Monday, 28 February 2011

River of Fire: The Clydebank Blitz - Review and Competition

The "Clydebank Blitz" of March 1941 was a series of raids which devastated the town of Clydebank - a devastation which was never properly recognised at the time and is perhaps not as well remembered today as it perhaps deserves.

A new book, "River of Fire" by John MacLeod attempts to redress that balance. MacLeod sets the scene well, describing the rise of the town, and its place in the social and economic history of Scotland, but it is in the description of the events of those two nights where this book excels.

No punches are spared in the description of the air raids - the events are chronicled with such vivd detail at times you feel part of the action. The horror of the blitz comes right out of the page at you in the first-hand descriptions of many of the survivors.

Rounding this book off is an extensive list of those who lost their lives over the nights of 13-14 March. This book is worth purchasing for that alone - as it is that is the icing on the cake that is a fantastic read.

Incredibly well-researched, this book deserves its place as the book on the Clydebank Blitz. I heartily recommend it.

John MacLeod, the author, may be familiar to some as the author of When I Heard The Bell - The Loss of the Iolaire. That book is now near the top of my reading list...

River of Fire is now available in bookshop or from the publishers website.

We have a copy of River of Fire to give away, courtesy of Birlinn Limited. To be in with a chance of winning, simply email us as with the answer to the following question:

The mass grave and memorial to the fallen of the Clydebank Blitz can be found in which cemetery?

Closing date for entires is Monday 28th March, when one correct answer will be chosen at random. One entry per person, the judges decision is final.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

The Gordons at Majuba Hill - On this day in Scottish Military History - 1881

They say pride comes before a fall and never was that truer for a Highland regiment than on this day one hundred and thirty years ago.

In early 1881 the 92nd Gordon Highlanders were riding high on the back of a successful end to the 2nd Anglo-Afghan War. Just a few months before they had been part of 'Bobs' force which marched from Kabul to Kandahar. After twelve years of Indian service they had cleared everything before them at the point of their Martini-Henri bayonets.

They had fought hard and served well and were due to return to the UK for a well earned rest. A war in Southern Africa was to change those plans.

When we talk about the Boer War we are usually talking about the 2nd Anglo-Boer War from 1899-1902. There had been a smaller war with the Boers fought twenty years previously; the First Anglo-Boer War or the Transvaal War which lasted from December 1880 until March 1881. Transvaal had been occupied by the British in 1877. The Boers were not at all happy to be part of the Empire and in December 1880 attacked all the British troops stationed in Transvaal.

Ian Hamilton of the 92nd and the other junior officers heard of the war in Transvaal and they telegrammed Evelyn Wood, who was gathering a force of reinforcements at Durban, asking to be sent to Africa instead of home. Their request was granted and in January 1881 they were ordered to Natal.

In Natal Major-General Sir George Pomeroy Colley, British High Commissioner for South East Africa and commander in chief of British forces in the area rounded up as many troops as he could and headed off into Transvaal to relieve the besieged British troops and beat the Boers.

Colley was determined to be the man to beat the Boers but he didn't understand that redcoats in lines made very easy targets for Boer farmers with Mauser rifles. Neither did he and the men of the 92nd approaching from India appreciate that these farmers were men who had been brought up with a rifle in their hands to defend their farms and families from the Zulus. They would be no pushover, and this over confidence in British arms and lack of respect for their opponents would have serious consequences in the very near future.

In late January Colley was beaten back at the Battle of Laing's Nek (The last battle where colours were carried into action by a British regiment - the 58th Foot) and then again at Schuinshoogte on the Ingogo River in early February.

Heavy casualties were sustained by the British in both engagements but still Colley pressed on. By late February his force now included the newly arrived 92nd Highlanders. They swaggered up from the coast to join Colley's force; the Scotsmen looked down on the 58th Foot who had been beaten back by a bunch of 'farmers'. The English regiment was mainly made up of the new short-service enlisted men. The Khaki-clad and bronze-faced 92nd were battle hardened long service soldiers and could barely hide their contempt for the rest of Colley's force who by now had lost any confidence in their commander. The Highlanders were there to finish the job.

Colley's new plan was to surprise the Boers by taking possession of the most commanding position in the area - Amajuba - '"The hill of doves"

On the night of 26th February Colley led his force of 370 men up Majuba Hill. There was a plateau at the top with commanding views over the area. By controlling the heights Colley could attack the Boers and drive them away from Laingnek before Sir Evelyn Wood VC could arrive with more British reinforcements to steal his thunder.

In Colley's mind all the British had to do was wait for sunrise and then they could scatter the surprised Boers below them. Colley took only a small force with him up Majuba Hill: contingents from the Naval Brigade made up from the compliment of HMS 'Dido', 58th Foot and 92nd Gordon Highlanders. Highlanders and Riflemen from the 60th Rifles were posted at the foot of the hill but against the advice of his subordinates Colley only took part of the Gordons with him up the hill. It was left to Ian Hamilton to command the two companies of Gordons at the top of the hill.

The Boers got a rude awakening on the morning of 27th February 1881. From the plateau above them the British fired down on them. At first the Boers were ready to quit their positions until it dawned on them that there was no artillery on the summit. Undaunted by the poor British rifle fire the Boers fired back. They started picking of the soldiers and sailors on the skyline and edged closer and closer to the British position. Whilst British musketry was poor the Boers were masters of fire and movement and slowly but surely advanced up the hillsides. On they went behind rocks and scrub taking few casualties of their own whilst slowly reducing the British numbers.

By 11:00 the Boers were close enough to engage almost hand-to-hand with Colley's force. Suddenly a forward section of the 92nd on a small knoll crumbled under sustained rifle fire and a gap in the defences allowed the Boers to take the higher ground on the plateau.

Hamilton pressed Colley to order an attack on the Boers before they could consolidated their position. Colley dithered and instead of an advance with the bayonet he told his men to wait. They waited, and died where they waited. Colley had not ordered his men to dig in after the night's climb and now they were on top of a bare plateau under devastating Boer rifle fire. More outlying positions were being outflanked by the Boers and the men occupying them retreated. The defensive ring was getting smaller and smaller and the numbers of dead and wounded were growing. The 92nd who had cleared Afghan mountains of Pathans the year before now found themselves on the receiving end of a determined assault.

Eventually they could take it no more. The tipping point seems to have been when a party of men abandoned their outpost to join the main body of troops. Their action precipitated confusion amongst the mixed up force of soldiers and sailors. Officers had been separated from their men and without any leadership men began to retreat downhill. They'd had enough of being sitting ducks and they just fled down the hill. It soon turned into a rout. Sailor, soldier and Highlander all tumbled down the hill as fast as they could. At the top a helpless Colley was killed as his army disintegrated around him.

It looked like it was all over but on one part of the plateau the British held out. A newly commissioned officer of the Gordon Highlanders rallied his men. Lieutenant Hector MacDonald was not the sort of man who would give up without a fight.

Even a man like MacDonald couldn't save the day. Outnumbered, surrounded and wounded he eventually gave up. The Boers were impressed with MacDonald and his small force of 58th men and Highlanders. They at least had fought on. MacDonald was allowed to keep his sword as a recognition of his bravery from his captors, and the site of his defence on the hill was renamed MacDonald's Koppie.

It was a short captivity for MacDonald, Hamilton and the other Gordons. With Colley dead and his force destroyed, the British under Evelyn Wood had no choice but to grant the Transvaal its freedom. The Gordons left South Africa and completed the voyage to Britain. Bloodied and beaten the cocky victors of Kandahar were left licking their wounds from their humiliation at Majuba.

Over fifty years later the day still haunted one man who had been there. In his eighties Ian Hamilton would admit that during the two minutes silence to honour the Great War dead he didn't think back to the men he commanded at Gallipoli or the men he had seen die in countless battles during his long military career. At the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month his thoughts went back to the death of his old commander on Amajuba.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Robert Gordon Millar - The Story Behind the Name

If you were to happen to be looking at the names on the war memorial at Arbroath, you would be forgiven for not noticing the name of Miller, 2/Lieut Robert G. It's one name amongst many, and there is nothing in particular to make it stand out.

However, while we have been collating memorials for the Scottish war Memorials Project, we have encountered several individuals who were not specific to one particular town or loaction, and Robert G Miller is one of these men. He is a perfect example of how a combination of employment, education, and upbringing can influence how you can be commemorated across the length and breadth of the country.

Robert Gordon Miller (or Millar) was born on the 28th September 1883. A native of Arbroath, he attended the High School there before going on to St Andrews University, receiving an M.A. in 1913. He was assistant minister at Paisley Abbey and afterwards became minister of St. Mary's Parish Church, Dumfries.

When war broke out he enlisted, not as a chaplain like many other members of the clergy, but as a combatant. He was part of the 4th Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, but was attached to their 11th Battalion. He was wounded in April 1917, and succumbed to his wounds in May. He is buried in Etaples Military Cemetery.

Millers occupation as a minister goes some way to explaining the number of commemorations on which he appears. As a native of Arbroath, he naturally appears on the town's memorial, and as a former pupil of the High School he is also commemorated there.

Arbroath High School memorial. Robert G Miller is the first name on the right-hand column.

As he attended St Andrews University he is commemorated on their memorial. The University also published a Roll of Honour - Miller is featured in it and the photograph of him at the top of this article originates from there.

The remaining memorials we have located to him all date from his time in the ministry - the memorial to Ministers, Probationers and Divinity Students which is located in St Giles' in Edinburgh lists him as an ordained minister serving as a combatant.

The memorial to Ministers, Probationers and Divinity Students

His time as assistant minister at Paisley Abbey may mean he is commemorated there - the main Paisley civic memorial lists no names and we do not at the moment have a list of the names on the Roll of Honour for Paisley. Nor do we have a memorial in Paisley Abbey - until we do, we can only assume he may be mentioned there.

There are two final memorials, and these result in three commemorations to Miller. How is that possible?

The two memorials in question are both located in St Mary's Church in Dumfries. The first is a plaque solely commemorating Miller.

The final memorial is to the congregation of the church, and this is where the extra commemoration comes in: Miller is listed among the fallen of the congregation, but is singled out for special mention at the top of the memorial.

Why that was done we shall probably never know, but what is clear is that Robert Gordon Miller was clearly well thought of, both by the town of his birth and the town where he led a congregation. The number of commemorations certainly indicates that.

However, while Miller is certainly unusual in the number of commemorations, his is by no means the largest number to a single person in Scotland. That, though, will have to be a story for another time...

Friday, 25 February 2011

£65,000 work under way at Craigneuk Cenotaph to honour the fallen

An article from the Wishaw Press today. Craigneuk is near where I live so I will in due course update the page for Craigneuk on the Scottish War Memorials Project.

Almost a century after the Great War began the men from Craigneuk in Wishaw, who gave their lives in the conflict will have their names remembered.

The cenotaph does not have the names of the fallen on it – but that will soon change after community campaigners spent three years raising around £65,000 to pay for the specialist work.

And members of the Craigneuk War Memorial Group looked on proudly as the upgrade finally got under way.

Patricia Tait, secretary of Craigneuk War Memorial Group, said: “The memorial is a real focal point for the local community and allows people to pay their respects. We’ve had lots of great feedback on our plans. Lots of children have been saying to us that they will be able to find their great-granddad’s name inscribed on the cenotaph.”

The memorial group have tracked down the records of every person from the area who died during the two World Wars and later conflicts so their names can be added. The 1914-18 war claimed 159 lives from the area, the 1939-45 conflict saw another 84 men make the ultimate sacrifice and two lives were lost in Northern Ireland.

A special panel will be reserved for Victoria Cross holder William Clamp who, although born in Motherwell, was educated at Craigneuk Public School. He was killed when he rushed a machine-gun post in October 1917 at Poelcapelle in Belgium, capturing 20 prisoners before being cut down by a sniper.

The upgrade to the memorial, which sits outside Craigneuk Library, received a massive boost last September when the Environmental Key Fund handed over £30,000, almost doubling the money already raised.

Wishaw councillor John Pentland said: “This will provide a place where we can pay our respects.”

Orange Lodge members from Wishaw raised around £5000.

It was also felt that as well as having the names of Craigneuk’s war dead, the cenotaph would also feature the fallen from Berryhill.

War memorial member Joe O’Raw said: “We decided it would be fitting if the fallen of Berryhill district were added to the memorial panels.”

It is hoped the work will be completed by May or June this year.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

1st Bn Queen's Own Highlanders enter Iraq - On this day in Scottish Military History - 1991

In late 1990 1st Bn Queen's Own Highlanders were part of 33 Armoured Brigade in the 3rd Armoured Division - part of BAOR in Germany. They were still equiped with the old FV 432 APCs rather than the new Warriors.

After the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in August 1990 elements of the Queen's Own were allocated to units being sent to the Gulf. Their old equipment meant they would not be used as a mechanised unit as they had trained for, but they would be sent as reinforcements for other units.

The first contingent to go were the Regimental band attached to 7 Armoured Brigade as medical orderlies in October.

Over the next two months men from the battalion were sent to reinforce 1st Bn Royal Scots and 3rd Bn Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. Others were attached to 1st Armoured Division HQ. By 22nd November the rest of the battalion still in Germany was given two weeks notice to go to Saudi Arabia.

Then on 15th December 1990 1 QOHLDRS were taken of the Order of Battle of Operation Granby (Britain's operations against Iraq. Desert Shield / Storm was the US name for the operation).

It looked like only a quarter of the battalion would be involved. By 30th December the advance party of the main body of the battalion had returned to their base in Germany. The very next day they were ordered back to the Gulf. It would not be fighting together but 1st Bn Queen's Own Highlanders would now be in the war.

The units the Queen's Own were attached to included 1st Bn Royal Scots, 3rd Bn Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, 1st Bn The Staffordshire Regiment,1st Armoured Division Field Ambulance, HQ 1st Armoured Division, HQ 4 Armoured Brigade and HQ 7 Armoured Brigade. A large part of the army's reserve force called the Armoured Delivery Group was made up of 'A' and 'B' Companies and it was under the command of HQ Company of the Queen's Own Highlanders.

Shortly before the attack on the Iraqis the rear echelon troops of the battalion in Riyadh were sent up to the front line. In the words of General de la Billière they were "too sharp to be left out of the battle".

On this day twenty years ago it was G-Day; the day British forces poured through the holes in the defences punched by the American 1st Armored Division.

The first British troops to cross the breach on the morning of 24th February 1991 were from the Recce Platoon, 1st Bn Queen's Own Highlanders.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Labels on the Blog

You may have seen some extra red text being added to the bottom of our posts. In some places on the internet they are called tags and in others keywords, but here they are labels.

The sharp eyed amongst you will also have seen a large box full of seemingly random text beside the posts. That box is called our cloud.

Every time we post a message here we now try and add at least one label to it. When we do it attaches it as a red link to the post and adds it to the cloud. By clicking on either the text on the post or the cloud it will show you a list of all the posts on a similar subject.

The cloud also let's you see which are the most popular subjects we cover. The numbers in brackets gives you the number of posts that label has been attached to and the more posts a subject has the more prominent it becomes in the cloud. We have only started using the labels so we are slowly working our way back through old posts and adding them retrospectively. The World Wars are the most popular subjects but we are going to try and bring you posts from all aspects of Scottish Military History so you should see other subjects 'grow'.

If you are new to this blog you may want to click on some labels and check out some of our older posts on a subject you are interested in. Or why not live a little and click on something you wouldn't normally read.

Consider it throwing a dart at a dartboard or pin the tail on the donkey! Just move your pointer over the cloud at random and click.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Forgotten for 90 years

Our first guest writer today, as forum member Jim Grant tells us a little about a worthwhile project to commemorate the "missing" fallen.

There are many men missing from the official roll of world war dead maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The In From The Cold Project (IFCP) was launched in 2007 to help rectify this situation.

IFCP devised a plan to undertake a systematic search for in-service British casualties who appeared to have been missed and therefore had no official commemoration.

The basic plan was to set up a group of volunteers and to compare systematically the many extant casualty lists with the CWGC online database. Unfortunately, it is not within CWGC’s remit to search for missing names. In short, if the public does not undertake this task, nobody will and these casualties will forever remain out in the cold.

Funding was the big issue as obtaining hundreds of records and the necessary death certificates would be expensive. However, after protracted negotiations, IFCP obtained a grant from the MoD’s Veterans Challenge Fund and the Project’s future was secured.

In May 2008 the first missing names were accepted by MoD for commemoration by CWGC. Now, at the beginning of 2011, IFCP has had 1018 men and women accepted with over eight hundred further cases awaiting adjudication by the authorities. These are all casualties who paid the ultimate price and whose names are now rightly appearing on CWGC headstones or memorials to the missing.

The work is time consuming, repetitive, tedious and hard on the eyes but the end result is worth it.

If you wish to know more about IFCP’s work, please contact Terry Denham or visit the Project’s website.

Enquiries of a Scottish nature can also be forwarded to Jim Grant in his capacity as the Scottish representative of the project - contact him via the SMRG website.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Major-General Douglas Neil Wimberley - Who's Who in Scottish Military History

There are some moments where a person is appointed to the ideal job for them. A perfect moment in time results in the right man in the right place at the right time. Such a moment was the moment Douglas Wimberley was appointed to command the 51st Highland Division.

Douglas Wimberley had been born in Inverness in 1896, and had been commissioned into the Cameron Highlandes in 1915, winning the Military Cross in 1917. After the war he saw service in a variety of places, including during the Irish War of Independence, where he served under Bernard Montgomery for the first time.

At the outbreak of the Second World War he was commanding the 1st Battalion of the Cameron Highlanders and he went with the battalion to France. He was not to see action with the battalion in France as in December 1939 he was appointed Chief Instructer at the Senior Officers School at Sheerness. After a succession of positions, he was appointed to command the 51st Division in June 1941.

Wimberley was perhaps the ideal man for the job. The 51st Division was not the crack unit of the First World War. It was in fact in reality the untried 9th Division, which had been renamed after the surrender of the 51st Division at St Valery the previous year. In some way the Division was perhaps still suffering from the effects of that surrender.

What Wimberley did was to instill a sense of esprit de corps into the Division. He used the Division concert party to travel round the individual regiments conveying the tone and spirit of the Division as a whole. He encouraged the wearing of kilts and tartan. He would regularly "poach" Scottish troops from other units for his Division, and would, where possible, rejected "sassenach" troops.

In doing so he forged the Division into what it had been before, and was again - a tightly knit, crack Division. Little wonder that the 51st Division played a large part in the Battle of El Alamein. Throughout North Africa, the Highlanders were there - in many cases painting their famous HD logo wherever they could - not for nothing were the nicknamed the Highway Decorators.

By the end of the Sicily campaign Montgomery had decided that Wimberley was tired and needed a rest. He was appointed Commandant of the Staff College at Camberley, and then was Director of Infantry from 1944 until he left the army in 1946.

After the war he became principal of University College, Dundee. There he tried to instill the same kind of esprit de corps which had revitalised the 51st Division, working closely with the staff and pupils. He worked hard to improve conditions and facilities. He had to stand down in 1954 due to the rotation of principal seats. He is remembered by the annual Wimberley Award which is given to the student who has contributed most to university life.

In later life Wimberley wrote his memoirs - a five-volume work entitled Scottish Soldier. It remains unpublished but was deposited at the National Library of Scotland along with other papers and diaries.

Wimberley died in 1983, but the affection and pride that the 51st Division is still held in to this day is testament to the hard work and dedication of the man who was known as "Tartan Tam".

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Armadale and District Roll of Honour - websites of interest

In addition to working at the Royal Scots museum, Tom Gordon has spent a lot of his free time compiling a website devoted to the men of Armadale and district in the Great War.

His site includes a wealth of information on the men from the area and is well worth a look if you are researching a man from the district.

Armadale and District Roll of Honour

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Jacobites Occupy Inverness - On this day in Scottish Military History - 1746

On the 16th of February 1746 the Earl of Loudon had tried to capture Bonnie Prince Charlie at Moy Hall south of Inverness. He had taken a large number of his troops with him after he had heard that the Prince had left the main body of his army to visit some sympathisers at Moy.

Unfortunately for Loudon his advance was spotted and a very small number of Jacobites attacked Loudon's much larger force whilst they were still forming up for their own attack.

It was a night attack and the inexperienced government forces didn't know what was happening when the small number of Jacobites under Lady MacIntosh attacked them.

Panic set in and in a very short time Loudon's force was streaming back in disorder to Inverness. The night's fiasco would go down in history as the 'Rout of Moy'

Back in Inverness Loudon understood that his rag-tag army of clansmen and new recruits would be no match for the Jacobites if he had to defend Inverness. Even though the Jacobites had retreated from Derby they had still to be beaten in the field by a government army.

Loudon did have a small fort in the town, Fort George, which was a temporary post built at the mouth of the Ness and not the huge fortress built at Ardersier after the Rebellion which still is a garrison today.

He hoped the fort would frustrate the Jacobites hopes to use Inverness as a base whilst he moved north to try and stop Northern Jacobite sympathisers coming to the aid of Prince Charles.

Leaving Patrick Grant of Rothiemurcus in charge of Fort George with some men of the 64th Highlanders, on this day 265 years ago Loudon took the main body of his troops to Kessock and crossed to the Black Isle. At the same time, Jacobites of Prince Charles Edwards force entered Inverness and started to besiege Fort George.

Within two days the Jacobites had taken Fort George and Lord George Murray's force arrived from Aberdeen. The Jacobite army was once again united and in a base with stores of food and materiel. After a long retreat from Derby it now had winter quarters.

Loudon had failed to deny the Jacobites a base and they could now consolidate their position on their home ground.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Gordon Boyd Walker: The Story Behind the Name

Today we feature a name that isn't part of anyones research as far as we are aware, but instead highlights how one man honoured the memory of his best friend.

A recent new member of the Scottish War Memorials Project posted that he was looking for information on a Second World War casualty. He had been told that this man Gordon Walker had been the best friend of his father, and after Walkers death his father had named his son after him, to honour his memory.

Gordon, the SWMP member in question, had heard this story, and had met Walkers sister, but apart from that didn't know very much.

At this point the intrepid SWMP members used their considerable detective skills to find out more about Walker in order that Gordon could learn more about the man he was named after.

Gordon Boyd Walker was born on the 19th of May 1923, and was the younger son of Ernest and Margaret Walker, of "Dunolly", Kilmarnock Road, Newton Mearns.

Together with his brother Ian, he joined the High School of Glasgow in 1935. As he was fond of animals, he went on to the Royal Veterinary College in Glasgow, before leaving in 1940.

In September 1941 he joined the Royal Air Force, and underwent training in both Canada and the United States.

1943 would prove to be a tragic one for the Walker family. Ian, the eldest son, was killed on the 27th March when HMS Dasher sank after exploding in the Clyde.

Ten days later, Gordon Boyd Walker was on board Lancaster ED662, which was taking part in a Bullseye exercise in Suffolk. The bomber suffered a total engine failure and hit the ground at Kennyhill, 1 mile North of Mildenhall Airfield. There were no survivors.

The two brothers are buried together in Mearns cemetery.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Scottish Arctic Star Campaigners fight on

The men who sailed in and escorted the convoys from Wester Ross to North Russia during the Second World War are continuing to apply the pressure on the government to honour the promises made in opposition to award a campaign medal for their war service.

This is an article from today's Scotsman which goes into quite a lot of detail on the perils they faced during the war and the fight they've had over the past twenty years to get the reward they deserve.

A memorial at Loch Ewe is mentioned in the text. It is on the Scottish War Memorials Project

From today's Scotsman:

A Few Good Men: The World War II heroes in search of recognition
Published Date: 16 February 2011
By David Maddox

They faced Arctic conditions and enemy fire to get supplies through to the Soviet Union in the darkest days of the Second World War. Now these sailors face another battle - to get their contribution recognised by the government

On 22 June, 1941, Adolf Hitler made a decision that would eventually prove instrumental in the defeat of Nazi Germany, when he declared war on the Soviet Union. In the dark days following Dunkirk, it was a development which was to dramatically change the lives of thousands of Royal Navy and merchant seamen who were plunged into Britain's most arduous naval campaign of the war to date.

In just a matter of weeks, the first Arctic convoys sailed from Loch Ewe in north-west Scotland to take essential supplies to Britain's new ally, Stalin's Soviet Union.

The journeys to Archangel and Murmansk involved sailing through a gauntlet of air, submarine and battleship attack in temperatures which plunged to minus -60C at times, so cold that if a sailor's bare hand touched the outside of the ship his skin and flesh were torn away.

The conditions and the constant attacks as well as the threat of mines accounted for the lives of around 3,000 merchant and Royal Navy sailors, around 9 per cent of all those who sailed, the highest casualty rate of any of the sea campaigns.

The ships sailed along the line of Arctic ice at the northern most extreme in an effort to minimise the threat of air attack, but this did not stop the dive bombers flying in and causing mayhem.

One grim feature of the campaign was the use of "suicide" flights from catapult aircraft merchantmen (Cam) ships to protect the convoys. The fighter planes were flung into the air with the use of a sling when enemy aircraft were sighted. With nowhere to land when they were shot or ran out of fuel, pilots were forced to crash into the sea and certain death.

Now, with the 70th anniversary of the first Russian Convoy fast approaching in August, the surviving veterans believe that their efforts in a campaign many consider was pivotal to the success of the war have still been largely unrecognised by the British government.

Yesterday, a reception was held in the House of Lords paid for by a leading Russian banker, Dr George Piskov, to honour many of the last remaining convoy veterans, all now in the eighties and nineties.
The reception saw veterans mingling with MPs, ministers and members of the Lords and involved the first screening of a new documentary on the convoys by Desmond Cox.

But prior to that, a letter was delivered to the Prime Minister, David Cameron, at Downing Street by six veterans including Commander Eddie Grenfell, originally from Peterhead, who has, since 1997, led the Russian Convoy Club's fight to get an official medal for the Arctic campaign. The letter represents part of a last-ditch effort to have the Arctic campaign officially recognised.

The issue for Cdr Grenfell, and many of the other convoy veterans, is that when the campaign medals were decided for the Second World War, the Arctic theatre was ignored.

Instead it was included with the Battle of the Atlantic, a separate campaign to keep Britain supplied during the German U-boat blockade.

But even the Atlantic Star, in a cruel twist, was denied some veterans of the Arctic campaign. Uniquely for campaign medals, recipients of the Atlantic Star had to have fulfilled a six-month qualifying period, as opposed to just one day. This meant that many of those who sailed on the convoys and lost limbs in the extreme cold did not serve long enough to qualify for even this award.

"It is clear that the Arctic campaign was ignored because our relations with the Soviet Union were poor at the end of the war," said Cdr Grenfell.

"The Soviet Union was becoming the next enemy and there was no appetite to recognise those who had helped them out.

"The Atlantic Star qualification was then set up in such a way as to make sure that nobody who only served in the Arctic could qualify."

He explained that this was why veterans waited until the 1990s, after the Cold War ended, to launch their campaign for medal recognition. But he is clear that the campaign should have been recognised separately with its own medal. "It was crucial because those supplies basically kept the Soviet Union in the war especially in the early days," he said. "I spent several months in Murmansk in hospital and then in a Soviet army camp recovering from my injuries after being blown into the water when the ship I was on – the SS Empire Lawrence – was hit by five bombs. At that time in Murmansk, we could hear the fighting just a few miles away. The Germans were very close.

"Without the supplies we brought, the Soviet Union would have struggled to hold out."

He added: "The campaign was also in a different geographical sphere with separate aims to the Battle of the Atlantic. I sailed in both campaigns and while the Battle of the Atlantic was tough, the Arctic campaign was unimaginably worse."

As things stand, the main memorials to the Arctic Convoys is at Loch Ewe where a new museum has also opened. There are also moves to get the convoys on to the national curriculum, particularly by the Scottish Government, covering lessons in history and international affairs.
But, in opposition, parties have promised to deliver the medal and then failed to keep their pledge in office.

Prior to winning power back in 1997, Labour said it would create an Arctic Star, only to refuse to allow any recognition and then eventually grudgingly producing an Arctic Emblem in 2006 after a long campaign by veterans.

However, both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in opposition also promised to create an Arctic Star.

Defence minister Gerald Howarth has since made sure it is included in a review of how medals are sanctioned.

And last month, at Prime Minister's Questions, David Cameron appeared to suggest that he agreed the issue should be speeded up and a medal created because of the age of the veterans involved.

He told MPs that he had "considerable sympathy" with the campaign and had raised a "number of questions" with the Ministry of Defence.
He added: "Many of them (veterans] are coming to the end of their lives and it would be good if we could do something more to recognise what they have done."

However, the Tory MP for Gosport, Caroline Dinenage, who had asked the question, has since admitted she is concerned about a lack of progress.

She told The Scotsman: "It appears that the Ministry of Defence is dragging its heels. I take the view that no news is not good news.
"I received a letter from the son of one of the veterans recently who has died since I asked my question; it shows that we do not have much time left to honour these brave men who are now all in their eighties and nineties."

An early day motion was put down on the issue by SNP Westminster leader and defence spokesman Angus Robertson, who is more blunt in his criticism of the coalition government.

The motion has been signed by 47 MPs from almost every political party in the House of Commons and he believes that there is wide political will for a quick solution.

Mr Robertson said: "It is time for the government to put things right, and what better moment to do it than the 70th anniversary of the convoys.

"The Ministry of Defence is dragging its feet as usual and so the Prime Minister should personally intervene, knock heads together and announce the creation of a campaign medal without any further delay."

Under new leader Ed Miliband, the Labour Party is now also supporting the campaign. Labour's veterans' front-bench spokeswoman Gemma Doyle said: "The Arctic campaign was vital in sustaining the fight on the Eastern Front during the Second World War. It is right and proper that all who fought have their patriotic efforts recognised."

But a spokeswoman for the MoD said that the veterans would have to wait until later this year for the medal review to be completed. She said: "It is part of a wider medal review which will report later this year. We do not have a date for that as yet."

It is a statement that has been met with suspicion among the veterans. Jock Dempster, of Dunbar, who is now chairman of the Russian Convoy Club in Scotland, said: "The problem is that the MoD have always dragged their feet.

"I think it is partly because they still are suspicious towards Russia. But actually the Arctic convoys should be used as a bridge to build friendship between us and Russia."

In fact, the Russians have given the Arctic veterans three memorial medals and regularly invite them as guests of honour to Second World War commemorations and receptions where they are feted by the country's leading politicians.

"We are treated like heroes when we visit Russia," said Mr Dempster, who speaks fluent Russian.

"The last time I visited with other veterans we were met with marching bands, parades and some of the most senior officers in the navy.
Sadly, we have never been afforded the same recognition in this country. We always have the impression that the government would prefer to ignore us."

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

1st Canadian Division arrives in France - On this day in Scottish military history - 1915

Today marks the day in 1915 when the 1st Canadian Division arrived in France. These were not the first Canadian troops on the Western Front – Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry had been part of the British 80th Brigade since October 1914, but this was the first time a complete division of Canadian troops had been in France. They would receive their baptism of fire at the Battle of Gravenstafel in April when they successfully pushed back the German attack.

Why is this relevant to a blog on Scottish military history? Well, it’s important not to underestimate the influence that Scotland has had on Canada and its people. Due to the number of emigrants from these shores, and due to the passing of time, there are a vast number of Canadians who share Scottish ancestry, and this can be seen in their military.

During the First World War, a large number of battalions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force had names that echoed their Scottish ancestry – the 13th battalion was the “Royal Highlanders of Canada”, the 15th was the “48th Highlanders of Canada” and the 16th was the “Canadian Scottish”. Later battalions had names such as the Cameron Highlanders of Canada, the Nova Scotia Highlanders and the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada.

These and many other Canadian battalions served with distinction in the First World War, and the list of Battle Honours is an impressive one. It is something to be proud of that the Canadian battalions were often considered the “shock troops”, the best the Allies had, and were always relied upon to carry out any task given to them.

In an echo of their Scottish heritage, it is worth noting that another division held in high regard as the best there was…was the 51st Highland Division.

Of course, not all men serving in these Canadian/Scottish battalions were from Scotland or had Scots ancestors, but the influence cannot be ignored. It is also worth noting that many Canadian battalions without this Scottish heritage would also have had Scots serving within them.

You can see for yourself the influence Scotland had on the Canadian forces in two ways. You can see it in the number of Canadian soldiers commemorated on memorials throughout Scotland, as well as the large number listed in the Scottish National War Memorial.

You can also view the database listing the soldiers of the Canadian Expeditionary Force on the Canadian Archives website – pick a Scots surname at random and look at the number of search results and then view some of the Attestation papers. You'll find a Scottish place of birth in many of them. The Scots blood runs deep in Canada, and in our time of need in two World Wars, they came when we called. For that we should be eternally grateful.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Writer calls for Battle of Prestonpans visitor hub

From today's BBC Scotland website:

Author Alexander McCall Smith has thrown his weight behind a fundraising campaign to build a new visitor centre dedicated to the Battle of Prestonpans. Campaigners are hoping to raise £5m to build the visitor attraction in East Lothian. It would also become a permanent home for the Battle of Prestonpans Tapestry.

The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency writer helped launch the drive at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh.

The 104-metre tapestry, which tells the story of the 1745 Jacobite rising and was completed last year, is now thought to be the longest in the world.

Mr McCall Smith said he hoped the public would get behind the bid to create a permanent home for the work. He said: "When I first saw this wonderful tapestry I was completely bowled over. "It is a remarkable achievement, a monumental and beautiful work. "I am filled with admiration for the artist and the people all over Scotland who engaged in this tremendous artistic project. "I think it's very important that this should be given a good home, where it can be appreciated by local people and visitors to Scotland."

The battle was fought on 21 September 1745 and saw Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Jacobite army win a resounding victory over the Hanoverian forces of King George II.

Gareth Jones, the Battle of Prestonpans Heritage Trust chairman, said: "It's part of the story that is often overshadowed by the tragedy of Culloden and its aftermath."

Fort George Museum Cash Pledge

An item from today's Press & Journal. It is another source of funding for the redevelopment of the Highlanders Museum at Fort George near Inverness.

The Highlanders Museum covers the history of the Seaforth Highlanders (1777 - 1961), the Cameron Highlanders (1794-1961), the Queen's Own Highlanders (1961 - 1994) and the Highlanders (1994-1996). It also covers 4th Bn Royal Regiment of Scotland (4 Scots) from 2006 to the present. The Lovat Scouts also have a small display area in the museum.

We have covered the appeal in previous posts here and here. Here is today's article:

Inverness city committee agrees to contribute £130,000 to facelift at the Highlanders centre

By Mel Fairhurst 

Generous councillors opened the civic purse for future projects after allocating £130,000 for a museum scheme being supported by Hollywood heart-throb Hugh Grant.

Inverness city committee agreed yesterday to help fund a project to give the Highlanders’ Museum a £3 million facelift. Half the money has been raised already for the redevelopment project and members agreed to the extra boost from the Inverness Common Good Fund over two years from 2011-12 and 2012-13.

The move comes after Four Weddings and A Funeral star Hugh Grant lent his support to the museum at Fort George in December last year. The actor’s father served in the Seaforth Highlanders regiment and his grandfather was depot commander at Fort George after World War II.

Museum chairman Major General Seymour Monro gave a presentation and told members that although the project was not in Inverness, from 2012 it would help boost the city’s economy by £320,000 every year. The money will be used to update facilities and it is envisaged the project will be completed by summer 2012. The money from the fund will be put towards £217,000 which will be earmarked for education space at the centre.

Aird and Loch Ness councillor Drew Hendry described the plans as “exciting”, while Inverness Central councillor Bet McAllister said it was an “ambitious project”. She added: “It ticks all the right boxes and I wish you well in your endeavours.

Monday, 14 February 2011

We want YOU! (to write for us...)

Over the past few months Adam and I been working hard on the blog to bring you a selection of articles and news which we hope is of interest.

However, the SMRG isn't just the work of the two of us. And with that in mind we'd like to extend an open invitation to anyone who is interested in contributing.

There are a number of regular features which you might like to add to:
  • On this Day in Scottish Military History: we discuss an event in the past and its relevance to Scottish Military History.
  • Who's Who - a look at the career and life of a figure from Scottish history. This can be anyone from the lowliest private to the highest-ranking Field Marshall.
  • The Story Behind The Name: we pick a name from a memorial and bring their story to life.
  • Object of the Month - do you have an item that might be of interest?
These are just the features we've come up with. We're open to any suggestions you might have for an article. Have you read a book that you'd like to tell people about? Are you organising or attending an event that might be of interest? Tell us about it!

We'd be delighted to accept any articles that might be of interest to readers of this blog. You can email them to, or you can contact us via the SMRG homepage.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Who's Who in Scottish Military History - John Campbell, 4th Earl of Loudon

John Campbell, the Fourth Earl of Loudon was a Scottish soldier in the British Army who was involved in the later stages of the Jacobite Rebellion. Described as incompetent, arrogant and tyrannical he nevertheless managed to make a career as a soldier and rose to the rank of Major General. His name will crop in several 'On this Day' posts on the blog over the next few weeks so it's worth giving some background to the man here.

Born in 1705 in Loudon Castle in Ayrshire. At 22 he joined the Royal Scots Greys and by 1737 he had purchased his way up to Captain. By then his father had died and he had become 4th Earl. 1741 saw him in the important post of governor of Stirling Castle and only a couple of years later he followed the army to Flanders. After service at Dettingen in 1743 he was appointed Aide-de-Camp to George II.

In 1745 Britain was at war with France. Extra troops were needed to fight in Flanders and the Independent Companies of the 43rd Highlanders of the Black Watch were assembled for overseas service. Their gendarme role in the highlands was to be filled with a new regiment raised by Loudon.

Twelve companies of highlanders were raised in June 1745 but unfortunately for Loudon his regiment was to be put to the test sooner than he hoped.
The first blow came at Prestonpans in September 1745 when three companies were lost in the rout of Cope's army. Loudoun was serving as adjutant-general to Sir John Cope and was also at Prestonpans. He managed to escape capture and in October 1745 he was sent to Inverness to take comand of the remaining companies of his 64th Highlanders scattered in barracks across the Highlands.

By early 1746 the Jacobites had retreated from Derby and were heading north to rendezvous at Inverness, which just happened to be Loudon's base.

Loudon gathered together his remaining companies of the 64th Highlanders at Inverness except for garrisons at Ruthven, Fort Augustus and Fort William. He also gathered some companies of loyal clans from the Northwest of Scotland. In all he had about 2,000 men under his command.

He failed in a disastrous attempt to intercept Prince Charles Edward south of Inverness where his large force was routed by a small number of determined Jacobites. He realised his force of untrained regulars and hastily raised loyal clansmen were no match for the Jacobites. The clansmen who had seen off government forces at Prestonpans and Falkirk were left to march into Inverness virtually unopposed as Loudon retreated further north.

He was then outflanked at Dornoch by an amphibious landing of Jacobites and decided the North was too hot for him. He scattered his force and headed west, away from Cumberland's army. He saw the end of the Jacobite Rebellion whilst in Skye.

Although he had failed to stop any Jacobite force sent against him during his time in the North he had distracted large numbers of Jacobites away from the main force opposing Cumberland, and his presence at Inverness between October 1745 and February 1746 impeded Jacobites attempts to raise new recruits for their army.

After Culloden he was involved in pacifying the Highlands. Unlike the harsh treatement generally meted out by the Hanoverians, Loudon seems to have been realtively fair to his fellow countrymen.

His regiment was disbanded in 1748 after service in France, and in 1749 took command of the 30th Foot. In 1755 he was promoted to Major General.

His next major command was in North America where in 1756 he was sent to take over as Governor General of Virginia. Loudon had loyally served the Duke of Cumberland for many years and Cumberland repayed his loyalty with this important command.
This was during the Seven Years War against France and he was also given command of British forces in North America. Unfortunately for Loudon he often ignored the advice of local soldiers such as George Washington. He was outwitted by the French, and whilst his troops failed in their attack on the French-Canadian fort and town of Louisburg, it allowed Montcalm to take his army to capture the strategic British position of Fort William Henry.

Although Loudon was a good administrator and put in place many of the logistics needed to fight a war in such harsh conditions, he had overseen a string of reverses and was replaced by another Scot, James Abercrombie.

Britain was at war with France and Spain, and Major Generals were still needed so he was entrusted to garrisoning the captured French island of Belle Île. France had pretty much given up on recapturing the island so it should have been a safe posting for Loudon.

Events overtook the best plans of the War Office to keep Loudon out of trouble. In 1762 Spain invaded Portugal. Loudon was the nearest spare British commander and he was sent from Belle Île. Luckily a more senior officer was there to take command of the combined Portuguese and British Army. William, Count of Schaumburg-Lippe who just happened to be one of the best commanders on either side during the war, repeatedly beat off Spanish attacks and eventually forced the Spanish back.
Loudon acted in Lippe's shadow until the Spanish were beaten, and once the Portuguese Army was rebuilt Lippe felt it safe to leave and Loudon took over as Commander in 1763.

That was pretty much the end of Loudon's less than glittering military career. The Seven Years War came to an end shortly after Loudon's promotion to Commander in Portugal. He returned home to the postion of Governor of Edinburgh Castle and was made Colonel of the Scots Guards. He retired as General in 1770 and went home to improve his estate in Ayrshire where he took a notion to plant lots of willow trees.

He died unmarried aged 76 in 1782. He lived long enough to see some of his former Jacobite foes back in the fold raising regiments to fight against rebellious Americans. I wonder what he thought of his former enemies, now Hanoverians, fighting his former friends, now rebels.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Object of the Month - February 2011

A new feature now, where we highlight an item of interest - this might be something in our own personal collections, or it may be an item on display or "hidden" in storage in a museum which we think worth showcasing.

This months item comes courtesy of the museum of the Royal Highland Fusiliers in Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow. I'm told that this item has been in the stores, but is currently in the admin office pending a decision on how it might be displayed.
This is a silver cup, hallmarked "Birmingham 1915". It appears to be an award given to the Battalion in 32nd Division which captured the most enemy prisoners.
It was won by the 15th Battalion of the Highland Light Infantry in April 1918. The battalion had captured 161 prisoners and 9 machine guns.

A little further research makes us believe that this trophy was awarded for the Battalions performance in the Battle of Ayette - the village was retaken by the Allies on the 3rd April 1918. The fighting was particularly brutal for the HLI - forty percent of the attacking force was lost. The battalion was well decorated for their actions, winning two Distinguished Service Orders, seven Military Crosses, six Distinguished Conduct Medals, and no fewer than 26 Military Medals. 

Click on the images for larger versions.
(Our thanks to Sandy Leishman at the RHF Museum for the images)

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Angus MacKenzie: The Story Behind the Name

Directly above Robert George Mavor on the British Linen Bank memorial is the name of Angus Mackenzie. Unlike Mavor, Angus Mackenzie didn't win any awards, and his death didn't (so far as we know) result in letters of fulsome praise to his family, but his story is no less valid than that of Mavor's, and it deserves to be told just as much as his.

Angus Mackenzie was born on the 7th July 1896, the son of John and Marion Mackenzie, of 25 Dalnair Street, Glasgow. He was educated at Woodside Higher Grade School and later the Glasgow High School.

After leaving school at Christmas 1912 he joined the Hillhead branch of the British Linen Bank.

In about 1913 he joined the Territorial Army, enlisting in the 5th Scottish Rifles, and on the outbreak of war he served a year of home service before volunteering to serve abroad in early 1916.

On the 20th July 1916, Mackenzie together with the rest of the 5th Scottish Rifles were involved in the battle for High Wood.

High Wood was the last of the major woods taken by the British forces during the Somme offensive of 1916. The first assault was on the 14th July, and after several assaults it was finally successfully taken in September. The attack of the 20th July was undertaken by several battalions, including the 1st Cameronians, 5th Scottish Rifles and the 20th Royal Fusiliers.

The attack was unsuccessful. Few men reached the wood itself, and those that did were cut down by German machine gun emplacements within the wood.

The 5th Scottish Rifles suffered 25 Officers and men killed, 165 wounded, and 217 missing, the majority of whom were never found.

Angus Mackenzie was initially reported wounded and missing at High Wood. It was not until June 1917 that he was officially declared to have died on the 20th July 1916.

The body of Angus Mackenzie was eventually found and identified, and he lies in Section XI, Row A, Grave 34 of Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, Longueval. He is commemorated on the British Linen Bank war memorial in Edinburgh.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Scottish Railway Staff Records at General Register House

The National Archives of Scotland are due to close their West Search Room in Edinburgh on Friday 25th and before that happens they are moving records to General Register House on Princes Street. Among the records already moved are Scottish railway staff records. This may interest anyone researching names on any of the railway company war memorials in Scotland.

The records of interest would be

First World War

  • BR/ CAL/15: Caledonian Railway staff records, 1867-1935
  • BR/GNS/15: Great North of Scotland Railway staff records, 1870-1929
  • BR/GSW/15:Glasgow and South Western Railway staff records, 1890s-1930s
  • BR/HR/15: Highland Railway staff records, 1878-1957
  • BR/NBR/15:North British Railway staff records, 1867-1936

Second World War

  • BR/LMS/15: London Midland and Scottish Railway staff records, 1924-1948
  • BR/LNE/15: London and North Eastern Railway staff records, 1923-1947

We have the five Scottish railway company war memorials on the Scottish War Memorial Project here:

Caledonian Railway, Glasgow

Great North of Scotland Railway, Aberdeen

Glasgow & South West Railway, Ayr

Highland Railway Company, Inverness

North British Railway Company, Edinburgh

We also have two other railway memorials:

Kipp's Locomotive Repair Department, North British Railway

Perth Railway Station Staff

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Germans land at Leith - On this day in Scottish Military History - 1746

Recently during this series of ‘On This Day’ we have been comparing events from seventy years ago during the Second World War, and two hundred and sixty five years ago during the ’45 Rebellion.

We have mentioned the landing of some German spies in Banffshire in 1940 and for this ‘On this Day’ I have chosen another day when Germans sailed across the North Sea to land on our shore.

In early 1746 things weren’t going well for King George II. In Flanders his troops were struggling against the French army. In Britain he had limited resources to put down the Jacobites, and to make matters worse for him a force of 6,000 Dutch troops under his command in the UK could not be used in the fight against the Jacobites.

The Dutchmen had been captured at Tournai in June 1745 and paroled by the French on the promise they wouldn’t fight France or her allies again during the current European war.

Neither George II nor the Dutch republic wanted to waste good troops so George hired the Dutch soldiers and swapped them for British troops within the UK which could then be sent to fight the French on the continent.

That meant that when the Jacobites were marching south to Derby they should have been met by a large force of Dutch troops. However the French had formally allied themselves with the Jacobites on 24th October 1745 by signing a Treaty at Fontainebleau. With a stroke of a pen the Jacobite army in Scotland became an official ally of France, and the Dutch troops could not fight against them; they could only stand aside as the Jacobites marched past them.

George now had thousands of foreign soldiers in Britain he couldn’t use. He didn’t want to recall British troops from Europe so he looked around for other soldiers he could hire.

He had the good fortune to find them on his Hanoverian doorstep in Hesse-Kassel in the Rhineland of Germany.

Like the Dutch the Hessians had a large number of paroled troops they couldn’t use. Luckily for George the Hessians had been paroled by the Austrians and not the French, so George was able to hire them to fight against the Jacobites.

And that is why on today’s date in 1746 six thousand German soldiers under the command of Prince Frederick of Hesse arrived at Leith docks to serve in the Duke of Cumberland’s Army.

Funding for Helensburgh War Memorial

A recent news story concerning funding to repair the memorial at Helensburgh:

Helensburgh's historic war memorial in Hermitage Park will benefit from a major donation received today (Thursday February 3) by Argyll and Bute Council.

Helensburgh war memorialThrough the auspices of Helensburgh Heritage Trust, the Faslane-based marine and technology division of the Babcock International Group presented a cheque for £2,000 to help pay for much needed repairs.
The cheque was handed over by Babcock business services director Seonaidh MacDonald to Councillor Al Reay, watched by Trust chairman Stewart Noble.

Pictured (from left) are Councillor Al Reay, Seonaidh MacDonald and Stewart Noble. Photo by Donald Fullarton.

Mr MacDonald said: “We are delighted to support this project which has such significance to the historical importance of this area. We hope that our contribution to the restoration work enables the local community to continue to appreciate this monument."

It has been reckoned that perhaps one in five of the young men in Helensburgh was killed during the First World War, and a similar number were probably injured both physically and mentally to differing extents.

In common with the vast majority of towns and villages throughout Scotland it was decided that a war memorial should be erected to remind local people of the horrors these young men had undergone.

After the war money was raised by public subscription to build a substantial war memorial in the walled garden of Hermitage House, which had been bought by the town in 1911 to form a public park.

A design competition for the war memorial was won by the well-known local architect and artist A.N.Paterson and the memorial was completed a few years later, at which point it was handed over to Helensburgh Town Council.

Following various changes in the organisation of local government over the years, the war memorial now belongs to Argyll and Bute Council.

Historic Scotland, who are responsible for the listing of historic buildings and structures, have given the war memorial itself, the walls of the old garden and the gates to the war memorial, a grade A listing. This gives these three structures a listing of the highest possible importance, and it is the only war memorial in Argyll and Bute to have such a high category.

Mr Noble said: “There has been increasing concern over the state of the surroundings of the war memorial in recent years, although the memorial itself is in good order.

“Firstly, a substantial hole developed in the west wall, and this was only repaired in 2010. Secondly, there has been substantial growth of ivy over the walls in many places — while this is perhaps helping to hold the walls up at the moment, ultimately it is likely to damage the walls and perhaps even cause their collapse. Thirdly, the walls require pointing, and fourthly the pond has been leaking.”

Two years ago Argyll and Bute Council reckoned that some £30,000 required to be spent to rectify all these problems.

The state of the war memorial was raised at a Heritage Trust board meeting, and it was decided to write to Babcock at Faslane to see whether they might be prepared to make a charitable donation towards the repairs.

Mr Noble said: “Very generously they decided to give the Trust £2,000 for this, and this money was presented today by the Heritage Trust to Argyll and Bute Council in their role as the owners of the war memorial.”

Monday, 7 February 2011

Featured memorials - Tarbert, Argyll

If you looked at a close up photograph of the civic war memorial at Tarbert there is nothing much to distinguish it from a hundred other obelisks in town and villages across Scotland. There are no names of famous people or well known war heroes. It is a typical Scottish war memorial.

What does distinguish it from others is its location. On a quiet, bright, sunny Spring morning there are probably few finer places in Argyll to stand, than beside this war memorial.

As you overlook the village and harbour; as the sun glints of the ripples on East Loch Tarbert and Loch Fyne, you can understand why this particular spot was chosen.

You find memorials like this around the rural communities of Scotland. They are placed in commanding positions above a parish where you can see many of the landmarks the people listed on the memorial would have known so well.

Perhaps anyone visiting the memorial in those years after the war could look around them and remind themselves of one of the things those listed fought for. Their home.

It is ninety years since most of these civic memorials were first erected. There are only a few people still alive who knew those listed on the First World War panels.

The people who actually chose its design and location will all be gone. Perhaps too the reasons for choosing a particular location will have been forgotten. Many Scottish war memorials have been moved from their original location for many reasons; accessibility, road safety, vandalism. But some, like this one at Tarbert should never been moved.

Until you stand beside it yourself on a Spring morning you can get some idea of the view from Google Maps Street View and please have a look at the post on the Scottish War Memorials Project.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

SS "Politician" runs aground off Eriskay - this day in Scottish Military History - 1941

A bit of a tenuous military connection to today's "On this day.." since it is about a shipwreck of a merchant ship due to a storm. However it happened during wartime and the contents of the ship's hold were rationed in the UK at the time.

The ship in question was the Steamship "Politician" which ran aground onto the rocks off Eriskay on this day seventy years ago. Hundreds of merchant ships were lost during the war due to enemy action or an act of God, but this one was special to the locals because amongst its cargo were 28,000 cases of malt whisky.

The ship didn't break up when it hit the rocks and the crew escaped to shore and were taken in by nearby islanders. Word soon spread round the island that 264,000 bottle of whisky were on their doorstep. Soon men from Eriskay and other Hebridean islands were making night time trips to the ship. Apart from whisky there were also thousands of ten shilling notes destined for Jamaica and they too started to disappear from the ship.

A local customs officer was well aware of what was happening and eventually managed to get the hull of the 'Politician' blown up which allowed the forces of nature to complete the job of destroying the ship and what was left of its cargo. He was too late to stop at least 24,000 untaxed bottles of whisky and an undisclosed sum of money making their way into circulation though.

The incident was made into the Ealing comedy "Whisky Galore!" in 1949. Being based on Compton McKenzie's 1947 novel of the same name. In a rare move for the time most of the film was shot in location in the Hebrides with Barra standing in for the fictitious Island of Todday. Here's a wee taster...

Friday, 4 February 2011

The Story Behind the Name: Robert Mavor

Whenever you look at a war memorial, it is important to remember that the men and women commemorate are more than just a name on a plaque. This new regular feature will pick selected names on memorials and tell you a little about their lives.

My research into the Bank of Scotland memorials has also meant researching some of the banks which were incorporated into the Bank of Scotland, later HBOS and now the Lloyds Banking Group.

One such bank is the British Linen Bank. Their memorial can be seen in the Bank of Scotland branch in St Andrews Square in Edinburgh, and one of the names on that memorial is Robert George Mavor, MC.

The British Linen Bank First World War memorial in Edinburgh.

Robert George Innis Mavor was born in September 1891, the youngest son of John and Margaret Mathieson Mavor. He was educated at George Heriot’s School from 1903 to 1907, and served his apprenticeship with the Linen Bank in the Newington branch before being appointed permanently in the Head Office. He was a member of the Institute of Bankers.

He was released for military service by the bank on the 21st October 1915, and was commissioned into the 7th Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders as a Second Lieutenant.

He arrived in France in October 1916, and in April 1917 he was awarded the Military Cross for his actions at Vimy Ridge. The citation reads:

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He took command of the company during the advance at a time when it was held up by machine gun fire. He reorganized the company and handled it with great skill. His fine example and skill enabled the company to gain its final objective.

The Captain of the company concerned wrote to Mavors’ parents, giving them a little more detail about the events leading to his award:

“I was hit in the knee, and unable to move. Things looked black; but your son, on finding I was hit, took command, reorganized the company, and led them forward, clearing out the enemy and taking our objective, for which splendid work he was recommended by the Colonel. It was magnificently done, and he deserves great credit , especially as he was slightly wounded at the time.”

Despite being wounded he was able to continue his duties, but he would not live to see the award of the Military Cross as he was killed in action at Roeux on the 23rd April 1917.

His Colonel wrote to his parents:

“It is with the greatest regret that I have to tell you that your son was killed on the 23rd, while gallantly leading his men in the attack. He was one of the most capable young officers I had, and had already done splendidly in the Vimy Ridge. His name would have been sent in for special mention.”

A fellow officer wrote:

“He went with B Company to attack Roeux on the 23rd, but unfortunately was killed by machine-gun fire in the woods before reaching the village. His men tell me he was slightly wounded, but refused to give up, like the true and faithful soldier he has always shown himself, until he was mortally hit. He is the greatest loss to the battalion as he was loved by everyone, and his work at all times was beyond praise.”

Another officer wrote:

“I knew your son well, and the longer he was with me the more I appreciated his sterling qualities. Always cheerful and willing, his men loved him and would go anywhere with him; an officer can have no finer tribute paid him…in his death the battalion have lost one of their very best officers, and the company, both officers and men, a bright and unselfish companion.”

Robert Mavor is buried in Section I, Row A, Grave 11/16 of Level Crossing Cemetery, Fampoux. As well as being commemorated on the British Linen Bank war memorial in Edinburgh, he is also listed on the memorial at George Heriot's School.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Lanarkshire FHS talk on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Lanarkshire Family History Society's guest speaker for February will be Iain Anderson, Regional Supervisor (Scotland) of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

The meeting will be on Thursday 10th February at the GLO Centre in Motherwell. The meeting starts at 7.30pm and visitors are welcome to attend.

Bench named for Gordon Gentle to be unveiled in Glasgow

There will be an unveiling ceremony at George Square at 2pm on Friday of a bench to Fusilier Gordon Gentle of the Royal Highland Fusiliers, who was killed by insurgents in Iraq some years back.

Representatives of the Royal Highland Fusiliers will be in attendance, as well as members of Gordons family.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

On this day in Scottish military history - 1746, The Jacobites admit defeat at Stirling Castle.

On 17th January 1746 at Falkirk Muir the Jacobites had inflicted a crushing blow on the Government Forces in Central Scotland. In a surprise attack the Jacobites had routed General Henry Hawley's army which was threatening Bonnie Prince Charlie's army which was besieging Stirling Castle.

Once again the highlanders' charge had delivered a victory, but it would be the last time a full blooded highland charge with broadswords and dirks would clear a battlefield. Even while they celebrated their victory and Prince Charles pressed for a march south, the Duke of Cumberland was advancing north with more government soldiers determined to crush the rebellion.

With Scotland in the grip of Winter, and desertions depleting their army, the Jacobite command realised they could not take Stirling Castle before Cumberland arrived. They decided to march to Inverness where they could regroup. With the decision made the Jacobite Army struck camp and continued its long retreat north on this day in 1746.