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Graduation photo of HM Lowe.

Worker of the Week: Harry Marchanton Lowe

By Collections blog

Worker of the Week is a weekly blogpost series which will highlight one of the workers at H.M. Gretna our volunteers have researched for The Miracle Workers Project. This is an exciting project that aims to centralise all of the 30,000 people who worked at Gretna during World War One. If you want to find out more, or if you’d like to get involved in the project, please email This week volunteer Peter shares his research into his grandfather, Harry Marchanton Lowe.

Harry was born on 5th November 1890 in Manchester. His father, Francis, was a house painter who owned his own business and employed at least one man, and his mother, Elizabeth, worked as a teacher before her marriage. In June 1908, Harry began studying at Manchester Pupil Teacher College, following in the footsteps of his mother. He also made paint from raw ores; size and distemper  for his father’s painting business.

In October 1909 Harry started to attend Manchester University, where he studied Chemistry, Physics, Maths, and German. Sometime after June 1912, Harry resigned from the College. He began working at Ironhirst Peat Works at Mouswald, before moving to Chance & Hunt H.M. Factory, Site B., Oldbury, Worcestershire in December 1915.

H M Lowe and his address mentioned in the Dornock Farewell, one of the staff magazines at HM Factory Gretna.

In August 1917, Harry married Jessie. They would have three children–Mary, Jessie and Alexander. Mary was born at Dornock, which was where Harry was working at the time–at HM Factory Gretna. Harry was in charge of explosives production, and he and his family lived on Falkland Road in Eastriggs.

Peter has a great collection of family stories relating to his grandfather.

Family stories: 

    1. responsible for fire at St Pancras that destroyed much of station.
    2. recommended showers for all explosives workers before going off shift. However, there were vociferous complaints by the women against taking showers; they were afraid they would be spied on by the men and some felt it wasn’t natural to wash all over every day.
    3. recommended all explosive workers to be checked before starting to ensure no metal.
    4. recommended all explosive workers to wear garments without pockets.
    5. recommended all workers mixing chemicals wear a mask covering face and nose.
    6. A particular problem, he said, was that women would arrive with metal hairslides and hair pins in their hair and be very indignant when told to remove them.
    7. His daughter, Jessie, ‘remembered’ that he managed the stirring of the ‘devil’s porridge’.
    8. Invented or extended the “Noughts and Crosses” cipher, which although simple to use, is difficult to decode, especially when used in drawings.
    9. At Dorman Long, he worked on tar distillation and production of artificial fibres.
    10. He taught mechanics at a local WorkingMan’s institute.
    11. Devised lots of mathematical puzzles, including knight’s tours, crossnumber, and the puzzle now known as Sudoku (I think he called it NumberFit!).
    12. On his way to a conference, he stayed overnight at the County Hotel, Selkirk. He had a disturbed night because all night, a lady in a long white Victorian dress walked past the foot of his bed and out through the wall. He mentioned this to the hotelier the next morning, who begged him not to tell anyone and cancelled his bill. The current owner is a Norwegian. He hadn’t heard this story but he did say that other guests (before he took over) had seen ghosts.
    13. Claimed to be English Draughts Champion but name doesn’t appear in English Draughts Association’s list of champions, however I never saw him lose a game of draughts.
    14. I saw an article in Boys Own Paper (the 1898 volume) about how to make a bang. I tried it and there was no bang. I told my grandfather and he told me I was very lucky to be alive. He demonstrated how to make it safely and properly. He put some on a tree stump, threw a stone and nothing happened. He threw a very heavy hammer at it and there was a loud bang. It destroyed the hammer and split the stump. “That could have been your hand or head” he said.
    15. Was intensively competitive, especially at Scrabble
    16. Spoke and read German and went to conferences in Europe.
    17. Around 1935, on the road near Foyers, while dealing with a puncture, saw Loch Ness monster carrying off a lamb.

In 1946, Peter was elected as a fellow of the Institute of Chemistry, and in 1954 he retired. He passed away in St Albans in 1979.

Two Australian flags with the words "Australia Day."

The Australian contribution to HM Factory Gretna

By Collections blog

HM Factory Gretna was the greatest munitions factory on earth in World War One.  It employed 30,000 people (12,000 of them women).  It was a worldwide effort as talent was drawn from across the Empire.

Eastriggs, the location of The Devil’s Porridge Museum, is now known as ‘The Commonwealth Village’ because its place names include Singapore Road, The Rand, Delhi Road and Vancouver Road to name but a few.  The overseas workers left their mark in their contribution to the war effort and in the place names they left behind.

For Australia Day 2020, we thought we would share some information about the Australians we know about who worked in the Factory in World War One (we don’t know the names of all the Factory workers and we haven’t included the name of every Australian we know of who worked there either).


James Chalmers Hood c.1895-1957

c.1895 James was born in Oban, Scotland.  He was educated at Perth Technical College.

He became a cadet at the Explosives and Analytical Branch of the Mines Department in Western Australia.

In 1914 he qualified as an analyst and then came to HM Factory Gretna.

Between 1917 and 1919 he worked at HM Factory Sutton Oak.  This factory near Liverpool specialised in the production of poison gas (photographed below).

sutton oak

James then went on to work at Government Chemical Laboratories.  First as a chemist, then senior chemist, acting supervising chemist, deputy government analyst from 1946 and director of laboratories from 1955.

Alfred James Occleshaw


19th September 1888: Alfred was born in Melbourne.  He was educated at a working man’s college where he achieved a Diploma in Chemistry.

From 1904 to 1916 Alfred worked for the Mount Lyell Chemical Company (photographed below).

mount lyell

Between 1916 and 1918 he was involved in operative training and explosive manufacture at HM Factory Gretna.

In 1919 Alfred went to work for Chance and Hunt, an alkali company in Birmingham.

He returned to Australia in 1920 to work for the Mount Lyell Company research group.

Between 1921 and 1923 Alfred was a buyer for the Electrolytic Zinc Company, Hobart.

In 1923 he retired, and lived out his life in Melbourne.

You can see some of the street names in Eastriggs on the map below.  The majority are places in the British Empire/Commonwealth.

In 1919, the following HM Factory Gretna staff left their work in Britain and gave their addresses as listed below:

B E Anderson

c/o Wischer & co

William Street




J R H Bartlett

c/o/ Dalgetty & Co.

15 Bent Street


New South Wales



W S Bradley


Francis Street


W Australia


S Hough

c/o Messrs Lever Brothers Ltd





N S W Hudson

c/o/ T J Darling Esq.





S Parsons

91 Morehead Street





A F Parkin

Born 1892 in Victoria

Lived at 24 the Ridge, Eastriggs during World War One and had two children there (Tom and Gretna who went on to become Gretna Weste, a famous Australian botanist, see:

Died 1971 in Tobago

In 1919, he gave his future address as:

Studley Avenue





G W R Powell

Gladstone Avenue





T M Steele

c/o C S R Co

O’Connell Street




G S Skuthorp

Bullfinch Proprietery


West Australia


L F N Stutterd





M B Welch

Boyle Street

Mosman Bay

NSW Australia


R G Walker

209 Ripon Street

South Ballarat




Operating Staff

S B Abbott

71 Sydney Road





N E Beaumont



F A Eastaugh, ARSM, FIC, AIMM

University Club





F F Field, AMSM

21 Landsdowne Street

East Melbourne




A F Gourley        Australia


E L P Griffiths, BSc, AIC

Chemist’s Branch

Dept of Agriculture





W J Kelly

32 M’Connell Street





J McE King


Ballast Pint Road





A J Marsden       Australia


A M Munro, MA, AIC, FCS

c/o Bank of Australasia



C W R Powell     Chemical Dept


C S R Coy



Danger Building Staff


A L Aspland, BSc

Lower Kalgan River


West Australia





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