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Saturday, 10 September 2016

The Devils Porridge - CORDITE at Gretna Green:

Cordite was colloquially known as the "Devil's Porridge" - the name comes from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who wrote in 1917: "The nitroglycerin on the one side and the gun-cotton on the other are kneaded into a sort of a devil's porridge".

 - In 1917 - when wartime emergency production had reached 800 tons per week - King George V and Queen Mary visited H.M. Factory at Gretna.

This explosives manufacturing site stretches 19 km and straddles the borders of Scotland & England - and was developed in 1915 as a wartime emergency measure - to relieve an acute shortage of ordnance - that came close to loosing the war for the British side. The establishment was serviced by 34 engines on 125 miles of it's own Military Narrow Gauge railway tracks  - its own coal powered electricity power station, and a dedicated water reservoir that was filled by a 42 inch pipe pumped from the River Esk.

- I'm guessing that not many people have heard of this extensive explosives / ammunition site near the famous elopement wedding village of Gretna Green. - I only learnt of it recently when watching a BBC 4 program celebrating British train journeys & stations  - A travel series that was presented by a smug ex-Transport Minister of Thatchers right-wing regime - one "Michael PortaLoo" (Portillo) - who's government presided over the closure of 2,000 stations and one third of the rail network !


Quanset Hut Behind Blast-Walls

At this huge munitions plant - established hurriedly in 1916 - women used to hand-mix gun-cotton into liquid nitroglycerin to make a double-base explosive - and their hair would turn orange from the chemical effects. - Some even gave birth to 'Canary Babies'  - babies born having a striking yellow skin that eventually changed to a more normal hue.


Hand Mixing 'Gun Cotton' into Nitroglycerin

There were 4 main sites there at Gretna - and in 2005, the British Government announced it planned to close all the remaining sites that now comprise CAD Longtown by mid-2009 - but that decision was later clarified to mean only the NON-explosive aspects of these facilities would close.

Back in 1917 the Gretna MoD Factory had 11,576 women workers and 5,066 men - it is understood that currently the complex is used mainly for the storage of explosive munitions & ordnance and was called 'Central Ammunition Depot' Longtown and then 'Base Ammunition Depot' Longtown.

- Earlier, in January, this year they were advertising the sale of 25 (that leaves 100) miles of narrow gauge railway tracks from one area - Eastriggs
  • "25 miles of 2ft 35lb per yard narrow gauge railway line to include: 250 Turnouts (90% of line is with new steel sleepers, 10% is wood)  Installed between 1990-2007."
Cordite is classed as a Low Explosive  Propellant and originally comprised a mix of 58% nitro-glycerin by weight, 37% gun-cotton (nitrocellulose) and 5% petroleum jelly. - Using acetone as a solvent, it was extruded as spaghetti-like rods initially called "cord powder" or "Ballistite".
Cordite.
Marty K.