War Stories - an introduction

War Stories
RAF Schoolhill
Norwegians Ahoy
Bombs and Mines

Unfortunately this section is a bit more lightweight than I would have liked. Wartime censorship meant that news items were generally not reported in the press so it was a challenge finding anything about Portlethen during war years. 

Generally speaking when we talk about war most people think of World War I from 1914 - 1918 or World War II from 1939 - 1945. Although we have more information about these, wars have been happening throughout history and even these earlier and lesser known ones are likely to have included local residents, or at the very least, touched on the area around Portlethen. 

Impressment (Press Gangs) did occur around the Scottish coasts and although I have no specific examples of individual local inhabitants being press ganged into any war I’m convinced that it might have happened. Bella Bathurst writes, in her book The Lighthouse Stevensons “One of the major hazards of any journey around the Scottish coast (at the beginning of the 19th century) were the press gangs. The boom in trade and war and the premium it put on able seamen meant the ship-owners often had to find more inspired methods of attracting a crew. At the end of long voyages, ships would frequently find themselves surrounded and boarded by gangs intent on kidnapping or coercing the sailors into work on other boats. Sometimes they acted for themselves; often they acted for the state. The navy, with its voracious hunger for manpower, had become the press gangs best customer by the time of the Napoleonic Wars”.

With the large amount of yawls and small vessels working from the coastal villages around Kincardineshire, who’s to say that some of their crews were not press ganged into state service between the late 17th century and the early 19th century. There may well have been a Portlethen loon fighting, involuntarily, in the Napoleonic wars.

Further back in history we had battles in Aberdeen between Royalist and Covenanter forces, the first one occurring near Brig of Dee in 1639. William Keith, 7th Earl Marischal and James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose led a Covenanter army of 9000 men via the route of the Causey Mounth near Portlethen to the first battle of this civil war. There’s a good chance that he picked up one or two local individuals from this area on the final leg of this journey and I’m sure that some of these Portlethen folks would have fought in this battle and the later wider conflict known as The Wars of the Three Kingdoms between 1644 and 1650, which also included the battle of Aberdeen in September 1644.   

With these early wars, battles and press gangs it’s impossible to be specific about events and people so I won’t be attempting to weave an imaginary thread trying to tie them to Portlethen. All we can say “this is was what happened near here at that point in time and local folks may well have been involved”.

With the World Wars of the 20th century it’s possible to see more tangible evidence of where Portlethen and its people were involved. Although censorship was prevalent during the war years and it was difficult to fathom out what was happening locally, subsequent accounts have been released to the general public and we are more aware of what occurred during these years. As far as the locale of Portlethen is concerned our role was a very minor one, although a radar station was established at Schoolhill during the Second World War which possibly raised our profile. In our area, Kincardineshire and Aberdeenshire, there were some losses at sea during both World Wars – merchant and naval, aircraft and shipping, enemy and British. A number of these are listed in books about shipwrecks such as “Off Scotland” by Ian G. Whitaker and “Shipwreck Index of the British Isles” by Richard Larn. I have deliberately omitted these shipwrecks from my “Wrecks and Rescues” section because of the lack of details. What we can say is that boats were sunk and aircraft were shot down within a few miles of our villages during both wars. 

Portlethen, as an area, may not have had a big role to play in the 20th Century World Wars but like many other similar sized villages around the country our people did play a part. These were the men who joined the military and went to do battle on foreign soils, some returned and some died in active service.  The Portlethen Memorial located next to the church indicates that 26 men from the local district lost their lives in the first conflict and a further 10 died during 1939 – 1945.