Air-raid warnings began in West Dunbartonshire in June 1940 and continued into 1941. The public were lulled into a false sense of security during this time as few bombs were dropped. This all changed on the nights of Thursday 13th and Friday 14th March 1941, when the most significant air raid on Clydeside happened. We now refer to this as the Clydeside "Blitz". The most devastated area during the raids was Clydebank. However, during the night, high-explosive bombs and parachute mines also landed in Dumbarton. A parachute mine which came down on the Stirling Road, near Round Riding Road, severely damaged three houses. Another parachute mine fell on the canteen of the Denny Shipyard. It failed to explode and was immobilised by the bomb disposal team. The town of Dumbarton was again attacked on the 6th of May 1941, incendiaries falling on the Silverton and Newton areas of the town. This attack was less severe on the town of Dumbarton as the Luftwaffe predominantly attacked the Greenock area devastating the Lower Clyde Basin with major fires.
The largest military hospital was just to the north of the county, Buchanan Castle near Drymen, to where Hitler's second-in-command Rudolf Hess was first taken after his landing at Eaglesham on a peace mission in 1941. It took both German and Italian prisoners of war as well as British troops, and was the main hospital for West Stirlingshire administering six hospitals there, including Killearn Hospital, which people remember treated Italian POWs and where research on artificial knees and hips was carried out after the war, procedures that have revolutionised prosthetic surgery today.
Camis Eskan House on the eastern fringes of Helensburgh was also used as a military hospital, particularly for Wrens and other naval personnel from HMS Tullichewan. Darleith House, high above Cardross, became a rest home for working personnel. Cardross Park, next to Cardross Golf Club, was converted from a children's home to a hospital in 1941, the year of the local blitzes.
Overtoun House above Dumbarton was given to the burgh in 1939 and became a convalescent home. The Joint Hospital on Cardross Road, the Cottage Hospital on Townend Road and the Henry Brock Hospital in Alexandria all worked hard in the war effort. One of the saddest stories regarding wartime hospitals was told by a lady who had been transferred as a nurse to the newly-fitted out military hospital in West Shandon House at Faslane in June 1940. After six months the hospital shut, the house was demolished and the military port, which was to be so important in the preparations for D-Day, built on the spot.
These camps housed British and allied troops, Free Norwegians and Poles. In the west of the old county was Bendarroch Camp at Garelochhead where many Poles and general service personnel were stationed. Like many of these camps the buildings were used after the war until 1953 to house civilians because of the general housing shortage of the time. Many of the Poles also stayed on to work in the shipbreaking yard of Metal Industries in the Gareloch. There was also a Free Polish Nissan hut camp in the field to the west of Camis Eskan. This was also used as civilian housing up to 1956. In the Vale of Leven, HMS Tullichewan, an enormous Nissan-hutted camp in the grounds of the old 19th century castle, was used by naval personnel and at the end of the war for American engineers advising on the construction of the oil pipeline from Finnart to Grangemouth. The old Levenbank Textile Works operated as naval stores, and it is believed local people had good rum rations during the War! Naval officers were stationed in Balloch Castle, including officers from the Indian Navy. The old Dalmonach Textile Works, finally demolished in 2007, were army barracks in World War II.
In Dumbarton the Free Norwegian Navy had a detachment in what was then Keil School in Helenslee Road. Down towards the Castle, Nissan huts were erected behind Rockview next to Castle Street, while up at Gooseholm and Kilmalid the farmers gave over their ground for a hutted camp. The Poles here are remembered for their regular exoduses past the MPs at the gate with bottles of beer making for the local dances. Again, the houses remained to cope with the post-war housing crisis. There was also an army camp just below Overtoun House, on the right-hand side of the road climbing up from Milton. The foundations can still be seen.
In Cardross a Nissan hut camp was situated in one of the fields of Walton farm, to the east of Carman Road and opposite the entrance to Bloomhill House. Around Clydebank there had been a camp at Hardgate since the 1920s, Glenarbuck had a Polish camp until December 1947, and both Duntiglennan Farm and Dalnottar House had camps.
The wilderness of Loch Lomond side was almost a retaining camp in itself. Faslane and Garelochhead had camps and their inmates would be joined with those of camps at Inveruglas on the western and Rowchoish on the eastern banks of the Loch opposite Tarbet to take the morning train to work on the roads at the head of Loch Lomond. Those in Inveruglas also worked as woodcutters for Tommy Anderson's timber business at Auchencarroch, Jamestown, where Gilmour and Aitken's yard now is. After the War many of the East Germans stayed on and, with a further camp at Glen Falloch, did a lot of the navvying for the building of the Loch Sloy Hydroelectric Scheme. Tarbet was much frequented with POWs who came in for stores and made toys and rope sandals for sale. Just south of Buchanan Castle was a hutted camp at Kilmaronock, and at Ashfield on the right-hand side of the top of the road up from Ballagan a camp for German POWs. The foundations are still visible. Where the Strathleven housing estate now is was a POW camp for both Italians and Germans called, mysteriously, the Bodylines Camp. The housing problems were such that when the POWs finally left many squatters broke into the camp minutes before Free Polish troops were to arrive. The squatters stayed there until the house building programme restarted. In Jamestown near the above-mentioned Tommy Anderson's sawmills at Auchencarroch was a camp for both Italians and Germans. The POWs would happily stroll into Alexandria in their "uniform" with "POW" on their backs. They would also, particularly the Italians, whittle out carvings from wood, and worked on local farms and smallholdings. Officers would get a shilling a day; it would be up to their conscience whether to keep it or divide it up. Gooseholm on the northern outskirts of Dumbarton was also a POW camps for Italians and, again, when the war ended the huts were taken over by squatters who would not move until the schemes of Bellsmyre and Castlehill were advanced enough to take them. Towards Clydebank Italians and Germans were both in a camp at Hardgate, whilst Italians were in a camp up at Cochno. They worked local smallholdings and were often seen walking into Clydebank for odds and ends.
There were several marine establishments on the Clyde. In Dumbarton, at Sandpoint, was the RAF Search and Rescue base for rescuing downed aircraft and their personnel, while in Helensburgh was the Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment which tested aircraft, principally Sunderlands, built in the Blackburn Aircraft Factory next to Denny's shipyard in Dumbarton. Denny's themselves built several Royal Navy vessels, principally destroyers and sloops. Inland the most common military presence was the search light/Anti-Aircraft "Ack-Ack" batteries, both run by the Royal Artillery. One of these at Ashfield must have attracted the attention of a bomber for there was an enormous crater in the field to the north-west of the farm. Gooseholm and Kilmalid Farms were also well defended, with a static battery of four 4.7 guns, whilst Levengrove Park and Dumbarton Castle were similarly defended. The latter was a "no go" area. Dumbuck Hill
had a Royal Observation Corps look-out post.
The Murroghs farm in Cardross had a battery of 4.7s and also a camp housing Royal Artillery billets; the camp continued as local housing until 1950. In Woodend farm, Helensburgh, later swallowed into the town as a nursery, was a battery of 4.7s. and also a camp housing Royal Artillery billets; the camp continued as local housing until 1950. On Cardross golf course there was a searchlight battery on the right of the third fairway with Lewis guns, another common combination. Helensburgh and surroundings also boasted a battery in the Blackhill area, and on Garelochside between Rhu and Shandon. One of the more ingenious defensive mechanism was the mobile railway wagon with anti-aircraft guns that was towed between Dumbarton and Glasgow to wherever it was needed. When not required it was parked in the sidings at Dumbarton Central railway station behind the library. A relic of the period still in use is Crosslet Community Centre in Crosslet Road, between Dumbuie Avenue and Dumbuck Road. This was built by the MOD in 1940-3 as a telecommunication centre for all three services. Its walls are four foot thick!
Commandos, and maybe also paratroopers trained on Dumbarton Muir, and were billeted in houses in Dumbarton and the Vale of Leven. Maybe one of the Dad's Armyish activities was firewatching practice undertaken by both men and women in the depot-cum-office of Dalvait House near the Leven opposite the terraces of Dalvait Road. Practice was three nights a week, 7 till 9 or 10 using stirrup pumps, a bucket and water. The unit later transferred to the "Craft", Alexandria textile works, where Antartex now is.
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