Home Guard or Local Defence Volunteers (LDV) was formed in 1940 when
there was a real risk that Hitler might invade Britain. The men that served in
the Home Guard were all volunteers and were mostly those that were too old (over
the age of 40) or too young (under the age of 18) to serve in the forces. They
became known as 'Dad's Army'. The men were issued with a uniform
and an armband with the letters LDV to show that they were members of the
Home Guard. Members of the public were asked to donate any rifles,
pistols or shotguns that they might have to provide the Home Guard with
weapons. Those that were not provided with weapons made makeshift weapons from
pieces of pipe or knives.
of the men had full time jobs and trained in the evenings. As well as preparing
themselves to be ready to fight off a German invasion, the Home Guard
also guarded buildings that had been bombed to prevent looting, helped to clear
bomb damage, helped to rescue those trapped after an air raid, guarded factories
and airfields, captured German airmen that had been shot down and set up
roadblocks to check people's identity cards.
importance in the British defensive system should never be under-estimated. In
the coastal areas particularly, a number of defences still survive, though many
have already been lost. These features, such as gun-emplacements, anti-tank
blocks and pill-boxes, were often considered as unsightly, or of little
importance, and have been consequently destroyed.
of North East Scotland
man responsible for the Coastal defences in the north east of Scotland during
World War 2 was Chief Royal Engineer G.A.Mitchel. (1896-1964). During
World War 1 he served with the Royal Engineers as a 2nd Lieutenant, based
in Palestine, Belgium and England. During the inter war years, he was in
the Territorial Army and at the start of World War 2 he was called up and
made CRE (Chief Royal Engineer) for the 9th Highland Division. It had been
noted that during 1938, that the Graf Zepplin photographed the
north east Scottish coast in great detail in preparation for a possible future
invasion. Other German aircraft had also been seen photographing the coast
around north east Scotland. Mitchell thought it highly likely that this
area would be an ideal site for a beach landing invasion force by the German
army, due to its sandy beaches and good communications. Mitchell was made
responsible for defences from River Forth up to Wick. He was a
local man and he knew local contractors and the lie of the land. He said: “We
must make some effort to show the Germans that we are erecting some form of
defences.” Important things were “concrete blocks, tubular scaffolding poles and
pill boxes”, these were the main lines of defence. Everyone was asked to help
with the anti-invasion preparations: when soldiers attempted to erect glider
traps onto the Royal and Ancient Golf Course at St. Andrews, the local committee
initially were against it, but soon agreed to do so.
The spigot mortar was extremely heavy (around 350lbs) and normally had a
multi-legged portable mounting. It is said it needed a crew of six to move it.
The weapon would fire 20lb high-explosive mortar bombs, which were propelled by
black powder. It had an effective range of 100 metres in its anti-tank role and
up to 450 metres when firing a lighter anti -personnel bomb. It had one
major drawback. When the warhead hit its target, the fins would often fly
backwards with the resulting danger of injury to the firing crew. The
spigot mortar, or Blacker Bombard, was rejected by the regular army but saw
service with Home Guard and airfield protection units from 1941-1944.
are numerous types of pillboxes remaining in the north east of Scotland. Many
were the type 24; consisting of 6 sides and several gun-loops with one entrance
at the back, normally with a ricochet wall inside. These were most commonly used
on the beach defences defending easily accessible beaches and positioned within
eyesight of each other. Other varieties of pillbox were erected all over the
north east of Scotland, in Tank Blocks. The pillboxes were often linked
together by anti-tank blocks and rolls of barbed wire. The tank blocks were
mostly of a simple 3 foot cube, reinforced concrete often with random stones set
in the top as camouflage. The tank blocks were built in situ, as the builders
moved along the beach constructing these structures, local school children took
great pride in scratching their names into the still wet concrete.
Post war these constructions were a source of war game play for children and or
casual Latrines - it was never wise to go inside a pill box. There were several
on Aberdeen's Links.
many mine fields laid out on the sandy beaches, placed by the Royal Engineers.
Unfortunately, accidental mine explosions were responsible for several civilian
fatalities along the coast, as well as a number of farm animals that wandered
onto the mines by accident.
Was laid out
in 3 rolls in a triangular shape, 2 rolls on the bottom and one along the top.
The remnants of rusty barbed wire has stained the sand dunes brown in numerous
areas along the coast. The occasional springy steel stanchion with loops
for twisted barbed wire would project from rocks into which they had been
concrete gun emplacements have survived, some of the most impressive of the
remaining structures perhaps being those on the Moray coast. These contained two
6" gun emplacements, 3 engine rooms and 2 search light emplacements.
Searchlights were stationed at Castlehill Barracks Square
kilometer long tank wall was built across Newburgh sand dunes, consisting of a
mound/ditch and a large steel pole scaffolding wall. Remains today are heavily
corroded, but the outline is still visible.
War 2 there were some 16 Airfields along the North East coast. These
were used for several different purposes, including Operational Training
Units, Fighter Command, Bomber Command and Coastal Command
and even some decoy airfields. RAF Lossiemouth, still in use as a modern
NATO airfield was one of the major airfields in the North of Scotland during
World War 2. Lossiemouth was base for the bombing raids that eventually
destroyed the German Battleship Tirpitz on 12th November 1944
using the famous “Tallboy” bombs designed by Barnes Wallis.
The Cowie Line
Cowie Line consisted of a tank defence line constructed during WW2 along
the River Cowie from Stonehaven into the neighbouring Grampian
foothills. The Cowie Line was a bottle neck along the north east Scottish
coast. Assuming that a German invasion force had breached the coastal defences
to the north, the invading force would have to travel south across the Cowie
Line, where it was hoped a suitable resistance could be put up to give
defending forces time to regroup. This defensive line consisted of artificially
steepened hillslope bases and revetted embankments along the river and several
pillboxes and tank block traps guarding the routes across the river.
posts often consisted of simply a tent or a wooden hut, with some of concrete a
few of which remain today. These posts manned by volunteers were the ears of the
Nation, listening to the skies for aircraft movement and plotting allied and
enemy aircraft across the country. Over 40 ROC posts are recorded within the
north east of Scotland.
the secretive Auxillary Units were recruited for their knowledge of the
surrounding countryside and ability with firearms. Memories of one Auxillary
Unit member: He was a member of the Home Guard and volunteered for
special duties, not knowing exactly what he was letting himself in for. There
were 5 or 6 men in the special unit, under the disguise of being Home Guard
members. They were called the “Demolition Squad” but were really the
framework of a resistance movement the latest of weapons and plastic explosives
which were quite rare at this time. The local farmer happened to discover this
hide out in the wood and he was forced to sign the “Secrets Act”
forbidding him to speak about such goings on. None of his family knew of these
happenings, but his wife had suspicions something was amiss. He went on courses
to the Headquarters, which were located near Swindon, at least he thought
they were the Headquarters, but of course he wasn’t told such things. These
units or “Demolition Squads” as they were called were mostly made up of
farm workers, game keepers, poachers or people connected with rural life. The
village unit trained with other neighbouring village units. The unit members had
to get special leave from their employers to attend courses and training which
caused a lot of difficulties, as you could not give the proper reason.
Units and other troops were trained in the north east of Scotland for
sorties on Norway. The following picture shows a group of Polish
soldiers cross-country ski training in the Grampian Mountains. The
Cairngorm Mountains offered perhaps the most suitable terrain for cross country
ski training. Numerous units were trained in mountain warfare in this region,
based in a large training camp in Braemar (now a caravan site).
below is of a timber bridge across the River Dee built during WW2 by the
Canadian Forestry Corps. Canadian lumberjack volunteers were formed into
the Canadian Forestry Corps and were posted in various locations around Grampian
to fell timber. They were often billeted in wooden hutted camps in various
locations. The requirement for timber meant that parts of several ancient
woodlands in Grampian were felled during the war.
Prisoner of War
about 19 POW Camps based in the north east of Scotland. There were
several main camps with numerous satellite camps to take the overflow. There
appears to be a general trend in the history of these camps; at the start of
their use, they held mostly Italian POWs from the North Africa
Campaigns. Many Italian prisoners were lent out to the local farmers
as a workforce, where in general they worked and behaved well. Local
farmers would often supplement the POWs rations with food from the farm.
One Italian prisoner who stole a bicycle from the farm where he was working,
escaped duly to be recaptured soon after. The bicycle was never returned to the
farmer. Later in the war, German Prisoners started to fill up the
campsites, who were also lent out to work on local farms. After the end of the
war, a number of camps retained their German guests, as they were unwilling to
return to their homeland, it having been captured by the Soviet Army. One
such camp was in the escarpment on the south side of the Dee opposite Ballater /
Craigendarroch and was later used as adventure holiday camp site by the YMCA.