The Vale in the Wars
The 20th century witnessed the two deadliest conflicts in the history of mankind, and the first two wars which were fought by their participants in many parts of the globe. There was some sort of military action in all of the continents in either or both of the wars, and although no action of any sort took place in South America, some of the countries there, such as Brazil, took part on the Allied side.
Valemen and women went off to serve in many different theatres of war including the war at sea and many did not return. Many of those that did return were permanently scarred by wounds, by having been prisoners of war and by the trauma of what they had experienced.
At home everyone was impacted by the war, and many people also served one way or another – the ethic of service, that “we’re all in this together” is a lasting impression, particularly from WW2. All sorts of divisions were put aside for the duration. It certainly changed nearly everyone’s life and those who are old enough to remember have some stories from that time that have always stuck with them.
It is impossible in a web-site such as this to do justice to all that happened to Vale people in the First World War (“WW1” hereafter), which lasted from 4th August 1914 until 11 November 1918 and the Second World War (“WW2” hereafter), which lasted from 3rd September 1939 until 8th May 1945 in Europe (V-E Day) and 15th August 1945 in Asia (V-J Day). Apart from anything else, many of the stories died with the participants and their children while many mementoes and recollections just disappeared over time. However, there is still quite a body of information out there in letters, documents, photographs, written recollections, web-sites such as Secret Scotland, newspapers, oral tradition and memorabilia such as medals, badges, even bits of planes and vehicles.
We would like as much of that as possible to be documented before it too disappears and invite contributions from anyone who has anything they’d like to say. Normally we like to maintain a chronological approach to content, but that’s not realistic with a subject as large as this. There are many subjects which span the length of the wars such as Identity Cards and Ration Books, and those we will place when they are introduced. However, content is more likely to be episodic e.g. the Clydebank Blitz. We will post episodes as we receive them and will try to maintain a very broad chronology in the presentation of the episodes. We shall also divide the content into WW1 and WW2.
WORLD WAR 1
We received some interesting images and documents from local man Eddie Geoghan. These are related to his grandfather's time in the army during WW1. Eddie kindly let us scan these for the website.
The documents include a letter sent from the trenches with a graphic account of what it was like to be there during that terrible conflict.
"How any one of us lived to come out of such a battle God only knows. They were lying dead in heaps both British and Germans and anywhere you looked you were looking at wounded and dead men and animals."
12 October 2011
We received the following email from Anne Parkinson, whose great uncle was killed in action in France in 1918.
"I have enjoyed using your website for some family research (Gellatly family, Jamestown, Alexandria and Balloch), and chanced upon your section for the First World War. We have the original letters sent home by my late father’s Uncle, Andrew Brown Gellatly, Private 131432, Machine Gun Corps, 25th Battalion, who was killed in action on 18th April 1918. These are his last three letters home, and the last one describes a fine day in France , Easter 1918, and he muses that if it should be the same in Scotland then ‘I am sure Balloch would be very busy’. Andrew’s parents were possibly living at *Port Royal, Balloch, certainly his father, James Gellatly, died there a few years later.
< Download letters >
I have enclosed a photo of Andrew. Could this be of interest to your website, and are the scans of good enough quality for your purposes?
My Grandfather, Edward Peter Gellatly also served in the Machine Gun Corps and was awarded the MC at the battle of Cambrai. His exploits are described in Stuart Wilson’s excellent book, Answering the Call, Auchencairn and the First World War’. After the war, Edward became headmaster of the primary school in Auchencairn. My Grandfather, born and brought up in The Vale, wrote two poems which have survived from his time as a soldier. They are quite lengthy, but may be of interest, and I could scan them and send them on to you.
My Grandfather married Isabella Forbes, of Jamestown. Her grandfather married Isabella Hamilton of Levenbank House.
I have found researching the local family history a real pleasure, made all the more exciting by accessing information from your web site.
*Port Royal was a small cottage on what is now the Drymen Road in the area opposite the entrance to Mollanbowie Estate. There is a reference to this in James Barr’s excellent book “Balloch and Around”, which can be downloaded from the website here, http://www.valeofleven.org.uk/docs/BallochandAround.pdf.
NOTE: It is interesting that Private Gellatly and Private Edward Malloy referenced in the preceding article seem to have had their pictures taken on the exact same spot but it is likely that the army photographers back then used a common backdrop.
12 October 2011
Thank you for your response, and it was good to hear also from Harry? I have pleasure in sending scans of my Grandfather’s two poems. I shall also forward some photos of him during WW1.
My Grandfather, Edward Peter Gellatly, has an autobiographical section about him in Stuart Wilson’s book, ‘Answering the Call, Auchencairn at War’ and we have quite a collection of his papers left to us by my father. He grew up in Balloch, his father , James Gellatly, worked on the railways. He attended Bonhill Primary and the Allen Glen, Vale of Leven Academy?. Then he enlisted with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in Nov 1915, served as private 60691 before transfering to the Machine Gun Corps in October 1916. Early in 1917 he was promoted to Lance Corporal and I see from this poem that he signed it L/CPl 15012. By early 1918 he had been promoted to Sergeant and he finished the war as an instructor before returning to the teacher training that he had begun before the outbreak of war. He qualified with an M.A. from Glasgow University and taught first at a tiny school near Newton Stewart (Stronord), then Auchencairn, and latterly in Glasgow.
I was delighted to see my father’s uncles letters on your web site and the photo. Thank you. I hope that they are of interest to others, and should they bring any response I would be very interested to learn more.
World War 1 Poetry
As mentioned above, Anne Parkinson did send us her great uncle's poems. Graham Lappin had already been collecting local WW1 poetry so he compiled some of these along with Anne's and we have made these available for download.
"In a major realignment of the nation’s volunteer forces in 1908, the Dumbartonshire Rifle Volunteers were re-organized as the Ninth Battalion Princess Louise’s Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, a territorial unit of the regular army. The battalion was composed of eight companies; Helensburgh (A), Kirkintilloch (B), Dumbarton (C), Milngavie (D), Bonhill and Jamestown (E), Alexandria and Renton (F), Clydebank (G), and Yoker (H).
At the outbreak of World War I, the Battalion assembled in Dumbarton and on Tuesday, August 11th, left by train for Bedford. The poetry of this early period of the war reflects the patriotic fervour, urging young men to join-up. Duncan Mathieson was a strong contributor as also was G.Q. in Canada who hearkens back to the glory days of football in Renton. "
The poems can be downloaded as a PDF here.
25 November 2012
We are grateful to Jim and Sheila Biddulph for providing the web-site with the story of Sheila’s uncle, John McDougall Robertson, who was only 18 when he was killed in France in July 1918. More Here >
WORLD WAR 2
The Balloch Navy
An account of the “Balloch Navy” was written by Ian Lynn whose grandfather Henry was one of the founders of the boat-hiring and cruise traditions at Balloch and whose father Tommy owned the yard on the east side of the Leven to the north of Balloch Bridge from about 1911 until his death in 1947. Ian worked in the yard at the outbreak of WW2 and this is his recollection of the formation of a small Royal Navy unit to patrol Loch Lomond in the summer of 1940. It was written in June 2005 when he was 85 and sent by Ian from his home in New South Wales, Australia to Graham Hopner of Dumbarton Libraries who has very kindly made it available to the web-site.
The illustrations of the cabin cruisers were done by Ian himself. The Cignet which he had to tow down to Balloch had first appeared on the Leven as John Sweeney’s first steam launch in the 1890’s. There are two photos in which it almost certainly appears in its early days as a steam launch – either on its own sailing on the Loch or one of the three on moorings just to the north of to-day’s Humane Society’s boatshed. Unfortunately there is no identification for any of these launches in these photos which come from Alan Brown’s excellent book Loch Lomond Passenger Steamers.
Similarly, the photo of Lynn’s yard in the 1930’s shows both the Glen Fruin II (which towed the Cignet) and Glen Douglas II, but it’s impossible to tell which was which from that distance. The slipway is in the far background close to the White Dyke and very close to where the present slip is. The photo of Tom Lynn – “Faither” or the “old man” in Ian’s story shows him 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.
In 1940 the authorities were quite right to take the threat of a potential German landing on Loch Lomond seriously. The attacks in the Low Countries and in Norway had shown that the Germans were quite capable of doing the unexpected, especially with aircraft. Besides in WW1 a German who had been sent to spy on the Arrochar torpedo range was arrested in Tarbet Hotel and later executed in London. So there was plenty of evidence to urge action on the Loch.
When Rudolf Hess parachute landed at Eaglesham, he was taken to the military hospital at Buchanan Castle Drymen. As a precaution the Balloch Navy was deployed to patrol the Endrick Bank and the lower stretch of the River Endrick – but that’s another story.
Somewhere out there is a photograph of a patrol cruiser complete with a machine gun. If we get a copy, we will load it here.
Apart from some changes to spacing and paragraphs, this account is exactly as Ian wrote it.
An Eventful Time
After my father died, I came across a typewritten copy of a newspaper article that had been sent to his mother by my aunt. I’ve no idea where it was published but it would appear to be in the local paper, the Lennox or perhaps the Glasgow Herald, most likely in the last year of the War. I’m not sure what prompted it but I suspect it was a public relations exercise to give some news to the families of soldiers who had been abroad on active duty for three or in some cases four years.
Alexandria Soldier Likes “Eventful Life.”
By a Military Observer.
"Cpl. J. Lappin, of 17 Govan Drive, Alexandria, gave up his job as an electro-plater to join the Cameron Highlanders in March, 1940, and then volunteered for the Scottish Commandos. This took him to Syria, where there was a brief but stiff campaign, and later he became a member of the Special Service, doing commando work in the Western Desert. His present station is in the Aegean. “They put up quite a bit of resistance in Syria,” he said, “but we managed to get well in and capture a number of prisoners.
But after the campaign was over, the French were very friendly. When my unit was split up I went with the part that joined the Special Service. We used to patrol the desert and interfere with enemy supply columns and so on. One day we had a little trouble near Alamein. We were trying to get out. We managed to crowd everything we had onto three very over-burdened trucks and made off southwards. By great good luck we struck an empty British convoy, joined them, spread out the loads and got to the Siwa Oasis. We got back after a long desert journey.”
When this unit was disbanded, Cpl. Lappin joined the Special Air Service. He did not go to the desert after that but was given office work. He quite liked the change. He served in Egypt and then in Palestine for a year on administrative work, but during this period took a parachute-jumping course.
“I wouldn’t say I liked it, but it isn’t too bad,” he says. “It was exciting at first. I quite like it here in the Aegean,” he continued,” but there isn’t much to do off duty. I must say I prefer the eventful life when I can have a choice, and now and then I have enjoyed that in my Army Service.”
Jimmy joined the Cameron Highlanders and after basic training in Nairn and was billeted in the fish-market in Wick. After the evacuation of Dunkirk in June 1940, the call went out for volunteers for Special Service—Commandos. Jimmy applied and was accepted and after a week’s leave he joined the new unit, 11th (Scottish) Commando, at Netherdale Mills in Galashiels. The only distinguishing feature of the new unit was the addition of a black hackle to their regimental cap-badge. The Commando marched across Scotland to Ayr then by train to Fairlie and boat to Lamlash in Arran where they completed their strenuous training for combined operations under live-fire conditions.
At the end of 1940, they sailed from the Clyde for the Middle East, round the Cape of Good Hope. The Commando was initially slated to attack the Italian island of Pantalleria, but events were moving swiftly as the Germans moved first to invade Greece, then Crete, and made advances in North Africa.
The 11th (Scottish) Commando was used in the campaign to invade Vichy French Syria and secure the northern approaches to Palestine in June 1941. They landed from the sea behind the enemy line at the Litani River achieving their objectives but at a cost of a third of their strength. (The full story is available as Black Hackle or Litani River.) The casualties could not be replaced and although the remnant of 11th (Scottish) Commando was retained for an attempt to capture Rommel in November, many of the commandos were dispersed or combined with other raiding forces.
At the end of the year, Jimmy found himself in A Squadron Middle East Commando who were first sent to Syria to train the local population in guerilla warfare as it was feared that success in the invasion of Russia would bring the Germans through neutral Turkey to threaten the middle-east oilfields and the Suez Canal. In addition to working with the local tribesmen, they constructed observation posts out of canvas to look like boulders and prepared positions for an insurgency.
In April, after Rommel’s advance, they were brought back to Egypt to conduct raids on the Axis supply lines in conjunction with the Long Range Desert Group into which they were eventually absorbed. This raiding continued until Montgomery’s advance in late October and the end of the North Africa Campaign at the beginning of 1943 but by this time Jimmy had transferred to the S.A.S. and was assigned clerical duties at their base in Egypt
In January 1943, David Stirling, the founder and driving spirit behind the S.A.S was captured and with the end of the desert campaign, the S.A.S was reorganized as the Special Raiding Squadron based in Palestine under the command of Blair Mayne. Part of the S.A.S. training involved parachute jumps, something at first sight Jimmy didn’t really care for but there was plenty of clerical work to do as the unit expanded, re-equipped, and added heavy mortar sections in preparation for the invasion of Sicily and Italy in July 1943. For a time they even moved to the Lebanon mountains to train in skiing. Eventually Jimmy went through the parachute training that allowed him to go back to operational duties.
Jimmy remained in the Aegean for the remainder of the war, working with the Greek Sacred Heart Squadron and other units. He was active in the Greek Islands, tying up German resources so they could not be used elsewhere, and was mentioned in despatches for distinguished service as recorded in the London Gazette in October 1945.
The Lea Brae Accident
The worst single day’s loss of life involving Vale servicemen in WW2 was in September 1943 and occurred not on some far-flung battlefield but right on our own door-step – the Lea Brae on the road between Dumbarton and Cardross. As in many cases in WW1 the worst affected community was in Renton because of the 5 soldiers killed, 4 came from Renton as did 7 of the eight men who were taken to hospital.
They were all members of the Home Guard and serving in 71st (Clyde) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery (HAA) which at that time manned anti-aircraft defences located in Cardross and Helensburgh. These were not the archetypal Dad’s Army type of part-time soldier because by this stage in the war all of Britain’s AA defences had been entrusted to the Home Guard. Although most of the soldiers who manned these Heavy AA defences lived at home and many had day-time jobs, they were serving as virtually full-time soldiers manning the guns all night. This had many advantages to the Army - it not only freed up other soldiers to prepare for the coming European campaigns it also lessened the burden of providing accommodation for the HAA soldiers all across Britain.
On the evening of 15th September a group of them from Renton and Dumbarton had been picked up by an army open-backed lorry covered by a tarpaulin and were being driven towards Helensburgh when the lorry was struck a heavy vehicle coming in the other direction which was carrying an overhanging structure of some sort. Apparently it was dark when the collision occurred and of course the blackout was in operation, with all vehicle headlights dimmed accordingly. The driver of the Home Guard lorry would not have been aware of the danger presented by the approaching vehicle of which he would not have had a clear view.
In the collision 5 men were killed and 17 were injured, 8 of whom were taken to hospital. All of those killed or taken to hospital had been travelling in the soft-sided Home Guard lorry. Those killed were:
John Totten, aged 25, Beechwood Terrace, Dumbarton
Archibald McIntyre, Lennox Street Renton
David Kelso, aged 25, Carman Road Renton
James Rosenburg, aged 22, Alexander Street, Renton
Hugh Copeland, aged 28, Main Street, Renton
The eight men who were detained in hospital were:
David Baird, Hall St, Renton
Hugh Laws, Dumbuck Crescent, Dumbarton
A Robertson, Stirling St Renton
Robert Compton, Main Street Renton
William Montgomery, Carman Road Renton
Peter Montgomery Carman Road Renton
John Munn, Stirling Street Renton
William McMillan, Tontine Park Renton
As can be imagined the deaths and injuries caused a great deal of shock and grief in the area. Unusually for a war-time incident involving soldiers on active service, the Lennox Herald carried an account of the accident.