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International Womens Day

A page from an autograph book at H.M. Factory Gretna. This reads: "Women they have many faults. Men have only two. Everything they say. and everything they do. J Stephenson. Boadicea House."

Women’s History Month: #ChooseToChallenge

By News

To celebrate Women’s History Month, we’re taking part in a month-long celebration of women using items from our collections alongside other heritage sites/organisations across Scotland! If you want to join in, visit Go Industrial  for more info. This week, in honour of this year’s International Women’s Day, theme, we’re sharing an item from your collection where a woman challenges the status quo.

The attached photo is from one of the autograph books we hold in our collection. Autograph books were a popular way for friends and acquaintances to write verses, draw sketches, and comments. These books were often kept as a memory keepsake, and we’re lucky enough to have some from H.M. Factory Gretna. It says:

Women they have many faults,

Men have only two.

Everything they say,

and everything they do.

It was written by a J. Stephenson of Boudica House (one of the hostels that women munition workers lived in), and I’m sharing it as part the #ChooseToChallenge prompt for Women’s History Month. I think it’s a really witty poem that pokes fun in a gentle but astute way, and takes gender as a point of analysis. It also shows that some munition workers choose to challenge the status quo, even if they did that through poems like this.

Happy International Women’s Day!


If you’d like to know more about the 12.000 women who worked at HM Factory Gretna, you might enjoy this booklet (available from the Museum’s online shop):

Lives of Ten Gretna Girls booklet

Women’s work in World War One

By Collections blog

“Surely, never before in modern history can women have lived a life so completely parallel to that of the regular army.  The girls who take up this work sacrifice almost as much as the men who enlist…it is a barrack life.” 

From ‘The Cordite Makers’ by Rebecca West, an article written in 1916 after her visit to HM Factory Gretna.

Today is International Women’s Day and to commemorate that, we thought we would share some photographs of women working during World War One.  12,000 women worked at HM Factory Gretna (The Devil’s Porridge Museum has this Factory as its main focus) and they did various tasks to make this Factory operational.

If you would like to know more about women’s experiences of life and work at HM Factory Gretna, you might be interested in this booklet (available from the Museum’s online shop):

Lives of Ten Gretna Girls booklet


Working in the bakery, thousands of loaves of bread were baked every day.


Working in one of the Factory canteens.


Issuing items in the Central Stores.


Working on electric trains to transport explosive material throughout the Factory site (which was nine miles long and two miles wide).

Working with chemicals within the Factory to produce cordite (for munitions).

Transporting gun cotton within the Factory.


Laundry workers. Women also worked in the Factory hostels as domestic servants and matrons.

The largest Women’s Police Force in Britain at that time existed at the Factory.

Machine working.

Working in the Factory Power Station.

Woodworking – making boxes to store and transport the cordite (to shell filling factories).

Above: sorting and drying cordite.

Above: mixing acids within the Factory.

Nurses. The Factory had several different medical facilities for its workers. There was at least one female doctor.

Isabella Dixon OBE

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

By Collections blog

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

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

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

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

Isabella Dixon

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

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

maud bruce in later life

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