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HM Factory Gretna

Gretna Works Hospital Staff. There are also two dogs in the photo.

Get to Know the Medical Staff of HMF Gretna

By Collections blog

Researched and written by Laura Marley.

During the First World War, health and safety standards were not as high as they are nowadays, however, at HMF Gretna there were efforts being made in order to keep the workers safe. There was a Works Hospital on site which had space for 16 patients. However, a larger hospital was later built which could accommodate a further 84 patients. From the 22nd of July 1916 to the end of 1918, Gretna Works Hospital treated 789 patients in total, with 273 being male patients and 516 female patients. Every female worker at the factory was given a medical inspection before they began working there. This would help to check that they were healthy enough to work in the factory. The factory had several first aid stations located across it which were used to treat workers who had sustained injuries which were not severe enough to be taken to the hospital. They were located in high-risk areas of the factory and had both male and female medical staff manning them. HMF Gretna had 3 ambulances which, on average, each travelled 370 miles per week. There was a Maternity Home which had room for six patients. This was important as many of the workers at HMF Gretna were female. The War Office also reserved beds at local hospitals for factory workers in case of serious injury as the Works Hospital could only treat so many patients at a time. Until the 31st of December 1918, local hospitals received a total of 709 patients from HMF Gretna. These were paid for by the War Office and included more male than female patients.

Figure 1: Gretna Works Hospital Staff. Photo from Devil’s Porridge Museum Archive

Gretna Works Hospital, which was located in the grounds of HMF Gretna was staffed by extremely experienced doctors, nurses, and surgeons who treated a large number of patients due to the dangerous nature of working within a munitions factory. Not much is known about those who worked in Gretna Works Hospital, but this article will help us get to know them better. 

Inside Gretna Works Hospital. Photo from The Devil’s Porridge Museum Archive.

Dr Agnes Barr Auchenschloss was born in Paisley on May 30th, 1886. She graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1911 with a medical degree. At this time, it was rare for women to study medicine and become doctors as they were generally seen as more suited to nursing or midwifery. This played into the gender stereotypes of the time that women were caring and nurturing. However, those who wanted to become doctors often found ways in which they could achieve their goals. Agnes worked in the Royal Alexandra Infirmary in Paisley before being employed at HMF Gretna as a medical officer. Not much is known about Agnes’ specific role within the factory, but it is likely that as a medical officer she was often busy attending to the various injuries that factory workers sustained. It is likely that she would have regularly assessed the health of the workers due to the fact that they were working in close contact with dangerous chemicals. She married Gosta Lundholm in July 1914. He also worked at HMF Gretna and was the Assistant Section Manager of the Nitro-Glycerine Section due to his skills in chemistry. Following the war, Agnes and her husband Gosta moved to South Africa, where Gosta had been working before the war. Whilst there she offered medical aid to local people. Agnes, Gosta, and their two sons returned to Scotland in the 1920s where Agnes joined the Women’s Citizen Association. Agnes passed away on July 4th, 1972, three years after her husband passed. 


Dr Peter Murray Carlyle was born on December 10th, 1873, in Dumfriesshire. He studied medicine at Edinburgh University and graduated in 1908. Before working at HMF Gretna he was a local doctor.  Peter married Margaret Gourley Yeats in Edinburgh in 1910 and following their marriage, they moved to Sheffield where Peter worked as a physician and surgeon. Whilst employed at HMF Gretna he was certifying surgeon. Peter was appointed as certifying surgeon by the Chief Inspector of Factories in 1916. This position was a requirement under the Factory Acts and his role was to oversee the health and welfare of the factory workers. However, Peter didn’t just work at HMF Gretna during the war, he was also a part-time unpaid Red Cross Society volunteer where he worked at several Auxiliary Hospitals in Longtown, which is only a short distance from Gretna. Peter was heavily involved with the Ministry of Munitions and was appointed as a medical referee for the Gretna District for the War and Pensions Committee in 1918. Following the war, Peter became a ship’s surgeon in 1930 and passed away on December 4th, 1952.


Dr Agnes Marshall Cowan was born in Edinburgh on April 18th, 1880. She attended the Edinburgh University Medical School and graduated in 1906. Similarly to Agnes Auchenschloss, this was a time where women found it difficult to enter the medical profession as a doctor and be respected by their male colleagues. Following her graduation, she became a house physician at Leith Hospital, then a house surgeon of the eye department at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh. Agnes was an assistant medical officer at HMF Gretna from April 1917 to April 1918. Following this she joined the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps (QMAAC) and worked as a medical officer. She was also a missionary in Manchuria, China between the wars. She passed away on the 22nd of August 1940.


Dr Lilian Wemyss Grant was born on March 15th, 1873, in Calcutta, India. She was born to parents who were of Irish Catholic decent and were in India due to her father’s job as a career soldier. She studied medicine in Brussels, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. Before working at HMF Gretna, Lilian was a medical administrator at QMAAC Hospital at St Leonard’s on Sea. She was then a Medical Controller at QMAAC Southern Command in Salisbury. In 1917, Lilian was an assistant surgeon at Endell Street Military Hospital, which was a military hospital based in London which was fully staffed by women. Lilian took up the post of Medical Officer at HMF Gretna in May 1918. She then became a military doctor in France in November 1918 and presumably went back to India in 1919. 


Kate Evelyn Nellie Johnston was born in Cheshire on March 31st, 1893. Kate did not have any formal education in nursing. This was typical of the time as many medical universities did not offer nursing courses at this time. Kate worked as a nurse in the factory’s hospital. She married her husband, Herbert Walter Twitchin in 1918 in Gretna. He also worked at HMF Gretna as an engineer. Kate passed away on March 1st, 1953. 


Sarah Burns McCleary was born on November 2nd, 1887, in Creetown. Before moving to Gretna, she worked as a nurse in the Fleming Memorial Hospital, which was a children’s hospital in Newcastle upon Tyne. Sarah married Alexander Cunningham in Creetown on December 12th, 1916, he was a materials checker at Gretna, and she was employed as a nurse at the Gretna Works Hospital. Following the war, they moved to South Shields. Sarah passed away on January 19th, 1965.


Dr Thomas Goodall Nasmyth was born in Fife on February 28th, 1855. He attended the University of Edinburgh and graduated in 1876 with a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery. He also gained a Diploma in Public Health from Cambridge University. Before working at HMF Gretna he worked as a GP. Thomas also became the first medical officer for Fife. He was an Administrative Medical Officer at HMF Gretna. It is possible that the role of Administrative Medical Officer at HMF Gretna was made specifically for Thomas due to his background in both medicine and public health. Following his work at HMF Gretna, Thomas became a town councillor for Morningside in Edinburgh. Thomas passed away on the 16th of January 1937.


Dr Robert Wilson Christian Spence was born in Linlithgow on the 16th of August 1884. He came from a family of medical practitioners and pharmacists, with his mother being a chemist and his father being a medical practitioner. Robert studied in Edinburgh and before working at HMF Gretna’s Works Hospital he was house surgeon at Cumberland Infirmary. He was assistant works surgeon at HMF Gretna, and he also worked in a number of hospitals in France and England. Robert passed away on August 8th, 1939. 


Dr Gilbert Aitken Welsh was born on the 18th of July 1874 in Edinburgh. His father was a chemist and druggist. He studied at Edinburgh University and graduated in 1898. Before working at HMF Gretna he was a GP in Garlieston, in the Southwest of Scotland. Gilbert was a medical officer at Dornock and along with his family, he stayed in Gretna for some time after the war. Gilbert passed away on July 1st, 1935. 


Despite not knowing much about the staff of the Works Hospital at HMF Gretna the work that they did was very important as working in a munitions factory was extremely dangerous and resulted in many people suffering from severe injuries. 




Routledge G. L., Gretna’s Secret War (1999)

Accidents at Work Panel 1, Devil’s Porridge Museum Archive Google Drive

Medical Provisions at HMF Gretna, Devil’s Porridge Museum Archive Google Drive

HM Factory Gretna Workers Database, Devil’s Porridge Museum Website

Miss J Drummond: a life of striking contrasts

By Collections blog

The Miracle Workers Research Project began in 2021, with research volunteers striving to find out more about the 30,000 people who worked at HM Factory Gretna in World War One. In the months since, many fascinating and previously unknown histories have been uncovered. Today, volunteer Cathy writes about her research into Miss J Drummond.

Miss J Drummond worked as a member of staff at the Dornock site of the Gretna Munitions Factory, with a tantalising entry in the Dornock Souvenir magazine providing her address as ‘Megginch Castle, Errol, Perthshire’.

Address entry for Miss J Drummond, Dornock Souvenir Magazine

From this address, it has been possible to find out something more about Miss Jean Drummond’s remarkable life and that of her family via family history websites, historic newspaper records and books.

It seems that Megginch castle is no ordinary castle, and that the Drummond family is no ordinary family, for their outstanding visionary achievements in agriculture, marine engineering and their lives of public service, amongst other things. There is an adventurous, pioneering quality of the family described in the words of John Drummond, Jean’s brother, as “the usual family spirit of being different” and there is a family motto of “marte at arte”, which John translated as meaning ‘by hook or by crook.’[i]

Jean’s family – early years at Megginch Castle

Megginch Castle is a 15th Century Castle situated on the Carse of Gowrie near Perth, Scotland, that has been in the Drummond family since 1661.[ii] It has ancient yew trees believed to date from a monastic community and is in an area known for its fruit-growing.

Jean’s father Malcolm Drummond was one of the Grooms of the Privy Chamber in Ordinary to Her Majesty, Queen Victoria. Her mother, Geraldine Margaret Tyssen-Amherst, of Didlington, Norfolk, was the daughter of William Tyssen-Amhurst, the 1st Baron Amherst of Hackney.

Jean was the oldest of a family of four children, with two younger sisters, Victoria Alexandrina and Frances Ada, while the youngest child of the Drummond family was her brother John, who became the 15th Baron Strange.

At Megginch Castle through recent generations, the Drummonds have been focused on agriculture, the soil, fruit growing and organic land management. Jean’s upbringing with her siblings included growing vegetables and flowers and keeping poultry.[iii]

In July 1911, at the age of 20, Miss Jean Drummond was to be found attending Court at Holyrood with their majesties the King and Queen. Miss Jean Drummond was “looking very sweet and pretty in a lovely ivory satin dress with tunic of silvered chiffon and silver fringe. Train of ivory satin. Clan tartan sash and holly badge. Pearl necklace and earrings.” A whole page of the Dundee Courier newspaper is dedicated to describing the event and listing the ladies attending, with details of the ladies’ fine clothing, headlined as “Many Notable Scottish Ladies Present. Bewilderingly Beautiful Gowns.” In October of the same year The Queen, the Lady’s newspaper, describes the notable people attending the second Ball of the Perth Hunt, with a record number of nearly 500 people attending: Miss Jean Drummond was reported as present, wearing white chiffon with a tartan sash.

The onset of war

With the onset of a World War just a few years later, the newspaper stories about the Drummond family ladies are quickly transformed away from details of fine clothing, to reflect their active involvement in helping the war effort.

In 1915 a sale is held in a school for the Kilspindie and Rait Work Party to raise funds for soldiers’ and sailors’ comfort funds. The sale was “very gracefully opened” by Miss Jean Drummond of Megginch, who “spoke very highly of the good work done at Kilspindie.”   In 1916, a Miss Drummond attended a meeting of the Eastern District Agricultural Committee (Perth) about the employment of women on Perthshire farms, asking if anybody had mentioned any difficulty about housing. Miss Drummond suggested that a house in a central situation in the various districts could be provided for the purpose of accommodation. Later in 1916, Miss Drummond of Megginch presided over a meeting of station workers by the Perthshire Women’s Patriotic Committee. During the month of July, 1916, 8,348 men had been supplied with refreshments at Perth station through the initiative of “Barrow Days,” having served a total of 55, 712 men up until the end of that month. Facilities at stations had proved inadequate to deal with the number of travelling soldiers, and Perth Station served the three lines of the Caledonian, the north British and the Highland. Enterprising women began to serve refreshments and this evolved into a 24-hour service of volunteers.[iv]

Perthshire Women’s Patriotic Committee: “Barrow Days” of free refreshments at Perth Station
credit: tour-scotland-photographs

Jean at Gretna Munitions Factory

Jean made the move from Megginch Castle to the western section of the Munitions Factory at Dornock/Eastriggs as a member of staff. She would have been just 25 years old when the factory began production in 1916. In the electoral roll for Eastriggs, 1918/19, she is listed as living at A2 Eastriggs – accommodation that was a far cry from the environs of Megginch Castle.

An example of the hut accommodation at Gretna Munitions Factory.
Later, brick was used for houses and communal facilities, with Garden City architects brought in to design and build the new towns of Eastriggs and Gretna.
credit: Wikimedia commons

The electoral roll provides a job title for some staff, but there is no further information about Jean, other than the fact that she was not enrolled as a Parliamentary voter at Eastriggs. We also know that she was living with Miss Annabella Barrie, and Mrs Sophie Robertson, who was a welfare supervisor.

Dornock extended over 1,203 acres and was positioned at the western (Scottish) section of the 9-mile-long Gretna Munitions Factory. This section of the enterprise produced nitric and sulphuric acids, nitroglycerine and gun cotton. A new township of Eastriggs was built on a 173-acre site. Moving eastwards, Gretna was also created as a new township then, across the border to England, was located the Mossband site of factory production, near Longtown, where the final product of the propellant cordite was produced. It was at Dornock where the nitroglycerine and nitro-cotton were mixed to make a cordite paste.[v] Remarkably, the army of workers at the munitions factory at one time came to exceed 30,000 (construction workers and cordite production). In the summer of 1917, the proportion of female to male workers was about 70% to 30%.[vi]

Unloading boiled nitrocotton, Dornock
credit: Devil’s Porridge Museum archives

Perhaps from Jean’s point of view, it would have been good to know that there was some agricultural work undertaken at the site, with a photograph showing groups of girls haymaking at Broomhills:

Girls haymaking at Broomhills
credit: Devil’s Porridge Museum archives

To Lambeth and Queen Victoria Working Girls’ Club

After WW1, Jean moved from Eastriggs to Lambeth, London, to be leader/matron of Queen Victoria Working Girls’ Club. The club was founded in 1887 for local working girls at 122, Kennington Road.  Activities of the club included drama, dance, folk songs, crafts and nursing. Jean was associated with the club from 1919 until at least the onset of WW2.

The Drummond sisters had a long association with Lambeth, and with Kennington Road in particular. Jean lived in a flat at 122 Kennington Road through the 1930s and right up to WW2, while her sister Frances, who was a commercial artist, lived across the road at number 143 Kennington Road, with sister Victoria, who was a marine engineer.

122 Kennington Road, Lambeth: the address of Queen Victoria Working Girls’ Club. credit: British Listed Buildings

Another World War: Jean’s experience of the Blitz

From September, 1940, right through to May, 1941, London was bombed almost every night, a time that came to be known as ‘The Blitz’. During that period, Jean and Frances were AFS (Auxiliary Fire Service) volunteers.

The night of April 19/20, 1941 was a particularly severe night of bombing. By midnight, a sub-fire station located in the Old Palace School, Poplar put out calls for assistance to south of the river (e.g. Lambeth). Jean and Frances must have travelled to duty at this extra call. The city was trying to cope with 1,400 fires, which were very scattered due to the fact that low cloud and drizzle were obscuring targets. Various crews were standing-by at the school when, at 1.53 am, the school took a direct hit from a bomb which went through the roof and down the stairwell, causing instant deaths: many people were trapped in the rubble as much of the school collapsed, and fire took hold in the remains of the building. It took until morning to put out the fire; then began the job of finding the bodies and searching for survivors. Recovery took nearly a week: bodies were taken to a temporary mortuary for identification. 34 people died that night, 32 men and 2 women. 33 of the people who died were auxiliaries. After being buried for 5 hours in the rubble, it is something of a miracle that both Jean and Frances were rescued and, along with another woman, were rushed to hospital.

The morning of 20 April, 1941: Old Palace School, Poplar, London
Searching for the bodies begins: credit Paul Chiddicks

This tragedy remains the largest single loss of Fire Brigade personnel in English history. Its full details remained untold at the time due to Emergency Defence Regulations, being unearthed six decades later by the Firemen Remembered Charity.[vii]

This bombing, however, was not the only direct experience the two sisters experienced. John Drummond, Jean’s brother, on a trip to stay with them in London to collect essential farming equipment, includes reference to their house having had a direct hit, the hostel where they had taken rooms having gone too and, as well as their wardens’ post, half the new house (in which they were still living) – and also, ‘hearing a near one coming down,’ ‘Jean had got more than a touch of the blast.’ What did the siblings talk about? Not surprisingly, John spoke about Art with Frances and about the old days, ‘when we were all kids’ with Jean:

            “I found it was not done to make any reference to bombs; when I      started to tell a bomb story of my own I saw, by their pained expressions, that I was reverting to the category of a line-shooter. It occurred to me that women are either much braver than men or   feel things less.”i

Bomb damage to 143 Kennington Road, where Frances and Victoria lived (the Queen Victoria Girls’ Club was across the road at number 122).
credit: Walcot foundation.

The sisters moved to a flat at Restormel House, Chester Way, Kennington, then (after that too suffered bomb damage) to Tresco, 160 Kennington Road for the decades to come.

Victoria Alexandrina Drummond MBE

Jean’s sister Victoria, who was named after her godmother Queen Victoria, vigorously pursued her wish to become a marine engineer. After very many setbacks, and through sheer determination and hard work, during the 1920s she served on ships visiting Australia, Africa, China and India. She then found it difficult to get work in the Depression of the 1930s, but WW2 offered new opportunities – and new setbacks – that, despite her qualifications and experience, she found it impossible to get a position as a female Second Engineer. Undeterred, she continued to pursue her work tirelessly as a marine engineer, and ultimately she qualified as a Chief Engineer. Victoria was awarded the MBE in 1941, as well as the Lloyds war medal for bravery at sea. She had achieved becoming the first woman to go to sea as a marine engineer, and the first woman to become a member of the Institute of Marine Engineers (now the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology).[viii]

After Victoria saved a ship following bombing in the north Atlantic, local residents in Norfolk, Virginia, where the ship docked, gathered a collection of £400 for Lambeth. Victoria donated this to the Lambeth Communal Kitchens Committee, where a hot sixpenny lunch was provided at the Victoria Drummond Canteen, for people bombed out of their homes.

Later years

With the running of the Queen Victoria Working Girls’ Club, AFS duty during the Blitz, and other initiatives such as the sixpenny lunch, the Drummond sisters were well-respected in Lambeth. After their move to Tresco at 160, Kennington Road, years later the choir of St Philip’s Church made a point of singing Christmas carols for them.[ix]

Clearly the sisters led very close lives and, when Victoria and sometimes Frances were not travelling the world, their base together for many working years and in retirement was firmly rooted in Lambeth.

Jean died in 1974 aged 83, very shortly after the death of sister Frances in the same year. Sister Victoria died in 1978, and all three sisters are buried together at Megginch Castle.

Gravestone of the three Drummond sisters: Jean, Victoria and Frances at Megginch Castle. credit the

Megginch Castle today: digital farmers’ market

130 years on from Jean’s birth, Megginch Castle remains in the Drummond family.[x] The orchard at Megginch holds two national fruit collections of apples and pears, with over 1,400 trees. Scottish tea is now grown there.[xi] Local producers of food and makers can sell direct to the community through a ‘NeighbourFood Market’ initiative, thus keeping brother John Drummond’s visionary ideas and organic practice of agriculture (and those of previous generations of Drummonds) very much alive to this day.[xii]

Miss Jean Drummond: a dedicated pioneer for the working girls of Lambeth and valiant AFS warden

Background reading around the Drummond family has revealed that, through the generations they have been and are, an enterprising, pioneering and visionary family, unaccustomed to resting on their laurels and refusing to be overcome by setbacks. Jean was no exception. As a child raised in a castle and attending many prestigious social occasions, any expectation for her future life was unlikely to have included working in a Munitions Factory, running a club for working girls in London for many years, and experiencing two world wars, including being bombed at home, and facing death during valiant Auxiliary Fire Service work in London during the height of the Blitz.

 A life expected and a life lived: a striking contrast

There was a cohort of people who were born in the late 1800s who were destined to live through (if they were lucky), not one, but two world wars, significantly spanning ten years of their adult lives. Lives and fortunes altered drastically for men and for women, for better and/or worse. Someone like Jean, with her unique Drummond family rural upbringing, combined with attendance at the very top socialite occasions, had no doubt to adapt from the life expected. It’s incredible what Jean and other amazing ladies such as her sister Victoria and Miss Florence Catnach, who was Chief Supervisor at the Mossband site of HM Gretna Munitions Factory[xiii] witnessed living through and apparently not only adapted, but adapted with vigour. Their legacy of work at Gretna Munitions Factory, though for a relatively short period of time, seems to have set the tone for the remainder of their lives.

The contrast between Jean Drummond’s upbringing at Megginch Castle and her actual life (and that of her immediate family) is surely a particularly striking example.



[i] Drummond, John (1945) Inheritance of Dreams, Faber and Faber.


[iii] Drummond, Cherry (1994). The Remarkable Life of Victoria Drummond – Marine Engineer. London: Institute of Marine Engineers.

[iv] Burton, Anthony (2014) The Workers’ War: British Industry and the First World War, the History Press.

[v] Routledge, Gordon L (1999), Gretna’s Secret War, Bookcase.

[vi] Routledge, Gordon L (2020), Moorside: A Wartime Miracle, Arthuret.

[vii] The detail and illustration of this story has been made possible by the excellent account by Paul Chiddicks, whose Great Aunt Winifred Alexandra Peters tragically died that fateful night, aged 39. For a complete, detailed account, see:


[ix] Zimmerman, Maud (1996), Edmund Walcott’s Estate: A History of the Walcot Estate in Lambeth.





Women Working in Cutting Workshop. Photo from Devil’s Porridge Museum Archive

The Dangers of Working in A Munitions Factory During the First World War

By Collections blog

Researched and written by Laura Marley.


The First World War broke out in 1914 and as the war progressed, the demand for ammunition increased significantly. Due to this, in 1915 David Lloyd George, who was the Minister of Munitions, commissioned the building of HM Factory Gretna in order to increase the production of ammunition being sent to British troops in France. Production started in April 1916 and due to the sheer size of the factory, many workers were employed there, including over 11,000 female workers[1]. HM Factory Gretna was the largest munitions factory in operation during the First World War and due to this there was a large workforce of which many would suffer from injuries caused by the dangerous work they did. There was a works hospital on site at HM Factory Gretna which had space for 16 patients. However, a larger hospital was later built which could accommodate a further 84 patients. Between mid-1916 and late-1918, the Gretna Works Hospital had treated 273 male patients and 516 female patients, all of whom were employed in the factory[2].

Figure SEQ Figure \* ARABIC 1: Gretna Work’s Hospital. Photo from Devil’s Porridge Museum Archive

During the First World War, there was not the same health and safety standards that we have in place today so it was more likely that workers would suffer from injury. In terms of injury, we also need to remember that a vast majority of the people working in munitions factories during the First World War had never worked in a factory before so were often severely undertrained for the jobs that they were doing[3]. However, there were government initiatives in place to try and allow more skilled jobs to be broken down step by step, with one worker on each step, so that they were easier to complete[4]. Despite the government’s attempts to reduce the need for skilled workers and make jobs easier for the untrained workers they so desperately needed, many munitions’ workers still suffered from severe injuries at work. These injuries could include losing limbs when using dangerous machinery or suffering from burns due to the high risk of fires and explosions caused by the chemicals and acids that were used in the factory. Working with chemicals and acids also increased the risk of workers inhaling toxic fumes. Additionally, working in a munitions factory could cause long term health problems such as lung problems and skin discolouration.


Serious injuries: 

There were various types of serious injury that factory workers could sustain. We can see from Workmen’s Compensation Claims, that at HM Factory Gretna in 1917 there were a number of serious injuries sustained at work. These consist of 11 workers losing limbs such as fingers or even their arms. 30 suffering from less serious injuries such as bruising, sprains, breaks, or fractures of the hip, knee, or ribs. 15 workers suffered from burns and poisoning due to the acid they worked with and 5 suffered from eye, face, or head injuries[5]

One young woman, Victoria May McIver, lost the lower part of her left arm whilst working with machinery in the cordite section of HM Factory Gretna. This accident happened when she was only 17 and she was one of the youngest patients to stay in the factory’s hospital in 1917[6]. This accident highlights the dangerous nature of the work that many young women took on during the First World War in order to aid the war effort and do what they saw as the right thing to do.

Figure SEQ Figure \* ARABIC 2: Women Working in Cutting Workshop. Photo from Devil’s Porridge Museum Archive

In total, there were 145 recorded fatalities in the factory area, with 115 being male workers and 30 being female workers[7]. This demonstrates the dangerous nature of work in munitions factories and shows that not just those actively involved in combat during the war were willing to put their lives at risk in order to ensure that Britain won the war.

Fire and acid injuries:

Due to the large amounts of chemicals and acids in use at HM Factory Gretna, there was an increased chance of explosions and fires breaking out. Due to this, HM Factory Gretna had their own fire brigade so that they would be able to get to the fire and put it out quickly[8]. HM Factory Gretna had its fair share of both fires and explosions. On November 15th, 1916, there was an explosion at the factory. Witnesses all reported hearing a gunshot like noise before they saw a fire start. Seven workers were injured in this incident. On December 8th, 1916, one worker was killed instantly due to an explosion, six other workers suffered from bad burns, and some later passed away because of their injuries. Michael Taylor had been working in the acid plant when an explosion happened, he was burned and also fractured his leg. Thankfully he survived but his leg did need to be shortened by 2 inches[9].

Figure SEQ Figure \* ARABIC 3: HM Factory Gretna Fire Brigade. Photo from Devil’s Porridge Museum Archive

Working with chemicals and acid also meant that there was a high risk of workers sustaining injuries from them. These injuries ranged from being sprayed with acid from burst pipes, which could cause burns and even the loss of eyes, to inhaling the toxic fumes given off by the acid which could cause death[10].


Long-term impact on health:

There is evidence that the extended exposure to chemicals through working in a munitions factory had long term impacts on the worker’s health. Many of the women who worked at HM Factory Gretna suffered from long term health impacts due to the work that they carried out in the factory. Alice Morton was left with a yellow tint to her skin and as she got older, the yellowness became more noticeable. It could be seen mostly around and in the whites of her eyes. Ellen Stamper suffered from lung problems and sadly died of emphysema in 1955. Margaret Jane Sutherland sadly passed away due to the inhalation of poisonous fumes during her work at HM Factory Gretna[11]. This shows that the work being carried out in munitions factories during the First World War was not just dangerous at the time, but also left many with long term health impacts which were the cause of death in many cases.

Figure SEQ Figure \* ARABIC 4: Medical Card Given to Workers on Leaving the Factory. Photo from Devil’s Porridge Museum Archive

A medical card (pictured above) was given to HM Factory Gretna workers upon leaving the factory ‘for more than 3 months’[12]. The card tells people to choose a doctor as soon as possible after leaving the factory and not to wait until they fall ill. This is essentially warning them that they may experience long term ill health as a side effect of working in a munitions factory. It instructs the ex-worker to present the card to the doctors they are registering with in order to let them know that they have previously worked in a munitions factory. This is significant as it shows that the factory owners were fully aware that the workers were likely to suffer from long term illnesses which were caused by their work in the factory. However, it is unknown how many munitions workers suffered long term illnesses caused by the work they did during the war but there have been a number of reports of people across Britain suffering similar fates to the Gretna workers above, so one has to believe that this was a common after effect of munitions work.



Overall, this article should help you to understand just some of the dangers people faced working in HM Factory Gretna during the First World War. They were willing to work in dangerous conditions with unsafe machinery and chemicals in order to aid in the war effort and do their bit in ensuring that Britain and the Allies were successful in winning the war. Munitions work was a highly important job and without it the war would have been much more difficult.

[1] E. Ritchie, The Gretna Girls. Devil’s Porridge Museum Google Drive

[2] Medical Provisions at HMF Gretna, Devil’s Porridge Museum Google Drive

[3] G. Braybon, and P. Summerfield, Out of the Cage: Women’s Experiences in Two World Wars. (London: Taylor & Francis Group, 2012.)

[4] Ibid.

[5] Accidents at Work Panel’s, Devil’s Porridge Museum Google Drive

[6] G. L. Routledge, Gretna’s Secret War, (Carlisle: Bookcase, 1999)

[7] Medical Provisions at HMF Gretna, Google Drive

[8] Accidents at Work Panel’s, Devil’s Porridge Museum Google Drive

[9] Accidents at Work Panel’s, Devil’s Porridge Museum Google Drive

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Medical Card given to workers on leaving the factory, Devil’s Porridge Museum Google Drive

Ivy Herbert taking part in a CEMA organised concert in 1942

Ivy Herbert – Gretna’s Music Teacher

By Collections blog

Written and researched by Stuart Gibbs

In 1994 an article by P L Scowcroft highlighting the knowledge gap of British women composers was published on Music Web. On figure highlighted by the article was Ivy Herbert, a composer from the early to mid 20th century. At her height was a prolific composer and performer making numerous stage and radio appearance, she was secretary to the Surrey County Music Committee and had a close connection to the prominent composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. Despite this little was known about Herbert with almost no biographical detail. However, the key to unlocking the mystery was Ivy Herbert’s connection to HM Gretna and a brief reference in a Carlisle newspaper.

Early life in Newport and Studying at the Royal Academy

Ivy Herbert’s birth record christened in 1893 as Genevieve Natalie Estelle Herbert

Ivy Herbert was born on June 7th, 1893, in Newport, Wales, and christened as Genevieve Natalie Estelle Herbert. Her father Alfred was a ship’s engineer and Ivy spent her early years at 107 Duckpool Road. Music education was an important part of life in Newport, but Ivy also had natural talent inherited it seems from her mother’s side, Lilla Flint. The Flints of Northampton were rather musical and the Welsh branch of the family, were no different. Ivy however was something of a child prodigy with her proficiency on the keyboard earning her the nickname “Ivy”. In the 1901 census she is recorded as ‘Ivy GNE Herbert’ and she used the name ‘Ivy Herbert’ for the bulk of her career as a musician and composer.

Ivy Herbert picture taken from an article published in the Western Mail in 1928

The 1911 census records Ivy as a music student, and the January 1912 issue of Musical Times lists Ivy among the students that passed the Royal Academy of Music’s Metropolitan Exam held during December 1911. The Royal Academy of Music was founded in London in 1822, when Ivy attended in the late 1900s the institution had just moved to its present location on Marylebone Road. During her time there she specialised in Pianoforte and on June 27th, 1916, Ivy took part in a student’s concert at the Royal Academy her last it seems as a student. Within a few months Ivy was part of the war effort when she was employed as a music teacher at the massive cordite production centre at HM Gretna.


Acting as Music Tutor at HM Gretna and the Royal Academy

The Social and Recreation Committee at the Gretna factory was set up with the express purpose of providing activities for the workers and keeping them on site as much as possible. Among the social events organised by the Social Department was an Orchestral Society which was established to support the productions of the Choral and Operatic society. Ivy worked with the Orchestral Society holding classes in an upper floor room of the Gretna Institute which was often used as a classroom. Initially the orchestra was supplemented by professional musicians but as 1916 came to an end the need for outside help diminished and Ivy’s services were dispensed with in the early spring of 1917.

Gretna Institute where Ivy may have taught music during the later half of 1916 and the early months of 1917

A farewell concert was organised for her at the Border Hall on Saturday March 10th, 1917. Ivy performed some of her music and star turns by the “Three Macs” and the “Gretna Pierrots” helped ensure a large audience. On leaving Gretna, Ivy returned to London residing at 20 Alexander Street, Bayswater and took up a position as tutor at the Royal Academy. During the summer of 1918 Six Miniatures for Piano, Ivy’s first published work, was issued. It is highly likely that pieces from this collection were written or even performed at HM Gretna. More work followed with Six Short Pieces for Piano in 1919 Danse de Piano in 1920 and Two Short Pieces for Piano in 1921. Ivy’s academic career at the Royal Academy also progressed and by 31 she was professor of pianoforte and bestowed the title Associate of the Royal Academy.

Ivy Herbert Carlisle Journal account of her farewell concert at the Border Hall in March 1917

On the Concert Circuit and in Radio Broadcasts

As a result, Ivy was in constant demand on the concert circuit. In 1928 she appeared in Cardiff with the newly formed National Orchestra of Wales. Conducted by Warwick Braithwaite Ivy gave the standout performance, a rendition of Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov’s Piano Concerto in C Sharp Minor. Besides live performances she also featured regularly on radio in concerts and recitals. She even had a weekly educational broadcast for schools which went out on the Cardiff channel. A particular highlight was a broadcast on the World Service in 1937 performing a series of short recitals which went out on All India Radio.

An Orchestra practice at the Royal Academy of Music during 1922 Ivy was a tutor at the college at this time

The 1930 Post Office directory still lists Ivy as living at 20 Alexander Street, also at this address is a ‘Miss Potto’. This was Florence Potto born in 1884 at Weeping Cross, Staffordshire. The daughter of Arthur Potto, a Police Inspector, she was brought up in the village of Great Heywood and by the late 1920s she had left village life behind to settle in London. Florence worked as welfare organiser and may also have acted as an ad hoc private secretary to deal with Ivy’s burgeoning diary, which included organising live and radio appearances as well as private tuition. For the next four decades Florence would be ever present.

The Outbreak of War Relocating to Dorking and working with Vaughan Williams

Ivy Herbert taking part in a CEMA organised concert in 1942

With Florence’s retirement in the late 1930s the decision was made to relocate to the suburbs, taking up residence in Dorking at Westcott Street. Ivy was quickly involved in the local music scene acting as the honorary secretary for the Surrey County Music Committee. Formed in late 1941 the body was chaired by the eminent composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams. He was brought up in Wotton during the 1870s and 80s. Owing to his wife Adeline chronic arthritis, Vaughan Williams had returned to the area in 1929 taking up residence at ‘The White Gates’ in Dorking.


Ivy was also involved with the Council for the Encouragement of Music and Arts (CEMA). With the outbreak of a new conflict in 1939 the need to try and preserve cultural life was recognised with CEMA being established in January 1940. The body was chaired by the prominent economist John Maynard Keynes with the aim of ‘bringing art to the masses’ by organising arts events and concerts within the community. Ivy was involved in numerous CEMA events and even made a brief appearance in a promotional film for the body released in 1942. One CEMA organised event was held close to Ivy’s Westcott home at the Abinger Village Hall in May 1942. The event attracted a good turn out with Ralph Vaughan Williams amongst the audience. On January 31st, 1943, Ivy was back at Abinger Village Hall along with Margery Cullen, secretary of the Leith Hill Music Festival. They were performing a practice run of Vaughan William’s Fifth Symphony on two pianos while Vaughan Williams busily took notes. The Fifth Symphony had its first orchestral performance at the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios on May 25th, 1943, and Ivy was among the invited guests attending the session.


In a raid over Bayswater on October 7th, 1940, several bombs landed on Newton Road, close to Ivy and Florence’s former home at Alexander Street but by 1943 the war increasingly moved to the suburbs. In January 1944 Westcott was bombed with four houses on the Watson Road destroyed, killing a total of nine people. Then on February 24th a Dornier was brought down on Parsonage Lane close to Fir Crest Cottage. Two of the crew managed to bail out and were arrested in nearby Wotton. As a result, Ivy Herbert and Florence Potto moved into Vaughan William’s residence ‘The White Gate’ staying in one a room set out for them. In the early spring of 1944 Dorking was hit by a new menace the V1. On June 19th, 1944, this crude version

of today’s drone landed on the Elm Cottage on Sandy Lane close to ‘The White Gates’, killing two women and a boy. A few days later a V1 landed on Ockley causing a local woman to later die from shock. On August 3rd, 1944, another V 1 came down in Abinger Common, close to where the Fifth Symphony was rehearsed, destroying a local church.


The Immediate Post War and Later Life

Ivy Herbert and Florence Potto remained at ‘The White Gates’ until 1946 when they relocated to 16 Church Street in Dorking. Ivy went back to composing, providing music to the words of Robert Bridges for The Linnet Song and A Window Bird Sat Mourning by Percy Bysshe Shelley. These were published in 1947. While researchers have failed to uncover Ivy Herbert’s background, Florence Potto, also tried to research her own family history with the same level of success. She told the press that, ‘she had searched in vain for years for other Pottos. It must be one of the most uncommon of English names’. This changed when a Douglas Chapman of Witham, discovered scratched on a window of his shop, ‘Jane Potto July 7, 1776’, and contacted the Daily Herald newspaper. In April 1954 Florence along with ten other members of the Potto ‘clan’ were invited to Witham to witness Mr Chapman’s example of 18th Century graffiti.


By the 1950s Ivy Herbert was less active on the concert circuit and her last recorded work was in 1949. CEMA became the Arts Council and with the new body and new chair -Maynard Keynes died in 1946 – many of the opportunities Ivy had previously received dried up. She returned to the Academy to sit an LARAM exam (Licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music) and poured her energies into teaching. Ivy and Florence resided in Dorking for the next twenty years. Florence Potto died in the early months of 1969 while Ivy Herbert, remained at 16 Church Street until the mid 1970s. She spent her remaining years in Bromley where she died on November 4th, 1993, a few months after her 100th birthday; little notice was taken of her passing.


As with other art forms women composers have been excluded from general music history and their work is often missing from ‘the standard concert repertoire’. This process has been intrenched at academic level with the use of standardized references which emphasize the composers and genres considered most relevant and are not designed to be inclusive. But there is some good news for the would-be researcher, the apparent amnesia regarding women’s history is a contemporary phenomenon and what Ivy Herbert’s story shows us is that with the appropriate due diligence, these ‘lost histories’ can be readily recovered.


A horse pulled wagon with Hegla Gill on doing suffrage work.

Worker of the Week: Helga Gill

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 Research Assistant Laura shares volunteer Peter’s research into Helga Gill.

We only found out about Helga’s connections with HM Factory Gretna in an obituary written after her sudden and untimely death in 1928. Published in The Woman’s Leader, a publication closely associated with the National Union of Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), it is mentioned:

“She [Helga] mothered and disciplined the girl workers in the great explosive works at Gretna, and steadied them in the darkened buildings under the purr of the Zeppelin overhead.”[1]

So how did this woman who seemed at first glance to have connections the women’s suffrage movement end up at working at HM Factory Gretna? One of our volunteers, Peter, was determined to find out!

Helga Gill was born in Bergan, Norway, in 1885. Her parents were Johan Klerk Gill and Karen Marie Ottilia Gill, and Helga grew up the oldest of six siblings. Having completed her education in Norway, Helga went on holiday to Britain, and it was there that she became acquainted with the Corbett family.

The Corbett family were a prominent political family then based in East Grinstead. Marie Corbett was a poor law guardian, suffragist and supporter of the Liberal party. Her husband, Charles, was a barrister and MP elected in 1906 for the Liberal party. Their daughters, Cicely and Margery, were both feminist activists.

Cicely Corbett Fisher. Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. (1913).

It was at a celebration party for Charles’ recent election to parliament in January 1906, that Helga first enters the historical picture. According to Mapping Women’s Suffrage, Helga appeared on a platform alongside the Corbett family.[2] However, it wasn’t until 1908 that Helga began to appear regularly in newspaper articles for her suffrage activism.

As a Norwegian woman, Helga had been able to vote in national elections in her own country provided she could establish that she made a minimum income or if she was married to a male voter from 1907. These requirements were abolished in 1913, when universal suffrage was established in Norway.[3]

Helga participated in the Worcester by-election in 1908, speaking to local audiences and putting pressure on candidates to declare whether or not they supported women’s suffrage.[4] She ‘made herself stiff’ chalking notices on to the pavement, and drove a ‘press cart’ that was stocked with copies of Votes for Women to be handed out upon the release of WSPU prisoners.[5] She began giving lectures, [6] and took part in local election activism in Chelmsford.[7] Mapping Women’s Suffrage states that by this point she was an NUWSS organiser, and regularly travelling the country to spread the suffrage word![8]

Helga pictured doing suffrage work

This hard work only continued in 1909 and beyond. In 1909 she was appointed organiser for Lancashire, as well as participating in by-election campaigns in Edinburgh, Stratford-Upon-Avon and Mid Derbyshire. She spent a month in Wales, and in the summer undertook a horse-drawn caravan campaign across the country with fellow NUWSS supporters.[9]

Like so many suffrage activists, Helga was dedicated to the cause, and spent the years before the outbreak of war in 1914 criss-crossing the country, giving talks and spreading the message. Her perspective as a Norwegian woman who, in her own country possessed the vote, was a valuable one and was often highlighted in promotional material.[10] By 1912 she was a paid employee of the NUWSS, as Organiser for Oxford, Berks, and Bucks. In that same year, she was sent on a tour of Ireland by the NUWSS.[11] Writing about her after her death, Helga’s colleagues gave a sense of her character:

‘Her pluck was marvellous. When the fishermen refused to listen she accepted their challenge and sailed one of their boats over a dangerous bar. She won the bet and addressed a sympathetic crowd, as the gleet lay at anchor, from one of the decks. “Women don’t know nothing,” came from a heckler. “Ask what you like,” was the quick retort, and the crowd cheered as she recited accurately the batting averages of different countries! We cherish the vision of Helga rebuffed by a ducal butler. The duke intervened, and as aplogy offered to show her round the priceless picture gallery. “No thanks, your graciousness, I haven’t time.”’[12]

Even the famous leader of the suffragists, Millicent Fawcett, noted ‘the delightful personality of the late Helga Gill.”[13]

But in 1914 war broke out, and the NUWSS pivoted to aiding the war effort. One of their war projects was the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service (SWH). Sprearheaded by pioneering doctor, Elsie Inglis, and funded by donations, the SWH was a groups of medical units staffed entirely by women. With bases established in France and Serbia during the war, the doctors, drivers, nurses and orderlies of the SWH cared for badly injured soldiers and were stationed close to the front line. They often demonstrated bravery in the most trying of cirmcumstances—many worked whilst under fire and some SWH members even died in the course of their duties.[14]

Helga pictured as part of her SWH unit.

It appears Helga was involved with the SWH from its inception. In December 1914, she left for France as part of the French Hospital Unit. Her role was described as a ‘dresser’. However, once at Royamount Abbey, where the hospital was based, Helga worked as an ambulance driver, transporting injured men from the front line to the hospital. This was a particularly dangerous job, and she was often ‘in danger of being killed by shells.”[15] During one particularly fraught drive, “Between the line and the hospital her back wheels were shot away, her driving wheel was splintered between her hands.’[16]

In addition to this, essential medical tools were in short supply. In 1915 Helga wrote a letter to an NUWSS branch ’ sending greetings to the meeting and appealing for help, “the men were dying like flies from preventable causes.”[17] Helga was awarded a number of medals for her service, British War Medal, British Victory Medal, Croix de Guerre, and Medaille des Epidemies.

The stress of working so close to the front and in such a high pressure job had adverse effects on Helga’s heart, and so she came to work at HM Factory Gretna. As she is described in her obiturary as ‘mothering’ and ‘disciplining the girls’, I suspect she was part of the Welfare Department at the factory.

The Welfare Department, although Helga isn’t pictured

As described by our volunteer Virginia in her excellent article on welfare[18]:

“Lady superintendents were a vital part in the operations of a munition factory. Behind the factory walls, lady superintendents were the hidden cornerstones of support for female munition workers during the demands of the First World War. In maintaining the health and wellbeing of her workers, lady superintendents enabled factory production to continue and the demands of War to be efficiently met. Therefore, lady superintendents should be regarded as protecting the progress of munition factories during the First World War, as much as guardians of welfare.”

After the war ended, Helga adopted a child and became heavily involved in the Women’s Institute. However, her health was permanently affected from her war time service. Her death was sudden and tragic. She passed away after a car accident in 1928, aged only 43.

[1] The Women’s Leader, 30th November 1928, p. 7.


[3] Blom, I., 1980. The struggle for women’s suffrage in Norway, 1885–1913. Scandinavian Journal of History, 5(1-4), pp.3-22.

[4] Women’s Franchise, 6th February 1908, p. 6.

[5] Women’s Franchise, 13th February 1908, p. 6.; Votes for Women, 24th September 1908, p. 4.

[6] Women’s Franchise, 17th December 1908, p. 6.; Women’s Franchise, 24th December 1908, p. 6.

[7] Women’s Franchise, 24th December 1908, p. 6.



[10] For example see: Lisburn Standard, 3rd February 1912, p. 4.

[11] Common Cause, 9th May 1912, p. 8.

[12] Common Cause, 30th November 1928, p. 7.

[13] Common Cause, 7 December 1928. P. 2.

[14] Crofton, E., 2012. The women of Royaumont. Edinburgh: John Donald.

[15] Newcastle Daily Chronicle, 27th November 1915, p. 4.

[16] The Women’s Leader, 30th November 1928, p. 7.

[17] Common Cause 19th February 1915., p. 11.

[18] Guardians of Welfare: The Role of Female Superintendents in Munition Factories and their Contribution to Female Workers during the First World War – Devils Porridge Museum

A colourful banner which reads Disability Pride Month.

Disability Pride Month: Working in the Heritage Sector as a Disabled Person and Telling Disability History

By News

This month (July) is Disability Pride Month, and in this post, I want to talk both about working in a museum as a disabled person and the importance of researching and sharing disability history.

As I neared the end of my PhD, I came to the conclusion that what I loved most about the study of history was sharing that knowledge with people. And, when a job came up at The Devil’s Porridge Museum that gave me the incredible opportunity to continue historical research whilst also gaining vital in-museum experience, I jumped at the chance. 

But I was also a little nervous.  

I have Hypermobility Spectrum Disorder (HSD). HSD is a connective tissue disorder that affects joints and ligaments. Often grouped together with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, HSD is different for everyone a little differently. I often have joint subluxations—where joints such as my knee cap or thumb pop out of place and partially dislocate. This is extremely painful, and can also happen at any moment. These subluxations often leave me with chronic pain, and I sometimes need to use mobility aids and braces to feel a bit more stable. Another part of my condition is ‘brain fog’. This generally happens when I’m going through a flare up—when I’m in a lot of pain and/or dealing with recurrent subluxations. Brain fog spaces me out a little, and makes it difficult for me to concentrate. The combination of chronic pain and joints that pop out whenever they please also make me a lot more tired than usual—my body spends a lot of time recovering from subluxations and this can be exhausting! HSD is a life-long condition that varies a lot—sometimes I can walk and exercise and drive without pain, but other times I struggle making it up and down the stairs in my flat. 

Laura is pictured in a white dress, holding a mobility aid for support.

My trusty mobility aid.

Being a disabled person is sometimes tricky. Having rest days around big events to try and ensure I can make it is normal. Phoning up train stations, or places to visit to ask about lift access and how many stairs the building is similarly something I do pretty regularly. And some days I can’t drive or walk at all. So beginning a full-time job in a museum at the other side of the country was daunting. The heritage sector has made great strides forward in accessibility in recent years, with increased focus on the need to make culturally important sites and museums accessible for all.

If there’s one positive thing the last year of lockdowns has given us, it’s the increased pivot by many organisations towards the digital. In museums, this took the form of virtual exhibitions, and online talks, opening up a route for people–no matter their location, or their physical ability to be present–to virtually visit museums. Not only can such a move widen audiences, but also it means that a more diverse audience can access a rich cultural heritage. For me, beginning my job at the Porridge during lockdown, I worked remotely for months. Whilst this was sometimes lonely and frustrating, it showed me that I could do a good job from home.

Laura's legs are pictured, one of them is in a knee brace

The knee brace I wear after a dislocation

When I finally moved to the area and got to work in the museum for the first time, I was so excited. There is something so special about sitting at a desk in arms reach of a interesting historical object that I’m sure many of my fellow history nerds can relate to. Not only that, but I got to meet my colleagues for the first time, as well as actually seeing the museum for the first time. It was an incredible experience.

But it was also tinged with a bit of fear. When you live with a chronic condition like HSD, you learn to be aware of warning signs of a coming flare-up. I knew that my HSD would inevitably worsen at some point, and I wanted my employers to be aware that as a result of my disability, I might need some adjustments. Telling people about my condition was, as always, scary. HSD isn’t very well known, and as a ‘invisible illness’ I’ve (in the past) encountered some people that struggle to believe that I have a disability. But disabilities come in all shapes and sizes, and aren’t always visible at first glance. However, my colleagues at The Devil’s Porridge were kind, keen to understand, and willing to make the necessary adjustments for me, which was brilliant. Together, we devised a support plan and I work from home once a week, with the option for more home working if my HSD flares up. I can also use the lift when stairs are too much for me. The Devil’s Porridge Museum is staffed mainly by dedicated volunteers, and they were also made aware of my condition–I didn’t want to worry them all by having a random dislocation at work!

It’s crucially important for disabled people to both be able to work within the heritage sector, and also for sites and museums to be accessible for disabled visitors–and I believe these two goals are interrelated. According to an Arts Council England Report in 2017/18, only 4% of museum workers were disabled, leading The Museum’s Association to conclude that diversity remained static within the sector. This is a disappointing statistic. History should be accessible to everyone, and this is especially so when it comes to areas that have traditionally been neglected, like disability history.

A fascinating and wide-ranging area of history, disability history is (to me) endlessly interesting and also very poignant. It can be viewed from a number of perspectives from development of medical treatments, to the records of charities and work-houses, to recollections of disabled people themselves. Historic England have compiled a great overview of disability history in England, whilst both The National Archives and The Institute of Historical Research also have resources and tips on researching disability history in the archives. The history of disabled people cannot be divorced from the wider historical context of time and place, and this is never more true than during, and in the aftermath of World War One.

Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1972-062-01 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Much has been written about the horrific injuries soldiers at the Front received during the Great War. According to Martina Salvante, 8 million people were disabled in World War One. Not only did these people have to reconcile their disabilities with a post-war world, but many also struggled with ‘shell shock’, a form of traumatic disorder. This influx of disabled veterans also raised questions about the treatment and attitudes towards disabled people–organisations were established to help support this men, whether in re-training them to work in a new occupation or with living independently.

However, it wasn’t only disabled soldiers who had to readjust to life with a disability. Many who worked in munitions factories, such as HM Factory Gretna were also disabled. Some had arrived at the factory disabled or injured and were unable to do active service. Eric De Clemont lost his eye and contracted miner’s phthisis before the outbreak of war. Considered unfit for active service, Eric spent the war working in the cordite section as a sub-section officer at Gretna. Others were disabled through their work at Gretna. Victoria May McIver lost the lower part of her arm in an accident at the factory. In later life, one of her son’s friends was amazed at her skills at potato peeling, balancing the potato in the crook of her elbow.

A munitions worker, Victoria May McIver, is pictured giving Queen Mary a bouquet of flowers. The king stands next to his wife.

Victoria gives a bouquet of flowers to Queen Mary during the Royal Visit to Gretna in 1917. She was chosen to present the bouquet to the Queen on account of being the youngest munitions worker at Gretna Works Hospital.

There are many accounts of workers afflicted with chronic illnesses after working at HM Factory Gretna. There are accounts of women whose whites of their eyes turned yellow, and many suffered breathing problems long after the war was finished. The health impact of working in munitions during WW1 still isn’t clear, and may never be, due to a fragmentary nature of records kept and a lack of understanding of the medical effects of working with cordite. However, what I think is clear is that munitions factories like HM Factory Gretna often operated as hubs for disabled people to work in wartime, and this is a crucial, and often untold part of the history of disability in WW1. Many men considered ‘unfit’ for active, front line service were diverted into working in munitions, as an acceptable, yet maybe not as prestigious, alternative to being a soldier. These men contributed to the war effort in a different, but no less powerful way, by supplying the Front with ammunition. Similarly, all munitions workers risked injury and death as a result of their work in factories and with dangerous and volatile chemicals. Many, like Victoria May McIver, lost limbs, others were disabled in less visible but no less traumatic ways. These conditions would often dog them throughout their lives, and was a direct result of their wartime work.

Whilst the horrific injuries soldiers received during the war increased visibility for disabled people in the UK, it would be decades before The Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act of 1970 gave statutory provision to disabled people. Disability history isn’t widely known–it isn’t taught in schools, and even when (inevitably) other areas of history overlap with the history of disability, the focus is generally on medical developments and disabled people aren’t centred as historical actors in their own story. This needs to change. As a historical researcher and disabled person, I have been woefully ignorant of this history, but it is important to learn it, and to share it.

Disabled history is a crucial part of our collective national story, and the disabled workers at HM Factory Gretna, and other munitions factories, during World War One are a very small part of this wider rich and complicated history.



A jar of vegemite with some vegemite on toast.

Worker of the Week: Cyril Callister

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, Research Assistant Laura Noakes writes up volunteer Daniel’s research into Cyril Callister.

Cyril Callister was born in 1893 in Chute, Australia.  In 2016, Chute had a population of 18, so it was likely a very small place for Cyril to grow up in the late 19th century![1] Cyril’s father, William, was a schoolmaster, and he and his wife, Rosetta, had married in 1888.[2] Rosetta’s father had emigrated to Australia from England, and worked as a wood sawyer.[3] Cyril had nine siblings, eight of whom survived to adulthood.


Students of the Ballarat School of Mines, c1900. Courtesy Federation University Historical Collection [Cat. No. 272]. This was probably before Cyril’s time (as he was 7 in 1900), but gives us an idea of the cohorts of students at the time.

Cyril first attended Grenville College in Ballarat, before going to the Ballarat School of Mines. The Ballarat School of Mines was a technical school located in Ballarat, the first of its kind in Australia. Established in 1870, its purpose was to: to impart instruction in the various branches of science relating to mining engineering. it is proposed, as soon as practicable, to extend the operation of the school so as to impact instruction in those branches of technical science which may be considered most likely to exert a beneficial influence on the prosperity of Victoria.’[4]

He then went on to study at the University of Melbourne after he was awarded a generous scholarship. He gained his Bachelor of Science degree in 1914 with double honours in physics and chemistry, a Master of Science degree in 1917 and a PhD in 1931.

Cyril took a job at Lewis and Whitty in early 1915. Lewis and Whitty was a prominent manufacturer of food and other household products—such as soap.[5]

But later that same year he joined the Australian Imperial Force to fight in World War One. However, before he could get to the front, Cyril’s skills and knowledge in chemistry probably brought him to the attention of the Ministry of Munitions. Cyril was diverted into overseas munitions work in England, first in Wales, and then in Scotland, at HM Factory Gretna.[6]

Cyril’s enlisting papers in WW1

We know he was at Gretna because he is recorded as being there when elected as a New Associate of the Institute of Chemistry in 1918.[7] Whilst there, he worked as a shift chemist. He also met a local girl, Katherine Hope Mundell, who he married in 1919 in Annan, Scotland.

The acid mixing stations at HM Factory Gretna. Photo from The Devil’s Porridge Museum’s archive collection

After the war, Cyril and Katherine returned to Australia. In 1923, Cyril was working at Fred Walker and Co. Because of the disruption in trade caused by hostilities, the exportation of Marmite to Australia was severely affected.[8] Cyril was tasked with addressing this issue—he developed a yeast extract named Vegemite, which was first sold to customers in 1924. In 1925, Cyril sent samples of Vegemite to London for testing and discovered that his product had high levels of vitamin B, which solidified Cyril’s belief that Vegemite was rich in nutrients.[9] Vegemite soon became an Australian staple.


But Cyril wasn’t done with his food innovations yet! In 1926, he developed Kraft Walker Cheese – a cheese that was more easily preserved for longer. Cyril was appointed chief chemist and production superintendent. He became a director of the Kraft Walker Cheese Co in 1935.[10]

Portrait of Cyril Callister, inventor of Vegemite and Ballarat School of Mines alumnus. Photo credit: Federation University Australia Historical Collection (Geoffrey Blainey Research Centre

During WW2, Cyril worked with Government to provide food rations to serving soldiers and experimented with the dehydration of food. He was also instrumental in securing the Royal Charter for the Royal Australian Chemistry Institute in 1931.[11] He passed away following a heart attack in 1949, leaving behind his widow, two daughters and a son.[12] Unfortunately one of his children pre-deceased him—Ian Hope Callister died whilst fighting in WW2 at the young age of 21.[13]

The Roll of Honour Circular for Ian, Cyril’s son, following his death in WW2.

Cyril’s legacy is plain to see—Vegemite is globally known and his other food manufacturing developments paved the way for future research But his life was also blighted by two global conflicts—he had to divert into munitions in the Great War, and lost his son in World War Two.

[1] Australian Bureau of Statistics (27 June 2017). “Chute”. 2016 Census QuickStats.

[2] Australia Marriage Index, 1788-1950 for William Callister and Rosetta Dixon, 1888. Retrieved from Ancestry.

[3] 1861 England Census for John Dixon, Parliamentary Borough of Lambeth, retrieved from

[4] Lines of Succession: The Origins of the University of Ballarat from 1870. University of Ballarat, 2012, referenced: Ballarat School of Mines – Ballarat and District Industrial Heritage Project (

[5] Biography – Cyril Percy Callister – Australian Dictionary of Biography (

[6]  Biography – Cyril Percy Callister – Australian Dictionary of Biography (

[7] INSTITUTE OF CHEMISTRY 1918 Part 1 The Institute of Chemistry of Great Britain and Ireland. Proceedings, 1918. Part I – Proceedings of the Institute of Chemistry of Great Britain and Ireland (RSC Publishing)

[8] Cyril Callister Biography, Achievements, Australian chemist, Food Technologist (

[9] Biography – Cyril Percy Callister – Australian Dictionary of Biography (

[10] Biography – Cyril Percy Callister – Australian Dictionary of Biography (

[11] Cyril Callister (1893-1949) – Ballarat and District Industrial Heritage Project (

[12] Obituary in The Age, 06 October 1949.

[13] Record Details for Ian Hope Callister (Royal Australian Air Force) (


Maud Bruce OBE.

The Marvelous Miss Maud: From Gretna Girl to Aycliffe Angel

By Collections blog, News

In the World Wars of the twentieth century, there are certain historical themes and people that almost everyone knows: Kaiser Wilhelm, Winston Churchill, young idealistic men hardened by their time at The Front, soldier-poets, VADs, The Blitz—the list goes on and on. These ideas, people and events are discussed and taught in almost every history classroom across the country. Like Henry VIII and his six wives, the World Wars are an integral part of our country’s collective history. Every year, on Remembrance Sunday, we pause and commemorate those who sacrificed so much and the men and women who lost their youths, and sometimes lives, to war. Although the story of both World Wars is well-trod, there are still discoveries to be made, and histories to be told. This article strives to be one of those.

This is the story of a woman who you’ve probably never heard of. I hadn’t either, till I started working at The Devil’s Porridge Museum in Eastriggs, Scotland. Maud Bruce was an ordinary woman who was extraordinarily courageous in the service of her country during both the 1914-1918 and the 1939-1945 wars. She is barely, if at all, mentioned in the numerous history books that cover both periods of history. Until a few months ago, she didn’t even have a Wikipedia entry. If you googled ‘Maud Bruce’ the first couple of entries would be all about a very different Maud Bruce—Robert the Bruce’s daughter, who lived in the 12th century! Our Maud Bruce is absent from history, and I am determined to put her back into it. Maud was a woman from a working-class background, traditionally not someone considered ‘important’ enough to be remembered. But Maud is important—she played a key role in munitions making in both wars, winning awards for her bravery.

Maud Ellen Bruce was born on 20th December 1894 in Coundon, Durham, England to Thomas and Emma Bruce. She was their fifth child and had two brothers and six sisters. Her father Thomas worked as a coalminer.[1] Coundon was traditionally a coalmining village, and Thomas probably worked at either Black Boy Colliery or Auckland Park Colliery, both nearby.

In 1901, Maud was six years old. Although the census doesn’t record whether or not she attended school, by this time education was compulsory by law for children aged five to twelve.[2] By 1911, Maud was sixteen and working as a general domestic servant.[3] Her older sister, Rose, who worked as a dressmaker, filled out the census form. This strongly implies that the Bruce children did have some form of education—they were clearly literate. Despite this, it is also clear that the family did require their older children to work to supplement the family income. Alongside Maud and Rose, William, then aged twenty-five, worked as a collier mechanic labourer and Emma, aged fourteen, was working nearby as a servant for James Black.[4]

Maud dressed in her munitions uniform

Prior to the World War One, the Gretna area was mostly agricultural, but during hostilities ‘the largest cordite factory in the UK was established’ in response to the need for munitions.[5] This new wartime industry meant a dramatic increase in the local population as people migrated to the area to work. One of these workers was Maud Bruce. Maud arrived at HM Gretna in late 1916 to work as a forewoman of the cotton drying house in the Dornock section. Maud was billeted at Grenville Hostel, Eastriggs.[6] She was head of the Women’s Fire Brigade and in charge of thirty girls. It is clear that Maud was an exemplary worker: she is described as having ‘gained rapid promotion’ during her time at Gretna, and as being ‘exceedingly popular’ with her staff and superiors.[7] It is likely that her younger sister, Lily also worked at the factory, as she appears in a photo alongside other munition workers in Maud’s papers.

Maud would have been doing potentially dangerous work in the factory—there were accidents throughout the war, and some munitions workers were horribly injured. Cordite was what was made at Gretna—a type of explosive propellent which went inside the shells used at the Front.

Maud was recognised for two notable events during her time at Gretna. The first occurred around April 1917, when a fire broke out at night in the cotton drying machine. Maud used a hose to subdue the flames, and then the fire brigade put out the fire.[8]

On the second occasion, Maud similarly demonstrated her calm and collected approach to danger. This event was outlined in detail in the local newspaper:

“Three months ago, about eight o’clock in the morning, she was close at hand when fire broke out in the drying machine. In a few seconds, the chamber was filled with smoke. As quick as lightning Miss Bruce climbed up the ladder to the top of the machine, twenty feet height, and with the vigorous use of a sweeping brush cut away the cotton at the top part of the machine, and pushed it down. In this way she prevented the fire spreading to the next machine. The staff of girls under her charge, encouraged by her example of coolness, set to work with the hose, and in a short time the fire, which was arrested in the willower part of the machine, and before it could reach the elevators, was successfully extinguished.”

In June 1917, Maud was awarded a British Empire Medal by The Duke of Buccleuch, K.T., who was Lord Lieutenant of the county of Dumfries.[9] This event was held at the central offices of the factory in front of a number of staff. It was stated that ‘each of the recipients of the medal stepped forward, and was cordially shaken hands with by the Duke, who pinned on the medals, and as he did so there were cordial cheers from the assembly.’[10] The Duke said that ‘it was extremely gratifying to realise that deeds of heroism were also being performed by factory workers at home, and especially by women.’[11]

Maud was awarded the Medal of the Order of the British Empire[12] (MOBE) in August 1917 ‘for admirable behaviour in charge of the women’s fire brigade at a fire at an explosive factory.’[13] In the aftermath of her heroic deeds, Maud had been interviewed by The Standard. She is described as wearing ‘khaki trousers and jacket’ and didn’t realise that she’d been awarded the MOBE at the time of the interview.[14]

Maud did get some media attention from her actions and the honours bestowed upon her. Usually these took the form of celebrating the work of women war workers. In the Sheffield Weekly Telegraph, she was referred to as a ‘plucky munitions lass’ and is cast as a heroine—the news story details the ‘thrilling story’ that led to her being awarded the Munitions Medal which it’s stated ‘has rarely been more pluckily won.’[15]

Maud worked at H. M. Factory Gretna from January 1917 – August 1919 and was only let go due to reduction of labour.

The year after leaving Gretna, Maud married Thomas Edward Nunn in Shildon, Durham, England.[16] Thomas had grown up in Shildon, only around 4 miles from Maud’s hometown of Coundon.[17] He was born on July 8th 1892, and was the son of Charles Nunn, a coalminer and Ellen Nunn. He had a younger sister, Lily and a younger half-brother, Wilfred. Aged 19, in 1911, Thomas had followed in his father’s footsteps and was working as a banking out miner.[18] Like Maud, Thomas had played his part in the war effort. He served in the Royal Irish Regiment and was discharged due to disability on 10th May 1917.[19] Thomas received the Silver War Badge, also known as the Wound Badge, for his service, as well as the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

Maud and Thomas welcomed their first child, Raymond, in 1920, and their second child, John in 1922. The inter-war years seem to be pretty quiet for the family—Maud and Thomas appear on the election registers during these years but as of yet I haven’t found them in other records during this time.[20] In the 1939 Register, Maud and Thomas are working at ’unpaid domestic duties’ and a ’general labourer’ respectively.[21] Thomas is also working full-time as a A. R. P. Warden. A. R. P. Warden’s were at integral part of the Home Front War effort—they patrolled neighbourhoods during the blackout and made sure that everyone was abiding by the rules! This register was conducted less than a month after the United Kingdom declared war on Nazi Germany, and Maud and Thomas were facing the second worldwide military conflict during their lifetimes.

In World War Two, as with World War One, there was a HUGE need for munitions. Royal Ordnance Factory (ROF) Aycliffe was built in Aycliffe, County Durham in 1941. During the war, ROF Aycliffe employed 17,000 people and operated 24 four hours a day.[22] Unlike at Gretna, at Aycliffe cordite wasn’t made, but the workers were filling shells and bullets with powder.[23] This was still very dangerous work—there was accidents and explosions, as Maud would soon find out.

The Women Behind the Women- Munitions work at a Royal Ordnance Factory in the North of England, c 1942 War worker Mrs Wilkinson breaks down fuses at ROF Aycliffe, near Darlington, County Durham.

The women workers of Aycliffe were soon known by the moniker ‘Aycliffe Angels’. This was given to them by the infamous Lord Haw-Haw, an English man who worked for the Nazis throughout the war, and regularly broadcast propaganda radio programmes to the UK. Haw-Haw frequently said during his shows ‘the little angels of Aycliffe won’t get away with it.’[24] Not only did this give the workers a sticking nickname, but it also highlighted the importance of their work—it was essential to the war effort.

Maud’s identity card, which she would have had to have shown upon entry and exit to the factory.

At Aycliffe, ‘all workers had to wear special shoes and overalls which they put on at the beginning of each shift. They were checked to make sure they didn’t have any flammable items in their possession, like matches and cigarettes, or metal objects like hair grips which might fall into machinery.’[25] This would’ve been very similar procedure to Gretna—I wonder if Maud had a sense of déjà vu when she began working at Aycliffe? Also like at Gretna, the materials they were working with at Aycliffe were dangerous, it ’often causes skin and hair to turn yellow (munitions workers were referred to as ‘canaries’), caused asthma and breathing problems, sometimes made teeth fall out and damaged the lining of the stomach.’[26] The many potential health issues involved in working in munitions would also effect Maud. Later in life, those who knew Maud would note that’ My grandmother…read the newspaper to Mrs Nunn each morning as her eyes had been damaged in the munition factory, so she always wore specifically tinted spectacles.’[27] But the danger didn’t just come from the chemicals–the workers at Aycliffe were also at risk from bombing.[28]

In fact, I think Jacky Hyams sums up the work of those at Aycliffe and other munitions factories during World War Two best: ‘To describe their work as hazardous is something of an understatement. The Bomb Girls endured much: exhaustion, fear, sacrifice, separation from loved ones, personal or family tragedy – not to mention the enormous risks to their own lives and physical welfare as they worked. Yet these women, all ages, married or single, from different backgrounds, were a crucial link in the long chain that made up Britain’s wartime endeavour. The men were sent off to fight, fire the bullets, drive the jeeps, fly the planes and drop the bombs. But it was the Bomb Girls who helped make the final victory possible. They too were amongst the country’s true heroes of wartime.’[29]

John D Clare has emerged as the authoritative historian of the Aycliffe factory during World War Two, and has offered valuable critique of the happy and positive image of the Angels that some accounts portray.[30] He argues instead that the reality was far more complex—that ROF factories weren’t great places to work, that the work itself was boring and monotonous, and that they were undervalued and underappreciated—both during the war and for many years afterwards.[31]

Maud (far right) at a reunion of Aycliffe munition workers in the 1980s.

The fight to recognise the work and sacrifice of munitions workers has been long and sadly many Aycliffe workers died before their work was even acknowledged. One of the more recent campaigns has involved the Rotherwas Munitions Group, the National Munitions Association and BBC Hereford & Worcester, who have campaigned for workers to be recognised with a munition workers veterans badge, which you can now apply for if you or a relative worked in munitions in World War Two.[32]

Maud worked at the factory from when it opened in 1941. She later said of her work, ‘I loved the work until the accident. I was in hospital over five months.’[33] The accident Maud spoke of happened in 1943, when ‘some ammunition exploded, and she was very severely burned on her face, arms, hands and chest. She spent six months in Darlington Hospital and then returned to the factory until the end of the war.’[34]

In order to fully recover from this injury, Maud underwent plastic surgery—still a pioneering procedure mostly used on servicemen who suffered awful injuries in the course of their duties. Later in life, she would have a distinctive mark from these injuries; ‘My mam seemed to think that Mrs Nunn had had some plastic surgery on her face – she’d put her hands up to shield her face in the explosion. I think she was one of the first people to have it and her skin was kind of wrinkle free in those areas.’[35]

In addition to her work in munitions, and her recovery from her injury in 1943, it’s important to acknowledge that during the war Maud’s husband was also an ARP warden, and her sons were both away fighting. Raymond served as a lance-corporal [36][37]Later, friends remembered that ’Both of her sons fought in WW2 and were commended for bravery. One of them, I believe, was on the Burma railway.’[38] This must’ve been a stressful and scary period for the whole family—not only was their country at war, but all four of them were intimately involved with that warfare.

World War Two came to an end in 1945, and the factory at Aycliffe closed. I’ve been able to find out a little of Maud’s life after this time. From the copy of her death certificate, it appears that Maud worked as a school dinner lady at some point. In 1954, her husband Thomas, died by suicide at the age of 61.[39] Her oldest son, Raymond, also predeceased Maud, dying in 1984. Even in 2021, over twenty years after her death, Maud is remembered fondly by Shildon locals:


‘Mrs Nunn was as you can see a happy cheerful person, who just lived an ordinary life and got on with looking after a husband and family of boys.’[40]


‘She loved a chat and was always happy to have visitors and this continued when she moved to the nursing home…Overall, I remember her as a kind, strong, practical, determined, smiley old lady.’[41]


But even though Maud had already lived an extraordinary life—bravely taking part in both World Wars alongside raising a family and dealing with both her husband’s and son’s death, she wasn’t done yet. In 1995, Maud turned the big 100! She celebrated with her family and friends at the nursing home in which she lived, and received a letter from the Queen. Her big birthday was reported in the local press and Maud spoke to reporters about her long life. ‘I didn’t want to reach 100, I think it is too long to live, but I am now looking forward to my birthday.’ Maud also recalled the moment she was awarded the OBE, saying: ‘the OBE was the most memorable experience of my life. It was a great honour and I am very proud of the award.’[42] Her son John mentioned in the same article that Maud ’is hard of hearing, but says ’hearing aids are for old people.’’

Maud surrounded by her family at her 100th birthday.

Mrs Maud Nunn (Nee Bruce) OBE passed away on January 8th 1995. Her great-grandson, Andrew, remembers her as ‘a remarkable woman and an inspiration to generations of our family.’ I wholeheartedly agree.

[1] ‘William Bruce’ Census Return for Shop Hill, Coundon, Parliamentary Borough of Bishop Auckland, Public Record Office, folio 140. Retrieved from

[2] See: The Elementary Education Act 1880 and The Elementary Education (School Attendance) Act 1893. Despite being compulsory by law, the enforcement of such a law was a different matter and many working-class families needed their children to earn a wage as soon as they possibly could.


[3] ‘Maud Bruce’ Census Returns for Tyne Terrace, Coundon, Parliamentary Borough of Bishop Auckland, p. 918. Retrieved from


[4] ‘Emma Bruce’ Census Returns for Tyne Terrace, Coundon, Parliamentary Borough of Bishop Auckland, p. 922.

[5] Timothy McCracken, Dumfriesshire in the Great War, (Pen and Sword Books, 2015) p. 13.

[6] ‘Brave Gretna Girls: Munition Workers Honoured’ Dumfries and Galloway Standard, 29 August 1917, p. 2.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] ‘Heroism in Factories: Duke of Buccleuch presents medals at Gretna’ Dumfries and Galloway Standard, 19 June 1918, p. 2.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] ‘Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood’ The Edinburgh Gazette, 27 August 1917, issue: 13133, p. 1788.

[13] ‘Brave Gretna Girls: Munition Workers Honoured’ Dumfries and Galloway Standard, 29 August 1917, p. 2.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Heroism in Factories: Duke of Buccleuch presents medals at Gretna’ Dumfries and Galloway Standard, 19 June 1918, p. 2.

[16] England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1916-2005, General Register Office, Maud Bruce to Thomas E Nunn, Jan-Feb-Mar 1920, vol no: 10a, p. 483

[17] ‘Thomas Edward Nunn’ Census return for Albert Street, Shilden, Chapel Row, Parliamentary Borough of Bishop Auckland, Public Record Office, folio 44, p. 31. Retrieved from

[18] Thomas Edward Nunn’ Census return for Albert Street, Shilden, Chapel Row, Parliamentary Borough of Bishop Auckland, Public Record Office, Retrieved from This probably means he worked as a banksman, a person who dispatched the coals at the pitbank, unloading and loading the cage.


[19] ‘Thomas Edward Nunn’, UK, World War I Pension Ledgers and Index Cards, 1914-1923, service number: 3/8372, reference number: 2/MN/No772, Retrieved from

[20] England & Wales, Electoral Registers 1920-1932, Durham England

[21] ‘Maud E Nunn’ 1939 England and Wales Register, Borough of Shilden, Public Record Office, Retrieved from

[22] Royal Ordnance Factory Aycliffe in the Second World War 1939-1945 – The Wartime Memories Project –

[23] Aycliffe Royal Ordnance Factory – Aycliffe Angels (

[24] | CommuniGate | Why were they called ‘The Aycliffe Angels’? (

[25] Colin Philpott, Secret Wartime Britain, Hidden Places that Helped Win the Second World War (Pen and Sword, 2018) p. 4.

[26] Colin Philpott, Secret Wartime Britain, Hidden Places that Helped Win the Second World War (Pen and Sword, 2018) p. 5.

[27] Facebook recollection from a lady who knew Maud as a child.

[28] Colin Philpott, Secret Wartime Britain, Hidden Places that Helped Win the Second World War (Pen and Sword, 2018) p. 5.


[29] Jacky Hyams, Bomb Girls – Britain’s Secret Army: The Munitions Women of World War II (Kings Road Publishing, 2013), p. 14.

[30] RealAycliffeAngelsNN.pdf (

[31] Ibid. See also: Days before VE Day an explosion tore through the Aycliffe Angels factory – killing eight | The Northern Echo

[32] Apply for a munitions worker’s veterans badge – GOV.UK (

[33] ’Munitions Blaze Heroine Maud Reaches Century’, Unknown Newspaper Article, shared by the family of Maud

[34] ’Munition Factory Workers Re-Union a Great Sucess’, Unknown Newspaper article, shared by Maud’s family.

[35] Facebook recollections from a lady who knew Maud as a child.


[37] Supplement to the London Gazette, 13 December 1945, p. 6072.

[38] Facebook recollections from a friend who remembered Maud.

[39] Thomas Nunn’s Death Certificate

[40] Facebook recollections from a person who knew Maud.

[41] Facebook recollections from a person who knew Maud.

[42] Munitions Blaze Heroine Maud Reaches Century’, Unknown Newspaper Article, shared by the family of Maud

Some words and a drawing of a cross written on a wall.

World War One Wall Painting Discovered

By News

Our thanks to Callum Boyd for sharing this account of his discovery.

An amazing survival, believed to be from World War One, has been discovered in Victory Avenue, Gretna.  Callum was doing some maintenance work to his house, he peeled back the wallpaper and discovered a wall painting showing a grave with a cross on it and the following text: “Here lies the body of Jack Ellmenery or Elmenwery (?) Departed this life for the country’s good AD 1916”

The picture is quite difficult to see on the wall.

Close up view of the picture.

Close up view of the picture in black and white.

Callum’s house is one of the original World War One houses built to home the 30,000 workers at HM Factory Gretna.  This drawing could have been done by one of the builders of the houses (the Factory and townships of Eastriggs and Gretna were built by 10,000, mainly Irish, navvies) or it could have been drawn by one of the workers who stayed in the hostel during the War (12,000 of these workers were women).

Gretna was built in World War One, many of the houses built for workers at HM Factory Gretna are still occupied today.

Victory Avenue today.

This map shows historic Gretna and the uses of the different buildings which still stand today.

We have begun to look into this but if anyone knows any more or is able to track down Jack and his connection to Gretna – we would love to know!  It is incredible to think of all the history that lies hidden right under our noses!

Unfortunately, the picture was destroyed when Callum tried to remove it to donate to the Museum but we are very grateful to have the photographs and information he provided.

If you would like to know more about HM Factory Gretna, the following items from our online shop may be of interest:

The Devil’s Porridge Museum Guidebook – Devils Porridge Museum

Gretna’s Secret War – Devils Porridge Museum


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.

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