls carried out their fire fighting duty.

Isabella Dixon

On June 21st 1918, when she was 23, Maud was awarded the OBE by the Duke of Buccleuch, at Gretna she was described in a newspaper article as, “…a fine type of girl…”. The same article from 1917, describes another young woman called Isabella Dixon (photographed above) who was awarded an OBE at the same time as Maud, ‘for presence of mind and courage entering a burning room in an explosives factory and playing a hose upon the flames.’

Maud was one of the first people in the country to undergo plastic surgery. She lived to be 100 years old (photographed below in later life).

maud bruce in later life

Translate »