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 Ayrshire’s War

Ayrshire’s county regiment was the Royal Scots Fusiliers (RSF), which had its headquarters and depot at Ayr Barracks. Like most British infantry regiments, the RSF was an umbrella organisation for all the regular and part-time infantry soldiers of its recruitment areas of Ayrshire and Wigtownshire. At the outbreak of war it consisted of two regular battalions, a special reserve battalion, and two part-time home defence Territorial battalions.


A number of New Army battalions, formed from volunteers answering Kitchener’s call to arms, were added to the RSF during the war. In peacetime each district of Ayrshire had contributed a company to one of the RSF’s Territorial battalions – the 4th drawn from the north of the county and the 5th from the south. Largs was an exception, having the Buteshire Battery of the 4th Highland (Mountain) Brigade of the Royal Garrison Artillery as its local Territorial unit. The county’s contribution to the Territorial cavalry force was the Ayrshire (Earl of Carrick’s Own) Yeomanry, composed largely of the land-owning gentry, their estate workers, and the farming community. Ayrshire also had Territorial artillery units – two batteries of the Royal Field Artillery and one battery of the Royal Horse Artillery.


No Territorial could be compelled to serve overseas, but he could volunteer to do so. In response to Kitchener’s call, all of the Ayrshire Territorial formations produced enough fit volunteers to enable them to send an active service unit to the front. The Yeomanry would fight as infantry. Many Ayrshiremen volunteering for the forces chose to join units associated with other areas, often due to family or workplace connections. As the war progressed, many recovered wounded – and, from early 1916, conscripts – found themselves drafted into any military unit or arm of the service which needed men.


The machine gun sections of all infantry and cavalry units were transferred to the newly-formed Machine Gun Corps in October 1915. Many seafarers from Ayrshire’s harbour towns and fishing communities were navy reservists, and were called up on the outbreak of war. On Ayr War Memorial alone are the names of 37 men who died serving in the Royal Navy, Royal Naval Reserve and Auxiliary Naval Forces. Another 14 on the same memorial fell while serving in the Royal Flying Corps, Royal Naval Air Service, and Royal Air Force.

 Fighting Front

Territorials of the 4th Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers at summer training camp at Doonfoot in 1914, shortly before the outbreak of war. © South Ayrshire Libraries & Museums.

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