Bute's World War II involvements spanned almost the full spectrum of military activity. However, given its insular character and strategic location in the Clyde estuary, there was naturally a predominance of naval involvements. The following very brief overview sketches some of Bute's contribution to the overall war effort.
NAVAL INVOLVEMENTS1. Salvaging of marine casualties
Upon moving from Liverpool, the Liverpool & Glasgow Salvage Co. became headquartered in Port Bannatyne, and was responsible for all marine casualties in Western Approaches. Its ocean-going tugs brought back countless torpedoed vessels including the Greek ship Leonidas del Varmis, the Dutch ship Volendam (carrying 325 children all who survived, with only one crew casualty), the Coronda (more than 20 bodies or part-bodies buried in North Bute), the San Demetrio (of war-movie fame), and the Imperial Transport (only half of which, miraculously, was brought into Kilchattan Bay). Families, skeleton crews of all ships, as well as salvage personnel, shipwrights and divers etc. stayed on the island. Two tugs, Zeehound and Zeelu, smuggled families on board and sailed right out of Belgium.
2. Submarine flotillas
HMS Cyclops, which was the depot ship for the Royal Navy's 7th Submarine Flotilla, was home-based in Rothesay (1940-46). It also accommodated allied submariners who had escaped from Poland, Holland and Norway. Wrens worked on board mostly performing administrative duties. Cooks and stewards on Cyclops were Maltese. 95% of all British submariners trained in Rothesay.
The Headquarters of the Royal Navy's 12th Submarine Flotilla HMS Varbel was located in the 88 bed-roomed Kyles Hydro Hotel in Port Bannatyne, the hotel having been requisitioned for this specific purpose. The base at Port Bannatyne, the only British base for midget submarines and human torpedoes, used the protection of the port and the secure waters of Loch Striven a short distance to the north, for sea trials and training exercises. [Note: midget submarines ('X' craft) and the human torpedo were designed for the same purpose, namely, to attack enemy shipping while in harbour and to render these ships inoperable].
Historic successes of the Bute-based subs and human torpedoes include the memorable attack on the Tirpitz (see left) and the sinking of the Italian cruisers Ulpio Triano and Bolzano. A total of 39 men were killed while serving on these craft. It is a testimony to the bravery of these men that 68 awards were gained on active service, including 4 Victoria Crosses. Bute Museum is now the home for HMS Varbel's bell.
A full memorial record is on permanent display at St. Ninian's Church in Port Bannatyne, where a memorial garden is going to be officially opened at the end of June as part of Bute's commemoration programme
Altogether 9 Clyde Steamers were requisitioned. Those that continued with the Wemyss Bay-Rothesay service needed to follow very strict sea lanes due to the mines that were laid in the Clyde.
4. Boom defence
A boom defence office was located on Rothesay Pier, and this office liaised with the boom control centre that operated the boom across the Clyde (at Gourock).
Local boatyards and a floating dock in Port Bannatyne were used for ship repairs and the construction of harbour defence vessels. There was also a small de-gaussing range (neutralising the magnetism of submarines) located in Port Bannatyne.
DECOY VILLAGE FOR CONFUSING ENEMY BOMBER ATTACKSAt the north end of the Isle of Bute a decoy village was constructed and maintained by the Royal Navy. The village was illuminated at night (using generators) in an attempt to confuse enemy bombers, and hopefully to draw them away from Greenock or Clydebank. No bombs fell on Rhubodach, although a German plane returning from the Greenock blitz jettisoned 2 bombs near the Greenan Loch.
COMMANDO TRAININGFrench Canadians along with 9th (Scottish) Commando used Bute's beaches (and Inchmarnock) to train with tank landing craft in preparation for D-Day.
EVACUEESOver 2,000 evacuee children were sent to the Isle of Bute. Primary School education was strained as a result of an influx of evacuees mostly from Glasgow under a Government scheme. Upon arrival on 3rd September, evacuees were taken to the Rothesay Pavilion from where they were billeted in private homes. The Government paid 10/6d per week for one child, but just 8/6d per child where more than one was billeted. This allowance was for all meals, but did not cover clothing or medical care. In addition to the official scheme, about 700 voluntary evacuees stayed with friends or relations and made private arrangements. Other evacuees came from Belgium and Poland.
REQUISITIONING AND BILLETINGApart from those already mentioned (Kyles Hydro Hotel, 9 Clyde steamers, etc.) many other establishments were also requisitioned, including the Royal Hotel, the Bute Arms and Tign-na-Mara. Servicemen, as well as reportedly some ex-Polish government officials were billeted in many private homes.
As an additional project, copies of this book were distributed free-of-charge to all school children on the Isle of Bute.
Such was the demand for Jess's book, that it was sold our in less than a year. However it has been reprinted, and copies are available by contacting the Bute Museum by email or telephone 01700-505067 (£5.00 plus P&P where applicable).
|Copyright © , Bute Gateway, All Rights Reserved.|