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Munitions girls

The bakery packing room at Gretna. This photo is from The Devil's Porridge Museum's archive.

Feeding the 30,000

By Collections blog

Feeding the 30,000 workers at HM Factory Gretna during World War One must have been a real challenge but they seem to have been well cared for as this page from an autograph book (below), created by a munitions ‘girl’ in 1918 suggests.  It includes a transcription of Robert Burns’s famous ‘Selikirk Grace’ (an integral part of any Burns Supper) with a canteen meal ticket stuck next to it.

The signature at the bottom includes the location, Broomhills Canteen, which is shown in the photograph below.

This autograph book is part of the Museum collection but we also have documents and photographs relating to the catering facilities at the Factory.  The document below gives an idea of the size of the undertaking, some of the food prepared and the normal of people employed in this work.

The following photos show the bakery and related processes as organised by the Factory authorities for the workers.

If you would like to know more about life at HM Factory Gretna in World War One, the following items from the Museum shop may be of interest to you:

Gretna’s Secret War

The Devil’s Porridge Museum Guidebook

Lives of Ten Gretna Girls booklet



Group Gretna girls in World War One.

“The female excess”: the ‘problem’ of too many single women after World War One

By Collections blog

The Devil’s Porridge Museum’s main focus is on HM Factory Gretna, the greatest factory on earth in World War One.  It employed 30,000 people in the production of cordite (aka the devil’s porridge).  12,000 of these workers were women.

women who worked at hm factory gretna

A display within the Museum.

The majority of female workers were single and young.  We know that some women married while they working at Gretna and there were married women and those who had been widowed due to the War working at the Factory but the majority of the girls were probably affected by the post-War shortage of men.  The ‘lost generation’ i.e. the young men who died in the War meant that a lot of women remained unmarried and single women were perceived as a ‘problem’.

This article from the Times Newspaper in 1920 (published recently in their archive section), makes the point clear.  One cannot help but think of the 12,000 ‘Gretna Girls’.  They did so much to help win the War and it continue to impact on their lives in the decades to come.

1920s girl and the elusive male

This poem, written during the War by one of the female workers sums up how many of the girls may have felt: they were doing their duty, waiting for the boys to come home.  Sadly, many of the boys never did return and the course of the girls’ lives did not run in the way they had anticipated.

bravo gretna poem

If you would like to know more about the Lives of some of the Gretna Girls who made munitions at HM Factory Gretna in World War One, you might like this booklet (available from our online shop):

Lives of Ten Gretna Girls booklet

Acid recovery section hm factory gretna

A look at some of the dangers of working at HM Factory Gretna

By Collections blog

The Devil’s Porridge Museum is primarily focused on sharing the history of HM Factory Gretna, the greatest munitions factory on earth in World War One; it employed 30,000 workers, 12,000 of them women.  The Museum is situated near one of the main factory sites (which is still owned by the Ministry of Defence today).

The purpose of the Factory was to produce cordite.  One of the main ingredients of cordite is acid and although safety precautions were taken, we know of several accidents that involved contact with acid.

nitric acid retorts

Female workers in the Nitric Acid retorts, the Nitric Acid Store at HM Factory Gretna.

Acid mixing stations at HM Factory Gretna.

Female workers at HM Factory Gretna working in the Acid Mixing Stations – measuring off nitric acid.

We know of the following incidents involving accidents with acid:

In 1917, W G Martin, a charge hand had his “face, head and right arm hurt with acid due to exit valve of pump blowing out.”  Because his right eye was destroyed by the accident, he was offered £300 in compensation.

On 4th January, 1918, Jonathan Leah died.  He had been injured on September 20th 1917 when he was working on pipes in the Factory.  He struck a pipe with a hammer and acid sprayed onto his face.  His left eye had to be removed and he died as a result of this injury.

Arthur Gilliam was working on an acid tank when he was overcome by noxious fumes.  He died in hospital.

The photograph below shows the Volunteer Rescue Brigade for the Acid Section equipped with protective uniforms and a stretcher.  They would have been sent in had there been a major acid leak or incident, fortunately a large scale leak did not occur.

Acid recovery section hm factory gretna


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