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Monday, 22 August 2016

Devil’s Porridge & Gretna Munitions Factory

Illustration of part of Gretna Munitions Factory snapped at the Devil's Porridge Museum, Eastriggs
I’ve set my new murder mystery book, Devil’s Porridge, in Gretna and I thought you might want to know a little about the munitions factory where two of the murders (fictional) take place.
In August 1916, 100 years ago this month, H.M. Factory, Gretna, Britain’s largest First World War cordite producing factory, became fully operational. It was a highly secret facility, codenamed Moorside, situated in a remote area which, it was thought, would prove difficult for German planes and Zeppelins to reach.
The site chosen for Gretna Munitions Factory was a large, sparsely populated, green field area, on the shores of the Solway Firth. The land was acquired by the Ministry of Munitions at the start of the First World War, and various farms situated there were taken over by compulsory purchase orders.
The first surveys of the site were completed in early 1915. Construction work commenced in August 1915, with work going on around the clock. Several thousand Irish navvies were drafted in as construction workers, 600 rail trucks loaded with building materials arrived daily, and there were approximately 30,000 people working on the site at any one time. Production in some areas started in June 1916, and the factory became fully operational in August 1916, producing over 800 tons of ammunition each week. The women and girls responsible for producing this ammunition were nicknamed munitionettes by the newspapers.
The factory was two miles wide and over nine miles in length, beginning at Dornock/Eastriggs in Scotland, and following the coast of the Solway Estuary to Mossband near Longtown, in England. It had 30 miles of road, 125 miles of railway track, 34 railway engines, 100 miles of water main, a water treatment plant handling 10 million gallons of water every day, a power station, a telephone exchange, bakeries producing 13,000 loaves and 14,000 meals daily, and a laundry for approximately 6,000 items on a daily basis.
There were thirty Paste Mixing Houses – six to each nitroglycerine section – where nitroglycerine and guncotton were mixed together into cordite paste at the Dornock end of the factory. To make the paste, the munitionettes kneaded the guncotton and nitroglycerine together with their bare hands in large lead tubs, the result resembled dough or thick porridge, and earned the name Devil’s Porridge. The end product, the paste, was then transferred to the Mossband area to make into cordite, a propellant which had been in short supply prior to the construction of Gretna Munitions factory.

The factory was self-sufficient with its own water mains, steam boilers, a hydraulic plant, a refrigerating plant, a power house for generating electricity, and a railway system within the site which also connected up with the main North British and Caledonian Railways. In addition, two new towns, Gretna and Eastriggs, were built. I will talk about them in my next blog post.
Most of the action in my new book Devil’s Porridge, takes place in Gretna township, one of the new towns built to service the factory workers, and in a mixing station at the Eastriggs end of the site, hence the name, Devil’s Porridge. I have incorporated munitionettes, Irish navvies, the women police who patrolled the factory, and I’ve thrown in a German spy for good measure. Naturally the sabotage, assassination, and murder elements of the plot are solely fictional, but quite a lot of factual information has been woven in, and I hope you won’t see the join between fact and fiction.
My next post will cover the two new townships, Gretna and Eastriggs. Following that I will do a post covering the involvement of the newly formed Women’s Police Service, and the ‘lady police’, at Gretna Munitions Factory.

Chris Longmuir
You can buy Devil’s Porridge here:

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