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The Miracle Workers Research Project at The Devil’s Porridge Museum by Laura Noakes

The Devil’s Porridge Museum in Eastriggs commemorates the story of H.M. Factory Gretna, a munitions factory which produced cordite in World War One. 30,000 people came from all over the UK and beyond to work at the factory, and a large proportion of these workers—12,000 in total—were women. Many of these women were young, single and working-class, and living and working away from home for the very first time. They were the ‘Miracle Workers’—involved in the process of making must needed munitions for the front.

Over one hundred years later, we only know the names and stories of a few hundred of these workers. The Devil’s Porridge Museum have recently embarked on an ambitious new project called ‘The Miracle Workers Research Project’, which aims to find out more about the 30,000 individuals involved H.M. Factory Gretna during the war.

Remote and in-person volunteers are using digitized resources from The Devil’s Porridge Museum’s archives alongside online historical research tools to uncover the stories of the people of H.M. Factory Gretna during the War. So far, volunteers have uncovered fascinating insights about the Mossband Swifts, the women’s football team at the factory, as well as finding adverts for jobs at the factory posted in local newspapers. Our volunteers range from 14 – 80 years old, some are local to Eastriggs and others have never visited the museum but all share in common an interest in historical research.

The Miracle Workers volunteers will share their findings via blogs, podcasts and The Devil’s Porridge Museum’s social media account. They will also upload biographies of the more notable individuals connected with Gretna onto Wikipedia, one of the world’s most widely read websites. However, Wikipedia has a gender gap—most biographical archives are written about men, and by men. We want this project to go some way to addressing this gap, by uploading accounts of notable women who worked at Gretna. Our volunteers will learn new digital skills in the writing of these Wikipedia entries.

So far, one of our discoveries has been the incredible life of Maud Bruce. Maud was a forewoman at Gretna and heroically helped to extinguish two fires at the factory. For her work, she was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1917.

This ambitious project will culminate in an exhibition and film showcasing the outcomes of our volunteer’s research and the stories they’ve uncovered. This project will not only raise awareness of the work of The Devil’s Porridge Museum and engage volunteers from the local community and all over the world in historical research, it will also further our understanding of munitions production and workers during World War One.

Laura Noakes is the Research Assistant at The Devil’s Porridge Museum in Eastriggs. She has just finished writing up her PhD on two early women barristers and suffrage activists, Chrystal Macmillan and Elsie Bowerman.

Images: Munitions workers with gun cotton at HM Factory Gretna; Advert for an experienced cook in the Dumfries and Galloway Standard, 24th May 1916, p. 1.; and Maud Bruce’s Wikipedia page.

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