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The Ardeer Company and the defence of Nobel’s Explosive Factory

Territorial Force unit formed in 1912 to defend Nobel's Explosive Factory at Ardeer

In November 1912, Nobel’s Explosive Factory at Ardeer in Ayrshire formed a company of reserve soldiers from their workforce to guard the site in the event of war with Germany. The Ardeer Company was attached to the 4th Battalion (Territorial Force) Royal Scots Fusiliers.

The Company was formed as a result of the Scottish Command Defence Scheme of 1912 which identified important and vulnerable points that would require protection from enemy amphibious raids in the event of war. The document listed several sites, including the naval base at Rosyth, the ship-building industry on the Clyde, and Nobel’s Explosive Factory on the coast at Ardeer in Ayrshire, as well as sites for fuel storage, supply depots, and railway junctions.

Swedish chemist Alfred Bernhard Nobel had established a Dynamite factory at Ardeer in 1871 and by the eve of the First World War, the 840-acre site was the world’s largest exporter of explosives, manufacturing products such as Blasting Gelatine, Gelignite, Ballistite, Guncotton and Cordite.

Concerned that the factory could become a target for a German raid, the management at Nobel’s Ardeer site formed a company of reserve soldiers from the workforce. The Company was attached to the local 4th Battalion (Territorial Force) of the Royal Scots Fusiliers with the men attending the annual camp in 1913 and 1914 with the battalion. The Company’s headquarters and drill hall were established at the Ardeer Halls on Shore Road, Stevenston.

The Territorial Force had been created as part of the reforms of the British Army carried out by Secretary of State for War Richard Haldane and came into existence on 1 April 1908 as the volunteer reserve element of the British Army. Its purpose was for home defence while the British regular army was deployed to Europe as an expeditionary force.

In the ‘precautionary period’ during the July Crisis of 1914, some Territorial Force units, including the Ardeer Company, were mobilised for coastal defence service, with the remainder being mobilised when war was declared with Germany on 4 August 1914. Once mobilised the Ardeer Company patrolled the 6 miles of barbed wire protected factory perimeter, 2 miles of which was along the shorefront.

The Ardeer Company guarded Nobel’s Ardeer Factory until November 1914 when it was disbanded so that the men could be employed in vital explosive production for the war effort. Security for the factory was then passed over to a company from The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles).

As well as soldiers for perimeter defence, a coastal defence battery with Ordnance BL 12-pounder guns manned by a detachment of the Royal Garrison Artillery was established in September 1914 to protect the factory from a limited naval attack. The following month two Quick Firing 6-pounder Hotchkiss guns for anti-aircraft defence were sited. Two Quick Firing 12-pounder Hotchkiss guns and searchlights to illuminate targets at night were added in June 1915 to beef up coastal defence. In 1916 an armoured train armed with two 12-pounder guns was temporarily stationed at the factory.

Neil Ritchie
Neil Ritchie
Neil Ritchie is the founder and editor of ScottishHistory.org and is also the editor of other online publications covering military history, defence and security. Neil has a keen interest in the military history of Scotland and in particular the military history of the Jacobite risings.

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