Saturday, 12 November 2016

Barracks and Battalions

A recent announcement by the Ministry of Defence has indicated that nine sites in Scotland used by the Army, Royal Navy, Royal Air Force, Defence Equipment & Support and the Defence Infrastructure Organisation are to be disposed of over the next few years as part of a nationwide reduction of fifty six MoD bases. In some cases the announcement was expected as earlier strategic reviews had already proposed the closure of some of these properties as being surplus to requirements and no longer fit for purpose for 21st Century armed forces. Fort George is Georgian, Glencorse Barracks is Victorian and Redford Barracks is Edwardian.

Forthside and Meadowforth sites in Stirling
The closure programme in Scotland starts with Craigiehall on the outskirts of Edinburgh in 2018. Perhaps it will return to its old role of being a hotel? Redford follows a few years later but it is only the old Edwardian infantry and cavalry barracks which will go; the more modern Reserves site next door which hosts several regular and reserve units - from the Army, Navy and Air Force - will remain.

Recent strategic reviews and reductions of our armed forces have left a large MoD estate with not enough units to fill them. This has happened many times in the past. The Royal Navy no longer has a presence at places like Invergordon, Port Edgar or The Royal Elizabeth Yard. When the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers are built and leave Rosyth for Portsmouth their crews go with them and MoD Caledonia will move to Edinburgh. Over the past fifty years barracks have been sold off and redeveloped in Inverness, Perth, Aberdeen, Ayr, Glasgow and Hamilton as the Army has shrunk. That’s not even taking into consideration all the drill halls across the country which have disappeared as the TA became the TAVR and then Army Reserves. Two RAF air bases in Scotland have recently been converted to army barracks when their aircraft departed - Kinloss and Leuchars, although some non-flying RAF units remain on the bases as lodger units alongside the army. Former RAF bases in Scotland now host museums, racetracks, car boot sales and annual music festivals.

There are currently four infantry barracks in Scotland – Fort George dominates the Moray Firth and the other three are all part of the Edinburgh Garrison - Redford, Glencorse, and Dreghorn. This announcement leaves only Dreghorn by 2032. So the question is not so much what happens to the buildings and land but what happens to the units occupying them?

Fort George
The Royal Regiment of Scotland has already been reduced from five regular battalions to four in the ten years it has been in existence. The 5th Battalion now only exists as Balaklava Company a public duties incremental company. Will the next sixteen years see a further reduction and a loss of the 4th Battalion and even the 3rd? The Royal Scots Borderers are in Northern Ireland and the Highlanders are in England. 3rd Bn The Rifles currently occupy Dreghorn but will the next few years see a reshuffle and disbandments of these battalions? The big battalion regiments in England have been repeatedly reduced and amalgamated. Why should the Royal Regiment of Scotland not suffer a similar fate over the next sixteen years?

It should be remembered that only five years ago Dreghorn was also to go along with Redford and Glencorse and a super-barracks was to be built at Kirknewton airfield. That plan was scrapped two years later under a further review when the army left Germany. Dreghorn has been reprieved this time round and is unlikely to be disposed of any time soon. Who is to say that in five, ten or fifteen years time another strategic review will see a requirement for units to continue to be based in Glencorse or Fort George? With continued fighting in the Middle East, a new occupant in the White House - and an old-school one in the Kremlin - who knows what future defence reviews will bring?

On a less contentious note, something else which is of particular interest to us in the Scottish Military Research Group is the war memorials currently in the barracks. Fort George is currently shared with Historic Environment Scotland and no doubt they will take ownership from the MoD when the army eventually moves out. We’ve sixteen years to find out what the Scottish Government will do with the site but it’s likely the Seaforth Highlanders’ memorials will remain. But what happens to the regimental memorials at Glencorse and Redford? Based on previous barrack sales, these estates will probably be redeveloped into housing and it is unlikely the memorials will remain. Perhaps they will relocate to Dreghorn or the Castle. We’ll certainly be keeping a close eye on what happens to them.

These are the sites being disposed of and what is happening to the current occupants:

(Click on the table to make it larger)

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Joint Warrior Time

It's that time of year for another Exercise Joint Warrior. If you've never heard of it you've probably had an inkling that it was on if you lived anywhere near the Lower Clyde, Moray, Leith or the Western Highlands and the Islands. It's always a good opportunity to see some of our own warships and warplanes and those of our NATO allies. 

Here's a couple of images from previous exercises

HMS Diamond

KNM Gnist
RAF Lossiemouth

And here's what the Royal Navy say about it 

Major military exercise comes to Scotland

Around 5,700 military personnel from armed forces across the world will take part in the UK-led training which will run from 8 to 20 October.
Thirty-one warships and submarines, as well as some 67 aircraft will be involved, with much of the activity taking place off the Scottish coast, at RAF Lossiemouth, at Prestwick and on military ranges across the country.  
At the same time as Joint Warrior, the world’s first large scale, multi environment demonstration of unmanned technology will also take place in the Western Isles.  Unmanned Warrior, as it is known, will give industry an opportunity to show the latest systems at military ranges in Benbecula, Stornoway, Applecross and Kyle of Lochalsh

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Remembering the Raceland: Righting a Wrong

During the Second World War one of the most perilous duties of any Allied ship was to round the North Cape under threat of attack from the Luftwaffe, U-boats and the Arctic weather. In March 1942 one of the hundreds of merchant ships which braved those waters in the PQ Arctic convoys sailing that route became one of the victims.

The Clydebuilt SS Raceland had been the Italian owned ship Ircana berthed in Florida. In 1941 she was requisitioned, passed into US ownership, and as was common for the day was registered under her new name in Panama. The ports of the USA were filled with sailors from all over the world in 1942 and her crew was as multi-national as her background.  The bulk of her crew were Scandinavian – Norwegians, Danes and Swedes but there were also Estonians, Dutch, Canadian, English and Scots sailing her.

On 28th March 1942 the Raceland was attacked by Junkers 88 Luftwaffe bombers as she rounded the tip of Norway on her way to Murmansk as part of convoy PQ13. After taking several hits the Raceland’s engines gave up and the ship began to sink. She was already a slow ship and the convoy couldn’t wait for her as she settled in the water. It was a still day in the Arctic waters and with their ship sinking beneath them the forty-five crew took to four lifeboats in the hope of reaching the fairly close Norwegian coast. Their luck took a turn for the worse that night as the weather changed and a storm scattered the lifeboats and capsized two, killing all occupants.

For the next few days the two remaining lifeboats endured the hardships of small boats in Arctic waters. Exposure took its toll in both boats and many men died before they separately reached the inhospitable shores of northern Norway; one boat after five days and the other after eleven. The bodies of those who died after reaching land first were recovered, but were buried at a remote location on the island of Söröy. All the Scots sailing on the Raceland had died on the lifeboats and had no grave but the sea.

A few men did survive, and it is from the survivors - passing the details via the Red Cross, from a German prisoner-of-war camp, to the next of kin of their dead shipmates - that we know this story of the Raceland’s fate.

Unfortunately  - and shamefully -the Scots of the Raceland who laid down their lives for freedom were not commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission after the war. Out of ten Commonwealth crew members of the ship only one was commemorated by the CWGC. I think it is no coincidence that Ship's Boy Roy Currie - who was one of those whose bodies were recovered on land - is the only one commemorated. Either the German or Norwegian authorities will have recorded his death and burial, and ensured his recording in the official registers. The rest have been lost in a gap of recording British and Canadian nationals serving in non-British registered ships. The recording of British sailors lost in British ships during both World Wars was already patchy; adding an extra level of administration had obviously been too much. In April 1942 the US Coastguard informed the British Consulate in Washington of the British nationals who were missing after the loss of the Raceland. We don’t know if this was the only occasion when the details of the names were passed on to UK authorities from the US authorities but there are other paper trails between next of kin and US authorities and ship owners to suspect it wasn’t.

A nephew of one of the Dutchmen who died when the Raceland foundered has been researching the fate of the ship and the men for a book he is going to publish. Jos Odjink in the Netherlands has already pieced together the facts around the sinking of the ship and has researched the background to many of the crew. It is thanks to Jos’s hard work that we know so much about the Raceland and we are very grateful that he has put a lot of the details online.

Consulting archives in London and Washington whilst on business trips, Jos has uncovered several useful documents. From Jos’s information and the work of some members of the Scottish War Memorials Project this is what we know of the Scottish sailors of the Raceland so far:

John G Keogh
He was born at Carntyne Street, Shettleston on 28th March 1902. The ship was sunk on his 40th birthday.
His parents were John and Ellen Keough (nee McKeown) and in the 1911 Census he was one of five children. His next-of-kin address during the war was given as 703 Shettleston Road, Glasgow - his mother was living there. She died in the same location in July 1949. One of the survivors wrote to her from a PoW camp and said her son had died the day after the sinking. A Merchant Navy index card from 1937 for John Keough survives and gives his rating as Fireman.

James Joseph Burns
No date of birth has been found yet, but his age is given as 38 by the US Coastguard so it should be around 1904. No James Joseph Burns has been found to match this date of birth.
His next-of-kin address was given as 117 Florence Street, Glasgow - it was his mother who was living there. The same survivor in the PoW camp who gave information to John Keogh’s mother told James Burns’ mother that her son had died in a lifeboat on the 2nd of April.

Hugh McKenzie
This man is more difficult to track down and not just because of the name. He was listed by the US Coastguard as 48 years old, so he should have a date of birth around the mid 1890's. His next of kin address is given as 1913, 75th St Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio. Jos thinks he may have taken US citizenship even though the US Coastguard sent his details to the British Embassy.
We have managed to find a Merchant Navy index card for a Hugh Brown Mckenzie with a birth of 2nd November 1896 in Glasgow which is a possible lead but will need to be confirmed. Interestingly it also features a photo of the man concerned.  

Could this be Hugh McKenzie?

Jack Kleinberg
This man is actually listed on the SNWM roll of honour at Edinburgh Castle. This is because his sister approached the Secretary to the SNWM Trustees in the 1990’s with the information she had about her brother’s death. The SNWM entry says he was born in Glasgow:

Able Seaman Jack Kleinberg
Place of birth: Glasgow
Date of death: 28 March 1942
Theatre of death: Unknown
Other detail S.S. "RACELAND"

Jos Odjink has found a letter from Kleinberg’s fiancée -an Etta Bernstein of Glasgow -looking for information from the ship owners about his fate.
Along with his place of birth, that would seem to suggest he was a Glaswegian but intriguingly he is also listed on the Jewish War Memorial in Piershill Cemetery in Edinburgh. This memorial also gives his age as 23. It was the investigation of this man’s name on which prompted the SMRG investigation of the fate of the other Scottish crewmen of the Raceland –

Jewish War Memorial in Piershill Cemetery

Earlier this year Jack Kleinberg’s name came to the attention of Martin Sugarman. Martin has set himself the task of identifying Jewish servicemen and women who had died during the World Wars but had not been commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. We passed on all we had on Jack Kleinberg to Martin as did Jos Odjink. Martin lives in London and is able to make regular visits to The National Archives and was able to track down the vital pieces of information which could be used as evidence in progressing Jack Kleinberg’s case with the CWGC.  The good news is Jack Kleinberg has been accepted by the CWGC for commemoration and he will be added to their database. At some point in the future his name will also be added to the Tower Hill Memorial to the Merchant Navy in London.

The other Commonwealth war dead lost on the Raceland deserve to be commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and the three Scots by the Scottish National War Memorial. With Martin’s successful submission to the CWGC that commemoration looks a step closer and the SMRG will look for the evidence and provide them to the relevant authorities. 

It’s not just the men of the Raceland. Other Scots serving on US merchant ships are not commemorated either. There will be some amount of work to identify the unrecorded Scots and get them commemorated, but the men who manned our lifeline, the unsung heroes of the Second World War, deserve nothing less.  Men like:

Thomas Mullin. Lost on the Nathaniel Green 02/24/43 F/W from Rothesay, Bute, Scotland
C. W Hunter. Lost on the Nimba 09/13/42 Scotland
Joseph Sutherland. Lost on the Rochester 01/30/42 3rd Engineer, from Glasgow, Scotland
Edward M Mackin. Lost on the Tambour 09/26/42 Donkeyman, from Scotland, Aged 32
John McRae. Lost on the Winkler 02/23/43 Able Seaman, from Scotland

Hugh J. Smith. Lost on the Winkler 02/23/43 Ordinary Seaman, from Scotland

Friday, 22 July 2016

Private war memorials in churches

Just south of Dunnotar Castle in the old county of Kincardine is the small village of Catterline. There is no civic war memorial in the village but there are memorials in the Church of Scotland and Episcopal Church to the men of the village who lost their lives in the World Wars. The cross in the churchyard of St James’ Episcopal Church lists eight First World War names and one for the Second World War. Like many church memorials is lists only names and gives no other details such as rank, unit or date of death to help anyone researching the names. There are also two men with the same name - William Stephen - which is always a challenge when there are no other details. 

Church War Memorial, St James' Catterline
Luckily, inside the church is a private memorial to one of the William Stephens with more information to help identify who he was. 

Private Memorial in St James', Catterline
Unlike civic memorials or other public memorials, privately purchased memorials often have a lot of information on them. They can be simple memorials such as an inscription on a headstone of they could be a brass or marble plaque on a church wall; or sometimes they are stained glass windows or other church fittings. Private memorials often give details of the cause and place of death and family information. Sometimes they will give the citations for gallantry awards or their war service before their deaths. A private memorial such as the one to William Stephen should be a very useful source of information for researchers then.  

The one in Catterline Church certainly has plenty of information. It records William Stephen’s rank, ship, next of kin, date of death and age. It was erected by the officers and engineers of the Australian Transport ship A.49 – a ship used to ferry Australian service personnel and cargo. Engineer Stephen had been in the crew of the SS “Seang Choon” before it had been requisitioned in 1915 as the HMAT 49 and had remained on the ship – still in the Mercantile Marine – when it was under Australian orders.

Engineer Stephen died in early 1917 but a search on the fate of the ship shows it was not lost in early January but in mid-1917. The HMAT 49 was torpedoed by U-87 off Ireland in June 1917. There is also no record of the ship being in any action which would have caused the death of Engineer Stephen.

Stephen’s private memorial records that he died on “Active Service” on  2nd January 1917 but a search on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database does not show an entry for him, neither does the Scottish National War Memorial database. The CWGC and SNWM have strict criteria for inclusion for men of the Mercantile Marine on their databases. Engineer Stephen may have faced many of the same risks as his Royal Navy colleagues on the high seas but if he did not die as a result of enemy action then he would not qualify for inclusion on the CWGC or SNWM databases. The inscription “Active Service” is a red herring. This is unfortunately quite common on private headstones where ranks, units and dates can all be inscribed incorrectly and send researchers down blind alleys.

As it turns out 2nd Engineer William Stephen did not die on active service. At the time of his death he was not even at sea, he was in Greenwich Hospital and died of Meningitis & Hypostatic Pneumonia. If he had been in the Royal Navy rather than a civilian organisation he would have qualified for commemoration. He is one of many Scottish mariners who did their bit in the war but are not remembered in official records as a war death. However he is still remembered in his home village, and by the Scottish Military Research Group Commemorations Project (SMRGCP)

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Donald Where's Your Troosers?

Is it just me or do others find it odd to see kilted soldiers of the Royal Regiment of Scotland commemorate the men of the Lowland regiments at First World War Centenary events?

Since 2006 and the formation of the Royal Regiment of Scotland the uniform for all battalions, no matter what their precedence, has been the same – a Government tartan kilt. We’ve briefly covered this in a Blog before.

The First World War Centenary will be with us until 2019. At many events the Royal Regiment of Scotland will provide a contingent, and invariably they will be in No. 2 Dress – Khaki tunic, glengarry, kilt, sporran, hose and spats. It’s a very smart uniform, and appropriate for many WW100 events as the uniform looks very similar to the service dress worn by the Highland regiments in 1914.

What irks- and will undoubtedly continue do so throughout the next few years - is seeing the men of the Royal Regiment of Scotland parade in kilts when they are commemorating men of the Lowland regiments; or when they are at Centenary events in the former recruiting areas of the Royal Scots (RS), Royal Scots Fusiliers (RSF), King’s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) , Cameronians (Scottish Rifles)(SR) and Highland Light Infantry (HLI).

Apart from their pipers (and three Territorial battalions) the men of the Lowland regiments did not wear kilts in 1914. Until 1881 most Lowland regiments did not even wear tartan. They were proud of their Lowland status and their history of not being Highlanders; two Lowland regiments were first raised in 1689 to fight a Jacobite army full of Highlanders. Before 2006 only one Lowland regiment – the Highland Light Infantry  -  fought with the War Office to be uniformed in kilts because of its Highland regimental history. In the early twentieth century the HLI had two Territorial battalions in kilts  - but during the First World War it was not a kilted regiment. It was not until after the Second World War that the HLI once more parade in kilts after a one hundred and forty year hiatus.

Two recent First World War related occasions particularly stick in the mind where it would have been befitting for the Royal Regiment of Scotland to be wearing trews rather than kilts.

The first was the reburial of Private William McAleer of the 7th Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers in May this year. Private McAleer was killed in action at Loos in 1915 and his body was only found during building work on the battlefield in 2010. At a well attended event organised by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, he was re-buried with full military honours and the Royal Highland Fusiliers provided the burial party. How much more appropriate would it have been for the pall bearers to have been in trews on that day?

Thanks to John Duncan for the photograph
The second occasion was last week’s naming of the square outside the Usher Hall in Edinburgh to McCrae’s Place. This was to commemorate the centenary of the raising of the 16th (2nd Edinburgh) Battalion, Royal Scots by local man George McCrae. The Royal Regiment of Scotland were there to commemorate the men of the Royal Scots who served in the First World War in this battalion. How much more appropriate would it have been for them to be there in trews like the Royal Scots Association men they stood beside?

Next year we will see the Royal Regiment of Scotland take part in official commemorations for the Gretna Rail Crash (RS), Gallipoli (RS, RSF, KOSB,S, HLI), and Loos  (RS, RSF, KOSB,S, HLI). How much more apt will it be for the men of the Royal Scots Borderers, Royal Highland Fusiliers and the 52nd Lowland to be uniformed in trews for these events?

The Royal Regiment of Scotland already has an order of dress which combines the khaki tunic and the trews – According to the RHF’s dress regulations which are online it is No. 2c Dress.

Currently it specifies it is to be worn “..on Battalion duties during cold weather at the discretion of Commanding Officers. It is to be worn by all ranks on Regimental duties at Retreat-Staff Parade after 1800 hrs daily" but surely that could be changed for the two senior battalions of the regiment, and the Lowland volunteers, to allow trews instead of kilts to be worn on ceremonial occasions in place of 2a or 2b dress?

To try and rectify this sometimes incongruous use of kilts by the Royal Regiment of Scotland, an e-petition has been raised with the MoD to change the dress regulations to allow trews to be worn  by certain units on ceremonial occasions.

If you would like to see Scottish infantrymen parade in trews again, please take the time to sign the petition here: and please spread the word.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

CWGC Mobile app

Did you know the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has an app? It's available for Windows, Android and iOS, and can be downloaded from the link below.

It primarily can be used for finding burials near you, but at the moment it seems you can't see the list of those buried in a particular cemetery (although that might just be the ones near me that I've looked at). It also seems to only show those very close to you. I scrolled around the map and it still only had pinpoints for the two cemeteries in Carluke where I'm currently located. Wishaw and Lanark (the two nearest towns to Carluke) both have CWGC burials and nothing showed up for them. I also scrolled to France and Belgium and nothing showed up there either!

Some cemeteries are "featured" - you get a little more information, and a cemetery plan, but again no list of those buried. There is a further "featured" option in the page for these cemeteries, but that takes you to a page on the CWGC site with some selected casualties. Still no option to help you find a particular casualty. If you plan to use this app to find where your relative is buried, I wouldn't bother.

The search facility could use some work - I searched for "Airbles" and it came up blank, but "Dalziel" brought me up Dalziel (Airbles) Cemetery in Motherwell. Given that the cemetery is commonly known as Airbles Cemetery, that's not a particularly useful search. Searching "etaples" found Etaples British Cemetery with no problem. It seems it might simply search for the first word in the name - a wildcard search option would be of more use.

To sum up - could do better. It's reasonably useful for finding a cemetery you might not know about, but it needs a little work. It needs to show you more on the "nearby" map, and to make it REALLY useful it needs to give the list of those buried in each cemetery, or at the very least provide a link to the relevant page on the CWGC website.

Hopefully they'll get similar feedback from others and make some amendments.