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Gretna Girl

Jessie Rome Latimer

Worker of the Week: Jessie Rome Latimer

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, Stuart tells us about his research into Jessie Rome Latimer.

Jessie Latimer was brought up in Annan and one of her main interests during her youth was singing and performing. On December 3rd 1914 she took part in a concert at the Victoria Hall in Annan as part of the Soldiers and Sailors’ Work Party Fund. Her younger sister Margaret also took part in a section of the performance titled the ‘Butterfly Queen’, whereas Jessie appeared in ‘Our Allies’, where she sang the song  ‘Ready, aye ready’.

Jessie mentioned in the Annandale Observer 11th May 1917.

Jessie Latimer is documented appearing at numerous local events between 1914 and 1916 along with Gina Beattie, Elsie Longmuir and Etta Robinson. Jessie entered the factory in the autumn of 1916 along with several of her friends and seems to have worked at the Dornock section, which is interesting as her father Robert was born in Dornock in 1867.

Photo from The Devil’s Porridge Museum archives collection. Could Jessie have been doing something similar to these women, who were working in the cordite section of HM Factory Gretna?

Jessie continued singing and on 11 May 1917 Jessie performed as part of a variety concert at the Central Hall Eastriggs held under the auspices of the Gretna Social & Athletic Association. She also seems to have been involved in sport there is a suggestion that she appeared in the team line up for the Dornock hockey side and a J. Latimer appears on the team sheet for the Gretna Girls football team which travelled to Carlisle to play the Carlisle Munitioners at Brumpton Park in a charity match. Jessie was also involved in fund rising for war charities running a stall at the ‘Worlds Fair’ event in Annan on 8 September 1917.

Could Jessie be in this line up of The Mossband Swifts? They were one of the women’s football teams at Gretna. As she worked in the Dornock section of the factory, it may be that she was part of a team formed of Dornock workers.

After the war Jessie met William Armstrong Fyfe, a trainee dentist. He had been conscripted as a Gunner but was discharged in 1916 on medical grounds. The couple married in Grimsby Lincolnshire in 1920 and William Fyfe qualified as a dentist in 1921. They moved to Edinburgh in 1923 residing at 10a, Bruntsfield Avenue but the couple soon returned to Grimsby where William worked at a new dental practice on 78 Grimsby Road. A few years later William died on 5 May 1929. Following her husband’s death Jessie moved back to Scotland and lived for many years in Lockerbie where she died in April 1958.

A beautiful colourised photo of Jessie Rose Latimer, done by Stuart.

Hannah Atherton

Hannah Atherton – Gretna Girl

By Collections blog

Hannah was a munitions worker at Gretna from 1917 to 1918. She heard about the plant from a friend, and they both signed up together, in Tudhoe, which is near Spennymoor.


The two travelled by train to the plant, and were initially billeted in a hut with several other girls from the North East of England. She remembers that a lot of the girls came from Sunderland. Unfortunately the hit was not wind and watertight, and many of the girls began to have serious doubts about their decision to come to the plant. However, the next day, they were moved to a complex of huts which varied in size, but which were connected by a communal dining hall. The food provided as of a very hight standard, but the constant repetition of kippers for breakfast led to a half day strike by the girls, until this was varied.


Hannah was given a works number, 3-11-39, and was sent to work in the gun cotton plant. There were two sections of this plant, which included a wet and dry area. Her strongest memories are of the drying out process, in which the cotton was removed from the large zinc pans and placed in bags.


This was a dusty job, and the workshop had to be continually hosed down. As a result, the girls were provided with rubber boots, and face masks. Due to the impregnation of this dust, on to their clothing, immediately after the shift had finished, the girls’ trousers and tunics were replaced.


After a while, Hannah became a chargehand, and supervised a group of girls, including some Gaelic speakers from the Islands. Her main task was to teach them how to dry the cotton. Included in this job was also a section about training in fire fighting by the local Fire Briagde, and the girls were taught to handle hoses, scale ladders etc.


Hannah also remebers that she was supervised in turn by a femal supervisor, who was provided with a distinctive khaki uniform, consisting of a wide brimmed hat, belted jacket, skirt and tie, with a shirt and dark stockings, and shoes.


Many of the girls obtained late passes, and travelled to Carlisle and Dornock, to attend dances and variety shows. Moreover the girls often entertained each other by producing their own shows, with each girl doing a turn. There were also sporting events, such as the Dornock Hockey Team.


Hannah worked at the plant throughout the running down period of 1919, and then returned to Spennymoor, where she went into domestic service prior to her marriage.

Two Gretna Girls including Alexina Ross Dickson.

Photo of Gretna Girl: new donation

By Collections blog

 This photograph shows two young women who worked at HM Factory in World War One.   Women were employed in all sorts of roles within the Factory (the greatest one on earth at that time) including working in the bakery, laundry, in the hostels, with chemicals, as nurses, as women police officers and so much more.

Gretna Girl Alexina Ross Dickson

The lady who is standing is Alexina Ross Dickson, who was born in 1897.  The photograph has the following written on it, “Wishing you a Merry Xmas, 1917” so she was probably 20 years old at the time.

We are very grateful to the people who recently donated this photograph to us.  We do not currently have a complete list of all the workers at HM Factory Gretna (one may exist somewhere but it has not yet come to light) and so we are largely reliant on people who donate photographs and tells us the names of their family members and share their involvement.

We have an archive of this material and add any new accounts to a book called ‘Gretna Girls Memories’ on display within the Museum.  It is also good to know the name of one more young women who did their war work and made their contribution here.

If you would like to know more about the Gretna Girls and their experiences, this booklet might interest you:

Lives of Ten Gretna Girls booklet


Elizabeth Hunter in her munitions uniform.

Elizabeth Hunter – Gretna Girl

By Collections blog

Elizabeth (Lizzie) Hunter

Born 28 November 1893 died 20th October 1969

Worked at HM Factory Gretna 1916 – 1919

Badge No. B201047


Elizabeth originally trained as a dress maker in Carlisle, then began work at the factory. She commuted from Carlisle to work.


She had a souvenir autograph book, which was addressed to the girls in the stove room so she could have potentially worked there. Included in this autograph book was a poem written by one of the other girls.


Once she had finished working at the Factory, she worked at Carrs Biscuit Works in Carlisle before marrying a Presbyterian Minister in 1927 and moving around the country.


She had three brothers who served during WW1; two were part of the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders with one killed in 1918 and the other wounded four times. Her third brother was part of the Royal Garrison Artillery and was awarded the Military Cross; he had been a prisoner of war, where he had a Bible and wrote in code with a pin details of the awful living conditions he faced in the camp. Unfortunately he died a month after the Armistice; the Bible was returned to his father but upon reading of his experience burned the copy so no-one else could read it.



Susan Summers

Gretna Girl – Susan Summers

By Collections blog

These are the accounts of Susan Summers when she worked in HM Factory Gretna during World War One. The article is written by her and about what her roles were at the Factory and what life was like working there.


When war was declared I decided to help the war effort and get a job at HM Factory Gretna. We were met at the station and taken to a large hut which was to be our home from home during our stay.


Our first job was stocking furnaces with sulphur. One day, a week later, we were hurried outside. I understand there was a leak of some kind and we were never sent back.


I was then sent to take charge of the Drying Shed. The gun-cotton was in blocks, packed in bags to be put into the drying machines. They were loaded onto a conveyor belt upstairs to the screening shed where it was ground to a powder.


I can remember the shed was bitterly cold and one night we had an alert. The lights in the shed went out and we were plunged into darkness. We heard afterwards that a Zeppelin had got through to Annan.


Then I went on a more dangerous job which was underground and there too we had an alert. Our chemist dashed in shouting, “Run girls! Run for your lives!” we did and I know I only stopped when my breath gave out.

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