Johnstone History Museum
Johnstone History Society • Scotland

The Gallery » Photo Essay: Georgetown WWI Munitions

Agnes Borthwick's rise to management foretold changes in business organization that would occur later in the century.

Item ID: 9514

Agnes Borthwick (1889-1949) was a graduate of the University who became a works manager at the vast munitions factory, National Filling Factory No 4, at Georgetown in Renfrewshire during the First World War. According to Barbara McLaren, writing in Women at War (1917), "no woman's work... more directly furthered the prosecution of the war."

Born in Greenock, Borthwick matriculated to study at the University in 1907 and graduated MA in 1910. After winning a research scholarship she went to the USA, studying at Bryn Mawr College, the University of Columbia in New York and Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is believed to have returned to the United Kingdom near the beginning of the First World War in 1914.

In 1915, Borthwick 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.

Borthwick married the engineer Symington McDonald in April 1920 at Fuinart United Free Church in Greenock. She died in Edinburgh in 1949.