Sunday, January 22, 2017

Wartime events in Gretna and Gretna Green

1. The Old Blacksmith's Shop, Gretna Green
The traditional place for runaway weddings
(Now housing the Gretna Green exhibition centre))
2. The Devil's Porridge Museum, Eastriggs near Gretna
(Where the "Devil's Porridge" was made in WW1)
3. WW1 Quintinshill rail disaster memorial
Remembering a wartime tragedy with 227 deaths
214 soldiers and 13 others died here on 22 May 1915
(Located in the grounds of the Gretna Green visitors centre)

4. Gretna War Memorial Cross
Remembering local service personnel of WW1 and WW2
(Located near Gretna Old Parish Church)
5. WW2 Masonic Hall bombing memorial
Gretna was bombed on 7 April 1941
This remembers the 28 people who lost their lives
(Located in the Episcopal church grounds)
For additional information click on 'Comments' below. 


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...


Gretna and nearby Gretna Green are in southern Dumfriesshire (now Dumfries and Galloway), Scotland close to the land border to the south with Cumberland, England. In the past, because of a number of differing taxation and laws that applied in England and Scotland there was a customs post at Gretna until the Parliaments of England and Scotland merged united in 1707 by the Act of Union. Since the mid-18th Century Gretna Green has become known throughout the world as a place of love, romance and marriage especially until the Second World War as the place for runaway couples to be legally married by an "anvil priest" at the Old Blacksmith's Shop.

During the First World War Gretna became the centre of a large armaments production and the construction of industrial and residential buildings to meet this wartime need. Largely because of the armaments factory being established at Gretna, licensing laws for the production, distribution and sale of alcoholic drinks were introduced during the latter part of the 1914 - 1918 war. The primary reason for restricting the sale of alcohol was to combat the effects of excessive drunkenness among the armament workers.

There are two significant wartime tragedies that occurred in Gretna's civil parish area. Both involved a significant loss of life. The first was the Quintinshill rail tragedy of 1915, during the First World War with over 200 deaths, most of whom were soldiers. In the Second World War the second tragedy was the bombing of Gretna by German aircraft in 1941. A direct hit on the Masonic Hall caused 28 deaths.

At Gretna Green a museum, exhibition centre and other buildings have been developed around the Old Blacksmith's Shop telling of the area's history, especially as the world-famous centre for runaway marriages [Photograph No. 1]. At Eastriggs near Gretna is another modern museum, "The Devil's Porridge Museum" [Photograph No. 2]. This museum tells the story of the armaments complex with Gretna at its centre during the First World War.

There are several war memorials in and around Gretna remembering the wartime loss of life from this area. In the grounds of Gretna Green's famous Blacksmith Shop is a memorial cairn remembering those killed in the Quintinshill rail disaster of 22 May 1915 [Photograph No. 3]. The local service casualties from Gretna in the two World Wars are listed on a Memorial Cross near Gretna Old Church [Photograph No. 4]. Those who died as a result of the enemy bombing of Gretna in April 1941 are commemorated by a memorial cairn in the grounds of Gretna's Episcopal church [Photograph No. 5]. Although the names of the victims are not listed on the memorial seen in this photograph, a framed memorial found inside the church records those who died.

Sunday, 22 January, 2017  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

The Gretna Green wedding story

Because of its geographical location as the first settlement reached on the western road into Scotland from England, after 1753 Gretna and especially Gretna Green became synonymous throughout the world as the centre for runaway marriages. In that year, Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act was passed in the U.K. Parliament and applied in England and Wales but not in Scotland. Under this Act, if a couple wished to marry and one of them was under the age of 21, parental consent was required. Meanwhile, in Scotland, initially it remained possible for boys to marry without parental consent at the age of 14 and for girls at the age of 12. It was also possible for a couple to be legally married by making a declaration in front of two witnesses and anyone could conduct the marriage ceremony. Later, the age of consent was changed to 16 for both groom and bride.

This was the basis for eloping English couples heading for Gretna Green. The marriage ceremonies were often conducted by so-called "anvil priests", at the blacksmiths. Over time, the local blacksmith and the anvil became the symbols of Gretna Green marriages.

Although the law regarding qualifications for an 'irregular' marriage kept changing over time, it was only on the eve of the Second World War, that two of the three means of having an "irregular" marriage were effectively abolished. In particular, from 1940 onward a marriage ceremony performed by one of Gretna Green's "anvil priests" was no longer legal and binding as had previously been the case. The last of Gretna's "anvil priests" was Mr Richard Rennison who lived in the cottage attached to the Old Blacksmith's Shop. Between 1926 and the change in the law in 1940 Mr Rennison had conducted 5,147 marriages, all of which were recorded in a marriage register. Richard Rennison continued to work in the Old Blacksmith's Shop until his retirement in 1962 and continued to do 'mock' weddings along the lines of what he hd been doing prior to 1940.

Despite the change to the law in 1940, Gretna Green has remained a place where many couples come to get married. Some will arrange a wedding at one of the churches, others in the registry office while some will book a registrar to do a wedding at a registered hotel. The newly-married couple will also often also arrange a mock wedding at the Old Blacksmith's Shop, complete with a piper playing the bagpipes and the "anvil priest" declaring couple married over the famous Gretna anvil. In the modern era, Gretna Green also has a modern exhibition centre, museum and complex of shops and recreational facilities telling its story from 1753 onward [seen in photograph No. 1].

Sunday, 22 January, 2017  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Gretna's Cordite factory complex of WW1

In 1915, in the second year of the First World War, there was a shell crisis on the Western Front. Quite simply, the stock of shells for the artillery was close to being depleted. This became widely known and was reported in the British press creating a political crisis.

In May 1915 a new coalition government was formed in Britain and David Lloyd George appointed as Minister of Munitions. One of the key initiatives to resolve the shell crisis was the building of H.M. Munitions Factory, Gretna which centred on Gretna but straddled both sides of the Scotland/England border and covered a length of about twelve miles (nineteen kilometres) and a width of about two miles (three kilometres). The factory site was from Dornock and Eastriggs, west of Gretna to Mossband near Longtown in Cumberland (England).

Construction work of the new factory involved bringing in up to 30,000 navvies and additional accommodation especially at Gretna and Eastriggs. Munitions production began as early as April 1916, with a workforce of approximately 16,000 of which about two thirds (11,576) were women. The product was Cordite RDP, known colloquially as "The Devils's Porridge". This name was given to it by none other than the author Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle who toured the factory in November 1916:
"The nitroglycerin on the one side and the gun-cotton on the other are kneaded into a sort of a devil's porridge".

Although most of the WW1 factory site was sold off after the war parts of it were retained by the War Department (later Ministry of Defence, M.O.D.) notably C.A.D. Eastriggs and C.A.D. Longtown, the latter being in Cumberland, England. At the time of writing, part of C.A.D. Longtown is still maintained by the M.O.D. At Eastriggs thee modern "Devil's Porridge" museum tells the story of the Cordite factory and the Quintinshill rail disaster of 1915 [Photograph No. 2].

Sunday, 22 January, 2017  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

The Quintinshill Rail Disaster of 1915

Gretna also has the misfortune to be the site of Britain's worst-ever rail disaster: the Quintinshill rail tragedy of 22 May 1915 which happened near Gretna junction. It involved 5 trains, and it is believed that 227 people were killed and 246 seriously injured. There has been some debate as to the exact death toll because many of the bodies were cremated in the resultant fire that engulfed all 5 trains and there may have been up to 4 unidentified children who died that were not counted in the final 'official' death toll.

The crash site at Quintinshill is about half a mile (eight hundred metres) from the exhibition centre at Gretna Green. A memorial cairn for those who died in this rail disaster, erected by the Western Front Association, can be seen in the grounds of the Gretna Green Story Exhibition [Photograph No. 3]. According to the tablet on the top of this cairn, the death toll included 214 soldiers and 13 others (railwaymen and passengers).

All the soldiers were buried in a mass grave in Rosebank Cemetery, Edinburgh. They were Territorials from the Royal Scots regiment and were being transported to take part in the Gallipoli campaign. The mass burial lasted more than three hours.

Sunday, 22 January, 2017  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Gretna War Memorial Cross

As with almost every community whose members were involved in the World Wars, Gretna has its own war memorial, in the form of a cross, which can be found near Gretna Old Parish church [Photograph No. 4]. There is also a memorial listing the names inside the nearby Gretna Old Church.

The following inscription is written on the front of the war memorial cross:
"To the Glory of God and to the memory of the men of Gretna Parish who gave up their lives in the Great War 1914 - 1919 and of 1939 - 1945".

The 37 names of those who died in the First World War are on the main body of the memorial with the 27 Second World War names listed on the base. Not all those listed are commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the victims of the German bombing of Gretna in 1941 are remembered elsewhere.

Sunday, 22 January, 2017  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

This is the list of names of those who died in the 1914 - 1918 war on the memorial cross:
1. Private Robert ANDERSON, Canadian Scotish
2. Private Thomas W. BEATTIE, D.L.I
3. Lance Corporal David G. BELL, KOSB
4. Coporal Robert BIRNIE, R.E
5. Private Joseph BLACKLOCK, CEF
6. Lance Corporal Joseph BURNETT, A&S Hrs
7. Sergeant James CARLYLE, KOSB
8. Private William COUPLAND, RIF
9. Private Ames DAVIDSON, Scots Guards
10. Private Ninian W. DAVIS, RASC
11. Private John G. DICKSON, Cameronians
12. Private James ELLIOT, Kings Liverpool
13. Private Harold FELL, Royal Fusiliers
14. Private Christopher GRAHAM, KOSB
15. Private William HENRY, RSF
16. Private George JOHNSTONE, Canadian Scotish
17. Private Herbert J. LAVERS, Loyal North Lancs
18. Private James LUCAS. KOSB
19. Trooper Andrew MACKIE, Scottish Horse
20. Private John MAXWELL, Scots Guards
21. Private Samuel McCARL, Border Regt
22. Private William McCARL, KOSB
23. Stoker George I. McKAY, RN
24. Private William R. McKAY, RSF
25. Private Edward McMURRAY, Royal Scots
26. Private Peter MERRICK, Rifle Brigade
27. Private James H. MURRAY, HLI
28. Private Cecil H. O'DELL, Lancashire Fus.
29. Private Frederick G. O'DELL, Royal Fusiliers
30. Private John PHILLIPS, KOSB
31. Private James PHILLIPS, Border Regt
32. Private John ROME, MGC
33. 2nd Lieutenant Ken J. STAFFORD M.C., RFA
34. Private David STEVENSON, KOSB
35. Lance Corporal William TELFORD, HLI
36. Private James THOMPSON, KOSB
37. Private Robert WOOD, RSF

Sunday, 22 January, 2017  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

This is the list of names on the war memorial cross who died in the 1939 - 1945 war:
1. Sergeant John K. ALLAN, R.A.F.
2. Corporal Lamont C. BETNEY, K.O.S.B.
4. Gunner Robert BRADLEY, R.A.
5. Private John BROWN, R.A.C. (Royal Dragoons)
6. Corporal John A. BRYDEN, Scots Guards
7. Leading Writer John CARRUTHERS, R.N.
8. 2nd Radio Officer James Cartner, M.N.
9. Private John R. CARTNER, D.L.I. (Signals)
10. Able Seaman Clarence CONLEY, R.N.
11. Q.M.S. Leslie FISHER, R.A.S.C.
12. Able Seman Alex GRAHAM, R.N.
13. Lt. Andrew GRAHAM, R.N.
14. Driver William GRAHAM, R.A.S.C.
15. Stoker Christopher JOHNSTONE, R.N.
16. Private Walter JOHNSTONE, K.O.S.B.
17. Corporal William KENNEDY, K.O.S.B.
18. Private John V. KERR, Royal Signals
19. Sergeant James K. MITCHELL, R.A.F.V.R.
20. Private Edward T. MUIR, R.A.S.C.
21. Cook Myles McINNES, R.N.P.S.
22. Trooper Sinclair R. NEALE, R.A.C. (1st Derbyshire Yeomanry)
23. Captain Joseph NICHOLSON, M.N.
24. Sapper John PHILLIPSON, R.E.
25. Flight Sergeant William POWELL, R.A.F.
26. Sergeant Thomas B. RAE, K.O.S.B.
27. Private Leonard WHITE, K.O.S.B.

Sunday, 22 January, 2017  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

The German bombing of Gretna (7 April 1941)

On the night of 7 April 1941 a German bomber aircraft bombed Gretna with a significant number of casualties. It has been suggested that a car light inadvertently allowed the German aircrew to identify a settlement and therefore contributed to the ensuing tragedy. A direct hit on Gretna's Masonic Hall accounted for most of the deaths although some died of their injuries up to a few days after the bombing. On the same night there was a joint meeting of Masons from both sides of the Scotland / England border.

Partly due to the different way casualties who lost their lives on the 'home front' due to enemy action were recorded for commemoration purposes, previous accounts of the bombing at Gretna on 7 April 1941 give a differing number of deaths. The numbers that tend to be quoted vary between 22 and 28. In reality there were 28 deaths due to the enemy bombing. There is a memorial and. Three of those killed, Stephen Gwyer, William Ross and Arthur Shelley, were members of the Armed Forces at the time they were killed so the CWGC commemorates them in a different way to civilians.

Three of the civilian casualties died after being taken to the Cumberland Infirmary across the Scotland / England border at Carlisle. Consequently, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission lists these deaths for Cumberland in England rather than Dumfriesshire in Scotland. Another of the civilian deaths, that of 14-year old domestic Helen Graham, was at her nearby home and not at the Masonic Hall where there were most deaths on the night of the bombing. Conversely, some of the civilians who died actually lived in nearby Carlisle but because they died in Dumfriesshire, the CWGC lists their deaths for the Scottish county where they died rather than their home county.

A complete list of all 28 people who died due to the bombing at Gretna on 7 April 1941 can be found on a framed memorial inside Gretna's episcopal church. A stone memorial to their memory can also be found in the church grounds [Photograph No. 5] although this does not include a list of those who died.

Sunday, 22 January, 2017  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

List of those who died due to the German bombing of Gretna

These are the details of those who died because of the enemy bombing at Gretna on 7 April 1941, including those who died later in hospital:

1. Thomas Coombes BEATTIE, aged 60, lithographer of Gretna
2. John BELL. aged 59, provision agent of Carlisle
3. Robert BELL, aged 46, railway clerk of Annan
4. John BROATCH, aged 32, blacksmith of Annan
5. Stanley BURNS, aged 38, draughtsman of Annan
6. Stanley CARLYLE, aged 38, boiler maker and A.R.P. warden of Annan
7. William COCHRANE, aged 25, railway surfaceman of Gretna Green
8. James Morton CONNOLLY, aged 53, railway engine driver of Dumfries
9. Hugh CRAWFORD, aged 59, railway cashier of Dumfries
10. Reuben GOURLEY, aged 37, electrical engineer and Home Guard of Carlisle
11. Helen GRAHAM, aged 14, domestic servant of Gretna
12. Stephen Harold GWYER, aged 42, Chief Petty Officer, Royal Navy of Dumfries
13. Peter Charles HENDERSON, aged 62, boot shop manager of Annan
14. Frederick HORSBURGH, aged 30, grocer and Home Guard sergeant of Gretna
15. William Robert IRVING, aged 78, master builder of Gretna
16. John KILGOUR, aged 57, tailor and draper and A.R.P. warden of Longtown
17. James Little NOBLE, aged 48, forester of Rigg
18. Francis William PHILLIPS, aged 55, corporation clerk of Carlisle
19. Jeremiah Twentyman REED, aged 37, scrap merchant of Annan
20. John ROBERTSON, aged 47, butcher's shop manager of Annan
21. William ROSS, aged 31, Colour Sergeant, Royal Marines of Dumfries
22. Arthur P.T. SHELLEY, aged 43, Lieutenant, R.A.S.C. of Carlisle
23. Benjamin SMITH, aged 44, farmer and A.R.P. warden of Gretna
24. Herbert SMITH, aged 38, publican of Carlisle
25. John Owen STAFFORD, aged 71, minister of religion of Carlisle
26. William Telfer STEEL, aged 39, butcher and Home Guard of Carlisle
27. William Wettinhall WEST, aged 32, egg and poultry dealer and Home Guard corporal of Rigg
28. Thomas YOUNG, aged 34, coal agent of Springfield.

Sunday, 22 January, 2017  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...


This article is dedicated to the people of Gretna and Gretna Green especially all those who lost their lives in the area during the two World Wars.
"Always locked in our hearts".

Further reading and information

1. For further information about the Gretna Green Story Exhibition click on the following link:
Gretna Green Story Exhibition
2. For further information about the "Devil's Porridge" museum and the Quintinshill rail disaster click on the following link:
The Devil's Porridge Museum
3. To access the BBC "World War One at Home" feature about Mossband, Cumbria and "The Devil's Porridge" click on the following link:
Mossband, Cumbria and the Devil's Porridge
4. To access the BBC "World War One at Home" feature about the Quintinshill rail tragedy, click on the following link:
Quintinshill, Dumfries: The Railway's Titanic
5. To read a personal memory of the Gretna bombing of 1941 on the BBC "People's War" website, click on the following link:
Gretna Bomb 1941 (BBC People's War)

Sunday, 22 January, 2017  

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