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Illustration of a child dressed as a police women on a postcard.

Women’s Police Service at HM Factory Gretna

By Collections blog

Over the next couple of weeks, we’re going to be focusing on one interesting aspect of HM Factory Gretna – the Women’s Police Service.

This first post provides introductory information, then we’re going to take a look in more detail at some of the documents and accounts in the Museum collection.

During World War One, 12,000 women worked at HM Factory Gretna.  They were mainly young, unmarried women and the Ministry of Munitions felt responsible for them, taking several actions which they saw as being for the girl’s own protection. We might now view curfews, searches and the largest women’s police service in Britain as restrictive, but at the time there was a War on and the measures were seen as necessary.

All work at HM Factory Gretna came under the Official Secrets Act. There was large police presence, this building in Gretna was once the police HQ, it still stands and is now converted into flats.

The Devil’s Porridge Museum has several items in its collection and archive which relate to the Women’s Police Service.  There were over 150 members of this unit and they were, on the whole older, better educated middle class women who policed the younger, less educated, working class women who made up the majority of the Factory employees.  These young women were known as the ‘Gretna Girls’ although they came from all over Britain and worked in a Factory which stretched as far as Longtown.  For example, we know one female police officer was born in Braithwaite, Cumbria.

Members of the WPS outside the Women’s Police Barracks, Gretna in World War One.

The Museum archive includes documents about the training of the female police force and their uniforms, photographs of them and the buildings associated with them (one of which, the Police HQ in Gretna, still stands and is now flats).  An interesting document is a petition to Winston Churchill for improved pay.  This dates from 1918 when Churchill was Minister of Munitions and includes the signatures of lots of women employed in this role.  We are also fortunate to have a women’s police truncheon and WPS badge on display in the Museum.

Ministry of Munitions WPS badge from the Museum collection.

What did the women police do?  We know they inspected the girls as they entered and exited the Factory (for example one young woman tried to sneak in her knitting, another some cigarettes, one tried to steal some cordite).  They also policed the morals of the girls (breaking up a kissing couple on the railway platform, maintaining the 10pm curfew and inspecting the back rows of the two factory cinemas).  At the end of the War, some women remained in police service while others returned to their families or other employment.

That’s the end of Part One, Part Two coming soon.

If you’d like to know more about HM Factory Gretna and women in World War One, the following items from our online shop might interest you:

Gretna’s Secret War

Lives of Ten Gretna Girls booklet

The Devil’s Porridge Museum Guidebook

A group of munition workers in there uniforms.

Carlisle Girls

By Collections blog

People may think that The Devil’s Porridge Museum is just about Scotland but it isn’t as the women who worked there (and there were 12,000 of them) came from across Britain especially from Northern England including Carlisle and Cumbria.

A group of girls in their factory uniforms including Jane Jackson born 1899 from Carlisle

We have dozens of accounts and photos of the so-called ‘Gretna Girls’ mainly provided by family members. Lots of friends and sisters seem to have travelled to HM Factory Gretna to seek work together. Two such sisters were Grace and Margaret Hodgson from Carlisle.

Grace Hodgson aged 21 from Morton Street Carlisle

In 1916, Grace worked in the laundry at HM Factory Gretna. She would have cleaned the uniforms of the girls but also their bedding, towels and other household items. The Factory didn’t just provide work, it also housed many of the girls in purpose built hostels in Eastriggs and Gretna.

Girls working in the laundry at HM Factory Gretna

Grace’s sister, Margaret, aged 19, also obtained a job at the Factory for a number of months. She was employed in the sewing room where she mended the worker’s uniforms. The sewing room also doubled up as a welfare or rest room so Margaret would have seen girls passing out as a result of the toxic fumes they inhaled. One writer described girls rolling around on grass as though drunk because of their exposure to the chemicals needed to produce cordite (also known as the devil’s porridge).

A rest room for the female workers in the factory

In later years, Margaret spoke of seeing girls working at the Factory who had yellow skin, sometimes their skin was a very bright yellow which is why they came to be nicknamed ‘The Canary Girls’.

Group of female factory workers including Ada Annie Thompson from Carlisle

At the start of the War, Margaret had worked at The Atlas Works in Carlisle. She was employed to make shirts for the army. She and fifteen of her friends left after a dispute about pay. They left to work at HM Factory Gretna as it was offering higher wages. The owner of the Atlas works had to increase the wages he was paying because he couldn’t fulfil orders – so many girls were leaving to work at the Factory just a few miles away. This is just one of the fascinating accounts the Museum has.

A lot of women were attracted to munitions work for the pay and because they were patriotic

If you would like to find out more about the lives of women working at HM Factory Gretna, this publication is available from our online shop:

Lives of Ten Gretna Girls booklet

A Royal Navy ship at sea.

World War Two ammunition shipped from Gretna to Russia

By Collections blog

We recently received a copy of the article below.  It appeared in a newspaper local to the Museum, The Annandale Observer, on September 7th 1945.  It details the wartime shipment of ammunition from a Central Ammunition Depot near Gretna Green (Eastriggs?  Longtown?).  The ammunition was sent via the Arctic convoys to Russia.  We weren’t aware of this before and were very interested to find out.


gretna to archangel arctic convoy world war two

If you are interested in this region during World War Two, you might like this book, which was published by the Museum following local history research and oral history interviews.

The Solway Military Coast book

This booklet (which is included within the Solway Military Coast book), specifically looks at The Ministry of Defence depots at Eastriggs and Longtown.

The Ministry of Defence Depots: Longtown and Eastriggs

gretna to archangel arctic convoy world war two

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