VE Day : Stonehaven
It’s 75 years since Victory in Europe was declared on 8th May 1945.
In Stonehaven the locals celebrated along with the rest of the country. The Aberdeen Weekly Journal recorded that:
The streets of Stonehaven were gaily decorated. After the Premier’s broadcast Baillie Ramsey addressed a large gathering in the Market Square.
In the evening about 500 attended the free dance in the Town Hall and an overflow dance was held in the Market Square. This is the largest number that has ever attended a dance in the town.
Margaret Sim recorded in her diary:
“Jock put flags out at 6am. Raining. Jock helped other men putting up bunting. We went for a walk with Brian in the pram before lunch. Jock went to the Crown Hotel then home to hear Churchill on the radio at 3pm. We watched the dancing. Went to the pictures. Home before 9pm to hear The King. Jock went down to the Crown Hotel, I joined him at 10.30. We stayed till 1am. Watched the dancing on the Square as we came home.”
As part of VE Day King George VI held the first peacetime investitures and presented medals to “other ranks” at Buckingham Palace. The first man to be awarded a medal was Stonehaven man Major Lewis Tevendale (Leicestershire Regiment), who won the Distinguished Conduct Medal as a sergeant-major at the Litani River in Syria in June 1941.
A summery of the war in the North-East was included in the Aberdeen Press & Journal on Tues 8th May 1945 by G. E. Ley Smith
NORTH-EAST SHARE IN THE VICTORY
OUR DIVISIONS FOUGHT ON ALL BATTLEFRONTS: OUR CIVILIANS WITHSTOOD PERSISTENT AIR ATTACKS: OUR FACTORIES TURNED OUT THE MUNITIONS OF WAR.
Future historians will no doubt symbolise the magnificent part played by the North of Scotland in the five long, weary years of the European War by the glorious achievement of our Highland troops with the 51st and other divisions. They have fought on practically all the battlefronts. bringing fresh renown to the names of already famous regiments—the Gordons, the Seaforths, the Camerons, the Argylls, and the Black Watch. But men and women from the North of Scotland gallantly took their share in every form of war activity. Men from the seaboard towns sailed the seas with the Royal Navy and in the convoys with the Merchant Navy. Airmen served with distinction all the commands the R.A.F. And our young women flocked to the W.R.N.S. A.T.S., and W.A.A.F. the ranks of the Civil Defence, the fire guards, and the Home Guard, the ordinary men and women displayed stoical courage in the face of persistent air attacks and the threat of invasion.
War on Doorstep: The war was on our doorstep for every day of those five long years In the first phase, the North of Scotland was already a forward area. That first sign of Nazi brutality, the sinking of the Athenia, struck Aberdeen and the north, for she was carrying a number of people from this part of the country. A fortnight later on September 17, 1939 the survivors of the Truro were brought into Aberdeen — the first torpedoed crew to land in the North-east.
This began long, tragic run of sinkings by submarine and bomber close to our coasts in the first winter of the war. Every few days men from torpedoed bombed ships- British, Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, and Finnish, were brought into one port or another. Men were found dead on drifting rafts or washed up by the tide. Hundreds of lives were lost.
A Nazi submarine stole into Scapa Flow in October and sank the battleship Royal Oak. Several days later came the first air attack on the naval base, which preceded a long series of raids on Shetland.
That winter also brought the merciless bombing of our trawlers, at fishing grounds for a start and then close inshore.
Gradually the war drew in on the North of Scotland, but it was the collapse of Norway that really brought the North-east towns into the front line the air war.
The failure of that campaign brought in the wake of returning Allied soldiers thousands of Norwegian refugees who travelled across the North Sea in an armada of small boats. They came battened down in the hatches of fishing vessels; they came in open boats. For more than year it lasted. In one month alone 760 Norwegians arrived on our shores.
Then on May 10, 1940 came the blitzkrieg Holland, Belgium, and France. It was all over in little more than a month. It was a tragic period for us in the North of Scotland, lightened by proud memories such the defence of the Ypres-Comines Canal by the 4th Gordons, then machine-gun battalion, and the incredible heroism of the 51st Division as it fought its way back to St Valery.
Most of the Division was surrounded. As they were being marched across Northern France towards Germany, the first phase of the war ended and the second began.
Darkest Phase: This was the darkest phase of all, when we stood alone for a whole year —”Britain’s greatest hour.” In the city, towns, villages, farms and glens older men were rallying to the Home Guard, then called the L.D.V.
The gallant remnant the ” 51st” came home to its divisional area to reconstructed. Round our coast, tank traps and obstacles appeared as though by magic. The Polish Legion came to the East of Scotland to help in our defence.
Our own air squadron, No 612 which had kept watch and ward the coast from the start of the intensified its vigilance and soon the subsequently famous Edinburgh fighter squadron, No. 603, appeared in our skies to shoot down Heinkels and Dorniers.
On the night of June 26, 1940 ‘ the first bombs were dropped on the North-east in, in the grounds of Tullos House at Nigg. From that moment onwards the attacks intensified and the North-east was visited almost nightly by German aircraft. In a day raid on July 12, 1940 thirty-four persons were killed, and others later died from their injuries.
As was afterwards divulged Aberdeen was the most raided spot in Scotland. Peterhead and Fraserburgh suffered heavily, and other towns such as Banff, Lossiemouth Wick and Kirkwall were also bombed as were, incomprehensibly, some rural areas.
Attacks were made regularly on convoys just off the North-east coast. Numbers of the raiders were brought down by R.A.F. fighters.
In this period the Civil Defence and fire guards were in the front line with the RAF and Royal Observer Corps. Three of them in Aberdeen won the George Medal for bravery, and elsewhere in the North several awards of the B.E.M. were made.
Meanwhile, the military authorities prepared a scheme of defence. The Home Guard, which in North Highland Area and in Orkney and Shetland numbered in the vicinity of 30,000, fast became an efficient fighting force. Eventually they included coastal and anti-aircraft batteries.
Alamein : Air attacks went on throughout 1941, but by the end of that year both Russia and America were in the war. The probability of invasion had passed. So ended the second phase.
The next phase of the war moved to the other side of the world, to Malaya, and brought tragedy to many a home in the North of Scotland in those early months of 1942. The 2nd Gordons were captured at Singapore, and scores of families from the area were reported missing when the Japs overran the peninsula.
Meantime the 51st Division had been reborn and stood on the eve of brilliant achievements. It broke through Rommel’s Afrika Korps at El Alamein towards the end of 1943 and swept victoriously through Libya and Tripolitania, and round to Tunisia.
In the landings French North Africa, the 6th Gordons, who had escaped through Dunkirk more than two years before, played a notable Part along with the Argylls.
Afterwards, the 51st Division went help in the capture of Sicily and the 6th Gordons, with the 5th Army, landed at Anzio.
At home air raids became less frequent, but the worst attack of all came on April 21, 1943. The target was Aberdeen, and over 100 were killed.
Off the coast our convoys still ran the gauntlet. But the sea war had moved to the Atlantic and to the Arctic route to Russia, and No. 612 Squadron went to Iceland to protect our shipping lanes to America and to Murmansk. Later they were on the Bay of Biscay run from Cornwall.
North Plays Its Part : And so the third phase came to end. The last phase was the breaking down of Hitler’s Festung Europa. With the Americans we were building up our strength for the final attack. Our factories and our engineering shops in the North play their part. They had been making shell and bomb aero engines, equipment for warships, and other gear for the fighting forces. Our shipyards turned out many corvettes for escorting convoys.
Among the first to land in Normandy, the “51st” had some of the hardest fighting of its career in the neighbourhood of Caen. It helped in the capture of Le Havre, liberated St Valery and galloped across Northern France and through Belgium to Holland. It was rushed to the Ardennes stop the Rundstedt break-through towards Liege and Namur, and then switched to Goch, where it started the drive that took Montgomery’s forces to the Rhine. It was there that was inspected by the Prime Minister.
That was the prelude to the most historic achievement — the crossing of the Rhine. The Division was the first to reach the east bank in the assault by the 2nd Army.
From then on it drove brilliantly forward with the 15th Division which ultimately took Bremen.
In the 15th Division, which also fought so gallantly on the Western front, there re-appeared the new 2nd Gordons.
And now that the war in Europe is over, our thoughts turn to the jungles of Burma, where men the Gordons, the Camerons, and the Seaforths are still at grips with the Japs.
And while we celebrate the anniversary of end of the war in Europe, we ought also to spare a thought for those local lads that did not come back.
WWII ROLL OF HONOUR:
ALLAN, CHARLES S. ROYAL CORPS OF SIGNALS
ANDERSON, J. FRASER ROYAL NAVY ABLE SEAMAN
BALNEAVES, FRANK W. GORDON HIGHLANDERS CORPORAl
BEDDIE, CHARLES ROYAL NAVY LEADING TELEGRAPHIST
BEDDIE, GORDON J. ROYAL ENGINEERS LIEUTENANT
BLACK, WILLIAM F. AUXILLIARY COAST GUARD
BURNETT, HARRY MERCHANT NAVY
CAIRNS, W. BRYDON ROYAL AIR FORCE PILOT OFFICER
CHRISTIE, JOHN AUSTRALIANS PRIVATE
CHRISTIE, WILLIAM J. ROYAL NAVY LEADING SEAMAN
CLARKE, ROBERT W. ROYAL NAVY YEOMAN OF SIGNALS
COULL, ANGUS W.A. ROYAL AIR FORCE AIRCRAFTSMAN FIRST CLASS
CRAIG, JAMES ROYAL AIR FORCE CORPORAL
DAVIDSON, WILLIAM C.M.N. SEAMAN
DAWSON, JAMES GORDON HIGHLANDERS PRIVATE
DONALD, ISAAC W. GORDON HIGHLANDERS PRIVATE
DUNCAN, DAVID A. PIONEER CORPS
DUNCAN, JAMES A. GORDON HIGHLANDERS PRIVATE
DURWARD, WILLIAM GORDON HIGHLANDERS PRIVATE
FALCONER, ANDREW MERCHANT NAVY
FIDDES, IAN ROYAL AIR FORCE AIRCRAFTSMAN FIRST CLASS
FINDLAY, JAMES MCI. PARACHUTE REGIMENT PRIVATE
FOSTER, ROBERT T. GORDON HIGHLANDERS CORPORAL
GRAHAM, CHARLES G. MERCHANT NAVY
GREIG, ROBERT GORDON HIGHLANDERS CORPORAL
GREIG, WILLIAM K. MERCHANT NAVY
KENNEDY, WILLIAM GORDON HIGHLANDERS PRIVATE
KNOWLES, JAMES MERCHANT NAVY
LEES, GEORGE ROYAL ARTILLERY SERGEANT
LEES, JAMES ROYAL ARTILLERY SERGEANT
LEIPER, ANDREW M. MERCHANT NAVY
LEIPER, JOHN GORDON HIGHLANDERS PRIVATE
MALCOLM, JAMES A. GORDON HIGHLANDERS PRIVATE
MASSON, GEORGE MERCHANT NAVY
MASSON, WILLIAM ROYAL NAVY ABLE SEAMAN
MCINTOSH, JOHN MERCHANT NAVY
MICHIE, JOHN ROYAL ENGINEERS LANCE SERGEANT
MOIR, JOHN ROYAL NAVY A/P.O.
MURRAY, ALEXANDER R. MERCHANT NAVY
PIRRIE, JAMES W. ROYAL ENGINEERS SAPPER
PIRRIE, WILLIAM W. ROYAL NAVY ABLE SEAMAN
ROBERTSON, DOUGLAS M. ROYAL ARMY MEDICAL CORPS PRIVATE
ROSS, WILLIAM MERCHANT NAVY
STRACHAN, JAMES R. GORDON HIGHLANDERS COMPANY SERGEANT MAJOR
STRACHAN, WILLIAM AUSTRALIANS PRIVATE
TAYLOR, JOHN ROYAL ARMOURED CORPS TROOPER
WATSON, WILLIAM J. ROYAL NAVY ABLE SEAMAN
WILLIAMSON, ALEXANDER R. ROYAL AIR FORCE FLIGHT SERGEANT
Do you have any stories or pictures from VE Day in Stonehaven? We’d love to hear and see them!
(Many thanks to Martin Sim for use of his mother’s diary)