Monday, 11 November 2013

How wartime conflict has shaped the Bute of today

This weekend the annual Remembrance Day parade took place in Rothesay.  I thought it was a fitting time to turn my thoughts to how recent wars and the armed forces have played a role in shaping the Bute of today.
Whilst researching this post I have come across a wealth of information on the subject and could easily have written a book, however as this is a mere blog it only skims the surface of the war related history of the island.  If this is a subject you are interested in there are books, articles and websites that will provide much more detailed information.
Like most places in the UK and many other parts of the world, war graves and memorials on Bute provide a constant reminder of the losses of recent wars.  These wars past and present have created a landscape, history and population that only exist today because they have happened and are still happening.  For that reason it is important to not just acknowledge the losses but also how our current environment and way of life has developed from these conflicts.

War Memorial, Port Bannatyne
Looking around Bute now many of the remnants of wars fought close to home are either gone completely or are gradually being reclaimed by nature. The dominant autumnal backdrop of Rothesay is made up of two main woods, Skipper and Skeoch,  The trees that currently display a tapestry of colours were mostly planted post WW1, creating relatively young though pretty woodlands.
Walking along the quiet, leaf carpeted paths now it is hard to contemplate that their forgotten timber ancestors were mainly felled for wood during the First World War, making their own contributions to the war effort.  Some used for trenches and some for barrack huts, they offered protection in the way that only wood and trees can.

The beautiful Scalpsie Bay is home to more permanent wartime reminders.  Wooden posts, heading out to sea and lined up like military guards, cast small dark shadows across the sand. Cemented in, allegedly as anti-glider defences, to prevent enemy aircraft landing, they are gradually rotting to their cores as the salty sea washes over them.
More recently the nearby cottage was used as a listening post for enemy submarines patrolling the Firth of Clyde during the Cold War.  Cables were run into the sea and these were attached to listening devices under the water, the noises from which were analysed in the cottage. The purpose was to identify Soviet submarine propeller "signatures" and to try to assign these to particular vessels.

A decoy village that now only exists in history and memory was built on the north of the island during WW2 near Rhubadoch with Navy personnel intermittently switching lights on and off.  It's purpose was to divert the attention of enemy aircraft away from Clydeside towns and shipyards. The wooden framed 'village' never was bombed.

Port Bannatyne had a major submarine training Naval Base until it moved to Faslane in 1957.  All midget submarine and human torpedo training took place here, in fact it is believed at the time 95% of all British submariners trained here. The only remaining legacy is a pretty memorial garden dedicated to the 12th Submarine Flotilla, X Craft Midget Submarines, who between them won 4 Victoria Cross medals and another 65 prestigious medals.

Memorial Garden, Port Bannatyne

The Navy and it's personnel were a major contributor to the island economy and their leaving in 1957 was a considerable blow to a place that was already witnessing a decline in tourism.  In the following three years the population fell from 10,000 to less than 8000 and by 1970 the Navy left the island all together.
Although no longer based on the island, passing battle grey Navy ships are still a common site, either on exercise or heading to the fuel depot in Loch Striven opposite.

War memorials dot the island and graveyard stones with tales of heroism and tragedy are reminders of those lost during conflicts.
War casualties impact heavily in small communities and the numbers of young men who failed to return that made valuable contributions to their area and provided trades and skills meant that more than just lives were lost at war, sometimes a way of life was lost.

Kingarth War Memorial

However war has not just taken people from the island, it has also brought people to Bute.
During WW2 over 2000 children were evacuated here.  Looked after by kindly locals some of those children later returned to the island to set down roots and still reside here to this day.

Workers and armed forces personnel from many nations descended on the Isle of Bute, most notably to the Navy base and marine salvage at Port Bannatyne during WW2, it was inevitable that local girls would form relationships and later marriages to men from different nationalities.  This created a more eclectic and some would say exotic Bute population.

Today there are many ex armed forces personnel living on the island, some that have always called Bute their home and some who have found a new home here. Supported by the local British Royal Legion which provides welfare and support and a valuable drop in centre these ex-servicemen and women span a number of generations and conflicts and many provide important community contributions.

For such a small island Bute has witnessed more than it's fair share of wartime involvement.  From invading Vikings to invading Navy personnel, there is no doubt that the Bute of today has been moulded by the events surrounding these conflicts and the people involved.

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