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Inveraray in Wartime - No1 Combined Training Centre.

The 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 over 4 years. 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.

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.

During a 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.

[Photo; Capt John Campbell-Blair outside Dalchenna House, courtesy of his granddaughter Juliet Peters (nee Campbell-Blair.]

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.

Combined Operations

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.

[Photo; a view of Inveraray from the watchtower c 1942 by RCAF, LAC, Karl Work.]

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 the Argyll Caravan Park.

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.

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 Nissen hut was established for use as a decontamination centre. Other buildings were requisitioned during these war years, including Cherry Park, which became the Quartermaster's store. The old byre there was transformed into a cook house.

[Camps, practice landing beaches and HMS Quebec that comprised the No1 Combined Training Centre.]

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 Jim."

Provost A 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 the Military 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 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.

[Photo: Inveraray Castle, Karl Work c 2000.]

Mrs. A 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.

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 war conditions.

VIP Visits

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."

He 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).

Later 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 Hugh 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 flagstaff.

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! Today the lovely old parish church of Inveraray still stands denuded of what 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 rightful place.

Further Reading

On this website; The No 1 Combined Training Centre.

There are around 300 books listed on our 'Combined Operations Books' page which can be purchased on-line from the Advanced Book Exchange (ABE) whose search banner checks the shelves of thousands of book shops world-wide. Type in or copy and paste the title of your choice or use the 'keyword' box for book suggestions. There's no obligation to buy, no registration and no passwords. Click 'Books' for more information.

Please contact us 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).

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