Skip to main content


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.





A postcard of a munition worker holding a cigarette sat on some gun powder with the words "expecting a rise shortly."

Conference Call for Papers

By News

The Devil’s Porridge Museum will host an online conference focused on women’s work in wartime on Friday 21st May.  12,000 women worked at HM Factory Gretna in World War One and the Museum exists to share their stories.  We have just embarked on an ambitious project to research as many lives and accounts as possible and this conference coincides with this work.

The keynote speaker will be Professor Angela Woollacott, author of ‘On Her Their Lives Depend: Munitions Workers in the Great War’ and Manning Clark Professor of History at the Australian National University.


We welcome submissions of papers that will last 30 minutes (including time for questions).  Suggested topics include (but are not restricted to):

-Any aspect of work done by women in either World War

-Munitions work

-Women’s Units such as the Women’s Land Army, Women’s Auxiliary Corps etc.

-Welfare work

-Militancy or political agitation during war

-The Home Front and the impact of War on domestic life

-Women in conflicts since 1945

-Biographies of individual women or focused on female pioneers

-Objects in GLAM organisations relating to women in work

-Women working in Science, Technology or Engineering during wartime


Please submit a paper proposal of not more than 250 words and biographical information of not more than 100 words by March 15th to


If you would like to know more about The Devil’s Porridge Museum, you may find our guidebook (available from our online shop) of interest:

The Devil’s Porridge Museum Guidebook – Devils Porridge Museum

Shell damage to a goods waggon at West Hartlepool.

WW1 Railway Wagon Postcard

By Collections blog

This postcard (from the Museum’s collection) shows an explosion within a railway wagon during World War One.  Transporting munitions by rail was dangerous and at HM Factory Gretna (the factory which is the main focus of The Devil’s Porridge Museum) they took several precautions when transporting cordite including the use of fireless locomotives such as Sir James (now outside the Museum).



Although the railway stations were crowded at this time and both the West Hartlepool passenger station and goods station yard were hit, only rolling stock was damaged with no loss of life.


A fireless locomotive is a type of locomotive which uses reciprocating engines powered from a reservoir of compressed air or steam, which I filled at intervals from an external source. Typical usage was in industrial switching where a traditional locomotive was too noxious or risky, such as in a mine or a food or chemical factory (such as HM Factory Gretna). They were used at HM Factory Gretna as they were less likely to cause an explosion, this means that it was easier to transport the munitions across the Factory site without the risk of a huge chain explosion.




This photo is also from the Museum’s collection and shows HM Factory Gretna during its construction.  It has the title “Site 2 showing the scene of the accident” and is dated July 19th 1916.  It seems there may have been a railway accident at the Factory as well.


If you would like to know more about railways at HM Factory Gretna, you might find the following booklet of interest:

An ARP whistle.

Donation of ARP whistle

By Collections blog

A recent object donation led to the uncovering of a lot of interesting information…

An Air Raid Precaution (or ARP) whistle from World War Two was recently donated to Museum.  It was found in 1964 by the donor, an avid trainspotter, when he was just 14 years old.  He found it at the bottom of a railway wagon (in a pile of old grease).

The railway line as seen from the Signal Box (photo courtesy D.Wilson).

The rolling stock had been left on a railway siding near Shankend on the Old Waverley Line, eleven miles South of Hawick and had interesting markings on the side of it which is why he thought the whistle should be donated to The Devil’s Porridge Museum with its focus on the history of Longtown, Gretna, Eastriggs and surrounding areas in both World Wars and beyond.  On the wagon was written “W.D.Ordnance Gretna” with faded red “Explosives” warnings on each side of it.

In World War Two, Eastriggs and Longtown were the site of ammunition stores (or depots) and we know munitions were transported from them to the North African Campaigns, to Normandy for D-Day and to the USSR via the Atlantic Convoys.

Munitions storage at either Eastriggs or Longtown depot (photograph probably after World War Two).

The Arctic convoys transported items to the USSR (including munitions which had been stored at Eastriggs and Longtown).

It seems munitions regularly travelled north from our region as the object donor writes,

“…during WW2, at night freight trains came up from Gretna Munitions Depot, and the wagons full of various Munitions were hidden in the…[mile long] Whitrope Tunnel…to protect them from being bombed…”  The whistle was found in a wagon that had been abandoned after derailing during the War, it may have belonged to one of the workers from Gretna who came to reload the train after the accident.

ARP display within The Devil’s Porridge Museum.

We certainly found it interesting to place the work done here in the context of the wider war and one of our volunteers shared another interesting bit of information about this section of railway line.  It is located near Stobs, which was a World War One POW internment camp.  Several years ago, a BBC Sound Recordist went to the railway to record steam engines but when he listened back to his recording he could hear German voices on the tape and was amazed to discover he had been standing near the cemetery where German POWs had been buried all those years ago.

For more on Stobs POW camp see:

If you are interested in the History of World War Two in this region, this book (available from our online shop), may be of interest to you:

The Solway Military Coast book


John Charles Burnham.

John Charles Burnham Part 2

By Collections blog

John Charles Burnham in India


1894 – 1899


Burnham moved to India to work as Chief Chemist in an experimental Cordite Factory in Kirkee which is in the state of Maharashtra in West Central India (Mumbai is in the same state). The factory was listed as producing small arms and pistol ammunition. It is still there today.


1899 – 1915

Burnham was appointed Manager and Chemist at the Government of India Explosives Factory, Aruvankadu Nilgiris in the state of Tamil Nadu in Southern India. This factory produced Cordite and gun cotton (and still produces explosives today).


His advice was sought by the Government on many occasions, and his services were recognised by the award of the Companion of the Star of India (CSI) in 1911 at the Delhi Durbar which was hosted by King George V and Queen Mary (photographed below).


You can see our previous article about John Charles Burnham here:


If you enjoyed this article then the following books (available from our online shop) may be of interest to you:

Gretna’s Secret War

The Devil’s Porridge Museum Guidebook

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.”


Kenneth Bingham Quinan Part 4

By Collections blog

Quinan’s later life

At the end of the War, Quinan was 40 years old. He was offered a knighthood which he turned down (as an American, he didn’t think it was appropriate). He was made a Companion of Honour on the same day as General Smuts. He also received official thanks from the House of Commons and a gift of £10,000. In 1919, he returned to South Africa. His work was clearly held in the highest estimation and praise was showered upon him as can be seen below. Photograph below shows Quinan in later life.

“The unique professional knowledge derived from many years of technical experience, the unremitting work of a powerful and vigorous mind, and the irradiating influence of a great, genial and unselfish personality were unreservedly put at the disposal of the British Empire. An atmosphere of good fellowship and of equal comradeship in work pervaded every branch. Everyone who came under the influence of Mr Quinan was stimulated to put forth his best in the general cause.” – Article in Nature Journal, 1920


“It would be hard to point to anyone who did more to win the war than Kenneth Bingham Quinan.” – David Lloyd George


Below: Quinan was given a solid gold brick on retiring along with the words “from one old brick to another”.

KBQ’s timeline after the war

In 1917 Quinan was appointed to the Commission of Chemical Trades after the War. Churchill offered him a position in the Ministry of Munitions but he declined this offer and many others.


In 1919 he returned to his old farm in South Africa as a consultant


In 1922 he helped found and became the first Vice President of the Institute of Chemical Engineers (now the Royal Institute of Chemical Engineers). The main aim for this was to disseminate the information gathered during the War.


31st December 1923 married Jean Pargiter. They had two sons


In 1924 KBQ retired to his fruit farm ‘Bizweni’ in Somerset West where he built a laboratory and dedicated himself to grape production. He also enjoyed big game hunting (especially lions).


In 1942 KBQ was invited by the British Government be Senior Representative in South Africa for Chemical Defence Matters. He worked tirelessly in munitions manufacture again.


11am 26th January 1948 KBQ collapsed and died at his desk in his office at the age of 69.


You can read the first three parts here:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Kenneth Bingham Quinan Part 3

By Collections blog

Kenneth Bingham Quinan “The Great KBQ”

1878 – 1948


KBQ was probably the most important person behind the construction and successful operation of HM Factory Gretna (the greatest munitions factory in World War One, The Devil’s Porridge Museum tells its story).

This photo shows all of the senior staff from the Dornock section of HM Factory Gretna.

Part 3: KBQ’s Management style

Quinan’s approach was meticulous. He created over 300 technical manuals and he demanded that his staff create similar exemplars. These were then circulated throughout the factories so everyone could learn from each other and understand what processes were effective. Many of them were published after the war to help spark what Quinan called “…the renaissance of chemical industry in England”

Quinan regularly met with all the technical senior staff and knew many of them well. Monthly meeting were held which all Superintendents of the Factory and Managers were expected to attend. One of the main aims of the meetings was motivation and morale, it was a chance for “…for them (the managers) to receive stimulation and encouragement which everyone who worked for him (KBQ) experienced”.

These meetings generated many documents including a twice yearly document comparing the efficiency and output of the different plants. KBQ was also looking for ways to make the munitions factories more effective.

Most of the Chemistry work at the Factory was overseen by male chemists but sometimes female workers were given some of the jobs to do as you can see in the photos above.

We have previously done two other articles about KBQ if you would like to read them as well see below;

Part 1:

Part 2:

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

Translate »