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Chief Lady Superintendent Miss Lilian Barker CBE, Woolwich Arsenal.

Guardians of Welfare: The Role of Female Superintendents in Munition Factories and their Contribution to Female Workers during the First World War

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 Virginia writes about her research into lady superintendents.

The origins of lady superintendents in munition factories originated in mid-1915.[1] As the production of shells increased during this period, the Ministry of Munition needed to maintain the welfare of female munition workers.[2] The role of the lady superintendents, also referred to as Welfare Supervisors, was to, therefore, care for female factory workers.[3] The blog explores the diverse qualities and duties of female superintendents in munition factories during the First World War. Their many responsibilities were vital to guaranteeing the health and wellbeing of munition workers and consequently supporting the War effort.

Qualities of Lady Superintendents in munition factories during the First World War

Maintaining welfare in a munition factory required lady superintendents to possess and reflect various qualities to address the different needs of individual workers. They also had to understand and effectively respond to the demands and challenges munition factories posed.

In his book, ‘The Woman’s Part: A Record of Munitions Work’, from 1918, L.K. Yates referred to lady superintendents as ‘capable.’[4] Yates suggests that they had to be skilful and effective when addressing the needs and enquiries of their female workers. To do this required lady superintendents to be adaptable towards each female worker.

The need to be astute also applies to lady superintendents in munition factories. They had to assess situations and implement suitable responses to maintain the welfare of female workers, whilst maintaining efficiency in the factory.  In the ‘Monthly Review of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’, employers in Britain’s munition factories praise the efficiency of lady superintendents towards work problems.[5] Lady superintendents were valued by their employees and munition factory operatives deemed their work essential in enabling the factory to run.

Another quality that applied to the role of lady superintendents was authoritativeness. To protect workers from the dangers of working in a munition factory, they had to uphold order and discipline amongst female workers. Under her supervision, workers did not become distracted or disorderly, which supported their safety and further enabled efficiency in meeting production demands.

As Welfare Supervisors, lady superintendents had to be dependable for female workers requiring her help. They also had to be reliable in effectively addressing the needs and concerns of workers. Due to this, lady superintendents were given a great responsibility in being a constant source of support and comfort for female munition workers during the War.


Roles of Lady Superintendents during the First World War

Guardians of Welfare

From their establishment in 1915, the main role of lady superintendents was to ensure the welfare of female munition workers. Within this duty, they were responsible for inspecting restrooms so that they met health standards.[6] Lady superintendents also inspected workrooms to maintain a healthy working environment.[7] They would report poor ventilation and uncleanness, for example, to the manager for correction.[8]

Lady superintendents were also responsible for providing healthy living conditions for factory workers.[9] If a lady superintendents deemed these unsuitable, she had the authority to inform the factory manager.[10] Aside from maintaining the health and wellbeing of female workers in the factory, these responsibilities infiltrated into the private lives of female workers. This reflects the extensive lengths lady superintendents went to in order to protect their workers.

Due to the limited availability of the factory manager to regularly inspect the factory, lady superintendents were crucial in preventing health risks in the factory. They also advised the factory manager on the physical health of individual workers.[11] In outlining dangers to the factory manager and providing information on the health of workers, lady superintendents reflected their duty of care towards female workers. However, this also enabled factory production to meet demands.

Dame Lilian Barker was a prominent Lady Superintendent at Woolwich Arsenal and oversaw 30,000 female workers.[12] Lilian knew all of her female workers individually, enabling her to respond to their personal needs.[13] In 1944, she received a DBE for her “services in connection with the welfare of women and girl.’’[14] Her DBE signifies the extents she went to and significant impact she had, in ensuring the health and wellbeing of her female workers.


Chief Lady Superintendent Miss Lilian Barker CBE, Woolwich Arsenal. Courtesy of Imperial War Museums. © IWM WWC D8-4-158. [15]

Other welfare issues addressed to factory managers concerned the suitability of work for female workers.[16] Lady superintendents observed women’s work in the munition factory and reported work they deemed unfit for workers.[17] In doing so, lady superintendents incorporated their astuteness to provide their duty of care for female workers and maintain their health.

Lady superintendents also had medical responsibilities including curing illnesses, cooperating with nurses and doctors alongside managing first aid.[18] According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics in 1918, they also had the ability to make long term positive changes to women’s health. For example, they could offer appropriate diets and exercises for women.[19] They were also expected to identify fatigue in workers and advise women on how to preserve energy, such as changing their posture.[20] Through their advice, lady Superintendents further helped to maintain the health and efficiency of factories.

Addressing complaints was another responsibility of lady superintendents which contributed to the welfare of workers. Alongside knowing the wages of all workers, they had to report complaints, including wages to the manager.[21] For the female workers, lady superintendents provided a voice for their concerns within the factory. Lady superintendents, therefore, helped to relieve anxiety and stress amongst workers, reducing discontent in the factory.[22]

Through these various responsibilities, lady superintendents sought to prevent mistreatment of female workers and ensure them that she was the guardians of their welfare.[23]

Domestic responsibilities

To further support their provision of welfare, lady superintendents managed catering so that factory workers were well nourished.[24] They also guaranteed a supply of workwear, including overalls and shoes, further enabling the factory to run efficiently.[25]

A significant responsibility of female superintendents was supervising night shifts.[26] Not only did they provide continued protection for workers during the night, but her supervision prevented disorderly behaviour, which threatened production.

Moral and Social Responsibilities

In 1917, an employer of a munition factory in Britain stated:

’Generally speaking, we consider it very essential to have a lady superintendent where female workers are employed, and especially where there are men working in the same department.’’[27]

The need to have a lady superintendent amongst a male and female workforce strengthens the guardianship role of Lady Superintendents towards female munition workers. The munition manager implies how crucial lady superintendents were in instilling discipline amongst workers and in preventing distractions at work.

Whilst lady superintendents maintained morality in their female workers, they were also important in boosting morale for their female workers during the First World War.[28] Lady superintendents were to reflect positivity towards female munition workers and make sure that women understood the significance of their work during the War.[29]

Similarly to ensuring suitable living conditions for female workers, they visited female workers outside of the home.[30] Their visits emphasise how their duty of care and protection towards female workers extended beyond the munition factory. Visiting homes of workers also enabled lady superintendents to further understand the personal lives of their workers enabling them to effectively respond to their needs.

Lady superintendents also played an important role in the lives of their workers outside the factory by providing recreational activities.[31] Recreational clubs were created by lady superintendents, allowing female munition workers to rest and socialise outside the factory.[32]

Dorothée Aurélie Marianne Pullinger was a Lady Superintendent who catered for workers beyond the munition factory. During the First World War, Dorothee worked at the munition factory under the Vickers engineering company.[33] Overseeing 7000 female workers, she established an apprenticeship scheme for female munition workers.[34] Dorothee’s apprenticeships show that alongside the welfare of workers, she invested in the progression and welfare of her workers even after the War.

Lady superintendents were a vital part in the operations of a munition factory. Behind the factory walls, lady superintendents were the hidden cornerstones of support for female munition workers during the demands of the First World War. In maintaining the health and wellbeing of her workers, lady superintendents enabled factory production to continue and the demands of War to be efficiently met. Therefore, lady superintendents should be regarded as protecting the progress of munition factories during the First World War, as much as guardians of welfare.

By Virginia Quigley


Carr, Jessica, Women’s Work in Munitions Factories during The First World War: Gender, Class and Public Opinion (Northumbria, 2016)

Yates, L.K., The Woman’s Part: A Record of Munitions Work (Alexandria, 1918)

Health of Munition Workers, Great Britain, ‘Monthly Review of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’

Vol. 2, No. 5 (1916), pp. 66-70

U.S. Department of Labor United States Training Service C.T. Clayton, Industrial Training for Foundry Workers, Training Bulletin  No. 24 (Washington, 1919)

U.S. Department of  Labor Statistics, Proceedings of the Employment Managers’ Conference, Rochester, N.Y., May 9, 10, 11, 1918. January, 1919

Great Britain. Ministry of Munitions. Health of Munition Workers Committee. Welfare Work in British Munition Factories: Reprints of the Memoranda of the British Health of Munition Workers Committee



[1] Jessica Carr, Women’s Work in Munitions Factories during The First World War: Gender, Class and Public Opinion (Northumbria, 2016), p. 14.

[2] Ibid., p. 14.

[3] Ibid., p. 14.

[4] L.K. Yates, The Woman’s Part: A Record of Munitions Work (Alexandria, 1918), p. 60.

[5] Health of Munition Workers, Great Britain, ‘Monthly Review of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’

Vol. 2, No. 5 (1916), p. 68.

[6] U.S. Department of Labor United States Training Service C.T. Clayton, Industrial Training for Foundry Workers, Training Bulletin  No. 24 (Washington, 1919), p. 38.

[7] Ibid., p. 38.

[8] Ibid., p. 38.

[9] Ibid., p. 38.

[10] Ibid., p. 38.

[11] Ibid., p. 38.

[12] (accessed: 19/08/2021)

[13] Carr, Women’s Work, p. 14.

[14] (accessed: 19/08/2021)

[15], accessed: 25/08/2021

[16] Ibid., p. 38.

[17] Ibid., p. 38.

[18] Ibid, p. 39.

[19] U.S. Department of  Labor Statistics, Proceedings of the Employment Managers’ Conference, Rochester, N.Y., May 9, 10, 11, 1918. January, 1919 (Washington, 1919), p. 14.

[20] Ibid., p. 14.

[21] Bulletin, p. 38.

[22] Ibid., p. 38.

[23] Ibid., p. 37.

[24] Great Britain. Ministry of Munitions. Health of Munition Workers Committee. Welfare Work in British Munition Factories: Reprints of the Memoranda of the British Health of Munition Workers Committee (Washington, 1917), p. 25.

[25] Bulletin, p 38.

[26] Ibid, p. 39.

[27] Ministry of Munitions, Welfare Work, p. 25.

[28] Bulletin, p. 37.

[29] Ibid., p. 37.

[30] Carr, Women’s Work, p. 14.

[31] Ibid., p. 39.

[32] Ibid., p. 39.

[33], (accessed: 19/08/2021)

[34] Ibid

Miss F. Catnach.

Miss F Catnach: from Devil’s Porridge to chocolate factory

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 F Catnach.

Miss F Catnach was Chief Supervisor at the Mossband site of HM Gretna Munitions Factory.

We are lucky to have a photo of her from the Mossband Farewell magazine, and to have a piece of her own writing. Miss Catnach quotes from Hilaire Belloc – ‘that there is nothing in life worth the winning but “laughter and the love of friends”’. This was where the research began, with her home address provided in the magazine of 33 Grosvenor Place, Newcastle-on-Tyne. This address was key to revealing her first name (Florence) and very much more about her family and later life.

Address entry for Miss Catnach, Mossband Farewell Magazine

Miss Catnach, the second child of seven children

Florence’s father, who was born in Gateshead, was the secretary of the Northern Counties Building Society. They lived in the Jesmond area of Newcastle and Charles was a pillar of Newcastle society. In 1915, the Newcastle Daily Journal features an article about him as a ‘Notability of the North,’ referring to his enthusiasm and ability in his role as Chairman of the Committee of the Royal Victoria School for the Blind, his membership of the Building Society’s Executive in London, and as a prominent trustee of the Jesmond Wesleyan Church.

Florence’s father, Charles Burney Catnach: The Newcastle Daily Journal, 1915

Florence’s mother, Elizabeth Jane Catnach (nee Mackay) was born in Newcastle.  Florence was the second child of their seven children. She had an older sister Annie, three younger sisters; Margaret, Gertrude and Agnes, and then two younger brothers; Thomas Burney and Charles Burney. So the two boys were the ‘babies’ of the family.

The tragedies and triumphs of the Catnach family


Florence’s older sister, Annie Halligey, was widowed by 1907 at the age of 30, with a young child just under two years of age. In the 1911 census, Annie and her five-year old daughter Dora Elizabeth are living in the Catnach family home.

Florence’s younger brother, second lieutenant Thomas Burney Catnach, trained with the 26th (Tyneside Irish) Bn., Northumberland Fusiliers.

Florence’s brother, Thomas Burney Catnach at a training camp with the Northumberland Fusiliers: Jan Sanderson, Great War Forum.

Tragically, he “died of wounds” on 19 April 1917 age 23 and is buried in France. In April 1917, the 26th (Tyneside Irish) Bn. was engaged in the First Battle of the Scarpe, around Arras, Feuchy and Monchy le Preux, which is likely to be where Thomas received his fatal wounds. Florence would have suffered this bereavement while working at Mossband.


In Memory Of

Second Lieutenant


26th (Tyneside Irish) Bn., Northumberland Fusiliers who died on 19 April 1917 Age 23

Son of Charles Burney Catnach and Elizabeth Jane, his wife, of 33, Grosvenor Place, Newcastle-on-Tyne. Native of



Remembered with Honour


XVII. B. 6.

Florence’s brother’s Commonwealth War Graves Commission certificate:


Florence’s younger sister Agnes Catnach BA, who was described on entry to Holloway College, University of London as having “a rather silly manner – giggles – but not a bad sort” forged a highly distinguished career as a headmistress, was president of the Headmistresses Association, was sent by the British Council to Australia for eight months, was appointed by the Minister of Education to the Burnham Committee and the Nursing Council, awarded the CBE in 1952, and there is a lovely photograph of her in the National Portrait Gallery collection.

Agnes Catnach CBE, Florence’s sister: National Portrait Gallery

Agnes came to be described as “a leading British educationist.”

In 1915, Florence’s mother helped with an initiative of the Free Church League for Women’s Suffrage, donating funds to equip and maintain hospital units in France and Serbia. These pioneering hospital units were organised by the Scottish Women’s Hospitals; two units in France and two in Serbia, being fully equipped and entirely managed by women.

A cause that Florence’s mother donated towards: detail from the Report of Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Home and Foreign Service. Imperial War Museum, Department of Printed Books: Women’s Work Collection. Ref: BRCS 24.6/3

Florence’s work at Devil’s Porridge

The Central Offices, Mossband, where Florence would have worked

As Chief Supervisor at the Mossband site, Florence’s work is well documented in the Factory Manual. At the time that the manual was written, welfare work was newly recognised and seen as an ‘elastic term.’ The unique situation at the munitions factory was that, having been built in the countryside, thousands of girls would have to be brought in from all parts of the country, and would need to be housed in purpose-built townships, resulting in a duty of care for both the factory hours and also their home lives.

The supervision of girl workers would fall to “educated, trained women” in a Women’s Department at Gretna, for the role of attending to all of the details of the care of women operatives. This was seen as an important business section of the factory, being in constant touch with factory officials, the Wages Offices, the Employment Exchange, the Catering Department and also the Town Management.

Florence’s role fell within the factory supervision section of the Welfare Department, which had a Chief Assistant and then a Chief Supervisor for each of the Dornock and Mossband sites. As Chief Supervisor at Mossband, Florence was responsible for 30 shift supervisors, matrons and sub-storekeepers: a 3-shift system operated (7am-4pm, 3pm-11pm, 10pm-8am), with each shift engaging as many as 500-600 girls. The factory had up to 11,000 women operatives. Florence would be in close touch with her colleague, the Chief Supervisor at Dornock, which had a smaller arrangement than Mossband, consisting of 19 rather than 30 shift supervisors.

Florence needed to be in constant touch with her 30 shift supervisors and the work of the compounds, receiving daily reports about the numbers of girls on shifts, the number of absentees, the number of sick girls, girls admitted to and leaving the factory, changes of address, and requisitions for danger clothing and cleaning materials. In turn, Florence would send in a weekly report to the Chief Assistant, highlighting any matters needing attention. Monthly statements were issued about the issue of factory clothing and cleaning materials. It was the shift supervisors who had direct contact with the working girls, expected to have “an intimate knowledge of every girl under her control and should be regarded by the girls as their counsellor and friend.”

Florence’s work therefore sat between the personal welfare of the girls via her shift supervisors and the practical logistics of staffing and equipping the smooth running of the factory at the Mossband site. This was a responsible position for a young lady in her mid-thirties. Socialising between girls and management staff was encouraged through shift dances, concerts, plays and football: meetings said to be on “a very friendly footing.”

To the chocolate factory

Florence lived in Birmingham for at least 17 years between 1922 and 1939. Most of that time she was living in Bournville at St George’s Court, which provided homes for single professional women in Bournville.

Florence’s home St George’s Court, Bournville, built 1923, providing residential flats for single professional women: photo credit Bournville Village Trust

Bournville was created by George Cadbury as part of the Garden City Movement to relieve overcrowding and poor living conditions in Birmingham, becoming a model village and remaining so to this day. There are interesting similarities with the design of the townships for the Munitions Factory and the involvement of the Garden City architect Raymond Unwin and the lesser-known Garden City pioneer Courtney Crickmer as resident architect at Gretna; perhaps the community feel of Bournville felt very familiar to Florence after her intense experience at Mossband?

Florence was working at Cadbury’s chocolate factory, with records revealing her work as a Food Factory Official, Welfare Superintendent and, by 1939 (when Florence was 57), Personnel Manager, girls office, chocolate manufacturing. While at Cadburys, Florence was secretary of the Birmingham Branch of the Institute of Industrial Welfare Workers, which later became the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

Florence sailed from Liverpool to New York on 17 April 1928 on the White Star line Celtic ship, returning over a month later from Montreal, Quebec to Liverpool on 22 May 1928 on the White Star line Laurentic ship. Her travelling companion was Phyllis Bruce Muscott, who also worked at Cadburys. It’s not known whether this was a trip for business or pleasure, although Phyllis repeated the same journey ten years later.

White Star Line Celtic ship: Wikimedia commons Florence sets sail from Liverpool to New York, April 1928. (In December of 1928, the Celtic hit rocks off the coast of Ireland during a gale and ran aground. All passengers were saved, but the liner was scrapped).

Celebrations and fun

At Cadbury’s huge 1931 centenary celebrations, attended by nearly 20,000 people, Florence and Phyllis (her companion on her visit to the USA and Canada) won a prize in a fancy-dress competition of over 300 entries, which formed a procession of lantern-carriers nearly half a mile long – “a magnificent spectacle”: the two were dressed up as Minnehaha and Hiawatha (perhaps inspired by their trip together across the Atlantic?). The impressive scale of these celebrations can be found in this short, silent Pathe News film here.

Cadbury’s 1931 centenary celebrations:

The 1939 record of Florence living at St George’s Court reveals that, on the eve of World War II, she was volunteering for the Auxiliary Fire Service.

Later years in Eastbourne

Florence’s sister Agnes addresses the National Council of Women about her experiences in Australia. From L to R: sister Gertrude, Agnes, Florence and the chairman, Mrs Binks. Eastbourne Gazette, 1957

Florence was the first of the Catnach sisters to move to Eastbourne, where her sister Agnes sometimes visited and gave talks about her life experiences, particularly her trip to Australia. At that time, Florence was a member of the Eastbourne Branch of the National Council of Women and was involved in fund-raising activities.

All three remaining spinster sisters (Florence, Gertrude and Agnes) spent their latter years in Eastbourne, and died there in the 1970s. Florence lived to the grand age of 87 (as did Agnes).

A Catnach family tree

A family tree spanning six generations has been compiled, rooted firmly in Newcastle-Gateshead and spreading more recently to the Peterborough, St Albans and London areas through the surnames of Catnach, Luke, Davidson and Dacre.

Interestingly, the ‘Burney Catnach’ twinning of names has perpetuated in male descendants through four generations until at least the 1960s, reflecting the maiden name of Florence’s grandmother Margaret Burney, who was born in Felling, Gateshead in 1822 and whose father, Charles Burney was a cordwainer – a maker of shoes rather than a cobbler, who mends shoes.  Margaret married Thomas Catnach, who was a Customs Officer: in 1881, Florence’s grandparents were living in the Customs House on Newcastle Quayside.

This research has revealed a long and diligent commitment by Florence for the welfare of women – from her work at Devil’s Porridge, at Cadbury’s Chocolate Factory Bournville, and her additional commitments in the world of women’s welfare and rights through and including her retirement years in Eastbourne.

Her own words in the Mossband Farewell magazine proved to be prophetic:

The pure spirit of comradeship, the earnestness of work, and above all, cheerfulness, have given life at Gretna a power to mould and impress the characters of all those who shared in it. The Factory may have been a “war-time measure,” but the limit of its influence will not be set by the date of any armistice or peace terms.”

Acknowledgements: with thanks to Daniel Callicot, Heritage Manager at Bournville Village Trust, who was very helpful in searching for relevant material from Bournville with regard to Florence’s life there after the Devil’s Porridge.

Compiled by Catherine Hobbs August 2021

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