British Prime Minster Mr Neville Chamberlain declares war on Germany in an Address to the Nation on 3rd September 1939
It is Sunday 3rd September 1939. At approximately 11.00am wireless listeners to the BBC are alerted to stand by for a statement by the Prime Minister, Mr Neville Chamberlain. Hitler had been given an ultimatum to withdraw German forces from Poland. Across the nation, families nervously gather around their wireless sets. Then, at 11.15am, the Prime Minister comes on the air and solemnly announces....
(Audio clip - courtesy BBC) If the audio player does not open click here.
"With the inevitability of war having loomed over Europe for months, Glasgow, like all big cities in Britain, had made contingency plans for moving children to safer places away from the danger of enemy raids. So within hours of Prime Minister Chamberlain's announcement that Britain was at war with Germany, 876 children plus teachers and helpers arrived in Rothesay on the "Jeanie Deans"; and later that afternoon the "Jeanie Deans" brought another 650 children. Then on the Sunday, just an hour after war was formally declared, two paddle steamers landed another 1600 children at Rothesay pier" (source: Jess Sandeman - "Bute's War"). Upon arrival evacuees were taken to the Rothesay Pavilion where they were provided with a hastily-prepared meal and then billeted in private homes. Billeting was an official decree and anyone with spare roomes had to comply. Under this Government scheme households accommodating evacuees were 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 about 700 voluntary evacuees stayed with friends or relations and made private arrangements. Primary School education was strained to the limit as a result of this influx.
BUTE'S HOME GUARD
Bute's Home Guard, the real Dad's Army, spent many long hours night after night up on the hillsides or on the moors doing their bit for the Island's security and protection. Although their contribution was trivialised in the BBC TV series "Dad's Army" they really did a splendid job (even if they sometimes incurred the resentment of the odd local resident who had been 'caught' transgressing the strict black-out restrictions). The photograph on the left depicts Bute's Home Guard marching down Victoria Street in Rothesay. (enlargeable image)
REQUISITIONING AND BILLETING
Apart 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.
- A large canteen for the forces, operated by the Church of Scotland and manned by volunteers, was open all day in the West Church Hall.
- Captain Eric Morley (R.A.S.C. Entertainment Officer) was stationed at the Bute Arms (he later ran the Miss World events); Leslie Crowther (the actor) was privately evacuated to Hilton Farm on Bute.
Rothesay at the time had 3 cinemas which, in addition to numerous dance venues, provided welcome entertainment and relief both to stressed locals and to Bute-based military personnel alike. Regular entertainment was arranged in Rothesay's Winter Garden (left); while Rothesay Pavilion (right) was the venue for many stage shows in addition to hosting 'big band' dances. (enlargeable images)
- Bute's WVS Mobile Canteen, operated by local women volunteers, moved around Bute feeding the hungry commandos. (enlargeable image)
- Searchlight Battery based at Kilchattan Bay.
There were jubilant scenes during VE and VJ celebrations in Rothesay and elsewhere on the island. HMS Sceptre and HMS Voltaire (left) were alongside their Rothesay home-based depot ship HMS Cyclops (right) instead of the usual 6-8 submarines - all indicative of the rundown to the end of hostilities. One can only imagine the uninhibited celebratory excitement and exuberance aboard HMS Cyclops, joined by the crews of HMS Sceptre and HMS Voltaire. (enlargeable images)
Further historical material, together with many more ENLARGABLE PHOTOGRAPHS, can be accessed
JESS SANDEMAN'S BOOK "BUTE'S WAR"
As stated at the beginning, this is but a basic outline skeleton. It is onto this skeleton, however, that much more detailed 'flesh' was added by a local researcher who produced a book "Bute's War." This book was also one of the projects supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund grant towards Bute's 2005 commemorations. The book by Jess Sandeman (deceased August 2009), who was a War veteran, a former Chief WREN, and a long-time voluntary genealogist at the Bute Museum, was launched early in June 2005 to coincide with Bute's V-Day festivities. A photograph taken at the Official Launch of the book at the Bute Museum, and showing Jess responding to Mrs Anne Buchanan's introduction, is shown on the left; and a copy of the book's front cover is shown on the right (click images to enlarge).
In addition to sections elaborating on all the above, and including many illustrations, Jess's book also has sections covering inter alia the following:
- Life on Bute during the war years
- Rationing and related issues
- HMS Cyclops and the 7th Submarine Flotilla
- Port Bannatyne
- The Home guard and other volunteer groups
- St Valery and Bute's P.O.W.s
- Training of Submariners and the role of the X-Craft Midget Submarines   More details here
- Army and commando training
- Accidents in and around Bute
- The position of Non-British Nationals on Bute
- Entertainment for the Forces on Bute
- Bute after the War
- Bute's full Roll of Honour
The book also provides a detailed glossary, a bibliography, and a list of films of interest.
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 out 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).
Note: Acknowledgements for photographic material used on this page can be accessed by clicking "Resources" on the menu bar.
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