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Mary Adams (1894-)

"Hebburn Heroine" awarded OBE for courage during munitions factory explosion

Although having lived her life up to the war in Hebburn, Mary Adams had connections to Scotland; her father, William, was born in Stonehaven, Scotland and her mother, Mary, was born in Marykirk, Scotland. During the war she seems to have headed north to work at the Gretna munitions factory (Jarrow Express, 25 January 1918). While working in the munitions factory (which subsequent reports made a point of not naming), Mary Adams’s calm actions almost certainly saved a number of lives.

The following is an acount from the Jarrow Express, 9 August 1918:

“Miss Adams, who was born in Hebburn and had lived all her life in it, was engaged as a worker in a large munition establishment. While working in the upper part of the building along with a number of others, an explosion took place upon the ground floor followed by an outbreak of fire. The workers ran to places of safety, but those in the upper par of the building could not get away so quickly and Miss Adams called to them to keep calm and took them down one by one. The ground floor was filled with smoke, which they had to go through. She afterwards saw a young woman with her clothing and hair on fire, who was taken to a place of safety. Miss Adams afterwards assisted in extinguishing the fire.”

Her home town were so proud of her award, which was presented to her in Durham by Lord Durham (Jarrow Express, 9 August 1918), that they started up their own subscription. They managed to raise enough money to present Mary Adams with a silver tray, silver tea and coffee service, gold watch and wallet of war savings certificates. The presentation took place at the Theatre Royal, Hebburn on 6 August 1918.

An article in the Jarrow Express of 19 July 1918, mentions that the collection had been so successful due to the involvement of women workers. Commemorative cards had been made and the women were selling them. The same article remarks:

“It is interesting to note that Miss Adams has recently been promoted to the responsible position of head forewoman of an important munitions factory.”

Other sources of interest:

The Guardian Newspaper, article about women munitions workers

The Devil’s Porridge Musuem at Gretna:

Civil Parish: Hebburn

Birth date: 1894

Armed force/civilian: Civilian

Residence: 44 Ann Street, Hebburn Quay (1911 census)

Employment: domestic servant (at home) (1911 census)
munitions worker

Family: daughter of William (an Iron Driller in a Shipyard) and Mary Adams of 44 Ann Street, Hebburn. (By 1911 they had been married for 27 years and had had nine children, six still living).
Siblings (1911 ages): William (25, B: Montrose, Iron Driller in a shipyard); Alexander (23, B: Glasgow, Commissioner); Janet (15, B: Glasgow).

Medal(s): Order of the British Empire

Gender: Female

Contributed by Peter Hoy | Durham County Record Office