Remembrance Day 2019 – Invergordon’s Historical Importance

All pupils took part in 2 minutes of reflective silence on Monday to pay tribute to the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice to serve their countries.

There were 2 assemblies held to raise awareness of Remembrance Day and the Poppy. We were also lucky enough to have members of the Royal British Legion who shared stories of Invergordon’s role in the First and Second World Wars. Please read below for more information on this and visit the Invergordon Museum for much more on the town’s history:

A local History of the importance our area played in the great wars.

The 2 small towns of Invergordon and Alness which lie on the North side of the Cromarty Firth have played some of the most important parts in the great wars. The Firth is one of the most sheltered deep-water harbours on the east coast of the British Isles, from Cape Wrath to Dover. From the time of the Vikings and probably earlier, the Firth was well known to seafarers. Our Home Fleet were regular visitors to Invergordon and until the 1960’s held their autumn exercises from the Firth.

The First Great War.

In 1915 dry docks were floated up to Invergordon from Portsmouth to enable work to be carried out on the naval ships, 400 men at this time worked in the docks keeping the home fleet afloat. These men also helped to build the oil tanks for fuelling the ships. They lived in camps which had been built around the area to accommodate them.

On the 30th of December 1915 while the Captain was holding a film show on board the HMS Natal for the officers, his wife and family, local people and some nurses from nearby hospital ship Drina, the ship exploded, possibly due to faulty ammunition which was onboard, this resulted in the loss of life of over 400. Not all the crew were on board at the time as about 400 of them were on shore leave and survived, the Natal Gardens are a memorial garden to those unfortunate souls who lost their lives so tragically.

Both towns were transformed by these wars, but although Invergordon is remembered as a Naval town, there was also an army camp, situated just north of Cromlet Drive, which housed at least 2000 soldiers from Cameron Highlanders 3rd reserve Battalion and provided training for the soldiers.

The population of the two towns swelled from around 1100 before the 1st great war to about 20,000, this included Russian migrants, military personnel, influx of workers and civilians coming through the towns.

Then in 1917 when the USA entered the war they embarked on one of the most ambitious projects of the war, laying a minefield between Orkney and Norway, this is known today as the Northern Barrage. They took over Dalmore Distillery (this was known as Base 17). To the west at the Distillery were 3 huge warehouses, ideal, with numerous railway sidings and a large storage capacity, where the navel men assembled the mines.

Dalmore with its good railway connections was ideal, mine parts were shipped from America to arrive at Kyle of Lochalsh on the west coast to be transported by Highland Rail to Dalmore and also to Corpach to be taken then by the Caledonian Canal to Inverness. Tracks were transported from Buckie to Dalmore for the new railway lines, one was laid along the shore directly to the Admiralty Pier in town, to carry the mines to the minelaying ships, a second new railway line led from Dalmore along the shore, connecting to Belliport (the small pier between Invergordon and Alness). Railway sections have been found in that area.

After the Armistice in November 1918 the unused mines from Base 17 were shipped back to the U.S and the real problems began, having to retrieve the mines which had been laid for the Northern Barrage. In March 1919 the U.S. mine retrieving operations were moved to Kirkwall and the facilities were handed over to the U.K. Admiralty. After 1922 the site was returned to Dalmore Distillery.

Between the Great Wars.

In 1931 there was a mutiny in Invergordon, Britain was in the throes of the great depression, the Government wanting to make savings in the public sector put forward an idea to have pay cuts made to the Armed Forces. New pay rates were put forward for the Royal Navy of a 10% cut in wages. Rumours of these cuts circulated to the ships of the Atlantic Fleet who were on manoeuvres in the North Sea, these ships came to dock in town on the 11/9/31, and by the Thursday the sailors had meetings in the playing fields (by the Academy) where it was voted in favour of a strike, more meetings were held on the 13/9/31 in the Naval canteen, there were scuffles, and the meeting was broken up. Only to be continued on the harbour and aboard the ships, On the 14/9/31 another 4 ships docked in the Firth and there were more meetings.

The strike took place on the 15/9/31, the sailors of some ships refused to go back to sea, they took to the decks using semaphore signals to indicate to each other that the strike was in effect. 4 ships left the harbour that day, but 3 had to return due to lack of crew willing to take orders.

More meetings took place, interrupted by singing and piano playing. Over 1000 sailors took part in the strike and it was successful in forcing the fleet commanders to abandon plans for manoeuvres.

After Naval Commanders spoke to Whitehall, who were very embarrassed about the whole affair it was agreed on a lesser % of wage cuts.

Many sailors were punished out of the public eye many being jailed and over 200 sailors were dismissed from service because of the strike.

The Second Great War.

In 1939 both towns waved goodbye to their young men who were mostly territorial soldiers, known as Terries, from the 4th Seaforth Highlanders. Some of these actual men are depicted in the mural at Invergordon railway station. They were transported to Bedford Barracks in Aldershot in the South of England to train for going overseas

There then began huge preparations in the area, more oil tanks were built and a new oil storage facility was also built. Major construction companies like Wimpy, Balfour Beattie and Molans built runways and camps, and unemployment went down overnight.

There were new runways built at Evanton (which had been a Fleet Air Arm airfield since 1920’s), also at Fearn for the Barracuda bomber base and at Tain long runways for Harrier fighter planes. Evanton was also an Artillery and Gunnery training school.

Invergordon received its first flying boats with 201 Squadron from Calshot, they stayed for a week before going to Sullom Voe in Shetland. These planes were used to patrol the exits from the North Sea. In 1940 these planes were replaced by Sunderlands which were bigger and faster.

The docks at Invergordon employed around 4000 men and women to do repairs on the ships, they had a turnaround of about 10 ships per day. There was also 3 Police Stations which housed over 250 Metropolitan police who tried to keep order on the docks. There were 2 power generating stations in the town, 1 is the big red brick building with blue doors next to the church the 2nd is what you know now as Joss Street Garage.

Many of the town’s buildings were taken over by the military as Officers quarters, stores or workshops.

No 1 High Street was taken over to house the RAF.

No 7 was taken to house H.M. Forces.

No 33 got taken for the Territorial Army.

No 41 was selected as RAF headquarters, later they had to move to the Masonic Hall on Outram Street.

No 43 Men had been billeted here but had to be evacuated due to a meningitis outbreak, and transferred to marquees in the camp grounds so all equipment had to be moved out to the shore cottage until everything was disinfected.

The town hall was used as a concert and dance venue in the 1940’s. then in 1941 it was used as a decontamination centre.

No 56 High Street, the Municipal Chambers was used for the ARP (Air Raid Patrol or Precautions), who were housed in the basement.

The top floor was allocated to the Royal Engineers as offices.

The Red Cross also had 2 rooms on the top floor.

No103 High Street belonging to the late Mr Roderick MacGregor. He was approached and asked if one of the houses to the rear of his shop could be used by the Air Ministry. No106 Which you probably remember as an Indian Restaurant was owned by Highland Agricultural, was taken for the Admiralty, also 126 and 134 were taken for the Admiralty. No 161 was Naval living quarters.

Oakes Villa was the station Headquarter offices, later moving to Dalmore in 1941.

Oakes Stores, now known as Oakes Court was used for storage of gas masks and decontamination also a, first aid post by the RAF.

In 1939 Airmen were billeted in the Academy which is now the library and Park School. Joss Street became Naval living quarters and a site for the NAAFI (Navy, Army Air Force Institution, who were responsible for running tea bars and vans and shops for the Armed Forces) Joss street also housed a mortuary, which had previously been a Smithy. The Joss Street Hall also housed military personnel.

There were a lot of other houses and small business in Clyde Street, Outram Street and

Shore Road which was taken over by the military.

17th Feb 1941 is when a JU88, a German bomber, descended from the clouds to make an attack on the oil tanks, he flew a straight course from east to west then a slight left hand turn to bring his aircraft straight along the line of the 56 oil tanks, where the pilot released 2, 500 kilo bombs, one of which pierced the top of tank number 13, coming out about half way down and entering the tank beside it.

The explosion was very audible, half the 4000 tons of oil ran down the embankment onto the railway line and proceeded to flow like treacle along the line towards the station.

The enemy plane then made a sharp bank to avoid hitting the church spire and proceeded to open fire on some of the flying boats which were in harbour.

His bullets caused no damage or casualties, then he disappeared back into the clouds, all of this took just 4 minutes.

One local story says that there were two men working on the tank at the time of the attack, both obviously made a quick escape, one went home terrified and the other was not found until later that night, when he appeared from a local hotel, where he had gone to have a dram or two, to calm his nerves.

The railway was closed until 4pm the next day whilst the Navy and RAF cleared the oil.

Some of the defences are still noticeable in the town, the gun emplacements (or pillboxes), some constructed from concrete and brick and others of sandbags. 3 of these still remain today. One is in the woods south of King George Street. Another lying on the beach, which was clearly moved from its original site and the third on Tomich Road, or the BA road as you may know it.

There was also a number of Air Raid shelters. Some of which are still visible. One on the site of your playing fields, one on Seabank Road and one at the top end of Joss Street,

Inchindown Oil Storage.

Constructed deep in the hillside, with the capacity to house 32 million gallons of fuel for the ships, these huge underground oil reservoir tanks are lined with 46cm layer of thick concrete, at their deepest were 140 meters below ground and were considered to be bomb proof.

Polish Memorial.

At the bottom of Castle Avenue you will all probably know the Polish war memorial. Where the memorial stands is to the left of the main entrance to the camp.

After Poland was invaded by the Germans and the Soviet Union in 1939, many Polish soldiers reached Britain and helped protect Scotland from invasion.

Unable to return to their homeland many of the soldiers stayed in their adopted country and formed the basis of today’s vibrant Polish community.

From 1945 a Battalion of Polish soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division were stationed here in town, the camp situated within the once old Castle grounds, and they worked to protect the area they integrated into. These men mixed well, were welcomed into the local community, were treated well and formed relationships with the local townsfolk. Many of the local children would go to the camp and the soldiers would entertain them and build swings and other activities for them.

They also occupied a concrete building beside the school canteen where they made hand made items so as they would have an income.

Part of the inscription on their war memorial reads “We fought for our country, And yours”

So on this remembrance day. Give a thought to how all these young men and women who sacrificed so much for you all to have your freedom today.

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