INVERARAY IN WARTIME ~
Wartime Memories of Three Local Residents
In the early to mid 1940s, the small
Scottish town of Inveraray hosted an estimated quarter of a million service
personnel. They came to the remote shores of Loch Fyne to practice amphibious landing techniques
away from prying eyes and the Luftwaffe. These are the personal recollections of these
times compiled by three local residents.
Preparations for War
Few people who lived through the wartime years, are likely to
forget Sunday, 3rd September, 1939 when Britain declared war on Germany.
Many young men and women
soon left the area to go to war, while
older men and boys, waiting for call-up, formed a Local Defence Volunteer Company (later the Home Guard) under the command
of Captain, John Campbell-Blair, Dalchenna and Lieut. A M MacPherson,
Manager of the local Union Bank (later the Bank of Scotland).
In addition, an
Observer Corps was formed under the command of Captain, Walter Thursby, at Horse Park. The police force, under Sgt Taylor was augmented by
Special Constables, recruited from Inveraray Estate workers, who had
seen service in WW1.
[Photo; Capt John
Campbell-Blair outside Dalchenna
courtesy of his granddaughter
Peters (nee Campbell-Blair.]
In preparation for the outbreak of hostilities, plans had
been made for the evacuation of city children to the comparative safety of the countryside. These plans were now implemented.
thunderstorm the Duchess of Hamilton tied up at Inveraray pier and a troop of bewildered children was led down the gangway. They were marshalled at the Jubilee Hall in the Maltland, where
they were given a hot meal cooked by a committee of local ladies.
Under the direction of Mr James Carmichael, a local
contractor, every available car in the district, including those at
Turnbull's garage, were used to convey the children to their
respective destinations in the area. The children were given a warm welcome.
a view of Inveraray from the watchtower c 1942 by RCAF,
LAC, Karl Work.]
The original women and
children evacuees numbered 424. However, many could not settle in the
quite isolated community and soon returned home. They preferred to face
the dangers of the German bombers in familiar surroundings than avoid
them around Loch Fyne! In the school log of September 25, 1939, the headmaster, Donald MacKechnie noted "Government evacuees began work today along with our own pupils - 22 boys, 43 girls." By December, 1943
only four evacuees
remained in the burgh.
In 1940, after the fall of France
and the evacuation of the Allied Expeditionary Force from
Dunkirk, Prime Minister, Winston Churchill began
planning for the re-invasion of Europe still some years away. Admiral Keyes,
Director of the newly formed Combined Operations Command, began a search for a suitable place
for Commandos and landing craft crews to train together. Inveraray
was selected and on the 15th October, 1940, Vice Admiral, Theodore Hallet, RN assumed command of
the No 1 Combined Training Centre. Suddenly, this quiet little
town found itself playing an important part in the
war against Germany.
Royal Engineer and Pioneer Companies duly arrived to set up
camps assisted by local firms Messrs James Carmichael and Messrs Cowieson
of Glasgow as principal contractors.
Town Camp and Avenue Camp were
erected behind the Newtown and the Duke's and Castle Camps sprang up in the castle grounds. Shira Camp was built at the entrance to
Glen Shira and, south of the town, land on Dalchenna Farm was requisitioned to build a Naval Camp known as "HMS Quebec" now Argyll
Further along the shore, Kilbride and Chamois Camps were established
and occupied without delay. Many famous regiments received specialised
Commando and amphibious landing training on the shores of Loch Fyne
and the surrounding hills.
landing beaches and HMS Quebec
that comprised the No1 Combined
Commandos, who later took part in many raids on enemy
occupied territory, had their first training here. They arrived in the late autumn in troopships which anchored
off the Creags. Among their officers was Captain, Randolph Churchill, son of the Prime Minister.
Some of the larger houses and
buildings in the town were requisitioned by the Admiralty. These included Dalchenna House, Fern Point, Coffee House, Rudha-na-Craig and
Tigh-na-Ruadh (the present Loch Fyne Hotel) - the latter becoming Admiralty House. In the grounds of Fern Point, a Nissan hut was
established for use as a decontamination centre. Other buildings were requisitioned during these war years included Cherry Park,
which became the Quartermaster's store. The old byre there was transformed into a cook house.
The town was often the scene of
attack and defence manoeuvres from doorway to doorway and close to close. Khaki clad men armed with Tommy guns and revolvers would overrun the
streets, whilst townspeople carried on with their normal activities.
One young evacuee lived with his
grandparents in a house facing the pier. He spent hours watching the comings and goings of soldiers and ships in the harbour area. He
wrote a letter to his parents giving them a blow by blow account of everything he had observed from his vantage point. Owing to
censorship of letters at the time, all his parents received was a heading "Dear Mum and Dad" and a tail piece "Love
J MacIntyre, an
officer of the 1914-18 war with the rank of Major, presided over the Town Council. He also acted as Welfare Officer between
and Civilian authorities. It was a busy and difficult time for civic dignitaries. They had to cope with
demands for extra water and provisions to meet the requirements
of workmen and HM Forces personnel. In a Minute of the Town Council, dated 20th September 1940, it was noted that baffle walls were to be erected
in front of the closes in the town. As a protection against enemy air action, it was also agreed to order a dozen stirrup pumps at £1. 0s 0p
each to put out fires.
The off duty hours of troops were
made as comfortable as possible. A cinema was built within the castle grounds and a large NAFFI canteen was built on the site of
the present day Youth Hostel. The local WVS, under the presidency of Mrs Alex
J MacIntyre, supported by local ladies, opened a canteen in
the St Malieu Hall. The venue proved immensely popular with the soldiers and opening hours invariably found a long
queue waiting. A cup of tea or coffee and bun cost one old penny and the profits went towards parcels for the troops.
M MacPherson, a local banker's wife, looked after the financial side of the organisation, while Mrs John MacCallum was Hon
Secretary, later succeeded by Mrs James Drummond. In addition to the voluntary running of the canteen WVS dispatched parcels to the
local boys serving in the war zones.
[Photo: Inveraray Castle, Karl
Work c 2000.]
HMS Queen Emma and HMS Princess Beatrix were the
first troop carrying ships to remain anchored off the town. The transport/
accommodation ship Ettrick with troops for amphibious training aboard, lay off shore as did the hospital ships "St David" and "St Andrew." These
American so called
"lend lease" ships were used until the Jubilee Hall at the Maitland was converted to a Military Hospital.
It had 50 beds complete with a fully equipped operating theatre
and X-ray room. The hospital was staffed by Queen Alexandra's Imperial Medical
Nursing Staff and by VADs who were housed in the Maitland buildings.
The Medical Orderlies and ambulance drivers shared hut
accommodation on the Greens. Some local people, as well as
military personnel, owe their lives to the skill and dedication
of hospital staff based there.
By 1941, two more ships
arrived the Quebec and the Beverly Brook. There were regular comings and goings of naval ships including
units of the Allied Fleets. Dutch oil-driven lighters were for a long time
on duty mostly around Kilbride. Two Canadian lake steamers, the
Eaglescliffe Hall and the A A Fields were anchored off the pier - the latter was sunk during the D-Day
landings on the Normandy coast.
In Dalchenna Bay, two Mississippi
river boats, the US Northland and the US Southland were stationed as a camp overflow. Several of their
sister ships were sunk crossing the Atlantic to Britain.
In the latter part of 1943 and early
1944 a number of Docker Companies underwent invasion training at Kilbride Camp. This consisted of loading and unloading ships under war
conditions including the use of live ammunition to create realistic
On the 27th June, 1941, the Right
Honourable Winston Spencer Churchill , MP, Prime Minister and War Leader visited the Inveraray Training Area. The Premier,
with his entourage, came ashore below the Manse from landing craft after witnessing operations at Ardno
beach near St Catherine's. As he entered
Admiralty House, a number of householders from nearby Newtown greeted him. He replied "God bless you all."
told the Provost how much he appreciated the wonderful setting
of the Royal Burgh and declared that he and all his War
Office, realised how much the people of Inveraray were doing under great difficulties. He wished his personal thanks to be conveyed to
the Council. His closing words were "Carry on Provost. By our united efforts victory is sure." (Town Council Minutes).
at Kilbride, from a sandbagged shelter, he watched demolition of barbed wire entanglements and a demonstration of beach assault and
landing techniques. Prior to his departure from Loch Fyne, the Prime minister marched behind a Military Band to the pier. He
responded to loud cheering by waving his cap on a walking stick above his head!
In the autumn of 1941, His Majesty
King George VI visited the Inveraray Training Area. On arrival he was received at the pier head by His Grace the Duke of Argyll, Lord
Lieutenant. The Provost, Magistrates and members
of the Town Council, were presented to His Majesty - Provost Alex J MacIntyre, Baillie Arch H MacDonald, Baillie Donald MacLaren, Dean
of Guild Alexander Gillespie, Councillor James Devine, Councillor High B Jenkins and Deputy Town Clerk,
George M Sime. After lunch at
Admiralty House, the King proceeded by sea to Frenchfarland where he too observed demolition exercises. After visiting Kilbride Camp
and HMS Quebec he returned to Inveraray and left by sea.
Norwegian troops undergoing training
were visited for two days by HM King Haakon of Norway and HH the Crown Price Olaf. His Majesty held a
review in the Stable Park and was the guest of his officers at the Petty Officer's Club (Coffee House). The royal visitors resided at
Admiralty House, which was placed at their disposal by the Lords of the Admiralty. During their stay the Norwegian National flag was flown on the
Lord Louis Mountbatten succeeded Lord
Keyes as Head of Combined Operations and in that capacity he visited Inveraray to boost the morale of the men at a time when things were
looking grim. A large contingent of WRNS,
billeted at Dalchenna, was stationed at HMS Quebec. Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent and
the Chief Commander visited there to
open a new sick bay.
American, Canadian, Free French,
Poles and Russians were also trained at Inveraray. On one occasion several landing craft, one of which was flying the Stars and Stripes,
were seen approaching the shore below the manse. The company, who walked up to Admiralty House, included General Eisenhower, Major
General Thorne, GOC Scottish Command and Mr Winant, US Ambassador to Britain.
Odds & Ends
In 1940 the BEF
(British Expeditionary Force) retreated to
Dunkirk amongst which was the 51st Highland Division. It included the 7th and 8th Battalions of the Argyll and Sutherland highlanders.
The Division was cut off at
St. Valery and the survivors were forced to surrender. Several local men were taken prisoner and spent the remainder of the war as
POWs. Among these was Captain Ian Campbell who was heir to the Duke of Argyll. During captivity, his wife Louise (later Duchess
Louise), was instrumental in forming a link with agencies whereby parcels and comforts were transported to the men in the POW camps. Many Argyll
men had cause to remember her with heartfelt gratitude.
One local lady will be remembered, with affection
by troops who passed through Inveraray. She was Miss Kirsty MacLachlan of the Temperance Hotel (corner of Main Street
East and Front Street). Kirsty turned her hotel into a home from home for all who cared to call and was affectionately known as
"The Mother of the Fleet."
A casualty of war was the church
steeple which was removed because it was unsafe. Each stone was carefully numbered and stored in the old quarry at Bealach an Fhuarain with the intention of rebuilding the spire at the end of hostilities.
The fate of these stones has long remained a mystery, but,
by the end of the war, they had disappeared!
lovely old parish church of Inveraray still stands denuded of
was the focal point of the town. Luckily the town clock and the
church bell, which were removed during the demolition of the
steeple and stored for safekeeping, have been returned to their
There are around 300 books listed on our 'Combined
Operations Books' page which can be purchased on-line from the
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if you have a story or any
information about wartime Inveraray.
From an original
article written by Ann M Craig, Rae MacGregor and Sheila W MacIntyre (1994).