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munition workers

A poster for a Scriptwriting Workshop that took place on the 14th August 2023. It was for "young people age 16 - 26 years old."

Scriptwriting Workshop

By Events

Join our scriptwriting workshop on the 14 of August and help us create the speech for our upcoming hologram!
Come discover what it means to put yourself in the shoes of a munition worker, find inspiration, and write with us.

Ideal for young people aged 16 to 26 years old.

To book contact:

Elizabeth Dawson in her munition workers uniform.

Worker of the Week: Elizabeth Dawson

By Collections blog

Worker of the Week is a weekly blogpost series which will highlight one of the workers at H.M. Gretna our Research Assistant, Laura Noakes, has come across during her research. Laura is working on a project to create a database of the 30,000 people that worked at Gretna during World War One.

This week’s post again originates from a family research inquiry. These type of inquiries are invaluable to The Devil’s Porridge, and nearly always uncover some interesting historical story!

Elizabeth was born in Carlisle in August 1892. In the 1901 census, Elizabeth, then aged eight, is living with her parents and siblings, still in Carlisle. Her father, William, is working as a foreman of a wool and cotton weaving shed. Unfortunately, both of Elizabeth’s parents died during her childhood–her mother in 1904, and her father in 1908. By 1911, eighteen-year-old Elizabeth is living with her older married sister and had followed her father into the weaving occupation. From this it looks like Elizabeth was local to the eventual location of H.M. Factory Gretna for much of her youth. This was a common occurrence–many munitions workers came from the surrounding villages and border towns to work at the Factory.

Elizabeth, her husband Thomas, who was a soldier during WW1. and their daughter Isabella.

In 1913, Elizabeth married Thomas Davison Dawson in 1913, and they had their daughter, Isabel in 1914. We know that Elizabeth worked at H. M. Factory Gretna because of this photo of her wearing the uniform:

Many of the munitions workers at Gretna had similar photos taken of themselves, and we think this was probably done at a local photographers. I think it shows a pride in identifying themselves as a crucial part of the war effort, and of memorising their experiences at Gretna. Unfortunately we couldn’t find a mention of Elizabeth in our collections. This may be because we have limited access to our archives because of COVID-19, but it could also be that Elizabeth just isn’t mentioned in any of the surviving material–we don’t have a complete list of workers at the Factory and much of what we know we learn from research enquiries from members of the public.

In keeping with Elizabeth’s firm roots in the local area, later in life she and her husbands managed several Government-run pubs in Carlisle. Carlisle was the main site of the State Management Scheme. This was an experiment began during World War One where the Government took over control of public houses and breweries, with the idea that a disinterested management who had no incentive to sell alcohol would reduce drunken behaviour and negate its effect on the local community. Carlisle was one of the locations of this scheme because of its proximity to local arms factories, including H. M. Factory Gretna. To find out more about this fascinating (and not very well known aspect) of WW1 history, click here.

The King’s Head pub, which Elizabeth and Thomas managed. Source:

Elizabeth and Thomas managed several pubs in Carlisle, including the Kings Head in Fisher Street, the Bee Hive on Warwick Road and the Currock Hotel. Indeed, it was at the Currock Hotel where Elizabeth sadly died in 1944, at the young age of 52.

Group of workers at H M Factory Gretna.

New photos of World War One workers

By Collections blog

The Museum was recently contacted by someone with family connections to HM Factory Gretna (the greatest factory on earth in World War One and the main focus of much of The Devil’s Porridge Museum).

30,000 people worked in the Factory and 12,000 of them were women.  At present (as far as is known), there is no complete list of all the people who worked there so we are always pleased to know names of workers and see their photographs and hear their stories.  Thanks so much to the donor who shared this information with us.

Agnes Calder at HM Factory Gretna

Agnes Calder (maternal grandmother of donor – worked at HM Factory Gretna)


BIRTH 21 JAN 1895

Grahams Court

Ashley Street




Bower Street


Agnes’s daughter was Joyce Sarginson (née Bisland – photographed above).  She became the Mayoress of Carlisle and also served in World War Two in the Auxiliary Territorial Service as  a Radar Operator.

Group photo of female workers from donor’s collection.

Beatrice Calder  (sister of Agnes and great aunt of donor, worked at HM Factory Gretna)


BIRTH 1 MAY 1892


DEATH 1928


Both sisters and their father died of TB

Bertha Sarginson

Bertha Sarginson (great aunt of the donor, worked at HM Factory Gretna)



Potters, Place



                            DEATH 07 JUNE 1990 Carlisle

Bertha worked at HM Factory Gretna.  Here she learned to drive and in 1917 volunteered as a Ambulance driver and was sent to Boulogne in France.  She worked transferring injured soldiers off hospital trains and onto boats back to England.

Photograph of workers at HM Factory Gretna. Interestingly, one young woman is holding a symbol of a swastika. This is an ancient symbol of the sun and was a widely use good luck symbol at the start of the 20th century, nothing to do with the Nazis until later.

In 1920, Bertha married Joe Robson (of the 4th Battalion Border Regiment Reserve) from 6 Melbourne Street, Carlisle.  Joe got a job at Carr’s Biscuit Factory as a fitter, his father worked there as an engineer.  Bertha and Joe got their first home in Brewery Row, Caldewgate. Bertha continued to work in a shop called Sarah Jane’s.

Their first son Joseph was born 22 November 1920. He became an altar boy at St Barnabas Church, Brookside Raffles when the family moved to Brookside. Joe Jr. Joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. He was a Sergeant in training to become a pilot when he was killed 5th September 1940.

If you would like to know more about HM Factory Gretna in World War One, the following may be of interest to you:

Lives of Ten Gretna Girls booklet

Gretna’s Secret War

Munition Workers’ Poems

The Devil’s Porridge Museum Guidebook


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