Last of the Westland Whigs

In the late 17th century, the 'Westland Whigs' were the radical descendants of earlier Covenanters who had defied the absolutist rule of Stuart kings in south west Scotland.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

WW2- the defence of Castle Douglas 1940/1

Defence of Castle Douglas 1940-41

Lochside Park as its name suggests is next to Carlingwark Loch in Castle Douglas, south west Scotland. The area around the loch has been of strategic importance several times over the past 2000 years.- in the Iron Age/ Roman period, in the Middle Ages and since the late 18th century as an economic centre. Ancient trackways, Roman roads, a canal, railways and modern roads  reflect the historical and geographical importance of the area at a crossroads between north-south and east-west routes.

In 1940/41, fears of the Germans occupying Ireland and then invading south-west Scotland revived the Castle Douglas area’s military strategic importance. Connected to this period, a mystery concrete object in the park was initially identified as the base of a WW2 spigot mortar. However, Dumfries and Galloway Council archaeologist Andrew Nicholson identified it as part of a WW2 anti-aircraft battery and it is recorded as such in the regional Historic Environment Record. This prompted further research and discussion on social media which confirmed the original identification.

The following is based on an e-mail sent to the Council archaeologist asking for the HER to be amended and for three, possibly four, related WW2  sites in the town to be added. It is also hoped that the interpretation signs can be erected at the sites as part of the Galloway Glens Heritage Landscape project.

1. Dumfries and Galloway Historic Environment Record
Lochside Park Castle Douglas 
MDG 21956 Anti-aircraft Battery

Current record of MDG21956 as 'Anti-aircraft battery'

2. Galloway News article 24 June 2004 ‘Lochside Park Mystery Revealed’ 

In the article David Hamblin identified the mystery object as the base for a 29 mm spigot mortar, also known as the Blacker Bombard. As Mr Hamblin explained in the Galloway News article, the spigot mortar/ Blacker Bombard  fired a 20lb anti-tank mortar bomb with a range of 100 to 150 yards or a 14lb anti-personnel mortar bomb with a 500 yard range. It was not an anti-aircraft gun.

Object identified as spigot mortar base 24 June 2004

The article then quotes Jock Purdie, former Dumfries and Galloway councillor, now a member of  Castle Douglas Community Council. Mr Purdie’s father William was a member of the Castle Douglas Home Guard. Mr Purdie saw the spigot mortar being used by the Home Guard.

Preserved spigot mortar and reconstructed emplacement

On 8 July 2004, the Galloway News published a letter by George S Kirk in response to the 24 June article. Mr Kirk states that he was a member of Castle Douglas Home Guard for a year prior to be called up. Mr Kirk also said that the object ( MDG 21956)  is the base of a spigot mortar.

Home Guard using spigot mortar 1943

In the light of this evidence, the description of  MDG 21956 should be changed to ‘Spigot Mortar Base’.

3. Possible origin of mistaken identification

Between March 1943 and April 1944, a Light Ant-Aircraft regiment were based in Castle Douglas, with some members occupying Nissen huts in Lochside Park. However, they were equipped with mobile (towed, then self-propelling) 40 mm Bofors guns. They did not practice with them in Castle Douglas, but used the town as a base for training in preparation for D-Day.   A history of 7th Battalion, The Loyal Regiment (North Lancashire) / 92nd (Loyals) Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery 1940-1946 by Tom McCarthy (Birkenhead, 2012) . Chapter Five documents their time in Castle Douglas. Chapter Five is blogged here

Full text here

Towed Bofors 44 mm gun as used by 92nd LAA

Self-propelled Bofors 44 mm later used by 92nd LAA

4. Second spigot mortar site
In his letter, Mr Kirk said there was a second spigot mortar site ‘in the grounds of Rogerson’s garage, approximately 30 ft from the left  hand gate post, next to the fir tree adjacent to the roundabout’. This location would have been at the entrance to Castle Douglas railway station in the 1940s.

Rogerson's Garage on site of Castle Douglas station.
Spigot mortar base would have been under trees on right.
Now a pedestrian area at entrance to Castle Douglas Tesco

It was still there in early 2005 but unfortunately the spigot mortar base was lost when Castle Douglas Tesco was built. The fir tree still exists, but the spigot mortar base location is now a paved pedestrian area.

5. Tank trap/ road block on Abercomby Road

Both Mr Purdie 24 June and Mr Kirk 8 July describe traces of a WW2 road block on Abercomby Road. In 2004 this consisted of 8 small cast iron covers set into the pavement on either side of the road in front  4 and 6 Abercomby Road  on the west side and in front of  3-9 Abercomby Road on the east. (Just above the former St John‘s RC Church HER MDG 19076.)

Tank trap covers, Abercomby Road

When the pavement on the west side was resurfaced, four of the covers were lost, but four are still present on the east side. I have photographed these.  Three are marked ‘J Simpson Hurlford’. Originally a set of holes beneath the covers would have stretched across the road. In use the covers would have been removed and steel girders fixed into the holes, blocking the width of the road.  This would have been particularly effective against tracked vehicles such as tanks which could become trapped by even a single vertical post if they attempted to drive over it.

Similar tank trap being deployed 1941

Similar tank traps covers in Ardrossan

6. Tank/trap road block on B736, formerly A 75

In his letter 8 July 2004 Mr Kirk says there was a similar tank trap/ road block 100 yards east ( town side) of the Buchan Bridge on the former A 75. I have investigate this site, but there are no remaining signs of a tank trap/ road block.

Buchan Bridge- car crossing over it

Location of tank trap 100 yards east of Buchan Bridge

Taken altogether, these features would have created a defensive perimeter around Castle Douglas, to be manned by the Home Guard in case of a German invasion 1940/41.  Gordon Barclay If Hitler Comes Preparing for Invasion: Scotland 1940  (Birlinn, 2013, p 34) notes that on 14 May 1940 the War Cabinet discussed the possibility of a German invasion of Ireland which could then act as a springboard for an invasion of ‘western England, Wales or south-west Scotland’.  As Barclay points out this was an unlikely scenario, but one taken seriously during the summer of 1940. The defences put in place in Castle Douglas are likely to have been a response to this threat.

From If Hitler Comes Preparing for Invasion: Scotland 1940

From If Hitler Comes Preparing for Invasion: Scotland 1940 

7. Home Guard Auxiliary Castle Douglas Patrol bunker ‘in a quarry’.
This was mentioned by Mr Nicholson in a talk on the Archaeology of  the Ken/ Dee Valley, 18 September 2016.

List of Auxiliary Units, south of Scotland

I have investigated two former quarry sites in Castle Douglas, one beside Ernespie Road and the other behind Oakwell Road but both are filled in and there were no signs of a bunker  similar to the Beattock and  Moffat examples.

Possible secret bunker sites in old quarries

Sketch of Moffat Auxiliary bunker

Interior of Beattock Auxiliary Bunker
For more on the Auxiliary Units see         

             8. Interpretation signage
The history of Carlingwark Loch  2000 years ago and 250 years is already featured on interpretation signs. A similar sign interpreting its history 75 years ago in WW2 would be an appropriate addition.

9. Further Research 
Two miles north of Castle Douglas at the Townhead of Greenlaw crossroads there used to be a large concrete pad. My father said this was to stop tanks in WW2 churning up the tarmac as they used this route to avoid a weak bridge.[Possibly the A 75 bridge over the river Dee

But where were the tanks going? Probably to Kirkcudbright.

The Helmsley Station Master recalled they had tank trains every week, two or sometimes three, and at least 3000 tanks passed through the station. “On a tank train there were nine warflats, a store wagon, a guard’s van and one coach for the tank crews. They used to go up to Kirkcudbright for waterproofing for landing in enemy territory from the sea.”

From 1942 there was a tank training and testing range near Kirkcudbright (it is still in use). Tanks could be and were carried by train to Kirkcudbright. However the railway between Castle Douglas and Kirkcudbright was single track and Kirkcudbright station was much smaller than Castle Douglas.

Kirkcudbright station

Castle Douglas station
If the number of tanks being sent to Kirkcudbright for waterproofing ahead of D-Day was in the thousands, it may have been decided to send some by road from Castle Douglas.

There was also a camp at Glenlochar farm where Bailey Bridge building training took place. Next to Glenlochar Barrage (part of a hydro-electric scheme) an air raid shelter and anti-aircraft gun emplacement have been found and notified to the Council archaeologist by Scottish Power.

WW2 is still just within living memory. Most of the physical traces of WW2 in the Castle Douglas area have been lost or misinterpreted. Collecting and recording the accounts and memories of people who lived here then while we can is important.  


Post a Comment

<< Home