SKELMORLIE and WEMYSS BAY in World War II

By 1930 seven houses had been built on Station Hill which, in spite of protests from the owners was closed to vehicle traffic and, by 1939, the three rows of bungalows adjoining had been completed and a start had been made at Innes Park Road, forty new houses being built there by the end of that year, a further twenty more were built after the war. In June 1936 Emperor Haile Selassie of Abyssinia, The Lion of Judah, visited Lord Inverclyde at Castle Wemyss, together with his sons The Crown Prince and The Duke of Harar. He made quite a figure dressed in a lawn cloak, grey trousers, brown suede shoes and wearing a bowler hat. He planted a maple tree at the castle to commemorate his visit and returned to Castle Wemyss about a year later, remaining there throughout the war until his country had been liberated from the Italians - In 1943 Lord Inverclyde was also host to the exiled King Peter of Yugoslavia. War against Germany was declared on Sunday, September 3, 1939 and the anti-submarine boom between Dunoon and the Cloch lighthouse was again put in place, as it had been in the previous war, the Clyde steamer services reduced to a minimum. The steamers’ windows boarded up and the saloon lights on permanently, all were fitted now with steel wheel-houses, their hulls and superstructures painted grey and their after decks cleared of their familiar buoyancy apparatus seats to make way for cargo. Above the boom, the “Lucy Ashton” was assigned the four times daily Craigendoran - Kilcreggan - Hunter’s Quay - Kirn - Dunoon service, she would make occasional calls at Clynder till 1943 and also be rostered to make connections at Gourock. The “Marchioness of Lorne”, based at Kilmun, would operate the Ardnadam - Strone - Blairmore - Kilcreggan Gourock - Hunter’s Quay - Kirn - Dunoon service, a complex roster which saw her making three, essentially, round trips on weekdays, four on Saturdays - The turbine steamer “Queen Mary II” was assigned to the Gourock - Dunoon run, though, in October 1939, the roster was originally operated from Hunter’s Quay and included a daily sailing to the Holy Loch and Kilmun. Below the boom, the turbine steamer “Duchess of Montrose”, also often serving on the Stranraer - Larne run too till late July 1940, took up the four times daily Rothesay - Wemyss Bay service assisted by the turbine steamer “Marchioness of Graham” which, although ostensibly operating from Fairlie to Millport and Brodick, also covered some sailings from Wemyss Bay to Innellan and Rothesay, the turbine steamer “Glen Sannox (II)” being the mainstay of the Fairlie Millport - Brodick - Ardrossan service. The “Saint Columba” which, as the “Queen Alexandra (II)” in World War I had rammed and sunk the German submarine “UC-78” off Cherbourg on Thursday, May 9, 1918, now covered the Rothesay - Colintraive - Tighnabruiach Tarbert - Ardrishaig mail service, the October 1939 rail and steamer timetable finds the outward (inward) timings as Glasgow Central 0835 (1851), Wemyss Bay arrive 0933 (return departure 1750), Wemyss Bay 0948 (1700), Rothesay 1015 (1630), Colintraive 1040 (1540), Tighnabruiach 1055 (1525), Tarbert 1155 (1425) and Ardrishaig 1240 (1345). In November 1939, she was requisitioned for use as the Boom Defence headquarters’ ship at Greenock, the now repaired diesel-electric “Lochfyne” taking over the mail run - Wemyss Bay became the terminus for the Campbeltown company’s “Dalriada” and “Davaar”. The older Clyde paddle steamers, the “Waverley (III)”, “Marmion”, “Duchess of Fife”, “Duchess of Rothesay” and “Eagle III”, re-named the “Oriole”, were assigned to the 12th Minesweeping Flotilla at Harwich, its flagship being the “Queen Empress”. The newer paddle steamers, the “Juno”, “Jupiter” and the “Caledonia”, renamed respectively “Helvellyn”, “Scawfell” and “Goatfell” and the “Mercury”, under her own name, joined the 11th Minesweeping Flotilla at Milford Haven. 1

The “Jeanie Deans” too was sent on mine-sweeping duties serving first as flotilla flagship, based at Irvine and then to join the 11th Flotilla at Milford Haven - The diesel-electric paddler “Talisman” which, like the diesel-electric “Lochfyne”, had been out of service, broken down, at the start of the war, was repaired and, renamed “Aristocrat”, sent south as a Bofors Gun Ship - Both the “King Edward” and the “Duchess of Argyll” remained above the anti-submarine boom to relieve on the Gourock - Dunoon service and act as troopship-tenders at The Tail of The Bank. The “Duchess of Montrose”, certificated to carry 400 military personnel and 250 civilian passengers, was sent to cover the Stranraer to Larne run at the end of September 1939 but, within the month, the Sea Transport Officer had her sent back to Gourock being persuaded that her ‘sister’, the “Duchess of Hamilton”, fitted with a bow-rudder might be better suited to the harbours, the “Duchess of Hamilton”, then arriving at the end of October, would, in addition to carrying troops, cover the mail service for the “Princess Margaret”, temporarily out of service with engine problems, between December 11 and 13, 1939. The “Duchess of Hamilton”, a quasi-sister of the “Duchess of Montrose”, was overhauled at her builder’s yard, Harland & Wolff of Belfast in February 1940. Just as well for in April 1940, the 53rd Welsh Division was moved from South Wales via Stranraer to Northern Ireland, a move involving some 11,000 troops and their baggage and a precaution against a possible German invasion of neutral Eire - From the middle of the summer of 1940, continual troop movements after the evacuation of Dunkirk and many personnel going home on leave, led to both the “Duchess of Hamilton” and the “Duchess of Montrose” working the Stranraer crossing during June and July 1940. They were both relieved by the Denny-built Thames excursion motor-ship “Royal Daffodil”, the “Duchess of Montrose” returning to the Wemyss Bay - Rothesay run at the end of July and the “Duchess of Hamilton” returning to Gourock in October 1940 being recalled to Stranraer as needed. However, in May 1941 an event was to take place which had the most far-reaching effects, not only during the remaining years of war, but on those that followed, the Germans bombing Greenock on the nights of Tuesday and Wednesday May 6 and 7, 1941, missing Greenock's shipyards and killing 280 people, injuring another 1,200 and destroying 1,000 homes. While families fled over the hills to Skelmorlie, others were officially evacuated to the district, The Press reporting that the population has trebled in Skelmorlie and Wemyss Bay since the raid 'on a Clydeside town'. The billeting authority acted quickly and courageously requisitioning The Athletic Association's Recreation Hall and the two church halls in addition to the Public School and the Mission Hall which had already been scheduled as rest centres. Many householders offered accommodation, some taking four or five people and, at one point, the official figures of evacuees were 288 adults and 384 children - This was in addition to 50 private adult evacuees with 90 children and there were also a considerable number of whom there was no record and few houses were without evacuees from the cities. Innes Park Road, so named in 1941, was the first road in Skelmorlie to have an official name, which in this respect makes it a hundred years behind Wemyss Bay. In wartime the military authorities had the power to requisition property 'in the national interest' and at an early stage in the war had done just that around Largs and Skelmorlie, 'The Moorings', opposite Largs Pier, requisitioned for offices and numerous hotels then taken over as billets for officers and wrens etc. - Hollywood Hotel, in Largs, almost immediately becoming the headquarters of the Rear Admiral Commanding Northern Patrol and a Naval Hospital. Prior to taking over the estates at Achnacarry, Commando training was carried out in the Clyde Area at two main locations, the first in the grounds of Kelburn Estate, just south of Largs and the second in the area around Inveraray on Loch Fyne, the home of The Duke of Argyll. The first ever Commando assault course was built in the grounds of the Kelburn Estate and a modified version is still used by the local Greenock based detachment of The Royal Marine Reserve - The first Commando 'speed march' route, planned by No 3 Commando, was from Kemp's car park at Largs pier-head to the tea room on the left of the main street, at the south end of Fairlie, about 200 yards north of the present 30 mph speed limit. A large training centre at Inveraray, HMS Quebec I, specialising in the training of Naval and Army personnel in 'minor' 2

landing craft operations and a training flotilla of craft stationed in the area for that purpose, was commissioned on October 15, 1940 (it 'paid off' July 1, 1946), 'Combined Operations' too carrying out small boat training there till January 1943 when this section transferred south to Dartmouth. A year later, on October 11, 1941, HMS Quebec I, took over Hollywood Hotel, till then the headquarters of the Rear Admiral Commanding Northern Patrol and a Naval Hospital, Hollywood then becoming the headquarters of the Joint Air Ministry and Naval staff and Flag of the Commandant, Combined Training Centre, Inveraray (HMS Quebec I) - It redesignated HMS Quebec II on March 10, 1942, as Vice Admiral Combined Training, a 'Combined Ops' Centre for mainly administrative purposes. "Scotsman" Thursday 4th September 1941 - Page 8 - MERCHANT SAILORS LOST - Many Scots in Casualty List - "A total of 477 names of members of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets who have died by enemy action on various dates is contained in a list published by the Ministry of of War Transport to-day. There are also the names of 51 men who are presumed to have been lost, the vessels on which they were serving being overdue. Among them are 19 masters, two skippers, six chief engineers, and seven first engineers. Amongst the Scots, P. L. Dodds, assistant cook, Stanlane, Skelmorlie, Ayrshire". "Scotsman" Wednesday 10th June 1942 - Page 3 - Ayrshire Headmasterships "Short leets for three headmasterships in Ayrshire were interviewed at the meeting of the Education Commitee at Ayr yesterday, Mr John Kennedy, Skelmorlie, to be head of Beith Academy (10 teachers)". "Scotsman" Wednesday 19th August 1942 - Page 6 - RUSSIA CONVOY ATTACK C.B.E. for Glasgow Skipper's Work as Commodore "Captain William H. C. Lawrence, of 27 Riccarton Street, Glasgow, who last January received the O.B.E. for heroism when his ship was attacked by a bomber, has now been awarded the C.B.E. for his work while master of a ship in a convoy to Russia. "The convoy was subjected to heavy and continuous attack from the air from surface craft and from submarines. The Commodore's ship was sunk and Captain Lawrence, who was acting as Vice Commodore, took over the duties and, states last night's London Gazette, performed them with signal success during the remainder of a very arduous operation. "On the return passage, he was Commodore throughout and again showed sterling qualities to which the escape of the convoy, from no fewer than five attacks by German destroyers, was largely due, for under his orders it acted in perfect co-ordination with the escorts. "Scottish recipients of other awards included Captain Samuel M. Lamont, master, "Uig", Montgomery Drive, Skelmorlie, Ayrshire, he being awarded an O.B.E.". On April 1, 1942, HMS Monck, the headquarters, under a flag officer, for 'Combined Training', was commissioned (it 'paid off' on September 30, 1946) and set up in Largs. HMS Monck, being variously located in Largs, Port Glasgow and Roseneath, has a somewhat confusing history because of changes in its location and function. At Port Glasgow it was concerned with aircraft-carrier training while also serving as a Royal Navy Barracks and landing craft base and at Roseneath was an ICE (?) school by 1944. Based at the harbour in the centre of Port Glasgow, the facility was used for the construction, assembly and repair of troop landing craft - In 1943, to facilitate landing craft training exercises, concrete ramps were built along the shore road at the entrance to Lord Inverclyde's estate in Wemyss Bay and a 'basin' dug out at the entrance of the River Kip, 'The Basin' triggering the idea for today's Kip Marina. The establishment's shore billets were located south east of the town on the high ground known locally as High Carnegie, the area re-developed after the war being referred to as 'The Holy Family' area. Six months after the commissioning of HMS Monck, came HMS Warren, also known as the No 4 Combined Training Centre or C.T.C. Largs, the Senior Officers training centre for 'Combined Operations', which catered for the training 3

needs of all three services and, commissioned on October 10, 1942 (it 'paid off' on December 31, 1946), was also the headquarters of the Rear Admiral Combined Operations Base (WA) and the Flag Officer commanding overseas assault forces. HMS Warren, also known as the No 4 Combined Training Centre or C.T.C. Largs, the Senior Officers training centre for 'Combined Operations', which catered for the training needs of all three services, which was commissioned on October 10, 1942 (it 'paid off' on December 31, 1946), was also the headquarters of the Rear Admiral Combined Operations Base (WA) and the Flag Officer commanding overseas assault forces, part of HMS Warren based at the Hollywood Hotel and, within C.T.C. Largs, the RAF base, RAF Vanduara, based of course at the Vanduara Hotel in Largs, the two storey building situated at the north end of the grassed area of sea front, nearly opposite the Barrfields/Vikingar area. During the early part of WWII, Vanduara was the original base of the newly formed Combined Operations HQ under the command of Admiral Keyes who was succeeded, at this same location, by Mountbatten. The story is told of the the plumber and his mate who had occasion to repair Vanduara's central heating system. Walking down a corridor, a naval officer approached them and as he passed, he acknowledged them with a brief "How's it going boys ?" to which they replied "Fine Sir, how's yersel ?" and they walked on - Moments later, walking into a room, the boys were confronted by a large painting of the naval officer they had just spoken too in such a casual manner, Mountbatten himself ! HMS Copra was an acronym for 'Combined Operations Pay, Ratings and Accounts', a shore based establishment set up to process the pay and allowances of Royal Navy personnel serving in Combined Operations in WWII, parts of it located in London and Southend as well as at 'The Moorings', opposite Largs Pier. Commissioned on August 30, 1943 at Chelsea Court, London, HMS Copra's drafting office moved first to Southend in November 1943 and then to Largs at the beginning of October 1945, the pay office moving from London to Largs at the beginning of August 1944 and Largs was finally closed at the end of 1946 as the mass demobilisation came to an end. The Largs base employed around 300 Wrens and 300 Chief Petty Officers/Petty Officers working in 15 sections, each comprising around 20 Wrens and 20 CPOs and POs under the general command of a Captain and a Commander and each section headed by a Lieutenant responsible for an alphabetical sequence of surnames - Wrens selected for these duties underwent a 3 week training course in Leeds and those who were high achievers in the end of course examination, were given the rank of Leading Wren with a commensurate increase in pay. Known as 'pay writers' and doing a job similar to a modern day wages clerk, the wrens calculated the pay due to the service personnel themselves, others being involved in calculating the 'allotments' due to dependent relatives and authorising the payments - The going rate was 4 shillings and 9 pence (about 25p) plus 'grog' (rum) money per day, the most difficult of cases, which required further investigation, handled by the more senior ranks - Pay books did not pass through Copra as a general rule but when they did they were duly stamped to that effect and the location of the actual posting of the Royal Navy personnel was also noted in the book. There was a steady stream of work as information arrived each morning on new postings to Combined Operations and on changes to existing postings, both of which required pay entitlements to be assessed or re-assessed and in essence pay, once calculated, remained the same unless and until changes affecting entitlement were received, the most common amongst these were changes in rank and postings. The working conditions in 'The Moorings' were seemingly pretty good. Each section sat about 20 or so each side of a long table with the 'Opo' at the head, the room open plan, well lit, warm and the seating comfortable, the hours from 9 am to 5 pm Monday to Saturday and 9am to 12 noon on Sunday, one week in three finishing at 12 noon on the Saturday. A large number of the Wrens were billetted at the Skelmorlie Hydro, the hotel probably accommodating 200-300 Wrens, three to a room and there were three Nissen huts in the grounds, each accommodating 12 Wrens and a Chief Petty Officer, a fourth Nissen hut provided for their 'ablutions' and the best accommodation, in the hotel itself, allocated on a first come first served basis. Transport to and from work was provided by the Royal Navy's own buses, Wrens returning to 'The Hydro' for lunch and, 4

in the evenings, 'liberty buses' provided a service to Largs, where there were connecting service buses to other towns The Home Guard, constructing their defences, pulled down the gables of Kelly House in 1940, the ruin a local landmark after being gutted by fire in 1913 and various other wartime buildings were erected around the area for The Observer Corps and to serve as canteens for the troops, particularly when the area became the headquarters of 'The 1st Army', which landed in Tunisia and the beach in Wemyss Bay was concreted to facilitate the loading and unloading of Tank Landing Craft. "Scotsman" Tuesday 31st October 1944 - Page 6 - SKELMORLIE GIFT — "In memory of her two sons, one of whom was killed flying over enemy territory, Mrs J. Hally Brown, Craignahullie, Skelmorlie, has formed a trust for the building of a cottage hospital at Skelmorlie to which she has given £33,000. Should objection to her plan be raised by the administrators of the new health service, the money will be used for building a community centre for the village, a library, reading room and concert hall and, if desired, classrooms for adult education and for handicraft training". The Athletic Association's hall at Annetyard, largely a 'do-it-yourself' affair, became a NAAFI Store and, somewhat inevitably, burnt to the ground, the insurance money being held in trust, for a possible replacement, till 1963 when The Athletic Association was disbanded, its funds distributed to local organisations possessing the essential ingredients of sport and healthy recreation. "Scotsman" Thursday 5th April 1945 - Page 3 - 20 MILLION CIGARETTES LOST IN FIRE "About 20 million cigarettes were destroyed when a N.A.A.F.I, store at Upper Skelmorlie, Ayrshire, was gutted by 'fire on Tuesday night. The cigarettes, duty free, represented a loss of £25,000, or, if sold at the NAAFI cheap rate, a loss of £75,000, When a great quantity of matches caught alight they exploded and blew off the roof of the store, a building of brick and wood, A large stock oi foodstuffs, including tinned meats, milk, and chocolate, was destroyed. Firemen from Skelmorlie, Greenock and Gourock were engaged fighting the outbreak throughout the night, and were assisted by naval fire fighters. Adjoining stores, also full of foodstuffs, were saved". By 1942 the community had subscribed £40,000 to the war effort through the various appeals such as 'War Weapons Week'. Many young men served in the Armed Forces and some returned with cruel injuries; too many did not return at all. Over £1,300 was raised for the Welcome Home Fund, which was handed over in the form of Savings Certificates. About The Royal Navy in Rothesay and Wartime Rothesay and some Maritime Memories of Rothesay 1936 - 1946 In 1947 a great naval review was held on the Clyde, which must have been the largest as well as the last collection of British warships in the river at any one time. The evening they left, the procession of big ships stretched in line as far as the eye could see in both directions, from Arran to The Tail of The Bank. The fleet was reviewed by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, who were celebrating their Silver Wedding. History was made one lovely summer evening when they landed, at Wemyss Bay pier from Brodick, aboard the cruiser HMS "Superb". With them were Princess Margaret, the present Queen, then Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, to whom she had just become engaged. They were met by Lord Inverclyde and escorted to the station where the Royal Train awaited. The King and Queen had previously stayed overnight in Wemyss Bay in 1940, recorded as 'historical in our annals as it is only the second visit of royalty to this part of the world'. The previous one was Edward VII passing through Wemyss Bay Station, but later, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip drove along the shore road, well-lined with spectators, to open The Inverclyde Centre in Largs. 23 Post Skelmorlie Fifteen feet below the ground, a close-knit team of dedicated and highly trained volunteers waited for the message they hoped would never come.

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Throughout the Cold War, the underground monitoring post of the Royal Observer Corps at Skelmorlie played an important role as part of the United Kingdom Warning and Monitoring Organisation. Built as part of an extensive network of posts designed to confirm and report effects of a nuclear attack on the United Kingdom, this monitoring post is undergoing preservation as a tribute to the thousands of men and women who served in the Royal Observer Corps until it's stand-down in September 1991. Skelmorlie ROC Post is located near the village of Skelmorlie, Ayrshire, just north of Largs on the A78. The post is a private museum and is not open to the general public apart from open days and by prior arrangement with the Chief Observer.

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