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Trust places during wartime

A black and white photograph of a group of people standing around a large cannon at a castle.
As we remember the fallen of both world wars, and in conflicts since, we take a look at Trust properties that were affected by war and its aftermath.

World War I

When war broke out in 1914, developments in technology ensured it was vastly different in scale from anything that had gone before. Surprisingly perhaps, remote St Kilda was involved as soon as war was declared. The archipelago hosted a wireless telegraph station for Allied ships and was defended by a garrison of ten sailors armed with revolvers and rifles.

However, St Kilda’s subsequent experience of combat had its roots in the nefarious arts of espionage. The Marconi company had installed two 75ft radio masts on St Kilda as part of its growing network in 1913, and one of the young employees deposited to oversee the installation was a German engineer, Herr Gustav Flick (fans of the old TV comedy series 'Allo,'Allo, please note that this is absolutely true).

It seems he didn’t enjoy his posting much – when he left in January 1914, a nurse who travelled with him wrote: ‘I never saw such joy in my life as in that boy’s face when he got off the island’. It transpired that Flick was a spy for the Imperial German Navy. However, his enthusiasm for the place must have been communicated to his superiors because it took the Germans until 1918 before they finally attacked St Kilda.

The deed was done by the submarine U-90. The commander was polite enough to tell the St Kildan people to take cover before he gave the order to open fire. It appears that the crew mistook civilian buildings for the wireless station, as no damage was done to the radio masts and only a couple of boats and a few houses were damaged. The Admiralty duly installed a 4-inch, quick firing naval gun in Village Bay, but it never saw action and remains in place, after 102 years.

An old metal naval gun points out to sea from a concrete area on St Kilda.

The war cast a shadow over the entire population, rich and poor, but it also sped up social changes, especially for women. With men volunteering and later conscripted for the forces, there was an acute labour shortage. The government and employers were forced to do something they would not have otherwise contemplated – to recognise the talent and abilities of women and give them jobs in factories, offices and transport.

Miss Agnes Toward and her mother had moved into a first-floor tenement flat at 145 Buccleuch Street, Glasgow in 1911. It was luxurious by some standards, consisting of four rooms and a large hall, with gas lighting and an inside toilet – we now know it as the Tenement House.

Agnes worked with shipping firm Miller & Richards, but in 1914 she moved to another shipping firm, Prentice, Service & Henderson on West George Street, on the understanding that she would have to give up the job when the men returned from war. As it turned out, she remained with the firm for almost 50 years. Most of her female colleagues would have stopped working after they married, but Miss Toward never married and continued to work until the age of 73, seeing out another world war in her Buccleuch Street flat.

In 2018, the centenary of the Armistice was marked on 11 November. The Great War changed Scotland forever and resulted in more casualties in this country than the Second World War – it was said that not a single family was untouched. To mark the centenary, installations were placed in the gardens at seven Trust properties, including Crathes Castle, Drum Castle and Pitmedden Garden. The striking displays of flowers included alyssum, cosmos ‘Purity’ and Lavatera, and were planted with the assistance of Royal British Legion members.

A border filled with white flowers runs between a gravel path and a tall, ivy-covered stone wall.
A white border at Drum Castle

World War II

Even in the midst of death and destruction, life goes on and new lives begin. This was certainly the case at Haddo House in Aberdeenshire. Haddo had been the home and birthplace of generations of the Gordon family for over 400 years, but the needs of wartime in the 1940s turned part of the grand house into an emergency maternity unit. As a result, 1,259 children were born here. They were the sons and daughters of local Aberdeenshire women, as well as a significant number of evacuees from Glasgow and even from as far afield as London.

In August 2015, 50 of the ‘Haddo Babies’ returned to the stately home to mark the 70th anniversary of the maternity unit being decommissioned at the war’s end.

A view of a grand mansion house, with a classical Georgian exterior, seen from below in a terraced garden. Tall leafy plants grow in the foreground.
Haddo House

Remaining in Aberdeenshire, Fyvie Castle was also pressed into service as an emergency hospital in World War II. In 2017, while Trust staff were undertaking a conservation clean in the castle, an unexpected artefact from this era was revealed. Carvings and doodles were discovered during a clean inside the shaft of the property’s dumb waiter – a hoist for moving food and other items between floors –which included a suitably unflattering caricature of Adolf Hitler as well as the names of people who may have lived in the area. In a moment of boredom, the hospital staff had left a lasting relic of this tumultuous time.

Meanwhile, in the south-west of Scotland, members of the ‘Dad’s Army’ were on parade. Crookston Castle, which is now in Glasgow (and managed by Historic Environment Scotland), had been the first property offered to the fledgling National Trust for Scotland by one of our founders, Sir John Stirling Maxwell. During World War II, it became a base for the local contingent of the Home Guard – volunteers who were too old (or young) to join the regular services but would be called upon to defend the country in the event of a Nazi invasion. The Bachelors’ Club in Ayrshire served a similar purpose.

White lighthouse with another building enclosed by a wall with sheep in a field nearby
The south lighthouse on Fair Isle

Even remote Fair Isle could not escape the violence and tragedy of world wars. Its position between Shetland and Orkney placed it in the firing line of one of the most deadly combat zones. Army and Royal Navy personnel were stationed in the radar station, and the tiny island regularly drew attention from the Luftwaffe. In December 1941, the wife of a lighthouse keeper was killed in her kitchen when a German aircraft strafed the south lighthouse. The same lighthouse was struck again a few weeks later when a bomb was dropped that killed another keeper’s wife and her ten-year-old daughter, as well as a soldier manning an anti-aircraft gun.

The casualties weren’t just on the Allied side. In January 1941, a German Heinkel 111 was shot down by the RAF and crash-landed on the island. Three surviving crew members were detained by the islanders before being handed to the Royal Navy. Karl Heinz Thurz, the Heinkel’s pilot, returned to Fair Isle in the 1980s to view the remains of his aeroplane – to his astonishment, he discovered both engines and a large section of the tail and fuselage still on the site, where they remain to this day.

The Isle of Canna is now regarded as a haven of peace, but war has touched it too. The then-owner of the island, historian and folklorist John Lorne Campbell, wrote in his diary in 1939 of ‘Very bad news overnight’, referring to the German invasion of Poland which triggered the declaration of war on 3 September. In his farm diary entry for 6 March 1941, he described a mine floating into Canna Harbour and various attempts to blow it up. This was followed by an entry the next day stating that his wife Margaret Fay Shaw went on board the minesweeper responsible and managed to come away with 500 cigarettes.

Earlier, in October 1940, Campbell also recorded how eight members of the crew of a salvage vessel, the SS Attendant, had spent five hours in their lifeboat after their boat had been washed ashore. The men were brought to Canna House ‘by lorry’ where they, no doubt, felt the warmth of the Campbells’ hospitality. Margaret’s photograph depicting the men outside Canna House shows them happy and smiling and with one of the Campbells’ pets, probably ‘Mr Smith’ the terrier.

A black and white photograph of a group of 9 men, standing just outside a stone house. The man in the centre holds a small terrier dog in his arms.
Members of the crew of the SS ‘Attendant’ at Canna House

When peace finally came in 1945, thoughts once again returned to remembrance.

That year the Kennedy family, in a grand gesture of generosity, donated the spectacular Culzean Castle to the National Trust for Scotland. There was, however, one condition: that the top floor be offered to General Dwight D Eisenhower as a gift of thanks from the Scottish people for his role as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during the war. Eisenhower subsequently came to Culzean four times, once while he was President of the USA, with all the machinery of a possible nuclear war at his beck and call.

Loch Lomond  and mountains in the distance, seen through the centre of the Ben Lomond Memorial sculpture. The sculpture is a granite ring, with a triangle shape at the bottom.
Ben Lomond

There’s another tribute to the fallen that thousands of people climb and walk across without even realising. Ben Lomond is one of Scotland’s most popular natural locations, and the area around the Munro, including its summit, has been designated as a war memorial. The Ben Lomond National Memorial Park is dedicated to those who gave their lives in the First and Second World Wars. It was created out of the former Rowardennan estate, with the support of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, and is now part of the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park. Despite symbolising sacrifice and sadness, it’s also a place of peacefulness and enjoyment – and this seems an entirely fitting legacy.

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