The Balloch Navy

Remembered by Ian Lynn

Once upon a time in some quarters the Balloch boat hirers used to be referred to as the “Balloch Navy”. The nickname, I suspect, was meant more as an insult than praise. This was rather unfair because, on the whole, the commercial boatmen on the Leven were very capable in the handling of their craft. However there are not many people around the district today who know or remember there was once a genuine Royal Navy force on Loch Lomond, flying the white ensign and crewed by Navy personnel.

Lynns boatyard balloch
Lynn's Boatyard in the 1930's

When war finally broke out in September 1939 the boat hiring season was practically over for the year. At Lynn's boatyard we proceeded as usual, washing and cleaning the boats, taking note of any repairs needed and bringing them ashore for winter storage. We spent the very cold winter of the “Phoney War'' period preparing the fleet for the next Spring not knowing if we would in operation or not when Easter, the traditional starting time for blathering, arrived.

Winter lingered long into Spring in 1940 but at last the snow retreated to the top of Ben Lomond and lesser peaks. The thick ice that had covered the Loch finally broke up and the Leven was busily employed transporting ice-flows down to Dumbarton.

We made a belated start to have the passenger launches ready for the annual Board of Trade examination. The surveyor was satisfied that all was in order so we were ready for Easter There were several differences from peace time such as fuel rationing but the weather was fine and we were soon sailing and earning some money again. Although the tourist coach trade from ''South of the Border' had ceased our more local trade was good in the early days of summer. A wee sail on Loch Lomond or hiring a rowing boat were two pleasures still available for off-duty workers. Everything seemed quite normal at this time but, like everyone else, we had a deep feeling of foreboding about the future.

Steam Launches at Balloch
Three Steam Launches at Balloch

Then the "Phoney War" erupted into the real thing when the German forces invaded Denmark and Norway. When Norway was lost and the fighting in the Lowlands was going disastrously against us things, as everywhere else, began to change rapidly at Balloch. We were contacted by a Mr. Burdom from the Board of Trade - now known as the Ministry of Shipping and War Transport.

As a result of this visit my brother Harry and brother-in-law George Cowan were ordered to report to the Army Embarkation Staff Officer at Gourock (ESO), there to crew a requisitioned motor yacht ("Miss Elmwood'') which performed a ship-to-shore service. The Clyde was now Britain's principal harbour for the liners now acting as troopships. My Father was too old, being over 60 and I, at just 19, too young to come under the direction of the wartime labour regulations but before leaving Mr. Burdom approached me saying that he also had a job for me and that l would be informed of the details later.

About the same time we had a visit from Inspector Paul from Alexandria Police Station. He advised us of various defense measures we would have to obey. One was that all motor boats were to be immobilized every night, also all rowing boats were to be hauled clear of the water and oars stowed away. This last was no problem since it was our normal procedure. The reason for these orders was in case the Nazi's would attempt invasion by air and would be able to use our boat! I ventured to suggest that if my Dad and I could haul these boats out of the water up a steep slope it would be no bother for highly-trained, fit paratroopers to relaunch them. Inspector Paul was inclined to agree with me but it would be better just to obey orders. Fortunately we usually managed to get a helping hand from any customer who was around at the time.

John Sweeney's Steam Launch
John Sweeney's Steam Launch

True to his word the firm but polite Mr. Burdom came on the phone to me. The Powers-that-be had fears that Loch Lomond could be used by German seaplanes and flying boats as a landing base for an invading force so a Royal Navy patrol was to be set up on the Loch. My job was to submit a list of the boats around which would be suitable for this purpose. Also, the Army would be in touch for our assistance in another matter.

During the period since the 1938 crisis several fine motor cruisers were brought up from the Clyde to Loch Lomond by the well-known ''Bubbly'' Young transport company their owners probably having decided that, in the present circumstances, the Loch would be a better place for pleasure cruising than the Clyde which was rapidly becoming like a Naval Base. When launched by "Bubbly” at Balloch these boats were left in our care until the owners arrived. They all sailed up to Alex McFarlane's yard at Balmaha which was more convenient for them than Balloch.

I turned Mr. Burdom's matter in my tiny mind whilst carrying on with my own work. I decided that these recently arrived boats would be more suitable for the job because they were bigger and newer than most of the boats already on the Loch. I received a rude awakening when the next morning the redoubtable Mr. Burdom was on the phone asking for details. I replied that I had given the matter much thought but, as yet, had nothing down on paper because I had been busy with my work. Then I was subjected to a lecture that went something like this ''Look, young man, I must speak sternly to you. This is a very important matter and you must give it priority over your own work or you are obstructing the work of the Ministry. Now, can you give me the information over the phone?"

 

Suitably chastened I gave him the details summoning up enough courage to suggest that the boat owners would not like me very much for this. He advised me that he would take care of the owners. Then, in a kindlier tone, he told me not to worry, they would not put me in jail just yet as they still had use for me. This did not have me jumping for joy but I became aware of the truth in a saying that became very popular - "Don't you know there's a war on?" Until now boat hiring at Balloch had required endurance rather than speed, but I was learning quickly!

Then I was informed that the Army job would start next day. Sure enough, next afternoon, there was a sudden flurry of activity as an Army Staff car followed by a little truck whirled down the brae into the boatyard. The officer in the car was Colonel White who, I learned, was officer in command of our area. He approached me, introduced himself. Shook my hand and then explained what was happening. A small army group was being stationed at Cameron House, the home of Major-General Telfer-Smollett. I was required to sail the soldiers and their equipment up there.

The group from the truck then loaded their gear into the Glen Fruin II at the gangway. In my mind I wondered how the Colonel felt about arranging all this with someone who looked as if he should still be at school. He was, however, a well-mannered gentleman who treated me as an equal. Another thing puzzled me - why didn't they just drive up the road to Cameron House? By now, however, I had taken the advice of Inspector Paul and learned to keep my mouth shut. I was very cautious as I manoeuvered in towards the Cameron House jetty since it was not a part of the Loch I frequented but it all went well. Next day, as arranged, I ferried up two more wee truckloads of soldiers. Nae bother!

Then, for the first time, I was in contact with the Navy in the person of Chief Petty Officer Woodman, a native of Stranraer, and CPO David Williams, a very tall Welshman, both retired but recalled into active service, also Seaman John Turbot, a young man who had been studying at Oxford University prior to joining the Navy. CPO Woodman later employed John as a go-between from Cameron House to Lynn's Boatyard when necessary. I liked these men, especially young Johnny because he was much nearer my age.

Once the Navy was established they had a little job for me. Could I fit up machine-gun mountings on the requisitioned boats? They might as well have asked me to rearrange the orbit of the planets! I spoke to my "Old Man'' about this. As usual he had the answer. "Ask Tam Davidson , he'll probably ken how tae dae it".

I went to Tam's house which was jist a wee bit past the bus stance towards Mull o'Haddin. I didn't phone because Tam was quite deaf and preferred personal contact. He was a skilled woodworker running his own business. I was lucky enough to find him at home. ''Do you know anything about machine-guns?'' I asked him. "Too bloody much!" was his answer. I didn't know he was a veteran of that other War. He said he would go to Cameron House and have a look. He accepted the job and completed it to the Navy's satisfaction.

Then there was another development. No rest for the wicked! I was authorized to supply whatever the Navy men needed to get going. Soon I was ordering bunk mattresses, blankets etc, coils of rope, canvas, paint, life buoys and jackets, cooking utensils! We were well known to and trusted by our usual suppliers in Glesca and they delivered the goods without question.

I was spending like Andrew Carnegie and began to worry about this! How long would it be before the Ministry sent us some money? I was very happy and grateful to some unknown official who forwarded a cheque, quite promptly, enabling us to pay our suppliers. There was not much left for us at the end of the operation but we did not mind having done our little bit. After all, "There was a War on!''

Balloch Navy

The above is an image once again donated by Graham Lappin. Graham lives in the USA and by chance saw this advertised in the Chicago Tribune for $10.00. The image is from 1940. The text, reads "A duty patrol moves across a Scottish Lake (sic), keeping a watch for invaders. The armed motor boat patrols were established especially to guard against attempts by seaplanes to land in the lakes. The boats mount machine gunes (sic), are manned by both naval and Military personnel, and are assisted by a shore defense force.

 

Once the "Balloch Navy" started a patrol they did not bother us very much, then, in the autumn there was a new development. The Army was taking over from the Navy with men from the Royal Engineers who were experienced in handling boats on inland waterways. Just before the changeover one of the fleet, "Cignet", came into contact with one of Loch Lomond's resident rocks. Navigation on the Loch in those days depended mostly on one's own local knowledge, ''Cignet's'' hull was not pierced but both the propulsion and steering gear were badly damaged.

Guess who was given the task of getting things fixed if possible? I was now required to make my way once more to Cameron House and tow the good ship "Cignet'' down the Leven to Balloch to be taken up onto our slipway. I explained to CPO Woodman that our slipway was rather old-fashioned and depended on manpower which, of course, we did not have. He said he would arrange help in this matter.

The ''Old Man'' was not very keen to do this job. He probably knew more than anyone about ''Cignet''. She was a very old boat and had what he called a ''cahoochy" (rubbery) keel liable to sag and break on the slipway when clear of the water and without the help of Archimedes. She was also much bigger and heavier than the craft we usually hauled up on the old slipway.

Nevertheless, since we now knew that "what the Navy wants, the Navy gets'' I went up with the Glen Fruin II and with the help of the Navy lads I lashed alongside ''Cignet'' considering that it would be easier to manoeuvre the old scow that way than towing her astern.

Although 1940 was, like '39, a very fine summer, in late autumn we had a lot of heavy rain, The Leven was running full which made the job easier at the then tricky river entrance. Luck was on my side and I managed to get ''Cignet'' down to the slipway and by good fortune there was a vacant mooring near the slipway where "Cignet'' was moored overnight.

It was an early start next day. As promised, CPO Woodman arrived with several men. He had also informed the Army of the situation and they arrived, half a dozen men, a sergeant, and an officer in charge. Resplendent in jodhpurs, brown boots and leggings, brown gloves, and carrying a wee leather-covered swagger stick, he looked every inch a boatman!

We got things moving, lowering the carriage down into the river to the full extent of the rails. My faither (the "Old Man") was in charge on shore at the winch and I was afloat in a rowing boat guiding the "Cignet" into position with the help of the soldiers on the shore pulling on a rope attached to the bow. We managed to get "Cignet'' lodged between the side arms at the shore end of the cradle with her fore keel now resting on the bogey. The next task was to manoeuvre the stern round until the whole boat was in line with the slipway and holding her there broadside against the strong Leven current. This was achieved by “Jolly Jack Tars'' using a block and tackle fastened to the upstream mooring. My “Old Man' gave the signal and the soldiers began winding the winch, two to each handle.

The wire winch cable tightened, the cradle began to move up the brae and “Ciggie'' like Leviathon, rose slowly from the deep and I, for one, was very relieved to hear the bump and see the old boat shudder as her keel came to rest at the rear of the cradle. It was now my job to place wooden blocks and wedges under the hull to help keep her upright. I, in doing this, managed to get my seaboots filled with Leven water, rather cool at that time of year but I was able to reduce my feelings of discomfort with the knowledge that, so far, everything was going well.

Then “Cignet” made slow progress up the stey brae, her ancient ribs and planks protesting with creaks and groans. The slipway equipment was not very happy either, coping with the full weight of its burden. The wire cable had shrunk greatly in diameter and was hissing and twanging ominously, so tight that had Yehudi Menuhin been around at the time he could have given a fine rendering of Bach's “Air on the G string” on that wire. I also had an undisclosed fear that the winch might be torn loose from its concrete foundation. Inch by inch the carriage crept up the incline as reluctant as any Shakespearean schoolboy till, at the breast of the brae, progress stopped as the winchmen stopped winding.

During all this Captain “X” stood watching, changing his viewpoint at frequent intervals, a persistent chewing at his regulation military moustache and the occasional slap against his thigh with the swizzle stick perhaps portraying his impatience with the progress of the operation. The truth of this was evident when he suddenly called out to the winch winders, “You men there, why have you stopped? I did not tell you to stop!'' then he addressed my father, “Mr. Lynn, did you tell them to stop?” My “Old Man”, not renowned for his diplomatic skills, took a long sook at his pipe, faced the Captain and answered in the traditional accent of the Vale, '' Naw, Ah didnae tell them tae stoap, waant o' breath tell’t them tae stoap, ya sully bugger, wha's da’en this joab, you or me'?'

Ian Lynn Senior
Tommy Lynn
(Editor's note: This photo of Tommy Lynn – “Faither” or the “old man” in Ian’s story shows him in a very characteristic pose holding a catch of salmon which had been landed at the yard to be weighed in the 1930’s. Until the yard closed it was one of the few places on the Loch where fish could be weighed for the Loch Lomond Angling Improvement Association’s records.)

Captain “X's'' already florid face deepened a few shades nearer to imperial purple at this rough treatment not in keeping with his position and dignity as an Army Officer, however there was not much he could do to discipline a 65 year old civilian.To his credit he swallowed his pride (but not his moustache) and answered, "All right then, carry on when you're ready."

While this little contretemps was acted out I was busy jamming wedges behind the slip carriage to take strain off the cable, also putting blocks and wedges under the boat to support its sagging 'cahoochie' keel while the lads had a wee rest. The Navy boys no longer required aboard "Cignet" jumped down to the ground and went up the hill to help the Army lads, who, having had their wee rest, were ready to go again on the winch. I removed the keel supports and slowly the old hulk climbed up the slope until it was at last clear of the water and wedged up again. The damage could now be seen. The steel rudder and the skag were severely bent. The propeller blades were also bent over badly but happily not broken off.

Captain ''X'' whatever his faults, was no quitter. He noticed that the White Ensign was still aloft the flagstaff on "Cignet's'' stern. There was still a Navy man attending to something on the little stern deck. Captain "X'' called out to him, “I say there, don't you think you should take down that flag? it's a bit conspicuous." The sailor, who happened to be David Williams, the tall Welshman, stood up to attention, saluted the Captain and replied, “Sir, that flag, as you call it, is the White Ensign, emblem of the Royal Navy, when in port it is raised at sunrise and lowered at sunset, between these times it is lowered for no man." Even Captain "X" had no answer to this and, since work was done for the day, he and his squad boarded their transport and quit the scene. The Navy also left, repairs to the "Cignet'' were now in our hands.

We did not have the equipment for a job like this. ''Whit ur we gaun tae dae?" I asked ma Faither. As usual he had the answer. "Phone up Denny and ask them tae dae it" I replied that I thocht they would be too busy to be bothered with us. ''Ring up and ask them' was his reply, ''they can only say naw" was Faither's further comment. So I went to the phone and gave Denny's a call and told the story after the phone lady put me through to the appropriate person. To my great surprise and delight he said they would send someone to have a look at the problem. Next morning, a foreman arrived on a bicycle - wartime transport! "Nae bother" was his opinion, "I'll be back the moarn wi' a couple o' blokes". True to his word, he turned up the next day in a wee truck with tools and two of his staff.

Soon they had removed the bent rudder, skew, propeller and the tailshaft which they reckoned was also slightly bent. A couple of days later they were back and quickly fitted the repaired parts into position. I contacted the Navy and it was arranged that they would send a crew down next morning. "Cignet'' was lowered down the slipway back to her native element, a much easier task than hauling her out, and as the old bitch floated off the cradle into midstream, the crew had the engine started. The "Old Man'' and I were quite pleased to see the last of "Cignet'' as she set off upstream and the men on the deck waved farewell.

For me it really was farewell because about two weeks later l was off on my own War service and I never saw any of them again.Balloch did not see much of me, nor I of Balloch until the end of 1946.l spent most of the years between in foreign lands, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany and England!

Written by lan Lynn.
Produced by Anne Ottey (nee Lynn).
Sydney, NSW, Australia.
June 2005.

The Cruisers (Sketches by Ian Lynn).
Place your mouse pointer over these images to enlarge them.

Balloch Navy 1
Balloch Navy 2
Balloch Navy 3
Balloch Navy 4
Balloch Navy 5
Balloch Navy 6
Balloch Navy 7
 

 

 

Ian was not involved in the selection of either of the Leven-based boats.

 

 

 

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"For those we loved are scattered,
and some in death sleep soun',
and the old oak tree sae bonnie,
has long since been cut doon".

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