Revealed for the first time are some previously unknown details about buildings and training areas that were used for Scotland’s defence during the First World War. The records of 900 structures and sites have now been created or updated to include this fresh detail — now available to view online.
And according to these latest finds it would seem that plans to protect Edinburgh from any potential threat or invasion were quite extensive.
The revelation came after an audit by Historic Scotland and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), identified wartime heritage, which more than tripled the number that was expected.
Allan Kilpatrick, of RCAHMS, said: “Scotland was on the frontline during World War One, St Kilda was bombarded by a German U-boat and Edinburgh was bombed by a Zeppelin. The naval bases on the Forth, Cromarty and Scapa Flow were essential to protect Britain’s navy and her shipping.”
Found in the audit were War Office maps which showed a network of trenches and strongpoints at Portobello that stretched from the shore of the River Forth to the south of the city to prevent a land attack.
Among the updated records are 239 hospitals ranging from village halls to existing medical centres, 39 prisoner of war camps in Hawick, Edinburgh Castle and the island of Raasay, and 350 drill halls established to train soldiers. There are also a large number of concrete dug-in guard-post buildings known as pillboxes, which were scattered throughout the country as a defence against potential enemy invaders.
Pillboxes are normally equipped with loopholes through which to fire weapons and the originally jocular name arose from their perceived similarity to the cylindrical and hexagonal boxes in which medical pills were once sold. They are in effect a trench-firing step hardened to protect against small-arms fire and grenades and raised to improve the field of fire.
The audit’s author, Dr Gordon Barclay, said that the project had uncovered a number of buildings, which were previously not known to be associated with the Great War, reported The Scotsman.
“The audit has more than tripled the number of places known to be associated with Scotland’s contribution to the war, both military and civilian, and has revealed an extraordinary variety of structures, reflecting Scotland’s importance to the war effort,” he said.
“The audit is only the first step, and other places no doubt remain to be identified, and the wartime role of many other places will certainly come to light during the centenary.”
On Inchkeith Island in Fife, a pair of concrete huts were built into the rock face. An undated War Office map, believed to be from around 1915, shows the northern engine room to be in the location in which it still survives, verifying its authenticity as a First World War building.
The Boddam Prisoner of War camp is also in the archive and is where German soldiers were put to work either in the Stirling Quarry, on the hill above Boddam, near Peterhead, or in the construction of the massive breakwaters of the Peterhead Harbour of Refuge, where much of the quarry’s output went.
The exact location of a further prisoner of war camp in Balgowan, Perthshire, is unknown, but is thought to be on the same site as a military base used during the Second World War. Here, enemy soldiers were put to work farming food on nearby farms.
Historic Scotland and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) will designate some of the sites to recognise and protect their significance during the conflict.
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