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Munitions Factories

H.M. Factory, Gretna was the United Kingdom's largest cordite factory in World War I. The government-owned facility was adjacent to the Solway Firth, near Gretna, Dumfries and Galloway. It was built by the Ministry of Munitions in response to the Shell Crisis of 1915.

The factory at Gretna stretched 9 miles (14 km) from Mossband near Longtown in the east, to Dornock / Eastriggs in the west straddling the Scottish-English border. The facility consisted of four large production sites and two purpose-built townships. The facility had its own independent transport network, power source, and water supply system.

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Explosion at the Royal Naval Armaments Depot, Broughton Moor (known locally as the Broughton Moor Dump)



On 18 January 1944, a huge explosion occurred at the Royal Naval Armaments Depot, Broughton Moor, resulting in the tragic death of eleven people and injury to another seventy. It was believed that the most likely cause of the explosion was a sensitive fuse in a naval mortar bomb, leading to the detonation of 72 pounds of high explosive in the laboratory and 1,296 pounds of high explosive in a nearby railway truck.

The laboratory with it’s six foot thick concrete walls was severely damaged. Wartime restrictions on reporting meant that the detail of the tragedy was not made public at the time, but the Depot employed many people with local connections.

Local memories

Maggie McKeown, was Costin, my Grandma, worked at the Naval armaments storage facility RNAD, 'The Dumps' at Broughton Moor during the war. I am not sure what she did there but probably like a lot of other women loaded magazines with Shells/Bombs to be used in the war effort. There was an accident at "The Dumps" at Broughton Moor on 18th January 1944 when a truck exploited. In the accident 11 workers were killed and 70 workers were injured. One of those killed was a friend of Kathy Nixon was Gibson, my Auntie from Dearham. Kathy Gibson's friend Jane Lister also from Dearham was probably the youngest worker killed in the accident probably about 16 or 18 years old. The blast was felt for miles around my auntie said that the house in Dearham shook. I believe there is a lake and a white cross in the grounds of 'The Dumps' to mark where the accident happened and as a memorial to those that lost their lives.

Gwen Birkett from Maryport

Mary Cain (later McElwee)

When she left school at 14, Mary Cain went into her ideal job, working in a record shop in Newcastle upon Tyne city centre. But four days before her 14th birthday in 1939, war had been declared, and when she was old enough for war work, she had little option but to leave the shop.

In Lemington Glassworks she had a job making moulds. Then she moved to Vickers Armstrong’s munitions factory closer to her home in Scotswood. There she inspected timers for bombs, to ensure they would work correctly. 

She worked day shift, five, sometimes six, days a week and made some lifelong friends. They loved ‘Workers’ Playtime’ radio programme played over the factory tannoy (public address system).

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Many nights her sleep would be broken by Luftwaffe raids looking for armament factories and ship building yards, and she and her family – mother, grandfather and sisters – had to go into the communal air raid shelter with the search lights flashing across the sky and the anti-aircraft guns’ frightening stutter. Then up and out for another day’s work in the factory, for over three years.

Mary Cain (later McElwee) story by Janet McElwee, Birkby

Mabel Hedley (later McElwee)

Mabel wanted to move away from her family home in Gateshead and help the war effort in World War I. So she altered her birth certificate to make her appear to be 18. She went into a munitions (National Filling Factory) factory in Morecambe and became a ‘Canary Girl’. The TNT explosive they packed into shells made their skin turn yellow. She worked shifts. 64% of the workers at this factory were women.

At 10.30pm on 1st October 1917 she was off duty, and asleep in bed in her lodgings. There was a huge explosion at the factory. Ten people (mainly firemen) were killed and the factory was almost completely destroyed. It never went back into production and Mabel went back home to Tyneside. 


In 1920 she married her childhood sweetheart who returned from trench warfare in 1919.

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Mabel Hedley (later McElwee) story by Janet McElwee, Birkby

Connie Vaughn's Story (nee Rumney)


Connie Rumney – was born in 1926 and lived in Aspatria with her seven siblings.  She left school at the age of 14 years and found her first job in an ammunitions factory.

To try and stop the boredom of twelve hour shifts with every day being the same; Connie and the other girls in the packing department would put their names and addresses in the boxes (it was a risk they were prepared to take, as they could get into a lot of trouble for this simple act).  With the hope that maybe a soldier would write to them and become a pen pal; and later on, if all went well; they may even meet up.

The completed ammunition boxes would be sent all over the world – wherever the theatre of war was.  One of Connie’s pen pals was a black soldier, however, we don’t know whether he was British or American, but they wrote to each other until the end of the war.

Connie continued to work until she met her future husband John Vaughn, who was on leave from the army.

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They met at a dance in the Masonic Hall in Aspatria, and they married in 1947.  They had a family of four children.


Written by Margret Walby and Doreen Hilton

(Daughters of Connie Vaughn)

CAD Longtown

In the 1930’s, with the increasing likelihood of an impending war with Germany, Britain finally began to re-arm herself. As part of this process, new Central Ammunition Depots were required to keep all of the bombs and bullets safe and away from possible attack. Longtown was chosen as the site for the most northern of these stores. The site at Longtown was ideal as it had been part of HM factory Gretna during the First World War.


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