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Scotland in WWII

I'm watching PBS's "My Grandparents' War". I'd seen other segments, but Kirstin Scott Thomas's grandfather included the convoys to Murmansk in his duties as a Royal Navel Captain in WWII. (He also rescued over 2,000 people from Dunkirk!!!) I'd first heard about this part of WWII when I read Alistair MacLean's book, HMS Ulysses. I read that book in my 20s and was quite struck by all that they endured. Then, when my parents and I did a trip over the top we found ourselves. driving around Loch Ewe and realizing that this is where they started the convoys. It can be a bit eery.

There are other WWII links to Scotland. Notably there is the Commando Memorial near Spean Bridge. Again, it was a novel that told me about the men who served here. It was by Douglas Reeman, but sadly, my move to NYC meant I donated those paperback in a Wisconsin garage sale....But the novel I read was about a commander sent north to Scotland to train in midget subs so that they could sink German ships in Norwegian fiords.

There is also the Shetland Bus. I heard about it through a book I picked up in Inverness by the same name.

And of course, there is Scapa Flow and the Churchill Barriers and Italian Chapel.

Scotland seems a long way from the English Channel, but it played a big role in WWII.

Are there other stories to tell?


Posted by
29709 posts

Notably there is the Commando Memorial near Spean Bridge. Again, it was a novel that told me about the men who served here

My dad was one.

Posted by
8386 posts

Nigel, wow. I have seen that memorial of course.

Thanks to your father for his service.

Posted by
29709 posts

Yes - that memorial. Special place for me and my family.

Just up the road at Achnacarry was the basic training centre for commandos.

My father was a sapper who volunteered to be a commando, and was selected. The day of arrival, as we now know was customary, the troop train was disembarked at Spean Bridge station - on the wrong side away from the platform - wearing full battle gear, arms and pack, and had to march double time to the castle grounds where the induction was, 7 miles away. Any man who failed to complete the march or any following training was RTU'd (return to unit) out. This, according to my father, was the beginning of working as a team - any man who fell was picked up - on the run - by the others and he and his kit made it to the finishing line to save RTU.

On either side of the path into the training centre were fresh graves, with headstones such as "he forgot to keep his head down" and other such. Only later did he and his colleagues learn that the graves were not real.

What was real were the bullets flying around. The man trained under live fire to give them the best training, but some were genuinely lost to inattention, very sadly. They learned everything commandos needed to know about explosives, working behind enemy lines, parachuting, radio, and everything else. They learned to be sharpshooters and how to kill silently.

My father was in Sicily before the invasion, as he was at Montecassino before the assaults began. He was in Yugoslavia working with the Tito partisans and in Greece. He ended the war on the Po near Comacchio near Ferrara in Italy.

The specialty of the little group he was in was infiltrating and booby trapping German facilities including toilet blocks. He survived virtually unhurt except for he bit part of his tongue off in a battle, he finished the war with a handful of others of the 30 that had initially been deployed together.

He absolutely hated the war, and it wasn't until months before his death at 82 that he wrote and spoke about it. His family in Cheltenham was bombed out 3 times.

Not good.

I'm proud of him.

Posted by
11576 posts

Oh Nigel...what a story! I'm proud of him too.

I think many of those that fought in WWII just did not talk. It was only when my brother and I were taking turns taking our elderly Dad to his WWII pilot reunions that he finally started talking about his experiences (and his buddies talked to US about HIM, lol!!). Listening to him with his squadron-mates was an experience. Hard to imagine those frail old gentlemen as hot-shot P47 pilots! There are only a few still living from his group, one of whom just turned 100.

Posted by
2437 posts

Really interesting story about your father, Nigel. No wonder you are proud of him. We owe him and all those who fought in WWII so much.

Posted by
5675 posts

Wow, thank you Nigel. That is the real story. When I stopped at the memorial many years I was struck by the countryside. I had been to Scotland when I read all those WWII historical novels, but it wasn't until the 90s that I travel with a car. Standing there and looking around at Ben Nevis and the surrounding countryside, I felt so grateful for their efforts. When I read the historical novels I was scarfing up every book I could find on Scotland. The monument made the connection from fiction to reality for me.


Posted by
170 posts

Scotland and it’s people were not only heroes in WW2 but WW1 as well. In 1918, two American war ships sank off the coast of Islay in the Inner Hebrides, The Tuscania was torpedoed by a German submarine. The Otranto collided with another ship and sank during a storm.
The Museuem of Islay Life shares the story of how this small island community rescued hundreds of American sailors from the wreckages. Many did not survive. Their recovered bodies, many unrecognizable after being battered by the sea and rocks, fills 83 pages of a handwritten notebook of the constable of Bowmore to help identify the bodies. You can see at the museum. It’s a poignant and heroic story how a tiny community of civilians risked their lives to not only rescue but feed, nurse and shelter our soldiers until help could arrive.

Here is some more information:

Posted by
5675 posts

Good point about WWI. My own grandfather who while he served in the Canadian Expeditionary force was from Orkney and South Ronaldsay. He met my grandmother during the war in England. They go married after the war and headed to Hoy where they stayed for many months before emigrating back to the US and Boston. A funny tidbit...the Selective Service of the US had been looking for him as he hadn't registered for the draft! He managed to explain that he'd been fighting for the CEF since the beginning of the war. Of course, Orkney had its own WWI events. See this site.

Posted by
1464 posts

Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, and Aberdeen were of course targets for the blitz. I have heard stories of friends and family from the NE about mines and other war materiel floating into the harbours of the likes of Stonehaven.

Although not covered that much, in Christian Wolmar's book 'Fire and Steam' a history of the railways in the UK he mentions the issues the railways covered, such as the Quintshill Railway disaster in 1915, but also the fleet in Orkney being supplied via the Highland Railway which was the least prepared railway at the time in WWI.