Friday, 30 September 2011

Craigneuk's hard work pays off.

They can't spell Argyll but good-on the folk of Craigneuk for all the efforts in refurbishing their war memorial and adding name panels. It was only unveiled a few weeks ago and they have already been awarded a Keep Scotland Beautiful trophy.

Judges from Keep Scotland Beautiful awarded the Jim Murdie Trophy for Permanent Landscaping to the town.

Derek Robertson, chief executive of Keep Scotland Beautiful, and master of ceremonies at the Awards said: “Beautiful Scotland celebrates the communities which are working to improve and enhance their local areas through environmental education, community participation, and encouraging litter-free environments as well as horticulture.

The Historical Association's 2011 Glasgow Winter Lectures

The Hisorical Association have a series of winter lectures and this season they have four with a military bent. 

Glasgow & West of Scotland Branch Programme 2011-12

All events begin at 5.30 pm in Byres Road Library, Glasgow, except in December in the Mitchell Library, Glasgow.

13 0ctober 2011
‘William Wallace and the Declaration of Arbroath'
Professor Davit Broun

10 November 2011
Digging the Trenches - the Archaeology of a WW1 Battle'
Dr. Tony Pollard

8 December 2011
The Forgotten Convoy JW53'
Mr. David Craig

9 February 2012
‘The Scottish Temperance Movement'
Dr. Irene Maver

8 March2012
‘The Impact of Scots Law in Scottish History'
Dr. John Finlay

12 April 2012
‘Our brethren of Scotland - Parliamentarians and their Scottish Allies in the English Civil Wars'
Professor Jackie Eales
Come along, join in and contribute your ideas. To find out more, phone the Secretary on 0141 956 1172 or email

Memorial honours Lancastria victims

From the Press Association

A memorial dedicated to victims of the worst maritime disaster in British history is to be unveiled.

HMT Lancastria, which was built on the River Clyde, was attacked by a German bomber more than 71 years ago - on June 17, 1940 - receiving three direct hits.

It sank off the coast of France at St Nazaire in less than 20 minutes, taking up to 6,500 people with it, making it the largest single loss of life for British forces throughout the whole of the Second World War.

More people were killed than when the Titanic sank in 1912, and more than double the number of victims in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond will unveil the memorial on Saturday on the banks of the Clyde, at the site of what was the William Beardmore shipbuilding yard where HMT Lancastria was built.

The memorial is a bronze sculpture, set on a granite block with a commemorative text, and was created by Fife artist Marion Smith. The bronze represents the early steel sheet construction of the Lancastria.

Jacqueline Tanner, 73, from Worcester, who is the youngest known survivor of the disaster, will attend the unveiling. She was just two years old when the ship sank, and her parents are said to have held her up out of the water for more than two hours before they were rescued. Mrs Tanner, formerly Jacqueline Tillyer, had to be revived and still has the sailor's jersey in which she was wrapped by her rescuer.

Mark Hirst, whose grandfather Walter Hirst, from Dundee, survived the disaster when he was 25, is the founder of the Lancastria Association and secured the site for the memorial. Walter Hirst was a Sapper with 663 Company, The Royal Engineers. About one-third, or 91, of the men in his company died when the Lancastria sank.

His grandson, 42, from Jedburgh in the Borders, said: "The memorial to the victims of the Lancastria is a fitting and lasting tribute to the thousands who died in what remains Britain's worst ever maritime disaster. Their sacrifice was ignored for decades because successive British governments refused to formally acknowledge the loss of the Lancastria for propaganda reasons.

"The site on which the new memorial stands is where the Lancastria was constructed in 1920 and where this once great liner came to life. The unveiling of this memorial brings the story full circle and I am certain it will be a place of pilgrimage and remembrance in the years to come."

Friday, 23 September 2011

Princess Royal to unveil battalion's war memorial

From today's Edinburgh Evening News:

The Princess Royal is to visit soldiers in the Capital to unveil a new war memorial.
She will visit The Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland (1 SCOTS) on Tuesday to take part in the unveiling and dedication ceremony.

The battalion's spokesperson, Major Norrie McKinnon, said: "The memorial was commissioned to commemorate members of 1 SCOTS killed on operations. There are three names on the memorial: Corporal Johnathan Moore, Lance Corporal Joseph Pool and Private Sean McDonald, who were all killed in Afghanistan.

"The memorial is a modern- design Celtic cross. It has been donated by Stancliffe Stone Limited and the Commanding Officer of 1 SCOTS would like to publicly thank them for their generosity.

"The memorial can be moved with the battalion wherever it is based and will serve as a lasting memory to those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice".

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Wartime Stuartfield Gun found in Aberdeenshire quarry

A very interesting news item from the BBC today. Many villages and towns had a captured gun on display, and it was thought that many of them had been melted down to re-use the metal in the Second World War. It seems the people of Stuartfield instead buried theirs in a quarry!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Last survivor of SS Creemuir's sinking returns to Stonehaven

An interesting article from The Courier:

It's the first time 89-year-old Noel Blacklock had been in Stonehaven since the Second World War.

Mr Blacklock, who now lives in Bedford in England, was one of 12 men to make it out alive after the SS Creemuir was sunk in 1940.

Aberdeenshire author Rod Macdonald posted a blog about the Creemuir after diving at the shipwreck as part of his research for a new book.

Mr Blacklock's story came to light through the blog and he visited Stonehaven, where he met Mr Macdonald and gave the author a full account of what happened.

Mr Macdonald said: "I'm writing a book just now called The Darkness Below and as part of that I had put in an internet blog that I dived the SS Creemuir shipwreck.

"I only put a line or two in the blog and I thought nothing more about it."

He added: "Then, about six months later, you could have knocked me over with a feather because here was a posting from the ex-radio officer of the SS Creemuir on my blog.

"It was absolutely fascinating to talk to someone who was part of this wreck that we had seen."

Recalling the sinking of the ship, Mr Blacklock said: "We went down in about two or three minutes. The ship was light and the sea came in very quickly.

"I don't actually remember getting into the water as I had passed out by that time."

He added: "My first recollection was being underwater, coming up through the water and bumping my head on a piece of wood.

"That was when I realised I was still alive."

Fife Family History Fair today

Adam tweeted the news last night, but we're here at the Fife Family History Fair in the Rothes Halls, Glenrothes today.

If you're in the area, pop in and see us. We'll give you a warm welcome, and you can catch a sneak peek at some of our new stuff....

Thursday, 15 September 2011

602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron - On this day in Scottish Military History - 1925 and 1940

A slightly different On-this-day because it covers two events on the same date, fifteen years apart.

In the mid-1920s it was decided to form an air reserve equivalent to the Territorial Army and Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. It would be called the Auxiliary Air Force and several squadrons would be formed around the UK. The first auxiliary squadron to be raised was No 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron. It was formed at RAF Renfrew on this day in 1925. It was initially equipped with Airco DH9As. The DH9A was an aircraft which had served during the last months of the First World War and was effectively obsolete before it was even sent to 602 squadron.

Another Scottish squadron was raised shortly afterwards; No 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron was formed at RAF Turnhouse on 14th October 1925. Both squadrons went through various aircraft over the next fourteen years; Avro 504Ks, Fairey Fawns, Westland Wapitis, Hawker Harts, Hawker Hinds, Hawker Hectors, Gloster Gauntlets and Gloster Gladiators. Over that time they changed role from light bomber to army co-operation to fighter squadrons.

By late 1939 both squadrons were equipped with Spitfires and were on defensive duties in Scotland. In October 1939 603 squadron intercepted the first German raid against the UK when Luftwaffe JU88s attempted to attack the naval base at Rosyth. 603 were still at their base at RAF Turnhouse and brought down the first German aircraft to fall on British soil. 602 were based at RAF Drem in East Lothian and were also in the air on that day. Shortly after 603 shot down their bomber, 602 claimed their first kill. The Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command, Air Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding sent a message to the squadrons that night. "Well done. First blood to the Auxiliaries!".

By August 1940 the Battle of Britain was reaching a critical point. The Luftwaffe had switched to bombing London after a raid on Berlin by the RAF. Air Marshall Dowding replaced his tired squadrons in 11 Group in the South of England with squadrons from the Northern Fighter Groups. 602 Sqdn went to RAF Westhampnett in Sussex on 12th August 1940, and 603 Sqdn went to RAF Hornchurch in Essex on 27th August 1940. They were soon in the thick of the fighting and would be for the rest of the battle.

This day seventy one years ago was the turning point of the Battle of Britain. Both squadrons were in action on this day. 602 squadron shot down 10 German aircraft, and 603 Squadron intercepted two Luftwaffe raids, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

Germany had launched 1,500 aircraft against London over the day but Luftwaffe losses were so great on 15th September 1940 that two days later Hitler postponed his invasion plan, Operation Sealion, until 1941. Luftwaffe tactics also now changed from day attacks to night bombing.

The Battle of Britain had reached its climax but there was still a lot of hard fighting to be done by both Scottish fighter squadrons over the next five years.

We should also not forget No 612 (County of Aberdeen) Squadron. It was formed at RAF Dyce on 1st June 1937 during a pre-war expansion of the Auxiliary Air Force and soon took on a reconnaissance role. It served throughout the war in the vital but not very glamorous maritime reconnaissance role as part of Coastal Command.

In 1957 all three Scottish reserve squadrons along with all other Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadrons were disbanded.

In 1999 it was decided to reuse the old RAuxAF squadron numbers for non-flying RAF part-time reserve units. No 2 (City of Edinburgh) Maritime Headquarters Unit became 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron. In 2006 the mission support element of the Edinburgh Squadron was split away to form another squadron in Glasgow and No 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron was back on the RAF books after a hiatus of nearly fifty years.

Eighty five years after it was first formed, Glasgow's own is still going strong. It now has an ISTAR (Intelligence Surveillance Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) mission support role. In recent years Its members have served at RAF Kinloss and on attachment to RAF units in Iraq, Cyprus and Afghanistan.

Cave Leonem Cruciatum

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The Admiralty issues AFO 2239/31 - On this day in Scottish Naval History, 1931

On this day in Scottish naval history the Royal Navy posted an Admiralty Fleet Order AFO 2239/31 on ships' notice boards. This order had been anticipated by the crews of many ships in port. News of it had leaked on 12th September and the Sunday newspapers, read by many sailors on shore leave, had picked it up. The contents of the order confirmed the rumours and sent shockwaves through the Atlantic Fleet anchored at Invergordon Naval Base.

The Royal Navy had conducted a savings review as part of the previous Government's belt-tightening exercise because of the financial fallout of the Wall Street crash of 1929. The huge cuts needed in public expenditure had split the Labour Government and in August 1931 it had to resign. A new National Government was formed from all parties which forced through the cuts. Each part of the government needed to make savings and the armed forces were no exception.

Morale was already at a low ebb within the forces as they had been repeatedly starved of money and new equipment after the First World War, and these new cuts were always going to be unpopular. As with all big business the biggest cost is personnel; so the Admiralty Fleet Order reported that from 1st October 1931 there would be a pay cut across all ranks of the Royal Navy.

Officers, Non-commissioned officers and ratings who had enlisted after 1925 would face a 10% pay cut, but any sailor below the rank of Petty Officer who had joined before 1925 would face a cut which would see them receiving the same pay as the post-1925 men. This would be comparable to a 25% pay reduction.

Unsurprisingly the long service men facing the biggest cuts were not happy. There was little animosity felt to their officers and petty officers because they were also facing pay cuts but there was still simmering discontent both ashore and on the ships anchored in the Cromarty Firth.

A fleet exercise was being planned for 15th September 1931 which would bring matters to a head. The Invergordon Mutiny was still two days away but the posting of the AFO on this day eighty years ago was the lighting of the touch paper.

The Scottish Military Research Group - now a society

For once onthe blog, the news we have to report is our own. Below is the text of the "press release" we sent out to various places last night. We thought it might be of interest to you all in establishing what our future plans are.

The Scottish Military Research Group has decided to move to a more formal footing by forming themselves into an association. Although the SMRG has been in existence for a number of years it has always been run as an informal organisation. On Saturday 3rd September 2011 at a meeting of its members in Glasgow it was agreed to form an association and appoint a committee.

The Scottish Military Research Group is a troop of dedicated volunteers who have worked on the Scottish War Memorials Project since 2006, and the Scottish War Graves Project since 2007. The Group members are also working on transcribing the Glasgow Roll of Honour 1914-1918, and indexing the Daily Record between 1914 and 1919. Just this month the Scottish Military Research Group has also agreed to work in partnership with Edinburgh's War to further the aims of both groups.

Although a great deal of the Group’s activities currently focuses on the First World War, the Group is keen to research all aspects of Scotland's military history. The War Memorials and War Graves project record memorials and graves commemorating the Wars of Independence, Covenanters, Jacobites and the British wars which involved Scots from the Seventeenth Century up until the Twenty First Century.

The future aim of the Group is to consolidate its online databases onto one dedicated website as well as co-ordinating a nationwide newspaper indexing project in the run up to the 100th anniversary of the First World War. This will create an index of references to military individuals (casualties, enlistments, decorations for gallantry) in Scottish newspapers from 1914-1921.

The first Chairperson of the Group is David McNay, the co-founder of the Scottish War Memorials Project.

The Group can be contacted at or through the website

The Scottish Military Research Group is on facebook:

and Twitter as @S_M_R_G

Saturday, 10 September 2011

The Big Picnic - Govan

I was lucky enough to see Bill Bryden's 'The Big Picnic' during its original run, in fact I came across the programme recently. It was quite a spectacle even though the pedant in me didn't like 'New Army' men being at Mons. However it was set on a truly epic scale; originally in a huge old shipyard engine shed and not a theatre. That allowed the production crew to build a section of trench and no man's land.

One scene particularly stands out in my mind from near the end of the play. An islander who enlisted in Glasgow sings the 23rd Psalm in Gaelic. It was one of those moments when the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

A theatre company made up of young Glasgow students called Shoogalie Road chose 'The Big Picnic' as their first big show and put it on for the first time in seventeen years. They also went back to Govan to put it on.

Unfortunately the show has been and gone, it was on the 7th and 8th September, so we can't plug it. Instead we'll publish the very favourable review that they got in 'The Scotsman' here

By Joyce McMillan. Date: 10 September 2011

REID Kerr College, Langside College, Telford, Coatbridge, and the University of the West of Scotland: recession or no recession, Scotland's colleges keep churning out students with a burning interest in theatre, and a determination to build careers for themselves.

To judge by their latest production at the Pearce Institute in Govan, though, the new Glasgow company known as Shoogalie Road must be one of the most ambitious graduate groups in Scotland, in that they've chosen, with the consent, support and first-night presence of the playwright himself, to tackle Bill Bryden's huge 1994 epic The Big Picnic. The play tells the story of a group of nine working-class Govan men who join Glasgow's famous Highland Light Infantry at the outset of the First World War, and are plunged into the hell of the trenches. It also keeps an eye on the story of their wives and womenfolk, trying to keep the home fires burning back in Glasgow; and it remains a well-researched and moving, if slightly predictable, slice of Glasgow working-class history, which resonates powerfully in the local setting of the Pearce, a focal point of the Govan community since 1906.

Directed by Jemima Sinclair and Liam Lambie – who also adapted the text – this young production of Bryden's play is never flawless; all of the actors have a tendency to lose control of their voices in moments of high emotion, and there is too much aimless shouting. At its best, though, it combines some impressive acting with a fine soundscape, and an outstanding grasp of how to use a large cast – there are 17 on stage – to create memorable stage pictures; and although there are some theatrical events in Scotland this week which achieve a higher professional polish, there are few driven by such an urgency to tell a tale which should never be forgotten, and by such a powerful emerging sense of theatrical poetry, in telling it.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Fans plan new Hearts war memorial

An article from the Edinburgh Evening News about a new memorial for McCrae's Battalion. Would it be wrong to point out that McCrae's Battalion already has a memorial in Edinburgh? It's in St Giles Cathedral - maybe they should go and have a look for it. And if it's to the team as they say, then there's a memorial to the men from Hearts at Haymarket...

A New memorial to the Hearts players who fought and died in the First World War could be created outside Tynecastle.
Hearts supporters' groups have come together to launch a bid to raise £60,000 for a new memorial to the famous "McCrae's Battalion" or "footballer's battalion", which took part in the Battle of the Somme.

The 600 men that were part of the battalion included all 13 players in the Hearts first team of the time, which had been at the top of the table when they agreed to fight.

Now it is hoped that a statue, likely to take the form of a soldier with a football, can be created outside the club's home ground to recognise the role the club's staff played on the battlefield.

A group of fans have come together to raise money under the name of the 1914 Memorial Trust.

Steven Kilgour, vice-chairman of the new trust, said: "This was a unique team not only to Hearts but to Scottish history and this will be a lasting tribute to them. We don't want a war memorial as such, but something to commemorate the actual team."

The Hearts players that took part formed the backbone of the 16th Royal Scots, later dubbed the "footballer's battalion". The majority never returned.

Many players and officials from other clubs took the lead of the Hearts squad and signed up to the 16th Royal Scots. On the first day of the Battle of the Somme, three of the Hearts players were killed along with 21,000 others.

Gorgie councillor and former Lord Provost Eric Milligan said: "Every supporter in the world thinks there is something special and unique about their football club but I do not think there is any football club anywhere that has a story that surpasses the story of Heart of Midlothian Football Club.

"It stands unique in the world with a rich history that is not just about the football field but a lot more than that and those players that took part in the First World War are a big part of that."

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Lanark Festival of History 2011 - photo and video report

A little later than planned, here are some photos and videos from the Lanark Festival of History which took place a couple of weeks ago.

WW2 Bren Gun carrier

Romans in their camp

Time travelling soldiers

95th Rifles

Napoleonic Era Durham Light Infantry

WW1 Gordon Highlanders

Napoleonic War display

A young recruit tries his hand at avoiding the barbed wire...
Here's a video showing part of the Napoleonic Wars demonstration.

And here's a short video of the Gordon Highlanders showing some of the items on their display table.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Scots Army crushed 100 miles from London - On this day in Scottish History 1651

Much is made of the Jacobites reaching Derby in 1745 on their march to London. It was only 150 miles to the capital and it got Londoners in a panic.

Three hundred and sixty years ago a much larger Scottish army was also on its way to London to put a Stuart monarch on the throne, and got to within nearly 100 miles of the capital.

12,000 Scots under David Leslie had streamed south with Charles II as Cromwell and Monck were behind him in Central Scotland. Leslie moved fast but worryingly very few English Royalists rallied to their cause.

Having left Monck to subdue Dundee, Cromwell was hot on Lelsie's heels. At the same time he assembled troops from his New Model Army in the North of England. Militia were raised too; instead of the panic in London in 1745 the citizens of 1651 raised 14,000 men in the Trained Bands to see off the Scots.

Cromwell eventually consolidated 28,000 men against the Scottish-led army and caught up with them as they rested in the walled town of Worcester. Now nearly 16,000 strong the Scottish / Royalist army was vastly outnumbered.

I'll not go into detail of the battle here, you can read more on this website.

The outcome was a complete destruction of the Scottish army at the hands of Cromwell. Oliver Cromwell was a natural leader and soldier; he had his experienced army behind him, many of them his well trained and led New Model Army. The relatively inexperienced Scots and Royalists were no match and although they put up a fight there was never going to be any other outcome than a Parliamentary victory.

Exact figures are not known but it is estimated 3,000 Royalists died and 10,000 were taken prisoner on this day in 1651. The Parliamentarians under Cromwell only suffered a few hundred casualties. 8,000 of the prisoners were Scottish. The 2,000 English prisoners were sent to Ireland to serve in the New Model Army; but as with the aftermath of Dunbar exactly one year earlier the Scots were once again sent to the American and West Indian colonies as indentured labourers (effectively slaves).

Worcester was the last major battle of the Wars of Three Kingdoms and paved the way for Cromwell to become Lord Protector of England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland. He had routed two Scots armies in a year and killed and captured thousands.

It would take a few more months for Scotland to be subdued but the defeat at Worcester sealed Scotland's fate. It would now lose its independence and be absorbed into the republican English Commonwealth.

Nine years before at Worcester the First English Civil War had broken out, and it would be another nine years in 1660 before the Restoration. Only then would Scotland once again be in charge of its own affairs.

Stained Glass War Memorials

Although stained glass windows as war memorials are not something you come across every day, there are several tens, perhaps as many as a hundred or so such memorials in Scotland. It may come as a surprise that not all of these are in churches or former churches and some are not even in their original location.

Stained glass faces some particular problems when churches close or are modified, or the windows just deteriorate and need repair. Such windows are fragile, and only the exterior of the window is designed to be weatherproof, the interior of the window is likely to be painted so is not weatherproof like the outside. Most significantly the windows are designed to be seen from inside the building and rely on a supply of light from outside in order to be seen.

So what are the implications of this from a war memorial perspective? Well firstly the windows are very expensive to design and install and may therefore be quite valuable in their own right. Glasgow’s open museum acquired a three light memorial window at a cost of £132,000! Should a window need repair and renovation, costs are likely to be many thousands of pounds. Finally if a window needs to be relocated for any reason such as demolition of the building, relocation costs are likely to be similarly large.

A fine example of how such memorials can be saved for the future is the WW2 memorial at Lochend Church, Beeswing, Dumfries and Galloway.

When the church was sold, the building was listed with special mention being made of the window and that it should not be obscured by internal structures or by blocking up, furthermore there was a covenant placed on the deeds to the effect that anyone who wishes to see the memorial must be allowed access providing they make an appointment with the occupier. A great result all around.

Another closure of a church (and its demolition) led to the move of a Boer War memorial window from St Ninian’s school, Moffat to the nearby St John’s church. It took a number of years to raise the funds needed to renovate and install the window which entailed demolition and rebuilding
of the entire end wall of the church!

Burnside parish church in Pollockshields had an even more impressive relocation when the whole church was moved to a new site ‘brick by brick’ including the stained glass window.

It does not all go well however; many years ago it was necessary to install an internal first floor in a church in Annan, this results in only being able to view the top half of the windows from upstairs and the bottom half from the ground floor.

Sometimes there is no choice but to move the window and place it into a light box. If you have not seen one, this is a box which has internal lighting (preferably neon rather than bulbs) so that, when switched on, the window is illuminated – the whole must be indoors. Good examples are the windows which are now in Dunscore Church, Dumfries and Galloway and in Canongate Church, Edinburgh.

St Andrews church, Castle Douglas is now the Lochside Theatre and what is believed to be the war memorial window is now blocked up. Little detail can be seen and there is no photographic record but at least we believe it remains to be uncovered by perhaps some future generation who will hopefully recognise its value.

Finally a sad tale………. Tarff Church in Dumfries and Galloway had a pair of memorial windows when it closed. One of these is now believed lost and the other is stored under canvas as four panels by the present owner of the building, unfortunately a piece of the glass bearing two surnames is missing from this surviving window and its future is uncertain.

(Today's Blog was written by Paul Goodwin)

Friday, 2 September 2011

Royal Highland Fusiliers Museum, Glasgow

It's been a while since we took a look at one of Scotland's military museums, so on Monday I took the opportunity of a day off work to visit the museum of the Royal Highland Fusiliers, situated at the top of Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow.

I've visited the museum on many occasions, but on this particular day it seemed I took a little more time around the exhibits, looking at the displays with fresh eyes.

If you've never visited the museum, then you're in for a treat. It's a veritable treasure trove of artefacts from both the Highland Light Infantry and the Royal Scots Fusiliers spanning several hundred years.

The layout stretches over two floors, with the ground floor covering the regiments from their formation up until the outbreak of the First World War, with displays for India, Africa and other parts of the world where colonial campaigns were fought.

The ground floor also features displays for the volunteers and militia, the pipe bands and other musicians, as well as displays of uniform and medals.

The upper floor covers the two World Wars in great detail, with imaginatively laid out displays.

The First World War section is particularly fascinating - it contains many items, a lot of them unique.

The Second World War section is no less interesting, and both the war in Europe and the Far East have a large number of items on display.

The Second World War display then leads on to the final displays covering the RHF from amalgamation to the present day.

The final section is a little disappointing, as it is almost sidelined in a small alcove - another minor grump is that one of the displays is empty, with a sign stating that this display will cover the regiment since its merging in to the Royal Regiment of Scotland. That sign has been there for some time - hopefully the display will be filled fairly soon.

There are plenty of fascinating items to see here, and it's well worth giving yourself plenty of time to take it all in. We plan to feature a number of the items in the museum in our "object of the month" feature in the coming months.

Finally, for the researchers amongst you the museum contains a well-stocked library which is definitely worth visiting. I can testify to discovering many fascinating records in my time there.

The museum also holds one "hidden" aspect.For those of you with an interest in Glasgow design, this museum is a must visit as the interior was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Many of the design features he created can still be seen, particularly in the metal work around the lift shaft.

Mackintosh designed decorative work on the lift shaft.

So if you're visiting Glasgow, make a point of seeing the RHF museum. It really is a hidden gem in the city. More people deserve to know about it.

For more information on the museum, as well as opening hours and a link to their online shop, visit their website at

Thursday, 1 September 2011

General Monck takes Dundee - On this day in Scottish Military History - 1651

Thanks again to Karen Nichols of Dundee for today's 'On this Day'. Karen is steeped in the history of Dundee and runs several themed tours of the City. Her Royal Burgh Tour covers the old town and includes a stop at George Monck's former lodgings.

The Siege of Dundee 1651

The 1651 siege of Dundee by General George Monck is one of the few episodes in the city’s history that most residents are sure they know. During the Civil War there was a six week siege that ended with a nine year occupation by the English.

According to legend the royal burgh was assailed by Cromwell’s General for six weeks before an innocent boy climbing over the dilapidated town walls gave Monck the information that the guards were in the ale-house for breakfast and drunk by lunchtime. This allowed a brutal assault and dishonourable execution of the Governor followed by three days of looting and mass murder that ended when Monck himself came across a suckling infant at the breast of his dead mother. During the occupation the treasures of the town were placed on 50 ships for export to England. The discovery of human remains throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries seems to add weight to this legend. As with most legends the key facts have been forgotten and unsubstantiated details are now ‘fact’.

After assaulting St. Andrews, Dundee was called upon to surrender on 26th August 1651 by General Monck. The royalist Governor of Dundee, Robert Lumsden, replied that as a king’s officer he desires all that bear arms against the king to lay them down and conform with his Majesty’s declarations. Not surprisingly this request was not considered. On the last Sunday of August firing began against the walls and continued throughout the night. On the morning of 1st September 1651 an assault took place either from 4am or before 10am. The town was stormed at the east and west as well as by gunboats on the River Tay. The Governor and his loyal men had taken possession of the first floor in St. Mary’s Tower and were shooting through a rose window towards the invaders until smoked out. After surrendering in the honoured fashion in the kirk yard an un-named English commander made a decision to shoot the Governor and gave the order for his decapitated head, still in its helmet, to be placed on a spike of pinnacle on the south-west corner of the Steeple’s lower parapet. It allegedly fell down of its own accord in 1660, which is coincidentally the year of Charles II’s Restoration.

By 1811 newspaper accounts had every house broken down and pillaged with every man and officer shot down at the Yarn and Fish markets, where ‘lust, rapacity and cruelty reigned supreme’. Indeed, men were ‘robbit, evin to the sark’. Another nineteenth century account allows for no quarter until the market place. The discovery of a cast-iron musket ball found in the woodwork of a house being demolished 235 years later suggests fighting was still heavy in that market-place. Although Monck granted 24hr plunder with ‘nane escaping their handis’ the order to cease had to be repeated, with increasing punishments threatened, on each of the following three days. With booty recorded at in excess of ‘twa millions and halffe (£) Scots’, it has been speculated that the average booty for each of the soldiers was £60 Scots.

The church stables that had been ‘made useless’ by the Marquis of Montrose six years earlier seemed capable of stabling Monck’s horses and reputedly Bonnie Prince Charlie’s in 1745. There is no evidence for Monck repeating his 1643 visit to Peterborough when he ‘did miserably deface the Cathedral church, break down organs and destroy the glass windows, committing many other outrages on the house of God…’.

The population loss during the massacre 'cannot be estimated at much less than 1/5 of the whole population.’ Monck’s chaplain and chronicler, Gumble, strangely accounted for seven score women killed and twenty-two Edinburgh men. Nicolls in his Diary offers ‘be estimation of wyse men wes about ten or ellevin hundredth beside four or five hundredth prissoneris’. It is known that up to 300 prisoners were captured and placed on ships leaving nearby Broughty Ferry for London. Ironically, the population had been temporarily increased as many saw the walled town as a safe retreat for their bodies and possessions in the troubled times. The 1791 Statistical Accounts names many visitors to the town, including a minister, a parson and the former Governor of Stirling. Their fate is undetermined. Also slaughtered were two battalions of Duffus' regiment and another battalion at the Fishmarket. For the interested, Robertson’s account of the siege goes into greater detail.

The remains of an unknown woman and child were found in Thorter Row, adjacent to the parish church, in 1810 and have been immortalised as victims of the massacre. This area has been subjected to regular development and is now notorious for producing human bones. Indeed, when internal changes were being made to the parish church so many bones were found that it was thought to relocate the remains in a pit to the north. However, this plan was foiled when the chosen spot uncovered even more bones. Hearth tax records in 1690s indicate a population of approximately 8,250, which is a third below that of pre-war figures.

Gumble, Monk's chaplain and chronicler, talks of Dundee as a 'very rich and thriving place' and '60 ships taken in the harbour, & sent away loaded with booty, consisting chiefly of plate and money'. Unfortunately ‘the ships were cast away …and the great wealth perished without any extraordinary storm … ill got, soon lost.’ Although Dundee’s port was the second in Scotland it is doubtful if 50 or 60 ships could be berthed simultaneously. In one action Dundee was reduced from a position of wealth to destitution.

The effects of this second attack compounded the losses after Montrose’s attack, which were calculated at £162,000. The town walls that had cost £162 to repair after the 1645 attack by Montrose were now declared as ‘inconvenient’ and ordered to be dung doon. By the following year the state owed the royal burgh £26,500 for outstanding war funds, £31,000 for quartering of troops and £35,000 for fortifications. From dues totalling £250,000 they received a mere £20,000. Despite losses and a financial decline worse than Aberdeen that suffered similar military action the burgh remained the 2nd highest revenue payer in Scotland until overtaken by the Glasgow tobacco lords from the 1670s. This speaks volumes of the wealth of the royal burgh as do the fragments of architecture that survive from the period.

It took three Acts of Parliament to restore the losses by granting privileges and revenues on imports, a national collection for harbour repairs and the inauguration of two eight-day annual fairs. As if that wasn’t enough a 1649 Act excused the burgh two months maintenance because of a plague outbreak that put the town in quarantine.
Dundee’s trade had always been based on imports and exports through the harbours. Due to Cromwell’s war with the Dutch this trade diminished and again during the 1665-67 war. The following year a great storm that swept up the River Tay broke the seawalls of the harbour causing ruination of the ships and their goods. By 1707 the burgh that was attacked by both sides of the same argument faced bankruptcy. Contemporaries blamed the attacks by Montrose and Monck.

Further Reading

Diary of public transactions, J Nicolls, 1836
Dundee and the Civil Wars, 1639-60, J. Robertson, Friends of Dundee City Archives, 2007.
Dundee, Renaissance to Enlightenment, C, McKean, B Harris, C Whatley (eds), Dundee University Press, 2009
Lost Dundee, C. McKean, P Whatley, Birlinn, 2008
Statistical Accounts, 1791-99, J Sinclair, (ed) Vol XIII