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 Ayrshire’s War

Ayr Corporation Tramways commenced operating in 1901, and continued until 1931. At the outbreak of war, all the drivers and conductors were male. As happened in public services and workplaces throughout the country, many of its staff volunteered to join the forces, and numerous female staff were recruited to cover for the severe shortages caused by military service, both as conductresses and as motorwomen. These ladies were issued with long skirts and tailored single-breasted jackets. Headgear took the form of a waterproof bonnet with a hat band around it. By 1917, only nine of the entire tramcar staff were male.

A total of 55 men from Ayr Corporation Tramways served in the forces during the war, and ten lost their lives. A plaque bearing their names was placed in the tramways depot on Prestwick Road, and it is now in the care of South Ayrshire Libraries & Museums at Rozelle House, Ayr.

The tramcar forming the backdrop to the photograph has its curtains drawn. A ban on the display of seaward-facing lights was enforced in sensitive coastal areas such as the Firth of Clyde, as it was feared that they could act as navigational aids for German submarines. Tramcars operating after dark were required to have blackout curtains closed on the seaward side.

A major munitions site feared to be under threat from submarine attack – by shelling or the landing of raiding parties – was the British Dynamite Factory founded in 1871 by Alfred Nobel on the Ardeer Peninsula south of Stevenston. It received a permanent garrison, a defensive perimeter, and some small coast defence guns.

The Ministry of Munitions funded the refurbishment of Glengarnock Steelworks to enable the production of shell-quality steel, and in 1917 a Royal Ordnance Factory was constructed near the shore at Irvine. There, shell casings were made from Glengarnock’s steel billets and filled with explosives from Ardeer. Within a year it had a workforce of 1,500, nearly three-quarters of them women.

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