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Thursday, 17 July 2008

The Devil's Porridge - The Conan Doyle and Suffragette Connection.

The Devil's Porridge

The History of Scotland goes back a long way, but here we look at more recent times.

The year is 1915. The First World War is going very badly for Britain. There is a huge number of casualties, caused mainly by a lack of guns and ammunition. This caused unrest in the British Public, and it was necessary to do something really drastic, otherwise our country would lose the war with Germany.
So it was decided to commandeer land on the Solway Coast, stretching for 9 miles and 2 miles in width.




Why choose The Solway Coast?

The reasons were both to do with geography and transport links.
Firstly, the area was outwith the range of the Zeppelins and German bombers, and it was protected by Mountains to the North, East, and South.

Secondly it was served by extremely good north/south road and rail links.

What was the land commandeered for?

Britain was going to build the largest Munitions Factory the world has ever seen!

Architects were brought in to design two new towns, Gretna and Eastriggs, to house the workforce. They were designed on the same model as Welwyn Garden City with picturesque tree-lined streets and avenues. At first the houses were built of wood, but as supplies of timber ran out, they were later to be built of brick. Hostels were provided for the bulk of the workforce, and could go up in as little as a day! There was also churches, a dancehall, pubs and a cinema, as well as shops, admin offices.



Reconstruction of a worker's bedroom.

Who was going to do the building with most of the men away at War?

This was the job of Irish navvies, in the main, who came over to Scotland. It took 30,00 workers to build the factory and the two towns, which were ready for use by 1916.

Who was going to provide the workforce?

Women! But as this was a rural area where would the workforce come from? The answer is that they came from all countries of the British Empire (as it was known at that time).

How large was the workforce?

20,000 women worked there! Now one can imagine this was an added incentive for the Irish Navvies! and I am told there was many a wedding resulted from this project. There was also a good amount of brawling as a result of what was being consumed in the pubs! But despite the distractions, the job got done.

Why did they need 9 miles x 2 miles for the factory?

Between each section of the factory, they had to build a mound of earth to separate the buildings, because if one exploded the mound would prevent the others from following suit in a chain explosion.


Mounds between each section of the factory.

How did they make the ammunition?

The basic ingredient was COTTON. It arrived from the USA in huge bales. This was then mixed with nitroglycerine, and acid. This mixture was so volatile that the women were not allowed to wear any metal object e.g buttons, as this could trigger an explosion. (There were explosions -over 300 women died in munitions factories in UK) Upon arrival for work each women would be searched for metal, and if any was discovered the girl would be fined.

The girls would turn the mixture into long cords of explosive material which would be cut to fit the Guns on the Front Line in France. The name CORDITE comes from here.



Cotton was the basic ingredient



The atmosphere was not a healthy one compared to today's standards, with many of the women suffering health problems in later life.

What is the Connection with Arthur Conan Doyle and the Suffragette Movement?
In his role as a war correspondent, he visited the factory, and marvelled at the effort, writing about the girls stirring their "Devil's Porridge" (thus the phrase was coined)

In those days, women were very much subjugated, and because of Conan Doyle's glowing reports on their war efforts, opinions towards women changed and they eventually got the vote.

All of this huge enterprise was only in use for 3 YEARS with the War ending in 1918.

The buildings were either pulled down or sold at a knockdown price as housing. Gretna and Eastriggs remain to this day, in Scotland, with their distinctive English-designed houses.

The workforce dispersed to their own countries, but their efforts will always be venerated in this small rural part of Scotland, for without them, the outcome of the First World war would have
been very different.



Souvenirs made for the women to take home with them

Hats they wore at work

2 comments:

The cup is half full of something I don't like said...

Fasinating bit of history. I grew up in a town that WWII built. (where the nuclear material was build). Most of that history was lost as the town grew so quickly people didn't stop to remember.

wowcthis said...

I am sure there will be people in your home town who still do remember. Maybe they could do something about it just like the local people have done here.