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Women in War

Canary Girls poster for online talk which happened in 2022.

Canary Girls Online Talk

By Events

Thursday 9th June 2022

Canary Girls – the forgotten heroines of WW1 and WW2


Learn about the important role that munitions workers had in both World Wars & the Canary Girls project which campagins for a memorial to them in the FREE online talk.


Book your place and learn more here>

The talk will :-

• Introduce a Canary Girls project, started in Cumbria, campaigning for a memorial to the munitions workers, mainly women, of both World Wars in the National Memorial Arboretum.

• Explain what the women were actually doing in the factories in both world wars; where the nickname Canary Girls came from and the risks they faced daily.

• Look at the precedents they set in challenging gender roles and social class in fashion, sport, factory design and working conditions for women.

• Consider why they are called the forgotten heroines and finally, look at how they have been and are being remembered.

The talk will be given by Valerie Welti. After over 30 years as a teacher in London, in her retirement in Cumbria she has taken on various voluntary roles. One of which, with the Canary Girls Memorial Project, has reignited her interest in history.


Fiona's grandmother, Jane, who worked as a typist at HM Factory Gretna.

Worker of the Week: Jane Ann Jackson

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.

Another week, another fascinating family enquiry. This time our worker was a typist at H.M. Factory Gretna, demonstrating just how many different jobs there were at the factory!

Jane was born in Low Moorhouse outside of Carlisle in 1897. She first worked as an understairs maid in a local “big” house. On her one day off a month she cycled to Carlisle to take typing classes. She worked at H. M. Factory Gretna from 1916 for the buyers, and we know this because of the excellent testimonial she was given upon leaving her position:

Interestingly, at the same time Jane was working at Gretna, her brother Jack was serving in World War One as a signaller with the Cameron Highlanders. He was awarded the Military Medal for keeping the lines of communication open during the battle of Passchedale. At the end of the War, he was a member of the occupying forces that marched into Germany.

John wrote extensively about his time during World War One, and his memoirs have recently been published. They provide a fascinating portrait of war and John’s extraordinary experiences.

John Jackson’s book, available to purchase here:

After the war, John worked on the railway between Carlisle and Glasgow. He married and lived in Carlisle, before passing away in the 1950s.  Jane met and married her husband in 1922, living at first in Gretna. The photo below is of them standing outside their house in Gretna. Later, they moved to Dumfries.

The Jackson family’s multiple connections to the war effort are probably representative of many others across the country; with sons’ off to fight and daughters’ working to help produce materials essential for the front. It’s interesting that Jane’s jobs as a typist involved the constant writing of letters ordering materials needed at H.M. Factory Gretna whilst her brother was awarded the military medal for making sure communications were kept open at Passchedale. Both siblings roles revolved around communications!

A massive thank you to Fiona Jackson for the invaluable information she provided on Jane and John.

The Powerhouse Switchboard at HM Factory Gretna.

Women’s History Month: #ThisGirlCan

By News

To celebrate Women’s History Month, we’re taking part in a month-long celebration of women using items from our collections alongside other heritage sites/organisations across Scotland! If you want to join in visit Go Industrial  for more info. This week, to demonstrate that #ThisGirlCan, we’re sharing a photo from our collection that shows a woman who was a pioneer in taking on a new challenge.

The above image shows one of the munition workers at H. M. Factory Gretna operating the powerhouse switchboard. During WW1, women took on a wider variety of work roles as more and more men were being called up to fight. Women worked with complex machinery, acids and chemicals, and performed arduously heavy labour. Many of these works had previously been considered unsuitable for women.

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.

A typed document written by A.M. Anderson on 28th November 1916.

Women’s History Month: #WeShouldAllBeFeminists

By Collections blog

To celebrate Women’s History Month, we’re taking part in a month-long celebration of women using items from our collections alongside other heritage sites/organisations across Scotland! If you want to join in, visit Go Industrial  for more info. This week we’ll be sharing items that show why #weshouldallbefeminists, inspired by the wonderful Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche.

The photo above is an extract from a report titled ‘CARLISLE PROBLEMS OF SOCIAL AND INDUSTRIAL WELFARE in connection with MUNITIONS WORKERS AND GRETNA’ which we have in our collection. It was written by an A. M. Anderson, and details concerns about the welfare and behaviour of women munition workers at H. M. Factory Gretna.

It demonstrates just how concerned the mainly male Factory management were with regulating the morals of their predominantly female workforce. The phrase ‘the most horrible creatures’ to describe some of the women staying at hostels shows just how much judgement was placed upon women wartime workers. The last line of the report states:

‘This makes it the more imperative to provide them access to the right kind of health giving recreation including exercise.”

This is an interesting conclusion. The emphasise on the ‘right kind’ suggests that the writer of this report thought there was some kinds of recreation that was ‘wrong’ for women. It demonstrates a tension between the control Factory management wanted to hold over the workers, and the wishes of the workers themselves.

This item from our collections shows why #WeShouldAllBeFeminists because women should have the freedom to choose their own recreational activities and not be judged negatively for them. The thought of an official report describing workers as ‘creatures’ is alien to us today, and rightly so! To use a very modern term, it reeks of mansplaining!



Dame Rebecca West.

Worker of the Week: Dame Rebecca West

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 worker is a little different, because the person I’m highlighting never actually held a job at H. M. Factory Gretna. However, as a journalist and prominent feminist Rebecca West played a critical role in establishing wartime perceptions of munitions workers at Gretna. West visited the factory and wrote an article about the cordite makers in 1916.

Rebecca West was actually born Cicely Fairfield, and was the youngest of three daughters. During her childhood her anti-socialist journalist father abandoned the family. Cecily trained to be an actress at the Academy of Dramatic Art, and it was there where she found the name Rebecca West—a heroine from an Ibsen play. However, after leaving she became a journalist.

West soon became immersed in the women’s movement. She was involved from the start in The Freewoman, a feminist journal founded by suffragettes Dora Marsden and Mary Gawthorpe. The nineteen-year-old Rebecca wrote prolifically for the publication, on topics as diverse as ‘The Position of Women in Indian Life’,[1] anti-suffrage activist Mrs Humphrey Ward,[2] and book reviews.[3] In doing so, she established a name for herself as a perceptive and cutting writer. The Freewoman, although not particularly successful (it struggled financially and only lasted eleven months), really made its mark by the open discussion of women’s sexuality and free love. Because of this, W. H. Smith refused to stock it, and Mrs Humphrey Ward (one target of Rebecca’s pen!) complained to The Times. Even feminists criticised the journal—Millicent Fawcett tore it up![4] Rebecca’s entry onto the world’s stage was thus tinged with controversy and boundary pushing, both aspects she would encounter throughout her life.

All copies of The Freewoman have been digitized in a brilliant project. See: The Modernist Journals Project (searchable database). Brown and Tulsa Universities, ongoing.

After critically reviewing one of his books, Rebecca met and became the lover of the famous novelist H. G. Wells in 1913. Wells, who was married and already notorious for his extra-marital affairs, was twenty-six West’s senior. Rebecca soon became pregnant, and gave birth to her soon Anthony just before the outbreak of war in 1914. So, not only was Rebecca a feminist with socialist leanings, but she was now an unmarried mother who was having an affair with a married man! Scandalous.

During the First World War, like many journalists, Rebecca wrote positive propaganda pieces on the war effort in order to boost morale. One of these was on cordite workers. Published as part of a series called ‘Hands that War’ for The Daily Chronicle, Rebecca detailed the work of the Gretna Girls in her trademark witty prose.[5] She wrote:


Every morning at six, when the night mist still hangs over the marshes, 250 of these girls are fetched by a light railway from their barracks on a hill two miles away. When I visited the works they had already been at work for nine hours, and would work for three more. This twelve-hour shift is longer than one would wish, but it is not possible to introduce three shifts, since the girls would find an eight-hour day too light and would complain of being debarred from the opportunity of making more money; and it is not so bad as it sounds, for in these airy and isolated huts there is neither the orchestra of rattling machines nor the sense of a confined area crowded with tired people which make the ordinary factory such a fatiguing place. Indeed, these girls, working in teams of six or seven in those clean and tidy rooms, look as if they were practising a neat domestic craft rather than a deadly domestic process.



Rebecca had to wear ‘rubber over shoes’ to enter the factory, because of the danger of explosions. Like Arthur Conan Doyle, who also visited the factory during War, she likened the cordite paste to a food! She said ‘it might turn into very pleasant honey-cakes; an inviting appearance that has brought gastritis to more than one unwise worker.’ This quote made me smile for a number of reasons. Firstly, it implies that some workers actually ate cordite, and were ill because of it. Secondly, The Devil’s Porridge Museum was named after Arthur Conan Doyle’s phrase, could it have easily as been named the Honey-Cake Museum after Rebecca’s?

Above all, Rebecca’s article emphasises the ‘extraordinary’ nature of the work being done and how ‘pretty’ the girls are who are doing it. Rebecca’s emphasis on both the femininity of the workers and their work ethic belies her feminist sympathies—she is refuting the idea that women working strips them of their womanly identities whilst also emphasising their wartime contribution. West also doesn’t shy away from the danger inherent in the work; she describes an accident that happened just days before her visit: ‘Two huts were instantly gutted, and the girls had to walk out through the flame. In spite of the uniform one girl lost a hand.’

The reason why I think Rebecca’s article is so interesting is because it gives us a contemporary glimpse into the lives of munition workers at Gretna, from the mundane (being so tired that they spend the whole day in bed—I can relate) to the extraordinary (‘this cordite factory has been able to increase its output since the beginning of the war by something over 1500%’). The article has Rebecca’s point of view firmly planted on it, but it doesn’t completely depersonalise the Gretna Girls, unlike the many documents and reports written by factory higher ups do. It also shows the inter-connectivity between journalism and wartime propaganda, the importance of munitions production, and the notability of the women who were making munitions. Plus, I still can’t get over Rebecca’s suggestion that some women actually ate cordite!

If you want to learn more about Rebecca’s life, I really recommend the book Rebecca West: The Modern Sibyl by Carl Rollyson.

[1] Marsden, Dora (Ed), The Freewoman, Vol 1, No. 2, 30 November 1911, p. 39. Available:

[2] Marsden, Dora (Ed), The Freewoman, Vol 1, No. 13, 15 February 1912, p. 249. Available:

[3] Marsden, Dora (Ed), The Freewoman, Vol 1, No. 17, 14 March 1912, p. 334. Available: ;

[4] Lorna Gibb, West’s World: The Extraordinary Life of Dame Rebecca West (Pan Macmillan, 2013); Ray Strachey, Millicent Garrett Fawcett (John Murray, 1931), p. 236.

[5] For more on this series, and the discovery of a brand new article recently found in the archives, see: Kielty, D (2017) “Hands That War: In the Midlands”: Rebecca West’s Rediscovered Article on First World War Munitions Workers. Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, 36 (1). pp. 211-217.

Doctor Flora Murray.

LGBTQ+ History Month | Doctor Flora Murray: Suffragette, Doctor and Local Heroine

By Collections blog

LGBTQ+ History Month is celebrate every year in February, and aims to bring awareness to often neglected areas of history through increasing the visibility of queer folk throughout history. 2021’s theme is “Body, Mind, Spirit”, so it’s only right that The Devil’s Porridge Museum that the Devil’s Porridge Museum celebrates a woman local to Gretna.

 Flora Murray was born in 1869 and grew up in Dumfriesshire. She the daughter of a retired naval commander, the fourth of six children, and part of a prominent local family. Flora’s middle-class upbringing allowed her to take advantages of the improvements in girls’ education: she attended schools in both London and Germany.

Flora’s love of learning didn’t end there. In 1890, at the age of 21, she undertook six months training as a nurse probationer at the London Hospital. Deciding on a career in medicine, she then enrolled at the London School of Medicine for Women—the first medical school in Britain to train women doctors. Like many women doctors, Flora then worked in a low-paid and low-status job as a medical assistant in an asylum in Dumfriesshire. Women medical professionals were often never even considered for roles in mainstream hospitals because of the male dominated appointment boards.[1] Flora then completed her education at Durham University, getting her Bachelor of Medicine in 1903 and her Doctor of Medicine in 1905.


Doctor and Suffragette

After graduating Flora worked as a medical officer at the Belgrave Hospital for Children before getting a job as an anaesthetist at the Chelsea Hospital for Women. In 1912, she co-founded, with Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the Women’s Hospital for Children. The hospital’s purpose was to care for the working-class children of the local community, and its motto was “deeds, not words.”—which might give you a slight clue to the two co-founders’ women’s suffrage leanings.

Flora was a committed suffragette. Although she was never arrested or force-fed in prison like many of her suffragette sisters-in-arms, she played a critical role in the militancy of the Women’s Social and Political Union. She treated suffragettes who were force-fed in prison, caring for them until they had recovered. After the Cat-and-Mouse-Act came into force, she was even put under surveillance by Scotland Yard because officers suspected she was helping suffragettes evade recapture.[2] She was also a vocal opponent of force-feeding, arguing that it irretrievably harmed some women’s health.[3]


World War One

The Staff of Flora and Louisa’s WW1 hospital in Paris.

By the outbreak of war in August 1914, Flora was an experienced doctor. But WW1 changed everything. Teaming up with Louisa Garrett Anderson (more on her later!) again, they formed the Women’s Hospital Corps. Knowing that the British Government were not particularly fond of women doctor’s (they’d already told fellow medical woman Elsie Inglis to “go home and sit still” when she approached them about opening a hospital unit), Flora and Louisa instead went to France.[4] There they opened up a hospital in a hotel in Paris. The injuries and illnesses treated during war were world’s away from their pre-1914 work. Flora’s practice went from being mainly focused on women and children to working on men with horrific wounds. Medicine had to adapt and develop quickly. Despite these obstacles, Flora and Louisa’s hospital was such a success with patients that by 1915 they were invited by the British Government to run a large hospital in London. During the war, the Endell Street Military Hospital, which was often referred to as the ‘Suffragette Hospital’, treated almost 50,000 soldiers.[5]

Flora working at Endell Street Military Hospital

Gay Icons: Flora Murray and Louisa Garrett Anderson

Louisa has been mentioned frequently in this blog so far, because she worked closely with Flora over many years. Louisa was also a doctor, and came from a VERY prominent family. Her mother was Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first woman to qualify as a physician in Britain, and her aunt was Millicent Fawcett, the leader of the constitutional suffragists. The two women shared many interests—feminism, medicine and a commitment to the suffragettes—Louisa had even spent time in prison for the cause!

Flora and Louisa after receiving CBEs in 1917.

But not only were the two partners-in-work, they were also partners-in-love. Much has been written about the invisibility of lesbians in history, and many historians have commented on the blurred lines between close friendship and women who love women.[6] However, in the case of Flora Murray and Louisa Garrett Anderson, I believe they were clearly romantic partners. Here’s my evidence:

  1. Flora had past relationships with women. She’d lived with Dr Elsie Inglis in Scotland for many years and Rebecca Jennings posits that they were in a relationship.[7]

  2. Flora dedicated her book, Women as Army Surgeons, to Louisa. It read: ‘To Louisa Garrett Anderson | Bold, Cautious, True and my Loving Companion.’ If that isn’t a declaration of love, I don’t know what is.

  3. Flora referred to Louisa as “my loving comrade” and Louisa told her sister-in-law that the women hated being apart.[8]

  4. They also wore matching diamond rings![9]

  5. Finally, the two women even share a grave with the words “we have been gloriously happy” written upon it.


Flora’s Gretna Connection

So now we’ve learnt all about Flora’s incredible war-work and her loving relationship with Louisa, how was she connected to H.M. Factory Gretna? Well, apart from being a local girl, Flora also paid a visit to the Factory in 1918. Her brother, Major Murray, was standing as a parliamentary candidate for Dumfriesshire, and Flora addressed meetings of women electors to express her sister-ly support.

We’re very proud of Flora’s connection to H.M Factory Gretna and we’re also proud to celebrate her the LGBTQ+ History Month!

For more information on Flora and her WW1 work, I really recommend Wendy Moore’s book Endell Street: The Women Who Ran Britain’s Trailblazing Military Hospital.


[1] Wendy Moore, Endell Street: The Women Who Ran Britain’s Trailblazing Military Hospital (Atlantic Books, 2020) p. 13.

[2] The 1913 Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health) Act, more commonly known as the Cat and Mouse Act, was a piece of legislation that allowed for the early release of hunger striking prisoners who were ill, and also allowed for their recall to prison once they’d recovered. Wendy Moore, Endell Street: The Women Who Ran Britain’s Trailblazing Military Hospital (Atlantic Books, 2020) p. 24.

[3] Cowman, Krista, Women of the Right Spirit: Paid Organisers of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) 1904-18 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007), p. 178.

[4] Read more about Elsie Inglis’ wartime experiences in Eileen Crofton’s The Women of Royaumont A Scottish Women’s Hospital on the Western Front, (Birlinn, 1999)

[5] Geddes, Jennian F. “Deeds and words in the suffrage military hospital in Endell Street.” Medical history vol. 51,1 (2007): 79-98.

[6] See Sharon Marcus, Between Women Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England, (Princeton University Press, 2009) and Martha Vicinus, Intimate Friends Women Who Loved Women, 1778-1928, (Chicago University Press, 2004).

[7] See Rebecca Jennings, A Lesbian History of Britain: Love and Sex Between Women Since 1500, (Greenwood World Publishing, 2007)

[8] Wendy Moore, Endell Street: The Women Who Ran Britain’s Trailblazing Military Hospital (Atlantic Books, 2020) p. 27.

[9] Wendy Moore, Endell Street: The Women Who Ran Britain’s Trailblazing Military Hospital (Atlantic Books, 2020) p. 27.

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

A selection of items on display in The Devil's Porridge Museum's 1940s house.

Housewife Magazine

By Collections blog

While the Ground Floor of the Museum looks at HM Factory Gretna in World War One, our First Floor galleries consider the impact of conflict on our local area from 1939 onwards.  Many (but not all) of these displays look at the life of women and children in the War including a look at evacuees, life on the Home Front and work done by women in munitions and organisations such as the ATS.

We have many objects in our Museum object store which relate to these topics such as a collection of Housewife Magazine from World War Two.   Despite the old fashioned title and imagery, these images have a certain nostalgia charm.

Some of the adverts from within the magazine are also of interest and give one an insight into life during the Second World War.

Come and visit us when it is safe to do so!  Here is a photo of a visitor enjoying a look at our 1940s kitchen.

If you’d like to know more about World War Two in our region, the following book may be of interest:

The Solway Military Coast book

VE Day Memories

By News

The Devil’s Porridge Museum joined in the nation’s commemorations of the 75th anniversary of VE Day on Friday.  This event (which we participated in digitally) has brought forward some more memories and photos which we wanted to share with you.

The photograph below shows Ettie Wilsenham celebrating VE Day on Friday at her home in Eastriggs (the windows have been covered with red, white and blue fabric in place of a British flag which they weren’t able to source during lockdown).

Ettie was working in Eastriggs depot when the War ended, she actually took the call from the Brigadier and did a great job going round all the magazines to break the news to everyone that the War was over.

People working in the ammunition storage depot during World War Two.

Ettie has a lot of connections to the Museum: she was once one of our volunteers and she features in our display about the Eastriggs depot.  The story of her marriage also featured in our ‘Love in Wartime’ exhibition as recounted below.

Ettie joined the war effort aged 16 when she secured a job in Eastriggs Depot in 1942. While she was there, she met Arthur who was a soldier in the Ordnance Corps, assigned to guard the Grade 4 stores.

“Every so often when I was working at those stores, Arthur would slip me a bar of chocolate. What with the rationing and chocolate being so scarce, I was won over! We married in 1945 [on June 7th] after the war with Germany was ended.”

Thanks so much to Ettie and Ann for sharing this account and to Dot for organising for it to be shared with the Museum.

If you would like to know more about World War Two in this region, the following book from our online shop may be of interest to you:

The Solway Military Coast book




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