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Munitions Factory Johnstone's Contribution to the WWI Effort
Munitions Factory Johnstone's Contribution to the WWI Effort
With this article we introduce a new feature of the website. This summary of a photo essay by Stewart Michie in the Gallery (link below) is accompanied by images of the WWW factory that put Johnstone solidly into the war effort.)

Georgetown Munitions Factory opened in September, 1915, at the start of the First World War, just over three miles east of Houston in what was then predominantly a rural community with plans to fill explosive shells for use on the battlefields of Belgium, France and the Middle East.

Delays could cost lives so it was imperative that the men who manned the artillery big guns had a ready supply of ammunition at their disposal to protect themselves and the infantry units.

A 2350 square foot town hall was erected, serving as a social center, church, Sunday school, lecture hall and more. The hall could seat 300 people. The building was an invaluable resource, especially in winter when the dark nights limited the range of human activities at a high-security site like Georgetown where vigilance could never be relaxed for safety and military reasons.

Women played vital roles in the Georgetown Filling Factory. Johnstone and Paisley were among the main recruiting areas for the workforce. Hygiene, medical, washing and other public facilities were introduced that may have exceeded the standards of the time. Female workers also had to look after families when they returned home at the end of the working day or night.

The ability with which the women here and elsewhere in Britain rose to the challenge so superbly and successfully physically and mentally was one of the main reasons why they were given the vote not long after the end of the First World War following a lengthy campaign for female enfranchisement.

Agnes Borthwick (1889-1949), a graduate of the University, became a works manager at the vast munitions factory, National Filling Factory No 4, at Georgetown. According to Barbara McLaren, writing in Women at War (1917), "no woman's work... more directly furthered the prosecution of the war." In 1915, she volunteered for training at Woolwich, on the theory and practice of shell and cartridge filling. In January 1916 she was sent as a forewoman to the filling factory which was then under construction at Georgetown. She was promoted to assistant works manager in the spring and to BL Works Manager in June 1916, and was appointed Works Manager of Number 1 Factory in July. She was then transferred to the larger No 2 Factory in April 1917 as joint manager with a male official, and in September became sole manager there. The number of women employed at Georgetown rose to as many as 14,000 before the end of the war, and Borthwick was in charge of more than half that number.

Much of the weaponry built at Georgetown was designed in the chemical and scientific laboratory at the plant. The lab was shrouded in secrecy to safeguard its highly-sensitive work.

Although around 35,000 people worked here during the three years of the filling station’s existence, only about a dozen were killed. This was a remarkably low figure at a time when military science was in its infancy and so much work had to be done on a trial and error basis.

Four canteens, each fully equipped with tables, chairs and cutlery, provided food for 9000 hungry workers simultaneously. Around 70,000 meals were served every week.

Many workers at Georgetown Filling Station lived in purpose-built wooden cottages around the factory. Some, known as Mosside Cottages, were located just off the Houston Road continued in existence until well into the 1970s, more than 50 years following the closure of the filling factory.

Photo Essay

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