Skip to main content

munition girl

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.

Broom Lassies in World War Two

By Collections blog

Jake Mitchell, is one of our Duke of Edinburgh volunteers.  He comes in at the weekend for a couple of hours to help in the office and with other tasks and activities.  Today, he has chosen a display within the Museum which interests him.  Here, Jake explains what the display shows and why he chose it…

“I had a look around the Museum to find an exhibition which really interested me and I started reading about the Broom Lassies. The Broom Lassies were a group of women who worked in the Powfoot Munitions Factory. The Factory was built on Broom Farm, leading to the women working there being known as the Broom Lassies. The workers had to deal with cordite, TNT and other harmful and toxic chemicals. These chemicals turned the women’s skin and hair yellow, so we can only imagine what it would do to their insides. Many women suffered from anemia and poor liver functions as a result of working with these harmful chemicals. This lead to the women gaining the nickname the Canary Girls because of their yellow skin and hair.

The Factory was open during World War 2 and employed 4000 workers at its peak. The Factory, along with the rest of Dumfriesshire, made 1/3 of the British Cordite during World War 2. The Factory closed in June 1945 as it was no longer needed. However it re-opened again to help with the demands of the Korean and Falklands War.

This was dangerous work as the chemicals were highly explosive. This led to several incidents at the Factory including one very fatal one in October 1943 when there was a big explosion resulting in 5 women losing their lives. A woman called Euphemia Pringle had to be held back as she tried her hardest to get into the factory and save her friends from the blaze. As it was so dangerous the women had to wear a specific uniform as any man-made fibres could cause a spark and lead to an explosion. The uniform consisted of a woolen jumper, heavy black trousers and thick rubber soled shoes, all for safety reasons.

The reason I chose this exhibition was because I found it very interesting, especially with all the health hazards and dangers the women had to face. I also think it is interesting because if people had to do this in the modern day, it would be so much more safe. I find the women who worked in the factory very brave to do something so dangerous when they know an explosion could happen at any given moment. I also think it is amazing that a place so small could help so much during World War 2.”


Translate »