Museum opens a window into Solway Firth's wartime role

by Jenny Brown

SOCIAL BOOKMARKS

VOICES of those who lived and worked on the Solway Firth during World War Two are at the heart of a new exhibition.

Ed Rutherford Devil's Porridge museum manager.
Ed Rutherford Devil's Porridge museum manager.

Their tales, which are showcased in the latest development at the Devil's Porridge Museum at Eastriggs, near Gretna, provide a first-hand insight into what life was like in this area, which played a pivotal part in the war.

Among them are the accounts of local farmers, child evacuees from Glasgow, who remember Clydeside being bombed, and veteran pilots of the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain, who were stationed at RAF Annan to train young fighter pilots in Hurricanes.

Edwin Rutherford, museum manager, said oral histories have been crucial and that it was a key time to capture the memories of a generation that will soon be gone.

"Farmers remember the planes flying over and local people remember the RAF personnel. We've got all that captured," he said.

"When I went out into the community it was fantastic to find Glaswegian evacuees who could remember those times. It's really strong stuff.

"You can have the objects, do the research and find the information but if you've got those first-hand accounts, that really makes the exhibition.

"It brings forward that time of crisis in Britain.

"We were facing invasion and German planes were bombing our cities.

"That's very difficult to relate to unless you have someone actually telling you what they went through."

Until now the museum, which opened in a new building in 2014, has focused on the pivotal story of HM Factory Gretna - where thousands of women came to undertake the dangerous work of producing cordite - ensuring it can be told for years to come.

Its newest interactive display continues the story of the Solway military coast from the sale of the factory in 1924, through the rise of fascism and the beginning of Hitler's reign, placing the area in a wider context of what was happening in Europe at the time, towards another global war.

It takes visitors back to September 3, 1939, when Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain took to the airwaves from Downing Street and declared Britain was at war with Germany.

Mr Rutherford said: "A lot of people I interviewed actually remembered that on the radio and what they were doing at that time.

"That was running through all the people I spoke to."

Three months later his Majesty's Inspector of Explosives gave the go ahead to build Powfoot Munitions Factory on the Solway Firth.

In April 1942, RAF Annan opened as a training base for young fighter pilots who came from all over the world in preparation for the allied invasion of northern France in 1944.

"There were a lot of crashes around here," added Mr Rutherford.

"It was a mixture of their inexperience, old machines with mechanical problems and this area's weather.

"Many of them got lost and crashed into the Cumbrian mountains."

Audio clips throughout the exhibition also capture the experiences of land army girls who came to the area from other parts of the country, German and Italian prisoners of war who worked on local farms and people from the area who went off to other parts of the world during the war.

"It opened people's mind's to the wider world, the war," added Mr Rutherford.

"Ultimately, this museum now looks at the hidden history of women working at HM Gretna in World War One and now it goes on to telling the story of how the war affected this whole region.

"World War Two, again, affected this area."

The next phase of the museum's work will concentrate on the Cold War period, which it is hoped will be finalised by October this year.

The Devil's Porridge Museum, Annan Road, is open Monday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm, and Sunday 10am to 4pm.

Thursday, February 23, 2017 at 4:47PM
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